View Full Version : Fish Photo Guide

01-28-2017, 02:00 PM
Hi all,

I thought I would share my method and gear for taking photos of fish in a tank. Most fish keepers like to take pics of their tank to share on the web. You can , with some practice take a relatively good photo of the fish without any special flash or just using your smart phones or point and shoot camera. It's easily doable, and the pics can be very nice. That is what you think until you see someone else's picture that just looks better. The lighting is different or the fish just stands out. That's when you say to yourself. "Gee, I wish my pictures looked like that." Well, Here you go then. Here is a detailed method to improve your fish photos using Off the Camera flash. Now hold on, I know what you are thinking here. "just what I need, another expensive hobby, or costly equipment that you need a PhD to figure out how to use." Actually if you want to spend a lot on complicated equipment, you certainly could . Many people drop thousands of dollars on camera gear without batting an eye. If you are one of those, more power to you, read along here for the basics and then go spend away. I would if I could! New Toys are fun. If you are like me though and you are generally budget constrained and can't just go out an drop a few grand on new gear, you are in luck! Read on.

My technique here is far from perfect, but it works for me. I have a hobby of trying to re-use old stuff, that includes camera gear. For this guide, I am going to draw from my Pentax camera gear. This gear is still widely available used on ebay and various online stores. The flash trigger is the only part of this that is not really old, but is very cheap. If you want to substitute your current DSLR (Nikon,Canon, etc) , the technique and equivalent gear will still work with some trial and error. I take no responsibility there if it doesn't.

Here is what you need..

1.Digital SLR... Pentax k20 D (current used price $150-200)
2.Pentax or compatible lens .... Pentax F 35-70mm ( Price used $35-$50)
3.Flash .. AF200T Pentax (Price $15-20)
4.Speedlight trigger.. (price $15-25)
5.Diffuser aka Paper Towels (cost $1)

Total cost for a really useful camera system for Aquarium Photography using off the camera flash ...$250-$300 with the gear I use here. Seriously, you could easily do it way cheaper depending on the camera and lens you pick. I am using these because the K20D and that F35-70 lens are something I use all the time and have for years. They are real work horses. Alternatively you could literally spend hundreds to thousands more on high end gear that you will use in pretty much the same fashion as I use these.

1.Digital SLR... Pentax k20 D (current used price $150-200) . This camera is 14 megapixals. That is way more than most people will ever need for fish tank pictures. You could make 16"X 20 " (220+ PPI resolution from this, which is really excellent quality by most standards. But lets face it most of us will not even print these. We will post them on facebook, forums, and texts in which case you are limited by the resolution of your monitor or phone screen anyway.


2. Pentax or compatible lens .... Pentax F 35-70mm ( Price used $35-$50)
Could be many kinds, but a lens in the 28-80mm range with decent close up abilities should work. I would suggest getting a lens that you can manually change the aperture on. It makes it much easier when you are shooting the tank, IMO. Many newer lens do not have this feature any more, as it is done in the camera.



3. Flash .. AF200T Pentax (Price $15-20)
You could easily spend hundreds on your flash. They have ones that you can sync to your camera and remotely fire. They work great but aren't really necessary. You can make do with flashes that are ancient by today's standards and go back to the film camera days. That is what I used here for my example pictures. The one I am showing is a small flash unit that can be fired in manual mode. You can literally change the settings with the slide of a switch. There is nothing fancy or complicated about it.


If you go this route you will need a cheap flash trigger. You could spend hundreds on flash triggers also if thats your budget but again, its really not necessary.

4. Speedlight trigger.. (price $15-25) I bought mine on ebay for $15 from China. It has 2 channels, some have more. Mine came with one transmitter and two triggers, so I could use 2 flashes at once if I want. The pictures in this article were made with only one flash. You simply select the channel on the transmitter and receiver (must be the same number) . The transmitter goes on the camera on the hot shoe for the the flash, the trigger (receiver) goes on the flash..




Camera with transmitter:




01-28-2017, 02:06 PM
Receiver on Flash


5.Diffuser aka Paper Towels (cost $1) You can buy diffusers for your flash that help reduce the light or spread it out more evenly. Some even can alter the light temp. They vary in price. These are great but in a pinch a down and dirty method is paper towels... Stack them as needed to achieve various lighting effects and intensities.

Flash and diffuser are placed on top of the tank.Obviously they need to be on something clear like glass or plastic so the flash lights up the tank.


Also of use though not needed is something to wedge under the flash if you want to change the angle. I'm not counting that in the article as a cost because you could use anything , even crumpled paper towels! I did not use anything to change the light angle in these pics.

At This point you are ready to take pics, just need to set the flash...



You will use it in manual mode. "M" Set the iso speed, in most cases I use 100 or 200 iso. Set the flash power output (full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8). You have to play around with the output. I use it at 1/2 to start. You will notice there a scale on the flash.. It basically tells you if you were using the flash on the camera how far in feet you should be at a certain f-stop on the Lens. You can ignore it as we are using the flash in a manner not intended. You will want to set your camera ISO as well..


and lastly. Though you can use autofocus, I do not on these shots. I set the camera to manual focus. I set the shutter speed to 1/180 ... my flash triggers sync at 1/200 sec. but work okay this setting. This setting is important as you need the camera to take the picture as the flash is firing. You may need to play around with it.


I like to try various apertures on the lens for effect and to control the light levels of the flash. Old manual Lenses have a ring of numbers on them. Intimidating at first, just think of it like this for this article. The smaller the number the larger the lens opens , and more light goes in. The larger the number the smaller the hole (aperture) and the less light goes to the camera. In this lens the largest aperture is F 3.5 and the smallest is F22. If you take a pic at F22 and its not bright enough you can try changing to a smaller number like F8 to let more light in. Or you could switch the flash to full power.


That is really all there is to it. It is not that hard at all, and after a few test runs you get a feel for it. I can't guarantee that if you follow this guide you will have no work ahead of you. Photography is largely trial and error and learning along the way. I know this set up works, and I know that you could do similar with any camera mfg and gear. You will need to research what works there or not. All this is, is a guide that is based on my system for down and dirty, low cost Aquarium Fish Photography. Someone else's system could be very different yet work the same or better.

At the very least you get the idea that you need to get the flash off the camera.

Hope this is useful to you at least as a starting point or conceptually. Obviously use this at your own risks. Its for informational purposes only.


Heres some examples of what you can do with this set up...




01-28-2017, 02:11 PM











01-28-2017, 02:16 PM
As Follow up here I also want to direct you to this article by Ricardo on Lighting...



two utes
01-28-2017, 06:41 PM
Thanks for this great info' Al. I need to get myself an SLR :thumbsup:

01-28-2017, 07:43 PM
Thanks for this great info' Al. I need to get myself an SLR :thumbsup:

Thanks Joe! Go for it, they are great hobbies!


01-28-2017, 08:19 PM
Very well written guide. One thing I'll mention is that when we had Al's camera travelling around the world, when I got my hands on it, I found it more capable than I originally imagined.

Don't get sucked up in the idea that you have to dump thousands and thousands of dollars to get good pics.

Everything changes when you NEED to do something a little more specialized. At that point, you may have to look for gear that is more specific to your needs that may cost more.

With that said, I have used Al's techniques here for years and they work well.

If anyone is interested, you can go on Keh.com and you can find older bodies in good condition that don't cost more than $100-$150 that are more than adequate for 90% of general day to day photography.

Thanks for sharing this Al

01-06-2019, 01:30 PM
Flickr links removed ... info here. (http://forum.simplydiscus.com/showthread.php?134194-All-Good-things-come-to-an-end-Flickr-changes-coming-and-they-are-not-good)