Photography - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 01:00 PM Thread Starter
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Just splurged and bought the Nikon D100 SLR. Any good photography tips for shooting a planted tank?
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post #2 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 01:39 PM
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I recently bought a Canon Ditigal Rebel SLR, and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens (canon). I don't know the specifics of your camera, but I can give the following advice.

If you want the subject(s) to be in focus and looking good, you're going to need a decent low-light lens and you will want to crank your aperature nice and tight. I go with an f-number of between 9-20 depending on what I'm shooting. This is with my macro lens though, which is a lot more sensitive (up close) to focus-range issues.

In order to use a tighter aperature, you're going to need a TON of light on the tank, or you need to leave the shutter open forever. I currently use my flash in addition to 360w of overhead tank lighting. This isn't really the best way to do it. From what I've read, the best way to go about this is to build an overhead flash canopy and use a remote flash on top of the tank. This way you have natural top-down lighting on the plants and fish, and avoid glass-reflection issues, as well as unnatural looking shadows. With a regular camera flash, you end up with tons of problems if the flash hits the glass and reflects back into the lens or even if it illuminates the room behind you, which reflects on the the surface glass. You want everything else in the room off, and the glass perfectly clean, etc.

Another issue is ISO and shutter speed. If you're taking pics of a planted tank with no fish, or if you don't care that they're a blur, you can ignore the flash issues and set your camera for a long shutter opening. I have done this with my camera on a tripod and a delay set so that you don't wiggle the camera when pushing the shutter button. You may be able to get a remote camera control too, though I don't know specifics on the Nikon.

As for ISO, you should try to shoot for the lowest possible ISO setting on a digital camera, since this will be the "native" mode for your CCD chip. Anything above the lowest ISO setting will introduce noise, which is a result of the increase in gain on the signal coming from the chip. The noise is likely not noticable though until higher settings. My Canon camera shows a little noise at ISO 1600, but lower than that I cannot tell. If you want to test it, I suggest taking identical photos of something which has a pure-black area (shadow or black color). Compare the shadow/black areas on each photo. This is where the noise will be most evident.

I hope this was helpful.. I am new to this as well, and currently looking into an overhead remote flash system. I'll let you all know what I end up doing.
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post #3 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 02:24 PM
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ISO in a digital camera? That is just silly. (Yes I know the camera manufacturers have this built into higher end digitals) ISO is the films sensitivity to light, by setting this on a digital camera, you are just making a "virtual" adjustment. It is just adding or subtracting from the baseline value the ccd captures and compensates the light meter accordingly. You can do the same by adjusting the brightness in post production (photoshop, et. al.)
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post #4 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 02:31 PM
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That's not exactly true. They don't adjust the light meter, they actually up the voltage to the CCD chip to increase the 'gain' and amplify the apparent light on the chip. I agree that it's silly to call it ISO though, but I guess they're trying to make life easier for real photographers who are coming from the film world. I never dealt with film though so I don't really care for the ISO setting.
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post #5 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 02:35 PM
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asmodian: Since the light meter is probably coming from the CCD data, you're probably right, no adjustment is necessary. I was assuming a separate light meter like in a film camera.
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post #6 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 02:50 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all of the info. I've got a 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens. I'll do some experimenting with it. It has a very narrow depth of field, so I expect this will be challenging.

For shooting the entire tank, do you want all of the room lights off?

Any suggestions for shooting fish; always moving, so as you said, blur problems.
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post #7 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 03:11 PM
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To tackle the depth-of-field problem you must adjust the aperature. I would set up a piece of paper or something approx the distance you're going to be shooting from when doing fish close-ups, and then take a bunch of different shots with increasing f-number (smaller aperature) settings. Examine each shot so you can determine what the difference is going to be, and how much depth you get from each setting. The larger the setting, the less light you're letting in, but the more of the scene will be in focus. At the higher end, you're going to start seeing some distortion though, so keep it reasonable. Also, the higher the setting, the more light will be required. An intense flash helps this but will introduce all new issues. I think under f-20 is a safe range though (for f-number). I do some fish shots at 9, but if you want plants and other stuff in focus, or if you're REALLY close up, go higher, or move your camera further back.

For shooting the entire tank, I would make sure that everything in the room is off. You're definitely going to have flash problems too, if you are using the camera-mounted flash. Your choices for dealing with insufficient light are not pretty though unless you go with an external flash. You can decrease shutter speed (blurry fish/anything moving, must use tripod and either remote shutter or delayed shutter), increase ISO (probably won't be enough, and will cause "digital noise"), or decrease your f-number down to the 2.8 of your lens... though that's not likely going to be sufficient.

As for taking action shots, I have my shutter set to 1/4000 sec, and I use a flash. You may have to be more conservative with f-number because with a fast shutter like 1/4000 you're not letting a whole lot of light in to begin with. It's all about lighting with fish photography it seems.
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post #8 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 03:12 PM
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Hmm... I'm new to planted tanks and fish but not to photography, so forgive me for any strange comments. But... why must the 'blur' problems neccessarily be overcome? It seems like you might also try working with the ever-moving fish. I've never seen a panned fish photo... now that would be cool.

Personally, I would suggest, if you really really want a nice shot of your fish, high-speed film. I mean, let's face it, affordable digital just doesn't do high-speed. But film can. So don't rule it out. You might find that film works better for your purposes, and you can still have it put on CD to work with in PS. I'm sure you or somebody you know has a nice older manual canon or nikon. Add some professional high-speed color film and you shouldn't have a problem getting a good shot with the right aperture and shutter speed. I would suggest f/8 at 1/125. Under typical planted-tank-lighting that should work out.

Forgive me for being a traditionalist (and I'm only 22 - go figure). I've just seen it proven time and time again that digital can't do quality action shots in anything but sunlight. But hey, if there's a window nearby, maybe you can reflect some of that great light into the tank.

And as was already said, for shooting the whole tank, shut off the lights in the room, add any possible light to the tank, and keep the 'iso' low. However, you will also get noise with longer exposures. At a distance far enough to cover the whole tank, you should be able to get away with keeping the aperture low (f/4) and using a higher ss (at least 1/30).

Good Luck!
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post #9 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 04:14 PM Thread Starter
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Aurore, Asmodion;

Thanks for all of the suggestions. I'll do some experimenting with the D100 tonight and see what I can come up with. I can tripod mount and use a delayed shutter. The camera has aperature priority modes, so I'll set the aperature as you have suggested and see what the camera meters the shutter speed at. As for film, I also have an N50 body. I may give that a try as well. Perhaps I can do a comparison.

On nice thing about the D100 is that you can shoot in RAW mode and using the Nikon capture software, you can adjust just about everything afterwards, including exposure.

I'm sure your Canon has something similar.

Anyway, I'll see what I can do tonight and post some photos.
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post #10 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 04:21 PM
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Asmodion, great info, thanks for sharing. I noticed that the non-SLR digitals (with a smaller LCD chip) have an amazing depth of field, and most blurry pictures are caused by (camera or subject) movements rather than being out of focus. I found the solution for my camera when setting it to a flash sync timing of 1/250 instead of the default 1/60s.

I have played around with my nice external flash, using it at various angles, and placing it overhead. It's funny... is still get the best repeatable results when using the little built-in flash. The strength is just right for closeups, and using telephoto setting and a slight angle to the glass, reflections are not a problem. The issues with placing the flash on top have been that 1) Fishes don't behave "naturally" if there is something strange on top of them 2) the narrow angle of the flash makes it difficult to use for larger tanks (you mentioned a flash canopy) 3) any floating debris shows up as bright white spots.

For full tank shots, I suggest to NOT use the flash. For long tanks, you might consider taking separate shots of the left and right part and then stitching them together.

Aurore, you are right in saying that cheap digitals are not suitable for high-speed shooting. But not so much due to the light issue, but because of the slow autofocus and shutter lag. What is affordable? It is still quite a chunk of change for a camera like asmodians, but prices have (and still do) come down so fast, if you are serious into photography I think the choice today is clearly digital :mrgreen:

How about that for a panned fish photo?
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post #11 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 04:23 PM
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Does your camera have a manual mode (M)?
If so, you should probably consider using it rather than aperature priority mode. This way you can control shutter speed yourself, as your camera is likely going to significantly lower the shutter speed in order to compensate. This is how I do it. If you guys want to check out a couple of pics I have online (greatly reduced in size), here are links. Keep in mind that I'm new to this, be gentle. Note the algae on my plants in the last image.
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post #12 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 06:02 PM
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erm something small, if your pumps create enough current to move the leaves of your plants, even slightly, switch it off for a minute or two while you do the shots to keep leaves still and crisp.

Cape Town, South Africa.

Hi. I'm back.
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post #13 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 06:46 PM Thread Starter
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Asmodion, yes I have a fully manual mode. I'll use that. Great shots, btw.

Wasserpest, awesome loach shot. I agree, the blur works well in this photo. I tried doing some shots with my previous Olympus C5050. Excellent camera, but I never had much luck with fish or aquarium shots. The shutter delay is a killer.
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post #14 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 06:52 PM
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A few simple tips.
Shoot with room lights off.
Use a macro setting on your camera.
I also use a spot focus setting for individual fish pics
No flash
Play with -/+ exposure stops
If your tank uses standard tubes use some 6500k T8 tubes just for pics.
Take lots of pics and experiment with photoshop
Good Luck

15 tall
with pressurized c02 jebo 828 , 9w turbotwist uv. up-aqua co2 atomizer16/22
& small yoyo and striata loaches and praecox rainbows.
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post #15 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-10-2004, 08:18 PM
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with d100 you have much greater control than with typical point and shoot digital cameras, You have an actual dslr, so all those settings and stuff forget about them, shoot on manual and set your preferences ...aperture, shutter, iso. you can take great pics with this camera, I have a 10d I absolutely will never shoot with film again, if you have a raw mode, shoot in that, you will get greater post proccesing control in the end, you won't be sorry..

but the best advice is practice, and see what works for you, you have one of the best consumer cameras out are definately not lacking in equipment
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