In this article, we’ll explore techniques and tips for photographing discus spawn, with insights into discus spawning behavior and methods to induce spawning.

The discus fish, known for its vivid colors and majestic presence, is a gem of the freshwater aquarium. Capturing the delicate process of discus spawning through photography is not only a challenge but a rewarding experience that requires patience, skill, and a bit of creativity.

Understanding Discus Spawning Behavior

Before diving into photography, understanding discus spawning behavior is crucial. Discus fish are meticulous in their breeding habits. The process begins with a pair cleaning a flat surface (like a leaf or aquarium decoration) where the female will lay her eggs. The male then fertilizes them, and both parents guard the eggs diligently. After 48 to 72 hours, these eggs hatch into fry, still feeding off their egg sacs. This entire process presents numerous photographic opportunities.

Equipment Essentials


Documenting the fascinating process of discus spawning requires a camera and lens that can capture the intricate details and vibrant colors of these unique fish in their aquatic environment. The best camera for this purpose would be a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, known for their superior image quality, manual controls, and compatibility with a range of lenses. I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, but models like the Nikon D850 or the Sony Alpha A7R IV also stand out in this category. These cameras boast high resolution and excellent low-light performance, which are crucial for capturing the swift movements and subtle behaviors of discus fish during spawning.


When it comes to lenses, the choice largely depends on the size of the aquarium and the desired closeness of the shots. For smaller tanks or close-up images, a macro lens is indispensable. A lens such as the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM or the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED offers life-size magnification, allowing you to capture detailed images of the eggs, fry, or the intricate patterns of the discus fish. In larger aquarium settings, where you might want to document the entire spawning scene, a standard zoom lens like the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM or the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD G2 would be more suitable. These lenses provide flexibility in framing and composition, while still maintaining sharpness and clarity.

Regardless of the lens, it’s important to ensure that the camera settings are optimized for the unique conditions of aquarium photography. A higher ISO setting may be needed in low-light conditions, but be mindful of noise. Aperture settings will vary depending on the depth of field you wish to achieve; a larger aperture (lower f-number) is ideal for isolating the subject, while a smaller aperture (higher f-number) will keep more of the scene in focus. Remember, patience and practice are key in capturing the perfect moment during the discus spawning process.


Photographing Discus Spawn with a Tripod

The best tripod for this task should combine stability, versatility, and ease of use. In low light, even the slightest camera movement can result in a blurred image, making a solid tripod crucial for sharp photos.

A great choice for low light photography is a carbon fiber tripod. Carbon fiber tripods, like the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 or the Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Series 3, are lightweight yet extremely sturdy, making them ideal for photographers who need to carry their gear to various locations, possibly in challenging conditions. These tripods absorb vibrations better than aluminum ones, providing an extra edge in stability.

Another key feature to look for is a tripod with a good height range and flexible leg angles. Models like the Vanguard Alta Pro 2+ 263AB100 offer innovative Multi-Angle Center Column (MACC) systems, allowing you to move the center column from 0 to 180-degree angles in variable vertical and horizontal positions. This feature is especially useful for creative angles and macro photography.

Finally, consider a tripod with a reliable head for smooth and precise camera movements. A tripod head like a ball head or a fluid head is ideal. Ball heads, such as the Really Right Stuff BH-55, provide quick adjustments and secure locking, essential for capturing the perfect shot in challenging light. For video work in low light, a fluid head like the Manfrotto MVH500AH offers smooth pans and tilts, enhancing the quality of your footage.

Remember, while carbon fiber tripods tend to be more expensive, their durability, light weight, and stability make them a worthwhile investment for serious photographers.


External Light Source

When selecting lighting, there are several key factors to consider: the quality of light, the ability to control the light, and the impact on the fish and their environment.

Firstly, the quality of light is paramount. Soft, diffused light is generally preferred as it reduces harsh shadows and highlights, which can be particularly distracting in aquarium photography. LED lights are a popular choice due to their energy efficiency, low heat emission, and the ability to produce a broad spectrum of colors. Adjustable spectrum LEDs, like the Fluval Plant 3.0 LED Light, allow you to fine-tune the color temperature to enhance the natural colors of the discus fish and their environment. This is particularly important for discus spawn as you want to accurately capture the nuances of their behavior and environment.

Control over the lighting setup is another critical aspect. Being able to adjust the intensity and direction of light gives you the flexibility to create the desired effect, whether it’s highlighting the spawning site or creating a more dramatic scene with shadows and depth. For this, lights with dimming capabilities and movable fixtures are ideal. Consider using a light with a gooseneck or adjustable rail system, which allows you to direct the light precisely where it’s needed without disturbing the fish. Products like the Kessil A360X Tuna Blue LED Light offer ease of control and directional lighting, essential for focusing on specific areas of the aquarium.

Finally, the impact of the light on the discus fish and their spawn is an important consideration. Discus fish are extremely sensitive creatures, especially during spawning. Excessive or harsh lighting can cause stress.

  • Therefore, it’s essential to gradually acclimatize them to the new light source.
  • Ensure that the lighting doesn’t raise the water temperature significantly, as stable water conditions are critical for the health of the discus and the success of their spawn.
  • Using a light with a timer can also help mimic natural day and night cycles, providing a comfortable environment for the discus.

The best external light source for photographing discus spawn is one that offers high-quality, adjustable lighting while being considerate of the fish’s well-being. LED lights with adjustable spectrums, intensity control, and directional flexibility are ideal for this purpose. Always remember to introduce new lighting gradually and monitor the discus fish for any signs of stress, ensuring a safe and successful photography session.

Photographing Discus Spawn – Setting Up


Maintain a calm environment around the aquarium. Sudden movements or sudden changes in lighting can disturb the fish, and if you stress the parents they could possibly freak out and eat the eggs or fry. I have seen this happen.


Ensure the glass is clean and free from algae or smudges.


The background can significantly enhance the visual appeal and focus on the subject – the discus fish and their spawn. The ideal background should be unobtrusive, complement the colors of the discus fish, and reduce distractions to keep the viewer’s attention on the spawning activity.

One of the most effective backgrounds for discus spawn photography is a solid color backdrop. Colors like deep blue or black are popular choices, making the vibrant colors of the discus fish stand out. These backgrounds also reduce the amount of light reflecting into the camera, which is beneficial in controlling exposure and focusing on the subject. Black backgrounds, in particular, offer a stark contrast to the bright hues of the discus fish and can make the details of their spawning behavior more visible and dramatic.

Another option is to use a blurred natural background, which can be achieved by placing plants or natural-looking aquarium decorations behind the spawning area and using a shallow depth of field to blur them. This approach creates a more natural and aesthetically pleasing environment, adding depth to the image while keeping the focus on the fish and their spawn. The key is to ensure that the background elements are sufficiently blurred so they don’t distract from the main subject.

In addition to the color and style, the material of the background also matters. Vinyl or polyester backgrounds are preferable as they are durable, easy to clean, and less reflective than paper or fabric backgrounds. They can easily be attached to the outside of the aquarium and are simple to switch out, allowing for versatility in your photography.


Camera Settings and Techniques

  • Manual Mode: Use manual mode to have complete control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
  • Shutter Speed: A faster shutter speed (1/125s or faster) is ideal to freeze motion, especially when capturing the fry.
  • Aperture: A wider aperture (lower f-number) helps in focusing on the subject while blurring the background.
  • ISO: Keep the ISO as low as possible to avoid grainy images. Increase it only if lighting conditions demand.
  • Focus: Use manual focus for precision, especially when dealing with the minute size of discus eggs and fry.
  • Burst Mode: Use burst mode to capture a series of images in quick succession, increasing the chance of getting the perfect shot.

Composition and Perspective

  • Rule of Thirds: Place the subject at the intersections of the grid lines for a balanced composition.
  • Perspective: Experiment with different angles. Top-down views can uniquely capture the spawning site, while side views can showcase the behavior of the parents.
  • Details: Focus on the details like the texture of the eggs, the vigilant gaze of the parent, or the tiny fry once they hatch.

Post-Processing Tips

  • Editing Software: Use software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop for post-processing.
  • Color Correction: Adjust the white balance to accurately represent the vibrant colors of the discus.
  • Cropping: Crop to enhance the composition or to draw attention to the spawn.
  • Sharpening: Apply subtle sharpening to bring out details, especially in close-up shots.

Ethical Considerations and Fish Welfare

Remember, the welfare of the discus should always come first. Avoid excessive flashes or disturbances that could stress the fish. It’s important to respect their natural behavior, especially during the sensitive spawning period.


Photographing discus spawn is a fascinating journey that blends the art of photography with the beauty of aquatic life. With patience and practice, you can capture breathtaking images that tell a story of life, care, and vibrancy. Remember, the key is to respect the natural behavior of these magnificent creatures while using your skills to freeze these fleeting moments in time. Happy shooting!

Please comment and share your efforts on photographing discus spawn. It is challenging… and such a rewarding feeling when you pull it off! So, brag a little!