How to take a good digital photo

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Aquarium Advice Addict
Apr 30, 2003
Western NY
I've tried and tried with my digital camera, I've played with setting after setting, adjusting exposure time, flash/no flash, spot focus and I just can't find the right settings to give me a good picture. It's seems like the toughest part to get is the focus and exposure.

Could someone share their techniques for taking good photos of their tanks/fish with a digital camera? Especialy good Macro shots as I love all the tiny little things but they are the hardest to get a shot of.

Thanks all!!
Hmmm, first thing I do is take LOTS of pics. For example, yesterday, I took 163 pics, from those there were about 10 that I felt were of the quality to share. Taking pictures is about capturing a moment, the more moments you capture, the more likely your going to capture the moment :wink:

Next, Tripod. Buy a tripod (they're cheap at Walmart, although a more expensive on will last longer), a tripod will steady the camera and help prevent blurriness from camera shake.

Use the auto time, again this prevents camera shake (this is, of course, only good for sessile critters).

When taking pics of moving objects, there is no way around it, you gotta be using a faster shutter speed, this means you either use the lash, or you fiddle with the exposure. For the pics of the clown I took (in the new aquisitions forum), I had the exposure bumped up to +2.0 EV, I had the camera stopped down to an aperture of about 3.6-4.0 (lose some depth of field, but it allows more light in) and an ISO equivelant of 200 and a shutter speed of 1/60sec. It's about capturing the light, slower shutter speeds allow you to have a larger aperture, which increases your DOF, but it makes it pretty hard to prevent motion blur.

Use manual fous whenever possible, I can't tell you how many times I've had the perfect pic ruined by not using manual focus, something (other than the intended subject) was a better target for the cam and it stole the focus.

If your cam has it, use the macro mode. I sue it for all my aquarium shots, no matter what the distance, the button is usually marked with a flower or a bug and on my display, when the camera is in that macro sweet spot, the flower on the display turns yellow, if at all possible, take your pics in that range.

Know your cams limitations and work within them. If your cam has a macro focal distance of 5", don't try to take one at 3", just stands to reason, the cam will take better pics if your working within it's limitation.

Did I mention take lots of pics? While your trying to figure out what settings take the best pics....keep a log of the pic number and what the cam was set on, that way you can review it later (if you have photoshop, this info is stored in the file in the cam, and you can pull it up easily and there is no need to keep a log, some editing software doesn't access this info, but it is stored in the jpeg file).

Other than that, I'm not to sure what I can tell you. There is definitely a benefit to having a higher quality cam, but I have seen some lower end cams take great shots, cause the person using it knew what they were doing. What cam do you have? How about posting a pic, so maybe we can see where there might be a problem...
Great tips Kevin, thanks much!

I've played with just about all of those settings I just haven't, mastered it yet I don't think. I do know that my camera's macro focal length is I belive 8 inches.. I will double check the manual on that as well. It does have manual controls for all of the items you specified though, it's one of the reasons I went with that camera (and for the life of me, the brand has completely escaped me! LOL starts with a P.. i think heh) I don't have a tripod but I do use chairs/boxes to steady the camera with... I know a tripod would be much simpler and deffinitly better... it's just a nother $30 i have to justify spending :?

I'm at work so I don't have any pictures with me but I'll take a few test shots tonight when I get home. (I have a few things of which I would like to confirm their identity) and I do actualy have photoshop... I'll have to dig around and find that camera info you mentioned... is that in the image properties?
I'll have to dig around and find that camera info you mentioned... is that in the image properties

I want to say it is under the file command under file info. You should be able to right click the pic in photo shop and, yes it would be under properties, in photoshop 7, the file info is listed in the browse function when you select a photo.
Eeek...even the lowest price on google is too much for me. ;)

I need to find some good side gigs...

Look on Ebay, the 995 is discontinued, but you might find someone trying to get rid of one, another option would be the Cannon powershot G2, the G3 is out so prices should be down on Ebay and elsewhere. IMO, I don't see putting the money into a reef that I have and not spending a few bucks on a good cam. Doesn't hurt that I enjoy taking pics, either.
you can also use a magnifying glass to shorten any lense's focal length ... hold the magnifier as close to the lense as you can ... you need to use manual focus, since the AI focuser doesn't understand that you've changed the optics by adding another lense
very interesting tip glmclell! I'll be sure to play around with that. will any magnifying glass suffice?
That is some good info Kevin. I am gonna try and save up for me a Nikon Coolpix, my aunt has one and loves it. It really does shoot what you see, nothing else.
BillyZ said:
very interesting tip glmclell! I'll be sure to play around with that. will any magnifying glass suffice?

well, just about any will work, with varying degrees of effectiveness

the thing you have to watch out for is some magnifing lenses aren't ground very accurately, and have different amounts of magnification in different areas, so you need one that has a large enough "good" area for your lense to shoot through

I also can't remember if the higher X power is better or worse ... experimentation is key ;)
Great info guy's.

I love photography and use the outdated Kodak DC215 which is a piddling 1.8 megapixals :( I am quite happy with the shots I get from it though, they are just not big enough to print larger than 6"x 4"'s.

To get macro shots I need to be 8" from the subject. I found that if I spread my hand/fingers out wide the distance from my thumb to my middle finger is about 8". Whenever I need to shoot in macro I just judge the distance by placing my thumb near the lens and my middle finger near the subject (if in the tank I estimate and take a number of shots).

Just a little tip that might help in setting up a macro shot depending on the focus distance. BTW my camera is a point and shoot which can get a little frustrating at times and I am very jealous of Reefrunner. Hopefully I can make the purchase one day. :?

I cheat, I don't use the view finder, I use the digital screen on the back to take my pics, that way I know what it's going to look like when I take it. Can't use a tripod because the area it's in is right by a big post. I use an Olympus D-450 and there are only a couple macros on it, I use one that displays a tulip on it, don't know what it is, the manual is more confusing than helpful. Oh, and yep it runs down the batteries faster when you use the lcd display, but I bulk up on the AA's :D
, but I bulk up on the AA's

Won't it tale rechargeables? probably be cheaper to get a couple sets of recargeables.

I don't use the view finder

I do too, in my camera it's recommended, although nearly impossile to do outside on a bright sunny day.

couple macros on it,

The one with the tulip is the macro mode, the other icon is probably a mountai, for taking landscapes and far off pics, and probably a icon for the auto timer. FWIW, you can look up your cams specs and red a review at and
Thanks for the links, I'll check them out. Rechargables would probably be best, but in my house with 2 boys that have endless battery operated toys, I'd be charging all the time. :D
I almost forgot to check on things for my camera! I have an Olympus Camedia 2040.. I get really good pictures with it, I just can't seem to get good tank shots. i have to take all this info here and do a whole lot of samples with it this weekend.

hmmm I just looked at the "File Info" in photoshop on some of my old pictures and there's nothing in any of those screens! :( I'm using PS 6 but the info should still be there if my camera were saving it. i think thats what it it, my camera isn't saving the data to the files. I'll have to find the manual and see if there's a way to turn it on. Perusing the menu it doesn't look like it. :?
Meet Scarlet

I took about 15-20 pictures. This is about the only one I like! A scarlet hermit crab trimming the hedges on a piece of Tonga LR. I used a manual white balance, ISO 400, and manual focus set to macro/8". Then I just kinda moved the camera back and forth until the shot was in focus on the display. I have the resolution set to 1600x1200 for the pictures, what do you folks use? Do you think turning down the res would cut down on the bluriness, make a sharper picture at all?
Doubtful if turning down the res would do anything but make a smaller pic. I use the highest settings my camera has. Pic quality of fine (highest jpeg quality, I could set it to save as .tiff but I would get like 7 pics on a 128mb flash card :roll: ) and a res of 2048 X 1536. Then I can crop and resize, it has been my experience that minor flaws can be lessened whe you size down to a 640 X 480 or so, but you want to start with the largest image you can.

The pic you posted looks pretty good to me, if I were starting with the large image, I would probably resize to 640 X 480, run an auto levels filter, possibly a levels filter and a curves filter (I never do one without doing the other), I would run an unsharp mask filtrer, and then save for the web. If the pic is a little blurry it is most likely from camera shake, when taking pics in macro without the really need to brace the camera well, or get a tripod. I have been known to brace the lens (actual lens is recessed into a threaded ring) directly on the surface of the glass, works pretty good to, up to about 1/2 sec.

What shutter speed was the pic taken at?
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