Full Reef Photography

Many times, we simply want to capture our reef system without the surrounding cabinetry.  In capturing our little slice of the ocean, we simply need to add a couple of techniques to those we picked up from shooting the entire tank.

When shooting the entire tank, we shot at an angle to give the viewer a feel for how it looks in three dimensions.  Although we went through pains to ensure the tank was properly exposed, the composition was meant to be viewed holistically.  Therefore, we were not overly concerned with depicting the contents of the tank in the best possible manner.

Frame the Tank Squarely
When shooting just the reef ecosystem, we want to make sure that proportions are accurate and we want to minimize distortion caused by the glass surface.  To accomplish this, we need to keep the lense perpendicular to the surface of the glass.  We also want to frame the shot so the center of the reef is centered in the viewfinder.  Furthermore, double check to verify the top and bottom of the tank are perfectly horizontal and within the frame, and the sides are perfectly vertical and within the frame.

Taking care to line things up perfectly will result in less perspective distortion and avoid a downhill slant or skew to the image.

If using a zoom lense, shoot around the center of the zoom range.  This will minimize barrel and pincushion distortion effects.

If using interchangeable prime lenses stay around 50-85mm to reduce these effects.

We included the top, bottom, and sides of the tank in our frame, but we do not want to include this in the final photograph as it boxes in the reef making it appear smaller and deters from the complete ecosystem look.  This is a simple matter to take care of in post processing - we simply crop out these areas of the tank.

When cropping our shot try to avoid the surface or a break in the water's surface as light may shine through and become a distracting element.  If the surface of the water and the water column above the top of the reef ecosystem does not add anything to the photograph, crop it out.  We also want to crop out the walls and the deep sand bed as they add nothing to the photograph, either.  The result is a photograph of a slice of ocean that appears open and self-contained, rather than being a piece of ocean thrown in a cramped up box.