hobbyists have a leg up on the ichthyologists and biologists when
it comes to understanding fish behavior. This is primarily because
hobbyists spend more time watching and observing the fish in
their tanks than the professionals studying them. I spend a great
deal of time watching my fish—which part of the tank they like,
patterns in their swimming behavior, and issues they have with
other fish in the tank. Once I can anticipate the fish’s behavior, I
can plan for a photo shoot.
Over the years, I’ve developed several techniques and setups
that, through trial and error, have provided a very reliable work
flow for me in producing the desired results. Here are two that
you can try, depending on whether you are shooting tankbusters
or nano fish.
Most of the photos I have taken over the years are of fish
that were readily accessible to me. And while there are plenty
of smaller cichlids, my love for Central and South American
tankbuster cichlids makes them my favorite to photograph. There
is nothing quite as interactive as a Central American wet pet like
a Midas (Amphilophus citrinellus) or managuense (Parachromis
managuensis) cichlid. If you have one of these big boys, you likely
appreciate and enjoy the aggressive way in which the fish interacts
with people, either begging for food or, more likely, trying to
intimidate anyone within range of the front of the tank.
There are many advantages to photographing larger fish.
For one, DOF is less critical. When you look at your subject,
everything appears to be in focus. This is because your eyes
constantly adapt to a single focal point. You see everything around
you, but it’s only what you are looking at directly that’s in crisp
Try this. Hold your finger up a foot ( 30 cm) in front of your
face with something else—a wall, window, whatever—in the
background. You can see that your finger is in focus, and whatever
With the camera pre-focused on the front of the tank, getting a shot
like this tiny dwarf shrimp is a lot easier. The final image was cropped
down from a shot of the full front of the tank to highlight the subject.