Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Difficult to beat the beauty of a male pearl gourami

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Excellent scene layout with Discus fish
Excellent scene layout with Discus fish

With the advent of good quality high resolution digital cameras that are nearing the quality of optical cameras, creating high quality tropical fish pictures has never been easier.

If you breed your fish for pedigree surely you would want to have a visual record of your prize fish. You can then keep a visual family tree of your best line breeding efforts. Even the best looking fish will eventually grow old and die and it would be a shame to not have anything to remember the fish by.

If you are into aquascaping then you will also have a motive to also develop your picture-taking techniques to record your under water masterpieces.

If you become adept at taking really good pictures of fish, aquascapes or fish action shots then you can have a go at selling them to magazine publishers, who will buy good quality or rare pictures regarding the aquarium hobby. Most magazine publishers don’t pay huge amounts for photographs unless you develop a reputation as a professional photographer.

Buy the right camera to take pictures of your fish

Digital camera with optical zoom
Digital camera with optical zoom

Buy a camera that has an optical zoom function and not just a digital zoom. And the higher the optical magnification rate the better.

Buy as large a memory card as you can afford then you can take multiple snaps of the same scene and pick from the best shot without worrying about running out of memory. With a large memory card you can take movies of your fish in action. Make sure you get the right resolution for the movie because the standard setting is usually low resolution. You can change the settings to get a higher resolution. From the videos you can take snap shots from the movie to get a picture out of the movie. Take several snap shots and pick from the best one. Snap shots are taken using a movie player on a computer. Taking snap shots from a movie allows you to capture your fish in action in the perfect pose. Fish are notorious for turning the wrong way or closing their fins at the wrong moment or hiding behind another fish or plant.

If you have shaky hands then to take really professional pictures, you will need to rest the camera on a table or stool or some other stable object before taking the shot. You could also invest in a tripod for your camera if you become particularly serious about your fish photography.

Lighting techniques to help take good quality tropical fish pictures

Correct lighting really enhances a marine aquarium
Correct lighting can really enhance a marine aquarium

Aquarium lighting by itself is not bright enough to take very high quality aquarium pictures. Another factor against aquarium lighting is that the bulbs will give off lighting with a tinge of colour. Some bulbs give off a green tinge while other bulbs give off an orange tinge.

Aquarium photography is best done in natural sunlight with light coming into the aquarium from the top. Sunlight from the rear will only silhouette your fish and ruin your shots. Sunlight during the middle of the day is best

If sunlight is not practical then you can try your hand at strobe lighting if you can afford it. When you are using external lighting you will need to clean and polish the glass on the outside of the aquarium as well as scraping clean the glass on the inside of the tank. Reflections can be a big problem with fish photography. To help avoid reflections you will need to take pictures at an angle to the front glass and avoid the reflection from lighting.

Composition of your aquarium scene

Nicely balanced scene moss and driftwood
Nicely balanced scene moss and driftwood

You need to organise the picture into a balanced and pleasing scene. In other words to need to place your plants, rocks and ornaments into an aquascape. The fish will obviously swim around and so you will have to wait to take just the right shot (which is easier said than done) or set your camera into movie mode for a few minutes. You should be able to see your fish swim into position. If not delete the movie and try again until your movie contains the shot you are after.

When taking pictures of your aquarium it is not only the fish that might be the main subject of the picture. Sometimes it is the aquascaping scene that might be the main focus of the picture with a few shoaling fish to add visual interest or it might be some prized architectural ornament that may be the main feature or even a large imposing rock or rockwork.

Sometimes a blurred after image can give a better impression of motion in a still frame of your fish swimming past. There should be a setting that allows you to take after-image photographs to achieve this effect. Take the picture at the same level as the fish are swimming. By panning left and right or taking the picture from an angle you will enhance this sense of motion in the fish.

Taking close up shots of your fish

gold betta or metallic yellow siamese fighting fish
gold betta or metallic yellow siamese fighting fish

Good close ups can be obtained by making sure the subject fills 75% of the of the frame. Focus on the most interesting aspect of the subject such as the body or head colouration of the fish or some exotic finnage such as a crown tail betta’s tail.

Fish make unreliable photographic subjects. They are always on the move, changing direction and orientation and twisting and turning as well as opening and closing fins. Luckily unlike people they do not blink but can suffer from red eye.

Tips on obtaining better tropical fish pictures

  1. Create crystal clear water – extra filtration for a couple of days before filming will produce good results. Carbon filtration will create even better crystal clear water.
  2. Clean the tank in and out, including the gravel, rocks, plants ornaments and aquarium equipment. Hide the wires and equipment behind plants if you can. Prune your plants and remove any dead leaves.
  3. Make sure the cover glass and the aquarium bulbs are clean. This is so that you don’t get cloudy or patchy lighting. But before cleaning let them cool down for 15 minutes first and dry before switching on again.

Use of a special photographic aquarium

This is the fishy equivalent of a photographer’s studio. This is a small temporary aquarium set up for just taking pictures from. The tank should small and narrow front to back. The tank should have a movable glass divider to further restrict the motion of the fish.

Using the glass divider you can then bring the fish into the ideal location and into a good focal range for you to take your perfect shot.

Use of coloured backgrounds for photographing your fish

Some natural aquarium backgrounds can be attractive
Some natural aquarium backgrounds can be attractive

Coloured backgrounds make a good contrast to your fish. They will bring out the colour of your fish and bring all the attention on the fish themselves. Matt black backgrounds work well with lighter coloured fish and will have the effect of making these colours look more solid. Darker fish need a lighter coloured background such as a pale blue background. This will have the affecter of opening up the darker colours to makie them brighter. You can also provide a grey rock work background for colourful fish such as Malawis.

You are now ready to make the most of your digital camera and with a bit of practice and experimentation you will soon be creating masterpieces of the fish world. One word of warning add a copyright signature to each photograph in case you publish them online.

Succeed with aquarium plants

planted aquarium

How to succeed with aquarium plants: a guide to aquarium plant care

While the beginning aquarist spends a great deal of time learning how to tend to fish and give them an environment in which they can thrive, aquarium plant care is, by comparison, a subject that is rarely given the full attention it deserves. Keeping your plants happy is just as important as keeping your fish happy, though, since the two will live in coexistence in the closed ecosystem that your fish tank provides.

You can’t just place plants in your aquarium and expect them to thrive or even stay alive. You must pay attention to the lighting, water conditions and the fertilisation needs of the plants.

Choosing the right plants for your aquarium

See also best beginners plants

and Aquascaping for beginners

and keeping plants healthy

The most important aspect of aquarium plant care is: choosing the right plants for your aquarium. The right choice here can make the rest of your live plant experience a pleasure by providing a beautiful environment for your tank while controlling algae and absorbing unwanted ammonia and nitrates.

There are scores of plant species that, though undoubtedly beautiful, are very sensitive to water conditions, require specialized CO2 systems, or need extra lights in order to flourish. At the same time however, there are plenty of hardy, attractive plants that provide all the benefits that you expect from aquarium plants without the extra hassle.

A list of some of the best options for your first aquarium plants for the beginner are as follows:

• Java Moss. This unassuming plant is one of the most popular aquarium plants worldwide for a number of reasons. It thrives in a variety of environments, offers lots of convenient hiding places for fish and their fry, and offers simple, beautiful decoration for aquarium owners.

It can be tied to rocks or driftwood with fishing line, or left to float naturally through the tank. Java moss requires very little maintenance; only some occasional trimming when it gets too thick.

• Amazon Sword. This plant can reach a great size, even under low lighting. Evidently, this plant is ideal for large tanks, and may require fertilizer tablets because of the fact that it is a root-feeding plant.

• Java Fern. This plant can survive in nearly any aquarium, and is very forgiving when it comes to water quality and light. Even goldfish that regularly eat aquarium plants will generally leave Java fern alone.

• Valisneria. This plant will feel right at home in a variety of aquariums, although some hungry fish might decide to snack on it. Vallisneria spiralis is usually singled out as being one of the best varieties for aquarium plant care beginners.

• Anubias. This is one of the only underwater plants that actually prefers low lighting, and to make it even more attractive to aquarium owners, herbivore fish tend to leave it alone.

While many other specialty plants can provide a fun and challenging experience for live plant enthusiasts, any of the plants listed above make an excellent introduction to the world of aquarium plant care.

Lighting for your aquarium plants

Once you have chosen which species of plants you would like to keep in your tank, you must consider your lighting setup in order to give the plants the correct environment in which they can thrive. In general, your aquarium plants will do best with day and night cycles of 12 hours each.

The duration of the lighting period is important, but you must also examine the type of light that you use in your aquarium. Lights designed for aquarium plant care are notably different than average fluorescent lights, and you will need to make sure that yours carry a suitable Kelvin rating, among other characteristics.

• The Kelvin rating refers to the spectrum of light that the bulb emits, commonly referred to as the, “temperature” of the light.

• Most plants reject green and yellow light while absorbing red and blue light, as well as light on the ultraviolet scale. In terms of the Kelvin rating, this means that you should provide full-spectrum lighting between 5500 K and 7500 K for most tropical plants, including as the ones listed above.

• LED lights often offer the best combination of low power consumption with light intensity, ease of installation, and price. Make sure to purchase quality LED lights, however, as the market is full of low-quality options not suitable for aquarium plant care.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that your plants grow large and healthy, although providing them with ample light will make your plants hungry for the nutrients they need to thrive.

Feeding your plants: fertilizing your substrate

Once you have developed your lighting setup properly, it is time to consider the fertilizer and nutrients that your plants will need. Many waterborne fertilizers will provide the boost that you need to get your plants strong and healthy quickly— especially in the beginning stages of aquarium plant care.

You should be aware that many of these store bought fertilizers, while very good for plants, contain nitrates and other ingredients that are poisonous for your fish. Most fish can tolerate small amounts, but over exposure to fertilizer will kill them, so use these fertilizers with care.

But better still use a substrate fertilizer for rooted plants like the Amazon Sword. They come in tablet form. These tablets need to be pushed into the substrate directly to the root base of the plant. In this way they directly feed the plant rather than into the water in general.

Choosing between gravel or soil

While soil is a much more natural substrate for aquarium plant care, it is notably more complex to keep in optimal condition. Soils are generally reserved for experienced aquatic gardeners who wish to grow particularly difficult underwater plants.

If you introduce soil into your tank it can affect the water quality for your fish.
Therefore, gravel is generally recommended as the safest option. You can always add soil in separate pots if you wish to experiment later on.

The benefits of potting your plants

One of the key benefits to be realised by potting your plants, apart from being able to use soil without disturbing your tank’s existing substrate, is that your pots will also protect the plants. Potted plants have a secure location from which they can grow, and this can help keep them alive when nosey fish want to dig around their roots.

While gravel may be an acceptable substrate for beginning aquarium plant care, you may find that some of your more active fish seem intent on overturning the rocks and digging into the roots of your plants, harming or possibly killing them in the process. Potted plants combat this behaviour by offering your fish very little space in which they can satisfy their curiosity or hunger.

Reproducing aquarium plants for fun and profit

If you give enough space, nutrients, and lights to your plants, you may find that they begin to propagate and reproduce. A vast majority of these plants reproduce asexually, meaning that, if the conditions are healthy, they will simply begin sprouting new individual plants without your intervention at all.

Some species of plant, however, may need your help reproducing, and often it is worthwhile to expend the effort— aquarium pants, just like fish, can be bred and sold for profit. Seeded plants like lilies are notably more complicated to breed, and tend to command higher prices than their asexual cousins:

• A plant cutting is exactly what it sounds like: a segment of the parent plants’ stem, cut and replanted into the substrate of the aquarium or pot. In most cases, these cuttings will grow their own roots and turn into full-fledged individual plants over time.

• Plants that have seeds will need to be sexed and paired in order to propagate successfully. The two parent plants will need to be flowering above the surface and then have their pollen transferred from one to the other. If pollination is successful, seeds will be produced and those need to planted in damp soil as quickly as possible.

Over time, you should be able to grow a healthy collection of extra plants using these aquarium plant care methods, and you can then begin to sell to or swap with other local aquarists either through the help of your local fish store or directly using an Internet classifieds website to find customers.

Get sophisticated with aquarium lighting

Advanced lighting freshwater aquarium

Get sophisticated with your aquarium lighting

aquarium in kitchen
beautiful aquarium in kitchen. Good lighting and lots of angel fish

When considering all of the different elements that go into creating a successful aquarium, it is easy to let things like filters, tanks, and water circulation distract you from paying appropriate attention to aquarium lighting. The truth of the matter, however, is that lighting is an incredibly important element of your tank’s success.

The goal of proper aquarium lighting is no different than the goals of all the other parts of a successful tank: reproducing the natural habitat of the creatures you want to keep. This simple rule is what dictates most of the following tips concerning appropriate lighting for your aquarium habitat.

The importance of the day/night cycle

Many beginning hobbyists who are starting their first tanks make a critical mistake concerning their aquarium lighting: leaving it on. It may seem simple, but your fish feel just as uncomfortable being constantly bombarded with bright lights as you would, and this can make them feel stressed and begin acting unnaturally. It can even affect their health, making the day/night cycle an incredibly important element to reproduce for your tank.

Recreating the day/night cycle is not as difficult as it sounds, but it does take some effort. For one thing, you will almost certainly want to invest in an automatic lighting timer so that you do not have to rely on your memory to switch from day to night every 12 hours.

Another important consideration is the fact that most natural environments are not pitch black at night. Low-intensity lights can help your fish feel natural and happy at night by simulating the effects of moonlight, and offer you a convenient night light so that you can observe nocturnal behaviour without disturbing your fish.

How to reproduce daylight In your aquarium

While moonlight is relatively simple to simulate, reproducing daylight in an aquarium lighting setup is a bit more complex. This is because of the unique characteristics of the light that the sun emanates. Conventional lighting does not carry the same spectrum of wavelengths that sunlight does and can, in fact, be detrimental to a tank by promoting algae growth without offering the necessary ultraviolet benefits.

In order to reproduce daylight, it is necessary to understand the value of light wavelengths for the organisms in your tank. Generally, fish and plants respond best to a combination of ultraviolet light and low-wavelength red light. Combining bulbs that produce these two types of light in a balanced way is key to promoting plant photosynthesis as well as healthy, colourful fish.

Ultraviolet lights designed for aquarium use are commonly called actinic lights. They provide wavelengths of light that the human eye cannot see, but which are nonetheless necessary for the promotion of healthy plant and fish life without promoting uncontrolled algae growth.

Using light to control algae

well lit marine aquarium
Metal halide lamp lit aquarium

Encouraging the growth and health of aquarium plants without being overwhelmed by algae is a common concern for aquarists. Since both these organisms photosynthesize light in order to grow, your aquarium lighting can just as easily be used by algae as it can by your plants.

Fortunately, well-tended plants with about 12 hours of daily light will tend to outcompete algae for essential water nutrients. This means that if you have large, healthy plants that are receiving enough light to grow, they should keep algae to a minimum all by themselves.

One of the most common lighting issues that leads to algae growth is direct sunlight. If you are supplementing your aquarium lighting setup with direct sunlight, chances are that algae will grow in order to use the excess light, quickly overwhelming your aquarium in the process.

If you find that your tank is a target for constant algae growth, you probably need to reduce the amount of light that it is receiving every day. Some aquarists do this gradually, reducing the 12-hour day to a 10-hour day, and others prefer to cover the whole tank with a thick sheet for several days to create a total black-out. Either method can help control algae growth by limiting their access to light.

Managing the lighting needs of your fish

While light is incredibly important for live plants, and, if properly used, can help to control your algae population, your fish are also very sensitive to aquarium lighting. Different combinations of light temperatures can help fish exhibit more varied and exciting scale colouration. The overabundance of bright light of a single colour can make fish scales turn dull and unattractive.

This is especially true if you are using sand or some other bright, reflective substrate to line the bottom of your tank. Bright light reflecting off the surface of your substrate can spook your fish and make them act unnaturally, hide more often, and dull their scales’ colouration. In this case, a more subdued lighting setup is recommended.

If you have a dark-coloured substrate such as gravel, then you may be able to get away with bright aquarium lighting on the higher end of the Kelvin-temperature scale without spooking your fish. This will help encourage plant growth, inhibit algae, and keep your fish looking bright and healthy.

Using aquarium lighting to encourage breeding

If you are an aquarist who would like to encourage your fish to breed, you may have to alter the light conditions of your tank in order to get your fish to spawn. Some species of fish may even require you to reproduce the lunar cycle using your night lights in order to begin properly breeding with one another.

In general, fish are reluctant to breed if placed in a brightly lit environment. Most fish are conditioned to begin breeding in the morning when lighting is dim, so timing your lighting correctly can make a great difference in encouraging your fish to begin spawning young fry. In this case, slowly raising the intensity of your lighting setup can help create the impression of a rising morning sun.

Types of lights and their benefits

While there are numerous options on the market for aquarium lighting solutions, the three most common choices are as follows:

• Flourescent Lights;

• Metal Halide Lights;

• LED Lights.

Of these three, fluorescent lights are by far the cheapest, and offer the simplest lighting solutions for a wide variety of aquarium habitats. Metal Halide lights are notably more expensive, but make one of the best possible choices for reef aquariums and other tanks that need high quality full-spectrum light. For most aquarium keepers, however, LED lights are the best choice available.

LED lit marine aquarium
beautifully lit LED tropical marine aquarium

LED lights represent some of the newest advances in lighting technology for aquariums: they are inexpensive, do not produce the same overheating problems that other lights do, and often last for years. As an additional benefit, aquarium-specific LED lights produce much less yellow/green spectrum light, which helps to maximize the efficiency of your aquarium lighting set up.