discus photography tips

These are discus photography tips I have learned over the years, showing how to get professional photos of your Discus tank.

Discus are known as the “King of the Aquarium” because of their beautiful colors, and the aloof – almost regal – manner in which they swim around their kingdom. For years they were considered one of the most difficult freshwater fish to keep, but advances in aquarium technology over the years have made it a lot easier to maintain a healthy discus tank. They still require diligent care, however.

Discus hobbyists are very proud of their accomplishments and justifiably so! It is natural that discus breeders and discus hobbyists are eager to show off their fish and planted discus tanks.

These discus photography tips will hopefully help you learn how to take excellent pictures! Soon, you will be sharing them all over the web.

Discus Photography Tips – First Steps

  1. Thoroughly clean your tank the day before you plan to take photos. Wipe down the glass inside the tank, on all sides. Don’t forget to wipe the outside of the tank as well, especially the front glass. I use microfiber cloth towels for this task and they work great! The fewer smudges you have to deal with, the better your pictures will look.
  2. Vacuum the substrate, making sure there is no debris.
  3. Turn off all air pumps and filters during the photo session. The less movement of the water, the better.
  4. Time your photoshoot for just before their normal mealtime. They will be very active, and hungry… which makes them eager to come to the front of the tank.
  5. Wear dark clothing to reduce your reflection in the glass, and turn out all other sources of light in the room during the shoot. You want the fish tank to be well illuminated, but nothing else. This article covers more detail.

Discus Photography Tips – Polish the Water

I have used the Vortex diatom filter for years and I heartily recommend it. Using the Vortex diatom filter makes your water super clean, removing all floating particles that can ruin an otherwise perfect fish picture.

A Vortex diatom filter will polish the water and amaze you with the level of clarity. It efficiently removes particles down to one diatom in size. This is microscopic, folks. They also filter out parasites and even some bacteria that can harm your discus. Running the diatom filter for a few hours prior to the photoshoot will do the trick.

UPDATE – It seems the Vortex diatom filter is unavailable for purchase anywhere at the moment. That’s too bad, because it is the best filter I have ever used to quickly polish water. Hopefully, the company will begin manufacturing again soon.

A good alternative is the Marineland Magniflow canister filter.

Discus Photography Tips – Getting Enough Exposure

I do not use a flash on my camera. I achieve proper illumination with spotlights and light strips over the tank. I use a glass cover on the tank, so it is easy to move the lights around to adjust the light intensity where needed. 

Obviously, be very careful handling lights over your aquarium. You could get shocked if your light strip or electrical wires somehow came into contact with the water. That’s why I use a glass cover… but, even so, I am still very cautious.

If you are using a DSLR camera, you can increase the ISO settings. This will make your camera more sensitive to light and you can use a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture. Increasing the ISO may cause the pictures to appear ‘grainy’, referred to as ‘ISO noise’. You will have to experiment with the setting and adjust accordingly.

Discus Photography Tips – Use a Tripod

Use a tripod to stabilize your camera. Since you are shooting with a high ISO setting, even the slightest movement or vibration can cause blurry results. Obviously, you will also want to use a remote shutter release as well.

With your camera on a tripod, focus on a spot in your aquarium where you have previously focused your spotlights. Wait until your fish swims into the photo area. It takes patience, sometimes, but eventually, you will be rewarded with a photo opportunity. Because you have already optimized the light for that spot, and you have already focused your camera on that spot… you are likely to get a great picture.

You’ll have much better success waiting for the fish to swim into your spot, instead of trying to follow your fish around the tank. Trust me.

If you have followed my advice in another article, you know that I like to set up my camera on the tripod in front of the aquarium, and then leave it there for a few days prior to the shoot. This gets the tank occupants used to the presence of the camera and tripod and they will be less nervous once I start shooting.

Discus Photography Tips – Shoot in RAW Format

Your DSLR camera will allow you to save photos in RAW format, instead of JPG. Most allow you to save both, with the RAW + JPG setting. This is the setting I use. The reason I use RAW is because of the way the camera saves the file. RAW records all the information that the camera sees. JPG gives you less information. The difference between them becomes most evident when you post-edit your pictures with Photoshop or Lightroom software. The RAW files are huge, because of all the data stored in them, but you can easily recover an underexposed picture or an overexposed picture. Basically, the RAW file contains all of the information the camera saw at the time of the shot – and allows you to adjust the exposure levels, color levels, and contrast until you get the picture right.

Discus Photography Tips – Photo Editing Software

Use good post-editing software. I use Photoshop, but it is very expensive. If you don’t already have Photoshop, an excellent alternative is GIMP. It has literally all of the capabilities of Photoshop, and it is free. Yes, free. Download GIMP here.

Whatever program you use, they are capable of fixing your pictures easily.

Using a Photo Tank

Sometimes I use a photo tank when I want to shoot pictures of an individual fish. The photo tank is a ten-gallon tank, completely bare except for a glass pane that I can use to partition off the space and force the fish to remain in a relatively small area of the tank – which is optimized for light and my camera’s focus distance. I have different colored backgrounds that I can tape to the back of the tank, depending on what effect I am trying to achieve. I normally use my Canon Macro lens when taking these close-up shots.
If need be, I have a soft rubber hood that attaches to my camera lens and allows me to place my lens right up against the glass of the aquarium. The soft rubber protects both the lens and the aquarium from being scratched, while also blocking any reflections from the glass. Using this rubber hood makes it possible to use a flash on your camera. The hood will eliminate the glare on the glass, but you will still have to deal with the reflection of the flash on the scales of your fish. Post edit with Photoshop to remove the overexposure. NOTE: I do not recommend using a flash, I am just putting it out there, in case you want to try it.

Final Thoughts

discus photography tips

Hopefully, these discus photography tips will help you become a better aquarium photographer. The main piece of advice I can give you is to take plenty of pictures. Experiment with the settings on your camera. Try different lenses. Try using spotlights, or even flash.

Don’t worry about snapping away, because after all… you are using a digital camera. If you fill-up the memory on your camera, simply download it to your computer and start snapping away again! Eventually, you will discover the right combination of settings.

Have fun! Share the pics with me and I will show them off for you.