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Building a photo tank...


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I have yet to take a decent photo of my fish or fry and I was thinking of making a photo tank...

I've read the posts relating to photo tanks but apart from some great photography tips I couldn't find anything on a purpose built tank.

I have some small pieces of mirror I was thinking of putting on each side near the front to encourage flaring... or should I place it at the back to allow an overhead light to shine on the front of the fish better?

apart from that I'm not sure where to go with it...

Any advice from others who have or have built one would be appreciated especially where it comes to:

  • size - width/height/depth front to back
  • backing - either a plain colour or I have a thin piece of non-reflective glass that might work
  • lighting - would an overhead light built into it be better than playing with a flash unit?
  • any other advice or tips would be appreciated.

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* size - width/height/depth front to back
I'd suggest 10cm x 5cm

* backing - either a plain colour or I have a thin piece of non-reflective glass that might work
Jodi uses cards of different colours which she flips behind to see which colour flatters the fish best.

* lighting - would an overhead light built into it be better than playing with a flash unit?
Lots of overhead light. Flash is a pain due to the reflection.

* any other advice or tips would be appreciated.
Don't build the mirrors into it. Sometimes a betta won't flare at a mirror but will flare at another betta so you want to be able to try both.
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i don't have a set tank so I'll just give you a run down on how i did the majority of mine in regards to your questions

Size: I actually would use those 'betta' cube's - the ones that are 10x10 (so the wee little ones) as a/that's what I had haha (I actually used them to place the fish in while i did 100% water changes on their tanks... b/a smaller size gives them less room to move so not 'chasing' them around the tank trying to get a photo of them (good in theory but they still move pretty darn quick the little buggars)

Backing: Most of the time I never bothered with this. Once I did set up a black towel behind the cubes and that was great for really showing the colors off. - white would be another alternative as it's a light reflector so could help if lighting was a little on the poor side. With the black backdrop I had a sheet of white card set to the other side of where the mirror and light source was sot that the white card would reflect the light back onto the fish.... If I can find a photo of that set up on my other computer I'll post a picture for you ;)

Lighting: As I did the majority of my stuff during water changes, I'd always do this outside on the veranda, so I'd get to use a lot of natural light (afternoon light - not harsh morning or mid day light...) As you need to have them well light for your camera to be able to focus and catch them as still as possible. Lighting in my opinion is the biggest thing to getting a nice clear/clean shoot you have to have good lighting for the camera (no matter what kind/type) to function at its best :)

Other things I have found..... Take lots of shoots. If you can, make sure you can move around the cube to take a shot from another side, as 99.99% of the time the damn fish will be on the one side that you can't take a photo from :) ...umm.... mirrors work well, a lot of mine where either with mirrors or one of the other boys just on the other side out of view :)

I thin that's about it - well other then know your camera and its settings... what kind of camera are you using.??

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Thanks Lilli & Peta,

To keep it simple I think I'll try to use 2mm glass at the front to help with letting in more light. I'll cut a small piece of mirror and use it as an alternative and maybe build the photo tank as a double tank with 2 10 x 5 compartments - can take pics of 2 fish easily then as well.

The coloured cards idea for a background is great too - they can be changed depending on the fish's colours. I can laminate them to make them waterproof (just incase of spills).

Lighting is probably the most important as you said Peta - I think perhaps something stronger than the 30cm flouro I've been using is in order - will have to see what I can set up - or put a table out the back for natural sunlight. A white reflector card is a great idea too Peta - I haven't done much photography for years and didn't even think of doing that - it makes best use of a single light source.

My camera is a Pentax *ist D with a couple of the standard 'plastic' zoom/macro lens that came with it but I also have a 50mm and a 22mm lens - these would be too close but I can get the smaller f stops with those to increase shutter speed but it would be better to use higher f stops to get depth of field wouldn't it?

Do you enclose your photo tank in a box or something to stop reflections on the front glass? I was thinking that might stop reflection but lose too much light in the process though. What do you do to avoid reflections outside in natural light?

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Damn I'm stupid - I forgot that I could change the ISO to compensate a little for lower light levels and not use a flash at all!!!! Peta's comment about camera settings all of a sudden hit me! Go to high and it will give the photos a bit of graininess or have digital 'noise' but still reduces the need for flash under normal fluoro lights.

On another thought - can Lilli's and Peta's comments above be pinned so everyone can find some great tips on taking photos of their fish?


Taken on Pentax *ist D

ISO 800, 1/125 shutter speed F5.6

Normal fluorescent light over tank

Edited by fishbites
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I take all my photos with a Fuji FinePix S5000 - state of the art in 2003! 3.2Megapixels (yeah, that's right, 3.2!)

There is dreadful lag and the macro is laughable by today's standards.

However - you can take decent pics if you have enough light!

So, don't stint on this factor.

Cheers, someone

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Have you considered using acrylic? I was told a while back that scratch-free acrylic is better for photo tanks because it has a refractive index closer to that of water than glass does. I'm not sure how to manage scratch-free acrylic, but maybe certain types are more resistant to wear and tear.

Quick google showed up this site and these results:

Water (20° C) 1.33283

Plexiglas 1.488

Glass, Crown (common) 1.52 (have no idea if that *is* common glass, but they were all 1.52 and higher)

I use a glass vase, about 5cm wide to make sure I don't have to worry so much about depth of field as the fish is more limited and can't really move too far out of range. If you are after snaps of fish for conformation or records that can be handy, but it does limit the natural movement and expressions of individual fish so it might not be suitable for what you want.

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Callatya - you are brilliant!!!

I've been so obsessed with glass since I got a decent glass cutter and made my first Betta tank but you're right about perspex/acrylic - it's much much clearer than glass! Glass has that greenish tinge to it as it gets thicker and can reduce light and give a colour cast to the photos (not that my eyesight is 20:20!).

I actually have some offcuts of perspex in the shed somewhere! Only small pieces but enough to make a small tank - will try to dig the perspex out tomorrow night and see what I can do with it.

I do actually prefer 'natural' photos of the fish but to see them in their full glory a photo tank/vase is probably the best.

someone - I remember the lag on my old Sony 3.2 MP digital camera - but I still took a lot of good action photos (not fish) with it - just had to get the anticipation right and snap that ½ second before the point you wanted to photograph! Light is the key to it all - or your ability to manipulate the light with reflector cards like Peta said and using different cards for backgrounds like you do.

I've finally seen the light! :D

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I use a 10 cm glass cube. I used to use beanie boxes until they got too scratched.

I'm going to join the chorus of "lighting, lighting, lighting". You can improve the results of any camera simply by providing more light. If you're restricted to the in-built flash, reflection will be a problem however if you get close enough to the glass you might be able to get around it. With that in mind, before you decide what size photo tank to make, first get your camera manual out and work out the closest distance you can get to the subject. Then build the tank so that it's about 1 cm more than that with the view of getting the fish to flare against the back wall of the tank.

My point and shoot camera has a hotshoe so I bought an external flash and cable. This allows so much more flexiblity. I still try to get as much light on the fish using desk lamps but that's mostly because my non-DSLR finds it difficult to focus in the dark.

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Bettarazzi I've heard of people doing what you suggest and then they put a divider in the tank to keep the fish at the rear - didn't twig as to why until you mentioned the minimum distance the camera will focus at. Get too close and it won't focus at all.

Will have to think more on the design again now - having the longer tank would allow the lens to be right at the glass and avoid any reflections easily - just need to attract the fish to the rear of the tank with another fish or use a divider or a mirror perhaps. Just as long as I don't have too much water & glass between lens and the fish or it will reduce the light a lot and cause a colour cast I think.

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