In addition to photographing my own collection, I’ve been
fortunate to have access to a lot of other fish tanks of both
friends and clients. Many of them have been small—very small.
Photographing smaller fish can present some unique problems. It
seems like they are always in motion, which is fine until you try to
keep them in focus. The best workaround was a photo tank that
allowed me to control the movement of the fish.
Several years back, I purchased a very nice and inexpensive one-gallon nano tank. It was a 10-inch (24-cm) cube with no black
trim. It was perfect for smaller fish and almost as easy to transport
when I traveled to take photos. With the popularity of nano tanks
on the rise, they are easier to find and worth the investment if you
are serious about taking photos.
Here’s my small-fish setup, using a photo tank:
• Small glass tank or similar container
• Glass insert to fit inside tank/container
• Small suction cups
• Light source
• Remote trigger (optional)
Some of the following is going to sound like common sense, but
I have learned that you can never be too careful with the amount
of preparation prior to a photo shoot. Small tanks can pose big
problems that are often not realized until post-production.
Make sure the inside and outside of the tank are clean of all
fingerprints and small smudges. Be extra vigilant. Sometimes it’s
the tiniest overlooked things that will cause the most grief during
post-production. Instead of your usual cleaning solution, try a good
carnauba car wax. It will eliminate any chance of water spots and
help fill in any tiny scratches in the glass. I use the car wax for the
inside of the tank as well as the outside. Many people cringe when
I reveal that. All I can say is that I have never had an issue with any
ill effects with the fish. Just make sure that you polish the inside
completely and leave no residue.
As with the tankbuster setup, position your camera on a tripod far
enough away from the tank that it will allow the complete front panel
to be in the viewfinder. Elevate the tank so you can place a small light
source below and pointed up at it. Position the main light source
above the tank. I’ve found that the easiest way is to place the light on
a small piece of glass over the tank. The bottom light will give your
photos that little bit of extra punch. If you don’t have an additional
light source, use a reflector down below (which can be as simple as
a piece of cardboard with a piece of aluminum foil, shiny side up)
to reflect the top tank light back up toward the bottom of the fish.
Another challenge with using photo tanks is that when you take
the fish from their established tank and drop them in the new tank,
they will invariably drop to the bottom and then huddle in one far
corner or another. There’s safety in numbers. If you are shooting
several fish, put them in the tank together. You don’t have to
concentrate on one fish. They will swim around more readily and
likely set you up with some interesting shots.
The author’s nano photo tank features a movable glass wall and changeable background that can go from white to black to anything in
between in an instant.