First, the Basics
It all starts with the basics. My number
one rule for understanding photography is
to understand the tools that you are using,
whether they’re on your phone or your
DSLR camera, the same as you would with
any other tool you may have in your house
or garage. My photography experience
started when I was in high school, which
is also around the time I set up my first
My efforts back then were primitive, to
say the least. But I stuck with photography
through my teens and then throughout
my military career when I worked as
both a photojournalist and a medical
photographer. I’ve often said that my best
“learn the basics” experience with a camera
was the two years I worked in a military
hospital photographing autopsies. It was
reinforced daily that I had to get the shot
right the first time; I wouldn’t have the
opportunity to reshoot the scene.
My first digital camera was a point-and-
shoot, and it was primitive by the standards
even of today’s cell phone cameras. But it
had all the same functions as a film camera,
only with more bells and whistles, and,
thankfully, it was a new medium that didn’t
force me to shoot, develop the film, and
then cross my fingers and hope for the best.
Regardless of the type of camera,
there are a few basic problems that can
occur when taking pictures. The most
common are issues with white balance,
exposure, and motion blur. All three of
these are interconnected. Beyond that, you
have composition. That’s something that
is learned with time and practice—and
sometimes, a little luck.
Here are a couple of things you can
do right now to improve your camera-phone photos of your aquarium. First and
foremost, get more light on the tank. Don’t
rely solely on the tank light. Fortunately,
LED lights have come a long way and
are relatively inexpensive. You don’t need
anything fancy, just light. In a pinch, even
adding an old-fashioned shop light will do
the trick. More light will dramatically cut
down on motion blur because the camera
can increase the shutter speed used.
Most of a camera phone’s features are
automated, which removes the guesswork
and simplifies the process for the majority
of people. That’s great for most purposes,
but I never let my camera (whether phone
or DSLR) make the decisions.
Your camera phone defaults to metering
average, which means that things like focus
and exposure are based on the entire area
in the screen. So, some darks may be too
dark and some lights may be too light.
With most camera phones, you can direct
the area of focus. This is done by lightly
touching the image where you want to
focus. There is a slider bar option that will
allow slight lightening or darkening of the
image. The camera is readjusting not only
the focus, but also the exposure, color, and
Most lost photo opportunities are due to
the camera constantly trying to find that
happy medium for exposure and focus.
One trick is to hold your finger on the area
you want in focus for a few seconds. An
auto-focus lock will come on, keeping both
exposure and focus in place. Then it’s just
a matter of waiting for the object (in this
case, a fish) to enter that area to take the
photo, a technique called zone focusing—
more on that later.
Photo Apps and
There are quite a few very good apps for
camera phones. My personal favorite is called
ProCamera. The application provides several
easy fixes for most of the common problems.
You can control the white balance prior to
shooting and change the shutter speed of
the camera, which helps to eliminate motion
blur, giving you the same level of control as
with a DSLR or compact camera.
For me, the biggest benefit is that the
camera apps will allow you to shoot in RAW
format. If you are not familiar with the term
RAW or why it makes a difference, here’s the
short explanation. For a JPEG, the camera
records data on lighting conditions, color,
contrast, and other factors that go to a chip
that calculates the final photo. The image is
compressed and you have a finished JPEG.
Editing is limited.
With RAW, the camera records a much
larger file that is all data, and only data.
A RAW file is like having the ingredients
for making a cake and all you need to do
is put it all together. And because you are
working with pure data, there is a lot more
latitude with your choices. Put simply, you
can make many more mistakes and bring
the picture back. While there is no perfect
format, you should know the options. If you
are looking to take your photos to the next
level, consider shooting RAW. If you want a
quick shot, shoot JPEG.
64 www.tfhmagazine.com Jul/Aug 2017
This betta was easily moved to a small photo tank specifically set up for the shoot.