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Old 2008-05-04, 00:12   Link #21
Love Yourself
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Northeast USA
Age: 32
Anguish of Dearth: Aquarium Photography

For the majority of these photos, the only Photoshopping that I do is to add my alias and resize the images down to 1600x1200. HDR images are a composite of multiple images (usually three) that are combined in Photoshop. Photoshop has an automated HDR function, but if you want to do it manually it involves adjustment of levels and such.


Photos from this next set were all taken at the Aquarium of Pacific, located in Long Beach, California. The aquarium presented a multitude of challenges.

Spoiler for Challenges encountered:

Due to the challenges I faced I was unable to round off a lot of the shots that I wanted, and I came away with very few that I was happy with. In hindsight, there are very few things one can do to get better pictures: 1) Become better about manually adjusting the white balance; 2) visit during a time when there will be very few visitors; 3) use a faster lens (pre-requisite: get a higher paying job). Many of these images can probably be Photoshopped to look very presentable, but I'll be presenting them in their raw form. Enjoy.

Shrimp City

Enough shrimp came out clearly enough in this one to make the blurring of the moving ones look artistic. The blue and green lighting for the tank plays out pleasantly on the sand. Unfortunately, you can see the faint reflection of my hands on the plexiglass, as well as the reflection of some lights. Photoshop was probably created for pictures like these.

Underwater Jungle

The colors worked out nicely enough on this one, and the overall positioning nicely shows everything that was there. Unfortunately, closer examination reveals that the plexiglass meddled with this one.

Orange Catfood

Here's a close-up of the orange fish in the previous picture. I'm not happy with it, but the blurred fins combined with the relatively sharp head and body make for a pleasant enough appearence.

Ocean Meteor

This was an extremely dark area, but some red lights in the tank made the jellyfish look really neat. This is the best of the bunch - most of the other jellyfish were tangled up with each other, which looked more painful than interesting.

Big Eyes

Finally, a fish that came out clearly. What I like most about this picture is near the top. Are those dozens of small fish, air bubbles, or muck? Can't remember, but I like to think they're small fish.

Can't Touch This

I'm posting this one to show just how horrible the plexiglass and water are. Here, a little boy wandered into the camera's sight. Notice how sharp he looks and how vibrant the colors are compared with what's beyond the plexiglass... sigh.

Archer Fish (maybe)

This one was passable. Blurring wasn't terrible. Plexiglass reflections are apparent upon closer inspection.

The Other World

Have any of you ever gone deep into a pool, and then looked up? The reflections and warped views that you see from beneath the water have always been interesting to me. In this tank the lighting was perfect for creating a mirror effect. No moving fish (or very slow-moving fish) meant no blurring, either. It feels like the colors are a bit washed-out compared with how the corals should look, but this matches how it looked in my mind.

Stripes and Polka-Dots

These are some of the fish from the previous tank. They were slow moving and, realizing that I might realistically exit the aquarium without a single sharp shot of a fish, I nabbed the shot. On a second glance, they have a very interesting coloration and pattern design (three in total along the body).

Sea Turtle

My girlfriend and I happened to be in the right place at the right time - the sea turtle swam up from the bottom of the tank, surfaced for air, and then came back down. Little children crowded the exhibit, but the turtle ended up swimming right by my girlfriend and me. Ledgem: 1, little kids: 0. (Plexiglass: 3, for contributing to distortion on the left side of the image.)

Painting Fish

These fish were all brilliant colors. I wanted to get a sharp image of them, but it was too dark to prevent blurring. In hindsight, I should have left the shutter open for longer so that massive blurring would have occurred. After all, the colors of the fish are the focus here, and even if they're a bit blurred the colors are still brilliant. Massive blurred colors would have been rather artistic, especially with that static background (keeping a static background would have been difficult, however, as I didn't come with a tripod).

Clownfish Circus

This shot came out well enough; the orange of the clownfish seems fine. It was a nice touch for the aquarium to combine clownfish (the orange ones) with "false clownfish" (the black ones).

The Leafy Sea Dragon

I saw sea horses and regular sea dragons and thought they were cool, but I spent most of my time trying to capture the leafy sea dragon. It looks just like seaweed, but it's incredibly beautiful. This exhibit was in a cylindrical tank, meaning that the plexiglass was rounded at all ends. In nearly all of my close-up shots, at least one part of the sea dragon is blurred. I'm not sure that this is my clearest shot, but it's one of the clearest.

Interestingly, someone took pictures of the exact same exhibit and submitted them to Olympus' User Photo Gallery (check the pictures from E-system cameras; it should be on the first section). She also remarked that getting shots through plexiglass is very difficult - I agree. I like the colors of her shot better, as it makes the sea dragon stand out more and appear more golden. I don't know if this is due to something that she did or if it's because the lighting of the exhibit was different at that time. It's also hard to gauge the clarity of her image as we can't see it at full resolution.

The Dark Sea Dragon

Not all of the leafy sea dragons were the same - some had slghtly different patterns, and some were slightly lighter or darker than the others. This one was the darkest of the bunch. Unfortunately it never presented itself in a good position for me, but I thought that it was neat enough to present it here.

Rainbow Air Head

Nope, not a fish. The aquarium had a lorikeet exhibit, the type where you can walk in and have the birds flying around you. I decided not to switch to a long-range lens (which would have resulted in better lorikeet shots), but it was refreshing to get decent shots with relative ease.

Surface Distortion

No blurring, and perfect colors - it's too bad that the angle couldn't have been better, and that the water wasn't a bit calmer.


The rays of light played out nicely and there was no major blurring, but the colors appeared washed out. The water was a bit murky, which probably contributed to this.

Sleepy Puffin

There were some droplets of water on the plexiglass (on the puffin's side), due to the fact that the puffins were splashing around and having a grand time. It's blurred enough that it doesn't ruin the picture, but it's not optimal.


Interesting fish; either the water or the plexiglass was a bit dirty in this one. This was in a light room and the fish were moving slowly enough to capture nicely, though.

(No EXIF information for these pictures yet; I may come back to add it in later)


You may be thinking to yourself, "that's nice and all, but what about real underwater photography?" It's quite possible, but insanely expensive to equip your camera for underwater environments. You'll need to buy an underwater housing for your camera - these are tailored for your specific model, and I believe that the one for my camera was around $1200 (yikes, that's almost double what I paid for the camera + lenses kit itself!). Then, you'll need an underwater housing for the lens you'll be using. I believe that the lens housing is specific to one lens, too, which means that you'll need to choose which lens you want to use carefully (not that you can change lenses under water, of course).

I don't dive, and I don't snorkel enough to warrant buying the housing enclosure for my camera. However, if you want a more affordable option, look into Olympus' SW line of cameras. They're point-and-shoot models, but I believe that the latest ones are 10 megapixels and support 10x optical zoom. They can be taken down to a depth of 10 feet, I believe. When I replace my D-435 it'll be with a SW. Perhaps some day I'll get to post some "real" underwater photos...

As always, feedback appreciated. Thanks for looking!
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