Joined: Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 1904 Location: Bangalore
Posted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:16 pm Post subject: Understanding photography and photographing fish
Was thinking of doing an article for my buddies here @ IAH about photography and this was pending with me for a long time.
Would like to get feedback over this and post this as a better(?) article here
Did this article over a period of 4 days, so here goes
Understanding photography and challenges of photographing fish
Photography is the most popular hobby in the world. This can be attributed highly to the fact that a "picture can speak a thousand words" and often we "capture" the beauty of the moment.
Photography quite literally means "painting with light" and to take good photographs one needs to understand how light interacts with subjects that we intend to photograph.
Before we start Iâ€™d like to iterate the fact that a photograph is taken in the â€œeyeâ€ and a camera is only a means of capturing that photograph digitally.
All cameras are basically "pin-hole cameras" where light enters through a small pin-hole and the image that the light represents is cast on a film.
It is essentially the same design that mother nature has used in the best camera/lens ever - The human eye.
The human eye has the capability to adapt "automatically" to varying conditions and hence gives us good eyesight in most decently lit situations.
Unfortunately cameras can never achieve that level of engineering brilliance. Hence it is important we understand how light interacts and what are the various factors that decide the kind of photographs we get.
The most important factors for a photograph are -
1. Available light - For painting with light, we require "light" in the first place The better lit a subject is, the better it would be for the camera to capture details.
The best source of light known to man has been the Sun. Unfortunately, the Sun does set and we do have situations where sunlight would not be enough, Hence most of today's camera(s) come equipped with their own built-in "flash" systems which emit light for a fraction of a second hence providing the camera with "light". However Flash does have it's limitations of being able to provide for light only within a few feet.
2. Shutter speed - Defines how long the shutter of the camera is kept open. The shutter of the camera is like a curtain which is raised for a specified amount of time to allow light (and hence the required image) to fall on the film/sensor. The longer it is kept open, the "slower" the action becomes. For "action" shots where we would want to "freeze" the photograph, we would use a high shutter speed. A high shutter speed means that the shutter is kept open for a lesser amount of time.
Due to this the amount of light available will directly define the shutter speed. Think of a situation where you are in high light and the eyes would blink more often to control the amount of light entering. Higher light would call for a higher shutter speed.
Lower shutter speed would be used otherwise.
There are times when one would want to use the variations "creatively". For instance, this "slow shutter speed" experiment at night with very less available light.
The shutter speed can be set by using the "S" mode in most of today's digicams.
A setting of "1000" would mean the shutter is kept open for 1/1000th of a second.
3. Aperture - Think of looking with one eye into a long pipe which has a covered end with a small hole. The larger the hole gets, larger amount of light is able to enter. A smaller aperture would mean lesser amount of light coming through. A more important feature is the "depth-of-field" (DoF) that comes with aperture. Aperture is referred to as a "F" number. A F number of 2.8 would mean that the area around the intended focus are is less detailed. For e.g. when taking macros where we need a small area in focus with the background nicely blurred, we would use a small "F" number of 2.8 to 4.0
For photographs requiring details around the subject (a landscape or a full tank shot), we would need to use a higher "F" number.
A few schematic diagrams to show how Aperture affects focus area
This photograph taken by my friend Sudhakar explains how the aperture decides focus control -http://flickr.com/photos/chandamama/2276156861/
4. Exposure balance - Allows the user to "expose" the photograph by a few "stops". If we decrease the exposure balance, we would get an image that is darker by that amount, increasing the exposure balance would result in a brighter image (however this compromises image quality)
5. ISO sensitivity - It defines how sensitive the camera's sensor is to available light. Often digital cameras come with a ISO range of 100 to 1000.
An ISO setting of 100 will need more light and will give fine detailed images.
An ISO setting of 400+ would need lesser amount of light and introduces some amount of "noise" that show up as grains.
6. Minimum focusing distance - This defines the minimum distance required between the camera's sensor and the subject below which the camera cannot focus.
This would be important when shooting at close quarters.
7. White balance â€“ This allows the user to specify the kind of light the shot would be taken in. This greatly decides the â€œtruenessâ€ of the colours that show up in the photograph. Various sources of light have different behaviour. For instance, fluorescent lighting tends to have more of the â€œblueâ€ spectrum, whereas sunlight would have more of â€œredâ€. The balance is calibrated against â€œwhiteâ€ and hence the name. Most cameras allow the user to specify the white balance and would have settings such as â€œFlashâ€, â€œTungstenâ€, â€œFluorescentâ€, â€œSunlight/outdoorâ€. Most often keeping the white balance in auto mode does the job, but in tricky situations, it does require a manual over-ride.
These basics are most important and hold good for a pin-hole camera (the most basic type) as well as a high-end "medium format camera".
I firmly believe no matter what make/style of camera it is, it is a basic pin-hole camera, the way light behaves is pretty much the same.
Now that we fairly understand the terminologies, we will move on to applying these learnings to photographing fish
We as aquarists take utmost care of our wet pets and do like taking photographs of them for various reasons -
1. As archives to keep track of fish that we've kept
2. To share with fellow hobbyists, sometimes for identification.
And many more varied reasons... No matter what the reason is, a good photograph depicting the required details and coloration of the fish is always preferable.
Fish unlike other pets are quite mobile/agile and pose quite some challenges.
Some of them would be -
1. Very minimal usable light by the camera in the tank.
2. Fish keep moving very fast and often cameras fail to lock on with good focus.
3. When we do seem to have gained good focus, at the instant the photograph is taken, some other fish comes in the way.
4. Glare off the aquarium glass when flash is used.
5. Getting very blurry images.
6. Fish going into hiding when you get very close.
7. Flash bouncing off silvery fish resulting in "flashed out" images. Also the eye of the fish reflecting the flash giving an unnatural look.
With digital cameras available, it no more costs an arm or a leg to go about clicking our beloved underwater beauties, it would however be more satisfying to get a better percentage of "better" photographs for the amount of time spent with the camera.
It pays to know the behaviour of the fish we intend to photograph so that we can adjust the camera's setting accordingly. Smaller fish like Tetra move pretty fast and do not stay in one place for long. Larger cichlids would tend to stay in their favourite hangout and also tend to rush towards the front of the glass wanting attention.
Often blurry images are due to
a) Slow shutter speed - this is how the camera would adapt to low light. We can avoid this by using various techniques such as
* Using flash to "freeze" the fish in the frame
* Using a fairly high shutter speed coupled with the right ISO and Aperture setting (will require changing over to "manual" mode)
b) No focus of the fish - This could be due to a host of reasons like the fish moving too fast for the auto-focus to work, murky water inhibiting auto focus to get a nice focus lock, etc. This "can" be offset by using
* Macro mode which indicates to the camera to focus on closer objects.
* Tracking the fish needed with the shutter button (clicker) half pressed. This allows the camera to attain focus, once focus is achieved, the shutter can be pressed fully to take the shot.
* Focus on an object in the aquarium with the shutter half pressed and then click full when the required fish is near the focused object. This could be a plant/rock/accessory around which the fish often visits.
* Use a plain background which would allow the camera to pick up the color contrasts and focus a lot more easier.
* Clean the aquarium glass prior to the shoot using damp newspaper
* Perform a water change a day before to ensure there are no floating particles in the water column.
A few quick tips that I've learnt -
* Glare on the aquarium due can be avoided by shooting at a slight angle. We need to ensure the angle is not too great, else we would get images which show the fish pretty skewed and out of proportion.
* Flash does introduce a nasty element - it "washes out the colours". This can be avoided by decreasing the flash intensity by a stop or two.
* Use the right ISO setting to get detailed colours
* Spend time in front of the aquarium to allow the fish to settle down before shooting.
* Try to include a fair bit of the fish's environment in the shot to evoke interest. A detailed shot of a fish with it's immediate surrounding showing will evoke greater response than one with a plain background.
* Shooting with digicams does not cost much, so try the manual mode of the camera and see what kind of results you can come up with
* Think like a camera before you click the shutter button.
These tips can only better our odds of getting a good photograph. It pays to have patience on your side as fish really do not understand the term "CHEESE"
For every "Decent" photograph we get, we will in all probability be discarding tens of photographs which will be nowhere close the kind of result we expected.
Iâ€™ve tried to pen down my thoughts in the most common way possible. A lot more exists to photography than what Iâ€™ve mentioned above. These are only to help us â€œstartâ€ understanding it
A lot of resources and people whom Iâ€™ve learnt a lot from, they need the kudos. A lot of friends and hobbyists who have allowed me to try my experiments on their tanks/fish.
A few links that helped me when I started off (with technique and inspiration)
Posted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:58 pm Post subject: Re: Understanding photography and photographing fish
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the well written article. Actually Iâ€™m on a learning path and Iâ€™m enjoying as well as rediscovering every important facts of the article. Now the Gizmo(camera) and the reqd.skills are more clear to me. You can remember that on several occasions I request to you to enlighten us regarding the tricky subject in which I'm a novice. Now you full filled my and others demand and on behalf of the members once again I'm thanking you. Request Admins to make it sticky.
Posted: Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:01 pm Post subject: Re: Understanding photography and photographing fish
Thanks a ton for sharing those valuable tips. The way you have explained is exceptional not just quoting the quote ' A picture can speak a thousand words' but actually supporting your text with appropriate pictures.
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