Shooting Flashless at the Aquarium

| October 30, 2010
The Ferrari of fish at Hong Kong's water park

The Ferrari of fish at Hong Kong’s water park

When Donna and I were in Hong Kong, we took a ferry from Kowloon Bay to Hong Kong Island to visit a water park. While there, I had an opportunity to try some painfully low light photography at one of the aquarium attractions. The aquarium had several viewing levels that progressively got lower. The shot above was taken toward the bottom to the tank. There was a fish in the tank that absolutely fascinated me. It was like the Ferrari of fish! Looking part fish and part eel, I thought it was one bad you know what with fins. Anyway, I had to have a picture of it. The problems were that the glass was a bit murky, the light was low, and to top it off, the fish was swimming around in circles like it was going somewhere important.

First, I knew I had to speed up the shutter as fast as possible to minimize blur. For that, I cranked up the ISO setting on my Canon 5D to 3200. That indeed sped up the shutter but unfortunately higher ISO setting introduces higher amounts of noise to the photograph. Fortunately, the 5D is a full frame camera with a large sensor. The bigger the sensor the better the noise performance at higher ISO settings! Next, I had to dial in the widest aperture possible to let the most light in, which was f4.0 on the 24mm-105mm lens I had mounted on the camera. These two settings gave me a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. Now, my lens is image stabilized, which basically compensates for camera shake at lower shutter speeds and effectively speeds up the shutter even more. I was pretty sure that even with all these settings, I would not get a clear shot of my Ferrari fish without tracking it with the camera and shooting it as it went by. So, I stood there and waited for him (or her) to come around several times as I tracked the swimming speed and took the shots. I was thrilled when I got the shot above. Ferrari fish was pretty well centered, in relative solitude and well focused. In post processing the shot, I first took out what noise was present with a noise filter. I then enhanced the contrast and added a subtle vignette and blur to the outer edges.

Dazzling coral at Hong Kong's water park

Dazzling coral at Hong Kong’s water park

Above is another shot using the same settings as above. Of course the coral was not moving like the fish so it was easier to focus the shot. It’s a blast trying to get cool shots of anything and everything. I thought these were kind of groovy and different than anything else I have in the portfolio. So remember, always consider the possibilities now matter how bleak the shooting conditions, create a plan of attack, and by all means, take the picture!

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Comments (2)

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  1. The shots are awesome. I especially loved the coral hots. The corals just seem to stand out, almost like 3D with that one sole yellow fish giving it that right amount of finese.

    Tim

  2. The Ferrari fish certainly cooperated with his beautiful looks, but you captured the movement which can be so hard to do, especially with such low lighting. And when one is afraid to take it the camera off automatic. Some day I will.