Denmark’s newest tourist attraction, The Blue Planet, is already proving über popular with locals and tourists alike. And rightly so: with it’s majestic size and interesting critters, there hasn’t been anything this interesting to photograph in Copenhagen for quite some time. The Changing of the Guard gets a bit repetitive, doesn’t it.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the aquarium on two occasions now and have therefore had a second chance to get it right when taking pictures. So to help any aspiring photographers out there, I wanted to share some tips and advice on how to take some decent pictures in such a large, dark space.
Light is a photographer’s best friend and worst enemy at the same time. It can wreak havoc with our sensors, lens elements and shutter speeds, so we need to control it with a steady hand and as much knowledge about our cameras as possible.
The first thing to do is get your camera ready before you go. Try to learn what a few of those buttons do and learn how to switch off your flash if you have one. Glass reflects light and the final image will look flat. Anyone in the image will have horrible shadows and bright skin, so make that your first priority.
To compensate for a lack of additional light, increase your ISO settings to the highest number that your camera will allow. If you take a picture with these new settings you’re likely to get lots of noise and grain on the image. If this bothers you then dial it down a little bit, but remember: it’s better to have a sharp, grainy image than a blurry one.
Next you’ll need to select your white balance. The Auto White Balance seems to get it right, but it’s worth experimenting with other settings, including the Cloud or Shadow WB (the first looks like a cloud and the second a house with a shadow).
Now for the tough part. You’ll need to choose what is most important – the shutter speed or depth of field. I’ve got quite a steady hand and I wanted the people in the foreground to be in focus, as well as the sharks in the background. Therefore I used a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second and held my breath. If you’ve got the shakes from the night before then 1/60th should do a good enough job, you just might have to brighten the images later on in post production. If you select Shutter Priority on your camera (S for Nikon, Tv for Canon) then your camera will automatically select the aperture. If it’s too dark, try finding a button or menu option called Exposure Compensation and increase the number anywhere between 0.7 and 2.0. Play around with it until the image becomes brighter. Don’t make it too bright, however. You can always put light in to an image in post production but you can never remove it.
Use a nice wide lens to get the awesome scale of the aquarium in and use a tripod or gorilla pod if you have one handy. Try a few different angles to get as much of the tank in as possible. I found lying down on the floor was an interesting approach, but standing at the back of the room and lifting the camera high above my head also provided me with a different perspective. Also, it’s hard to avoid getting people in your shot, so be patient and decide how you want it to look. Busy, solitary? Is there someone interesting close to the glass with a pure look of awe on their face? Be discreet, but try and get close to your subject. Who says it has to be someone you know. (Why not switch your camera to Black & White and see how different the whole thing looks?)
Red is the first colour to disappear under water so of course your pictures will look extremely blue. But by moving away from the aquarium and in to the tunnel that runs through it you’ll find a well-lit area and better colours on the coral or fish that swim past. Now it’s time to crank that ISO number down about a third of the way and your WB back to Auto. Again, lift your camera high above people’s heads to get a true scale of the length of the tunnel along with all the mesmerised people inside it.
And finally, don’t forget to delete 90 per cent of the pictures you take that day! Trust me, you’ll thank me for it when you’re showing off just ten of your best images to family and friends.