Archive for December 14th, 2008


An anemone hugging the glass wall.

An anemone hugging the glass wall.

Today my family and I ventured into San Francisco to the newly rebuilt Academy of Sciences, or as we call it, the Steinhart Aquarium. I went there a lot growing up and being able to go again was pretty exciting. Especially with someone else paying the entrance fee.

As with any event I took my camera gear with me to see what it is like to take photos in an aquarium. Turns out it is rather difficult.

Initially I wanted to use my 55-200mm lens but quickly found that it was nowhere near fast enough for the lighting. I then switched to my 50mm prime as the lens for the underwater displays. This was faster but still not fast enough. By fast enough I mean it does not have a shutter speed over 1/60″ at ISO 100. I had to make some compromises.

The trip was a good exercise in changing camera settings quickly and manual focus. I found myself routinely either upping the ISO to either 400 or 800 or setting the exposure compensation down a stop or two. Often lowering the expsosure comp by two stops was needed since the camera metered based on the entire scene (looking back I could have changed the metering) when often a fish was illuminated against a dark background. 

I was shooting in aperture priority mode to keep it at f/1.8 and used the exposure compensation button in conjunction with the Fn button (this is with a Nikon D60) set to change the ISO. Playing with these allowed me to at least get into the range where I could take a non-blurred photo. Or at least non-blurred when reduced down in size. I also had to manual focus which is hard to do when shooting fish that swim around.

Aside from lighting the main enemy of clean shots was the display glass. I usually take off my UV filters when shooting in low light to prevent reflections and improve image quality. When shooting through fish tank walls that were cleaned with a squeegee it did not really matter that I had perfectly clean front optics. Reflections off the glass occasionally posed in issue, I helped reduce seeing myself by wearing almost all dark colors. 

If I had a perfect set up I would have brought a f/1.2 50mm prime with autofocus capabilities. Maybe a small tripod or bean bag to steady the camera on rails or tank sills. Of course that f/1.2 lens is about three times as much as all of the camera equipment I have now so it is not likely to happen.

No matter how many times I see it when someone uses a flash against a glass window it hurts a little bit.

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