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30 Sep 2013

I’ve never been an avid fans for fishes or corals my whole life until my visit to S.E.A. Aquarium, world’s largest oceanarium at Resort World Sentosa (RWS) Singapore.

It was an awesome and remarkable experience when I stepped into the aquarium. I felt alive in a big fish tank with tons of colorful and animated marine life around me. What is even more awesome was a good close-up of many species of marine life that one would not get to see easily.

While one would want to capture the visual experience, there are many challenges (which I will discuss below) that exist between your photography equipment and subjects.


No Flashes Allowed

It was understandable that flashes are not allowed in order to protect blinding the marine life in the aquarium. Even if you want to use flash, the glass would have reflected most of the flash thus spoiling your photographs. This would also mean that you would have to compensate working in a “not so ideally illuminated” environment such as:

Use Fast Lens

Lens that give you a larger aperture (that is, smaller F-number - typically F/2.8 or smaller).

Set a Higher ISO

Although higher ISO gives a “grainier” (or noisy) picture, but it allows you to compensate for higher shutter speed. Personally, I have always preferred a sharper picture that can capture the “moment” with a higher shutter speed under harsh lighting condition, as it is easier to reduce noise in post-processing.

Shoot in RAW format

Shooting in RAW may take up more space and you may need additional graphics tool to post-process the RAW format in JPEGs. However, it does give you more leverages to adjust your photos during post-processing.

Use a tripod (where possible)

Depending on the crowds, you may or may not have the luxury of setting up your tripod. In my cases, I’ve managed without a tripod. So, practice to take photographs with a steady hand!.

They are Always Moving!!!

The marine life is not mock-up - they are real, alive and kicking! Some of them zoom from left to right in split seconds and pausing only occasionally, which makes it hard to focus. Not to mention that some of the fishes are also too small to be focused.

The following are some recommendations on how to photograph moving fishes.

Be Patience & Observe Your Subject's Movement

I've always spent a fair bit amount of time observing and understanding the movement of my subject, so that I can plan when, where and how I want to shoot my subject. Afterwhich, I would patiently wait for the right moment.

Use Fast Focusing Lens

Fast focusing lens gives you an edge to quickly focus in on your subject.

Use Al Servo Focusing Mode (for Canon users)

Al Servo Focusing Mode works well in tracking moving subject as your camera will constantly adjust the focusing for moving subjects. (Note: For non-Canon users, your DSLR should have equivalent features - check your camera's manual.)

Use Zoom Lens on a cropped DSLR body

This will give you an "additional reach" to zoom in on small subjects.

Switch to Manual Focusing

This works extremely well when your subject may be too small to be focused automatically by your camera.

Go for Motion Blur i.e. Long Exposure

When everything else does not work, go for motion blur. Sometimes, long exposure on the motion of the fishes can produce interesting results.

Refraction

The window glasses of the fish tanks are very thick which means that you will have refraction (i.e. distortion and sharpness issue) when photographing your subject. Challenges also increases when the “fish tanks” have a round surface.

Recommendation: To minimize potential refraction, shots are encouraged to be taken at 90-degree angle of incidence from the surface of the window glass. (See illustration below.)

Reflection

There could potential reflection on the tank’s glass due to many potential light sources around you (e.g. light from other’s handphone screen, tanks behind you, etc).

Use Polarizing Filters

This could eliminate such reflection problem. However, using polarizing filter would mean that you might lost up to 2 F-Stops depending on the quality of your filter, which the environment's lighting condition may be unfavorable to do so.

Zoom in on your Subject, Avoid of Wide-Angle Shots 

Avoid taking wide-angle photo of the entire tank, as it is more likely to pick up reflections casted on the glass surface. Instead, be focus and zoom in on the subject that you want. (See illustration below.)


Ambience Lighting In the Tank

The lighting is specially set up in the tank according to the ecology for the marine life, as well as to create an ambience to the visitors. So your “as-shot” photograph may not appear with the “actual” corrected color.

Recommendation: While setting your camera’s White Balance could fix the problem, it would be easier to leave it in “AUTO” (and shoot in RAW format) and correct the White Balance during post-processing.

People Crowd

People crowd around the tanks, knocking into you who are trying to hold still to photograph. Not to mention unable to even find a squatting spot.

Recommendation: Be patience and wait for the spot that you want. Visiting on weekdays may be ideal as huge crowds are expected over weekends. It also does not hurt to be courteous to ask if they can give you some space to take a few photographs.

It Could Be Cold ...

As you might be spending hours inside the aquarium, it might get cold. Make sure that you are properly dressed up, and not end up with shaking hands when you are too cold :)


Please visit http://jefzlim.smugmug.com/Destinations/Sentosa/SEA-Aquarium for more photos ...


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