Crystal-clear captures: Mastering aquarium photography with CPL filters

Crystal-clear captures: Mastering aquarium photography with CPL filters

Aquariums are fascinating places filled with a diverse range of marine life. As such, they are excellent locations for photography enthusiasts to capture unique and stunning images. However, one common challenge faced by photographers in such settings is dealing with unwanted reflections caused by the glass enclosures. In this article, I’ll explore the use of CPL (Circular Polarizing) filters to eliminate reflections and offer tips for achieving the best aquarium photography experience.

1694174437 785 Crystal clear captures Mastering aquarium photography with CPL filters | Theedgesm

Understanding the problem: Reflections in aquariums

Aquariums typically have large glass or acrylic panels that separate the aquatic environment from visitors. These barriers protect the marine life and allow for clear viewing. However, they can also lead to frustrating reflections when attempting to take photographs. These reflections are caused by various light sources, such as overhead lighting, external ambient light, or even other visitors’ flash photography. Not to mention light hitting the water and the reflections of other patrons.

1694174437 42 Crystal clear captures Mastering aquarium photography with CPL filters | Theedgesm
Screw on CPL filter

The solution: Circular Polarizing (CPL) filters

Circular Polarizing filters are essential tools for photographers looking to eliminate or control reflections in their shots. Also called CPL filters, they work by selectively blocking certain polarized light waves. This reduces or eliminates reflections on glass or water surfaces. Here’s how to use them effectively in an aquarium setting:

  • Choose the Right CPL Filter: CPL filters come in various sizes and thread diameters to fit different lenses. Ensure you have the correct filter size for your camera lens.
  • Mount the CPL Filter: Screw the CPL filter onto your camera lens just like any other filter. Make sure it’s securely attached.
  • Observe the Effect: Look through the viewfinder or use your camera’s LCD screen to observe the scene. Rotate the CPL filter while observing the reflections in the glass. You will notice that by turning the filter, you can control the level of reflection elimination.
  • Find the Optimal Position: Rotate the CPL filter until you achieve the desired level of reflection reduction or elimination. You’ll see the reflections disappear as you align the filter’s effect with the direction of the reflections.
  • Adjust Exposure Settings: After finding the ideal CPL filter position, you may need to adjust your camera’s exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO). This lets you compensate for the reduction in light caused by the filter.

Tips for successful aquarium photography

Besides using a CPL filter to control reflections, here are some additional tips to help you capture stunning images at an aquarium:

  • Use a fast lens. A lens with a wide aperture (e.g., f/2.8 or lower) will allow more light to enter your camera. It will help you achieve sharp and well-exposed photos in low-light aquarium environments.
  • Avoid Flash: Using the camera’s built-in flash or an external flash can cause glare and reflections on the glass. Try to shoot without a flash or use a diffuser to soften the light. They are often not allowed in some circumstances and they will startle marine life and ruin your photo.
  • Be patient and mindful. Aquariums can get crowded, so be patient and wait for the right moment to capture your shots. Be mindful of other visitors and avoid blocking their view or causing distractions.
  • Use a Tripod: To maintain stability and avoid camera shake, use a tripod whenever possible. This is especially important in low-light conditions where slower shutter speeds are required. Keep in mind, these can also become a tripping hazard and may not be allowed.
  • Get as close as you can. By getting your lens as close as you can to the glass (even touching it) you can often eliminate reflections and get a clearer picture.
  • Don’t shoot at an angle. Often the glass is curved so shooting at an angle can distort the image further. Instead, keep your camera at a 90-degree angle to the glass.
  • Use a hood: If shooting against glass, try a special lens hood to cut down reflections.
  • Alternatively, try a different angle. Just to be counterintuitive, if photographing through water and not glass, you may find a slight angle to be helpful.

Of course, it can often be difficult to get around scratches in the glass. Try to get as close as you can so they are not a distraction.

Try to eliminate scratches by getting closer to the glass
Try to eliminate scratches by getting closer to the glass

Shooting at an aquarium can be a rewarding experience for photographers. However, the challenge of dealing with reflections can be frustrating. By using a Circular Polarizing filter (or lens hood) and following the tips above, you can overcome this obstacle and capture stunning, reflection-free images of the fascinating marine life within. So, grab your camera, head to the nearest aquarium, and start experimenting with CPL filters to take your aquarium photography to the next level.

All images captured sat Reef World, Hervey Bay, Australia