Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Monterey Bay Aquarium - How to take good photos in this amazing place!

For those of you who follow along on my Facebook or Instagram page, you may have seen that my wife and I spent the day on Monday in Monterey, CA. It was her birthday and I thought it would be fun to take a day trip away from home. It has been quite a while since we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and it was fun for the two of us to explore this amazing place at our own pace.

Of course - you know me - I could not visit the aquarium without my Canon 5D Mark III camera! Not knowing that we would go into the aquarium, I only brought one lens with me. The big ole' Canon 28-300mm lens. This was a lot to carry around, but the long focal range really did come in handy throughout the day.

Come along and check out some of my favorite photos from the day and learn some secrets for getting good shots in an environment like this...

This is one of the first photos I took in the aquarium. As is true with almost any photo, the key is to get tight focus on your subject. This is made a little more difficult when shooting through a window. Your best bet is to find a clean area of the glass, with little or no scratches, and shoot at an angle to the glass to avoid reflections.

The slower moving jelly fish are really fun to photograph. Especially those that are colorful and well lit. You might be tempted to just shoot in tight, but make sure to zoom out and get some photos that include more than just the top portion.

Here is a tighter shot of a white jelly fish. My goal was to get the thin tentacles in focus.

I could have waited for everyone to clear the area (although this may never have happened), but I preferred stepping back to include my wife and others silhouetted in the shot.

These creatures photograph so well with the vibrant colors against the deep blue background. After shooting these photos, many times I used Adobe Photoshop to increase the contrast in the final image to "pop" the fish from the background. I also used the healing brush and cloning tool to remove the obvious scratches and reflections in the glass.

Here is a photo isolating just my wife. I shot this photo with her in focus and the jelly fish blurred, and also took another shot with the jelly fish in focus and her blurred. I liked this one better. Remember, memory is cheap. Try taking photos with varying settings to see which you like best.

This photo was tough to take. This jelly fish is about the size of a half dollar with very little body mass to focus on. It took me at least 10 photos to get this sharp image.

This is one of my favorite photos from the day. While everyone else was trying to get close shots of the fish in the large tank, I stepped to the back of the room to include their silhouettes in the shot. I waited for this large school of sardines to form a nice pattern and fired off this shot. I also framed this shot to include the light beams on the left side of the frame.

After I got my cool silhouette shot, I started isolating some of the larger fish, but I didn't like the photos. They were lacking creativity. So I slowed the shutter speed of the camera (by lowering the ISO) and photographed the fish just like I do with race cars. With a shutter speed of 1/10 sec, I would shoot photos of the larger fish while panning with them at the exact same speed. This would blur the other fish (especially those moving in the other direction) and the people in the foreground.

Here is another motion pan shot zoomed out a little more.

I saw this squid off on his own and thought that it would make for a cool photo. Part of me was concentrating on getting it in focus and the other part of me was hungry for some calamari. :)

It isn't often that octopus are in a good position to be photographed, as most of the times that I have ever seen them, they are hiding somewhere in the back of the tank. But at this moment, I got lucky. Seconds after I took this photo, the octopus moved to a different location.

The sea otters are cute as can be, and very playful. I saw many people trying to take photos of the otters, with their camera phones, from above the water line. But the windows are all covered with splashes of water and there really was not a clear view, even for me with my "big boy" camera. But when we viewed the otters from the lower platform, it was possible to get a decent photo. I just had to wait for them to swim by and look my way. This guy little lady was probably thinking "Hey, that lens is almost as big as me!"

Remember, when you are in an aquarium, there is more to photograph than just the fish.

There are some amazing colors and shapes in the plant life as well.

I used a wide aperture for all of my photos, mainly for two reasons. First, there is not a lot of light, so I needed the wide aperture to get a fast shutter speed. This wide aperture also helped me isolate my subject from the background, as you see here.

I could not photograph at the aquarium without getting at least one photo of a shark...

...and a sting ray.

I really liked the colors in the background of this particular tank, so I waited for a fish to swim in front of that colorful sea life and the fish became my subject.

The aquarium also has some birds in one exhibit, so I had some fun shooting photos there as well.

Some wide shots...

...and some tight shots. This is the advantage of having the Canon 5D Mark III with the 28-300mm lens. I could frame my shots wide or tight without changing lenses.

I moved my position so that this bird would have the green foliage in the background, which created a perfect complimentary color to his really bright orange beak.

After taking all these photos, my wife and I decided to leave the aquarium and get something to eat. As we were sitting down relaxing, I posted a photo (taken with my iPhone off the back of the camera) on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Within minutes, I got a tweet from the aquarium welcoming us and reminding my wife to get her birthday button at the information desk. With an offer like that, we had to go back in.

And I am glad we did!

She wanted to look at the gift store and I wanted to take a couple more photos. And as it turned out, I walked right into a presentation with a diver in one of the larger tanks. This made for some really fun photos.

I love this photo of the diver feeding the fish, with them surrounding him.

Again, using the wide zoom range of the 28-300mm lens, I zoomed most of the way out, to show the diver, but also the crowd of people watching from the floor.

I took many photos of this, since there were times when the diver was covered with fish, and other times when you could see more of him.

This last shot is another favorite of the day. At the end of the presentation, the diver offered to take photos with any of the kids who were interested. I saw this one girl reach way out to the diver and I grabbed this photo. I love the apparent connection between the girl and the diver. This is the last tip: Make sure you are ready to shoot photos at any moment, or you should might miss a cool shot!

I hope that these photos and tips will help inspire you the next time you are in an aquarium. And if you are in Northern California, you should visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I highly recommend it.


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Dale G said...


Thanks for the visit to one of my favorite places.

Hate to burst your bubble, but your 'plants' are animals !


wedding photographer cornwall said...

Gorgeous photos, what a lovely place - would love to visit it myself someday!

Wedding Photographer Cornwall said...

Nice job Jeff! The lenses seem well suited for these photos. I love the shades of blue in the first photos.

PC-STORE-CA said...
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