How many pictures have you seen, or rather, how many pictures have you taken of your betta fish and had them come out rather crappy? It’s a really convenient thing that betta fish are known to move around a lot, that way there is always a believable story about how “the fish just moved as soon as I was taking the pic” to blame poor photograph quality on. This is not a guide on how to pass the buck and blame your fish about your shortcomings. No, this is a guide on how to take those awesome shots of your betta that you always wanted to. If, after reading this guide, you still can’t seem to be able to distinguish your betta from a Marimo Moss Ball in your photos… maybe try giving the camera to your betta.
(This fantastic video on aquarium photography could use a few “likes” if you feel so inspired!)
Fishing For A Betta Photo-Shoot
While it doesn’t take much more than you probably already have for the perfect betta photoshoot setting, I wanted to include a list of things you may want to have nearby anyway.
Brightly Lit Environment
Designated Betta Photo Aquarium
A Mirror (aka betta fish posing device)
Betta Fish Assistant (2nd betta)
That’s it really. There’s only 8 things in that list, but really only two that you definitely need. That would be the betta fish and a camera. If you have only those 2 things, you could still make the cover of your favorite fishy magazine. Lighting was repeated because, well you never can have enough lighting when it comes to having a good photo session.
As for the designated betta picture aquarium, that would be a tank that is small and would serve only for taking pictures of your betta. Generally these aquariums are makeshift. They are small, re-purposed, square vases or ornamental accessories for your house that were never intended to house a betta fish. Or any fish for that matter. The size of the photo tank would be small in order to limit the movement of the subject betta. If you take a look at many of the brilliant photos of betta fish for sale online, most of these shots are made with the betta temporarily housed in these micro-tanks.
These tanks are generally between half a gallon and 2 gallons in size. Smaller tanks make for fish that stay still more often, but larger tanks tend to make a betta react to its surrounding more often. These small tanks that are best used for picture taking betta magic are often quite thin, but wide. The thinness makes for more frequently picturesque betta profile photos. The betta fish won’t have too much room to pose head-on to the camera’s lens. I really don’t think I need to add this in here but, obviously, do not keep your betta in a small picture use only tank for longer than the photoshoot takes.
If you have the means to make use of one, a divided tank with a male betta on each side works wonders for photography. The divider would have to be transparent mind you. The whole point would be that the male betta fish see one another. Something like this would be perfect. Even if you had only one single betta, you could still section the tank off to keep your betta to just one side if you wanted.
The betta assistant mentioned in that list would be simply a 2nd betta fish that you have. When you present 2 male betta fish to each-other, betta fish fins start flarin. This reaction makes for some pretty nifty photos. And I think that’s what you’re going for. Sometimes the 2 male betta fish method doesn’t work. I mean, sometimes you won’t be able to get a posed or flared reaction out of your betta fish no matter what you try. If this happens, the betta is just having a bad hair day and needs a break from all of this strenuous activity. More on all of this “how to get your betta to pose” stuff later.
Taking Betta Pictures With A Potato
You don’t need some fancy, top-of-the-line, camera to get the shots you always dreamed about of your beautiful betta fish. Today’s cellphones are amazing. That mixed with some photo editing magic can make for better betta pictures. “Potato” is what cheap cameras are called in the nerdy world that I’m apart of by the way. Thought there may be confusion there… anyway.
There are a few things you can look for as add-ons for your existing camera setup, or new dedicated betta photo camera if you want to splurge that way.
To better get that close up shot, actually all pictures of betta fish are generally close up shots, you are going to want a macro lens. Macro lenses are lenses that allow the camera to focus on a subject very near to it. Anywhere between inches and a few feet away, macro lenses are kings of close ups. Up until recently, a macro lens for a cellphone was unheard of. Today we are living in the future where clip-on macro lenses for cellphones are actually a thing. I highly recommend that you check them out, if only to see what I’m talking about. They are the bee’s knees for cellphone picture taking of things in a tiny world.
Betta fish can really move when they want to. Even when they are still, they are not completely still. Looking for a camera that has a really fast shutter speed is something you may want. You don’t have a lot of options to adjust the shutter speed in a cellphone mind you, but if you are in the market for a new camera anyway, look at shutter speeds. I’ll talk about good shutter speeds for betta picture taking a bit further on. When using a cellphone though, just make sure that the betta is well lit. That’s about the only thing you can do with a cellphone to seemingly “increase” shutter speed.
One problem that you may run into with a cellphone is that they don’t offer optical zooming. “Sure they do”, you say. No, they don’t. The zooming function on cellphones is a digital one, not an optical one. The digital zoom on a cellphone camera is only zooming in on existing pixels the camera is picking up in the overall, un-zoomed, image and enhancing them. Actually, I don’t see you needing to zoom in on a betta fish in a tank very often. I suppose if you really wanted to blow up just one or two betta scales… then maybe.
Prepare To Take Betta Looking Pictures
Allrighty then. You should have all of your chosen equipment gathered up, and the betta fish selected that you want to have model the beautifulness to you. You should also have the assistant betta selected by now too.
If you have decided to go the separate “photo tank” route, you are going to want to make sure that it’s filled with water that won’t harm your fish. This means preparing the conditioned tap water the night before if you have to.
Once the special photoshoot tank is filled, take your time and try to clean up the aquarium’s walls as best you can. You don’t want any unsightly water drops or other residue taking away from the betta brilliance in the stunning photos you are about to take. Take extra precaution that you do not accidentally contaminate the water in the tank with any cleaning substance. You can use a water/vinegar mixture and dry paper towels in most situations. If you feel that you absolutely have to use a glass cleaner on the tank, spray the solution into a towel facing far away from the aquarium. Then use the towel with the sprayed on cleaning agent to clean house. Betta house.
After cleaning up anything unsightly on the aquarium, put the betta you intend to take pictures of in the tank. You can do this with a fishnet if you have one. Be careful and very gentle when transferring your betta. Fins and scales are quite fragile. You do not want to end up with an ugly betta to take pictures of. Hurting your betta would be considered bad too. Be gentile.
Be it a professional DSLR camera, or a cellphone or instamatic, get your camera ready because it’s time to shoot. You are going to want to take a few general shots of the betta, not really with the intention of getting that “perfect” picture yet. Use these shots at the beginning to see what you need to change in terms of lighting arrangements and camera settings. Before you go adjusting anything though, check to see how your betta reacted during that mini-photoshoot. Just want to make sure he/she is hanging in there. You really shouldn’t have run into a problem at this point, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.
After reviewing the first few test pictures that you just took, you are looking to see if there are lighting issues that you can resolve without having to resort to using a camera’s flash. This is where all of the extra lighting you gathered may come in really handy. If you see that the scene is too dark overall, or maybe just in a few corners, just start moving lights around. Maybe you like the shadows in certain areas. Use the test shots as reference to finalize the betta scene. Amongst other issues that are listed below, using the flash will, in most cases, slow your shutter speed. Betta fish are moving creatures and betta photos are taken at betta shutter speeds. I mean, faster shutter speeds. Well, photos are less likely to have motion blur at faster shutter speeds.
If your camera has an adjustable flash, you may end up wanting to still use it. If you can point the flash away from the betta’s tank, you may be able to use it to “fill” in some of the dark areas just by bouncing light off of the ceiling or wall. It’s just one more option you can play around with if you want.
After having reviewed the test shots and adjusting anything that needed adjusting, you can move on to the real deal. The actual betta photoshoot. Here is where you want to introduce that small mirror you picked up previously and see if you can get a betta reaction. This is also when you may bring in your trusty betta assistant if you choose not to use the mirror. You can really use both, but maybe not at the same time. Using both a mirror and an additional betta is just overkill and not needed. It’s nice to have the option to use either because one may not really want to work. I hate it when mirrors don’t want to work.
Betta Pose For The Camera
Betta fish are known for their absolutely stunning self-pose. When they flare their fins and gills, that right there can make for some magic photo sessions. This behavior however, doesn’t always appear when you want it to. Especially when you have your camera’s big and invasive “eye” staring straight into the betta’s house. Sometimes it actually makes the betta flare up more often than not. In any case, there are a few other things you can do in order to induce your betta’s magnificent flaring abilities.
Betta fish are known as fighting fish. The get really aggressive around other fish that are of their same species. Specifically male betta to male betta interaction. A really easy way to replicate another nearby male betta fish is to use a small sized mirror. Holding or placing a small mirror near the betta’s tank will inevitably make the betta fish think he has uninvited company. This usually will make the betta flare, or pose, for the camera.
While this mirror trick can be really hand for betta photography, having the betta think there is another male betta intruding on its territory will put the betta under a fair amount of stress. You should limit the time you introduce the mirror to the betta fish to under 3 minutes. Some say 5 minutes is fine, but I see no reason for even that length of time. It really doesn’t even take 3 minutes to take a few stunning photos of a betta. Also, if you want to use the mirror trick over and over again, you’d want to wait for about an hour in-between mirror meetings.
Don’t Want To Move Betta
Of course, you do have the option to take your betta’s picture while he/she is in the “normal” fishtank. There is nothing written saying that you have to use a secondary, for betta picture taking only, tank. There are a few tips that may help you out if you choose to go this way.
The first part would be lighting issues. Lighting in an empty secondary aquarium is quite a bit easier to setup as there are no plants and accessories and things to get in the way and cast shadows. When you go to take your best betta fish picture while the betta is in the normal aquarium, bring in extra lighting. We are talking anything you can use that emits light. Flashlights, table lamps and red-nosed reindeer can all work in a pinch.
Actually, I lied. The first step should be to clean the surface of the betta’s normal tank. The anti-waterspot motive still applies. If the tank is dirty, make it un-dirty. One other issue with taking photos through dirty aquarium glass that wasn’t talked about above is, auto focus can sometimes have a heck of a time trying to figure out what you are wanting to take a picture of. That is, if the tank has residue on it. You will hear and/or see your camera trying to adjust constantly between some strange looking dirt mark on the tank and then your fish and then back to the water scum. You should clean the tank.
Photo specific betta tanks are flat on all sides. Your everyday “normal” betta fish tank may not be. Some fishtanks are curvy. Curves, while nice when describing some things, are not photo friendly when describing betta tanks. Curved glass can and will cause the subject of your photos to look distorted. Because of this, try your best to find and use only flat walled areas of the tank to shoot your pictures through. If there are no flat walled areas of the tank, try to keep your camera pointed straight on the fishy subject. Taking pictures at an angle through curved glass or acrylic will further any distortion effect you will end up with.
Betta Reflect On This
Aside from the subject of your photos wanting to move at inopportune times, your single biggest enemy in trying to get those crystal clear shots of your betta is the aquarium itself. The two problem child words you need to know are reflection and refraction. First dealing with reflection, the walls of the aquarium love nothing more than to bounce light off of them. It doesn’t’ matter if the light is coming from an overhead light source, or the light that is being bounced off a little boys nose hitting the aquarium in the form of his reflection. Taking pictures of an aquarium can often be like taking a picture of a mirror.
You need to find a way to control the reflections. Without first controlling the things around the subject aquarium, you will be hard pressed to come out with a decent shot. Blocking the reflections from the camera’s lens is the smart way of trying to control this reflecting situation. And the easiest way of blocking these intruding reflections is by using a lens hood.
Now, I’m not sure what kind of photo gear you are using, so I’m going to try and give betta photography tips on both standalone cameras, and the typical cell phone. That being said, lets continue.
Betta Make Or Buy A Lens Hood
A lens hood on a typical camera is a removable device that kind of looks like a short, hollow tube that extends from the end of the cameras lens. With this device in place on your typical camera, you can place your lens straight up against the glass wall of the aquarium to take the picture. By shoving your lens right up against the side like this, you eliminate and surrounding reflections of the things behind you. If you are using a cellphone, you can play around with this idea by using a short piece of toilet paper tubing pressed in between the phone’s lens and the aquarium. This is pretty makeshift, but it’ll give you an idea at least.
This lens hood idea will not, of course, work for all aquarium setups. Also, if you are going the makeshift route with the toilet paper tubing, shorter is probably going to end up better. I’d start with a length of no more than a half an inch, although it really doesn’t have to be even that long. You are just trying to close the gap between the lens of your camera, be it DSLR or cellphone, and cut out reflections with it.
Whatever you choose to try and make the makeshift lens hood out of, you probably don’t want it to be something hard. Things like metal can, and probably will, scratch the aquariums wall when you press up against it and move around. That’s actually why I suggest that paper tubing above. Ideally, your makeshift (or real) lens hood will be made out of a flexible material like rubber. Something that can bend and mold against the surface of the betta’s tank would be great. Here’s an awesome guide to making your own DSLR lens hood out of… a tuna container… if you want some inspiration.
If you do have a professional camera, there are rubber lens hoods you can purchase. I just like doing things cheap and free if and when I can. If you do opt for purchasing a real lens hood, please do your research on what camera you have and what exactly will fit it. It’s not hard to do, but never fun having to ship something back. At least they are pretty inexpensive in most situations.
Dealing With Refractions Betta
Regardless of what type of device you are using to take the pictures, when using the lens hood technique, try to take your pictures as perpendicular to the aquarium as you can. If you try to take a picture of your betta fish at an angle, you will often see a “ghosted” outline just around the betta’s profile. This unwanted outline in the developed photo comes from the aquariums wall you are shooting through.
These ghosted outlines are called refractions by the way. Often the will have a slightly colored tint to them. The tint depends on the material used in making the aquarium’s walls. Depending on the thickness of the glass or acrylic, this ghosted outline will be more or less visible. If you take the picture of the betta straight on, you will not have that ugly superficial outline.
Betta Fish Eye Lens?
Lens hoods are boring. Let’s talk about real camera lenses and some options you may have with cellphones as well.
If you have spent any time at all trying to get a decent photograph of your betta fish, you will know that as soon as you get close to the aquarium, the betta will swim to either the extreme front or the extreme back of the tank. Most likely your betta will go from back to front repeatedly. Trying to take a picture of a betta when he/she is right up close to the camera you have pressed up against the side will give you some too-close-for-comfort fashion shots. You have a really hard time avoiding these extreme close up shots when you are trying to avoid outside reflections by pressing your camera right up against the tank.
So you have a problem here. At least I may have a solution. If you are trying to avoid these extremely up close and personal photo shoots of your betta, and you are using a camera with changeable lenses, I’d look for a 40mm-60mm lens. These shorter focal length lenses will be better apt to give you that perfect “all in the shot” field of view. Anything larger and your field of view at that distance from the subject betta will be too narrow. And you need to be this close to the aquarium in order to defeat those irritating reflections.
If you are using a cellphone camera to take these betta fish glamor shots, you actually may be fine without an additional lens. Did you know there are clip on lenses for just about every type of cellphone camera? Yes, there are, and they are pretty freakin sweet in general. I mean, outside of taking pictures of betta fish. Anyway… Play around with what your cellphone can do using a makeshift lens hood without buying a clip-on phone lens. Film is cheap for digital photography.
If you want to go the rout of a clip on lens for your cellphone, that link back there will get you started. If you are like me and want the best, go to amazon and search for “olloclip“. This is what I use for my phone’s camera. Actually, I don’t think I really ever have my cellphone without one of these lens attachments on, or nearby. To tell you the truth, I haven’t touched my $1500+ DSLR camera in months because of these little phone lenses. As a amateur photographer, I feel bad for neglecting my expensive camera. I’m getting sidetracked again…
Betta Fish Exposure
You are going to have a really bad time trying to take good photos of your betta fish if your aquarium is not well lit. Controlling the exposure in a standard “room lit” environment while shooting a moving blue lightning bolt with fins is definitely a task in and of itself. If you have lights for your aquarium, turn them on of course. If not, and you really want to have a nice picture of your betta, you should at least look to see what’s out there in terms of aquarium lighting. There are a lot of cheap options out there that give off fantastic light.
In any case you are really going to need to play around with your camera’s exposure settings. It’s hard to give specific advice here because there are so many different camera and lens combinations you may have. Shooting with a 40mm lens, I was able to get fairly impressive shots using automatic ISO in manual with a 1/125 second shutter speed. Betta fish have a tendency to pose for you more often than not, and because of this you may be able to get a better picture of your betta with a slower shutter speed.
Betta fish seem to swim around like a kid learning how to drive a car with a manual transmission. Or an adult learning that skill in my case. What I mean by that is that they are either swimming at full speed through their aquarium, or they are at a complete stop. But they never seem to be completely stopped for long when you are trying to get them on camera. Take a look at them from across the room and of course they are holding still. Of course.
If you are lucky enough to have your betta come to a complete stop in front of your camera’s lens, while fully flared would be nice, you really shouldn’t need to have your shutter speed set higher than 1/125th of a second. If you try and go much faster than that, it honestly doesn’t seem to help that much. Dialing it back a bit slower would offer you better exposure, but often at the expense of a blurry betta fish picture.
I almost forgot, in shooting with the 40mm lens, and probably any lens that you shoot with, the smaller the aperture the better when taking photographs of your betta fish. I had the best luck with f/5-f/5.6. Taking photos of your betta at a smaller aperture will allow you more flexibility with other functions of exposure as well. Sure, you may end up will a really blurry moss ball in the background, but its moss. It’s already blurry.
If you are fighting lighting conditions in your aquarium, and don’t have the option of getting fixed aquarium lighting, you may want to try playing with the ISO setting on your camera. Lighting can vary not only from aquarium to aquarium to room to room, but also from definite spots inside the aquarium itself. Different accessories and objects in the aquarium will cause parts of the aquarium to have different levels of light. You can hard set the shutter speed and aperture of your camera if you set it to manual mode, or certain program settings. Once you do so, you can then compensate for any lighting fluctuations in the bettas aquarium by setting your ISO to auto.
By setting up your camera this way, the auto ISO mode should give you the lowest ISO possible for each lighting situation. Lower ISO translates to lower picture noise. Lower picture noise means that you won’t look at your betta’s picture and wonder why he developed Ich in that shot and you hadn’t noticed it yet.
Flashing A Flashy Fishy
This should really not surprise you, but using a flash is not recommended. Think about it for a second and you’ll understand why. Once that flash fires, the aquarium’s housing, be it glass or acrylic, will act as a big mirror and you’ll get that flash bounced straight back into your lens. On top of the aquarium flashing back at you, betta fish scales reflect light really well. That may end up screwing up the picture you want to come away with. That, and your betta may start to grow his over-flamboyant ego larger than it already is by thinking the paparazzi is after him. Betta fish do possess really large egos. Just watch one for 30 seconds and you’ll see.
If you do decide to try out using the flash on your camera, keep an eye on your betta’s reaction to it. Some bettas don’t seem to mind the quick bright light, while others take it as a sign that their water world is about to end. If you see that your betta reacts poorly, such as defensively swimming away and seeking some form of cover, you are probably stressing your fish out more than either of you really want. Betta fish are living creatures and can adjust to certain things though. While I’m not advocating that you put your betta through more stress than necessary, you may want to try once more with the flash and see if the betta doesn’t mind this time. Give the betta a time between photoshoots to settle it’s nerves though. Call it quits if the betta still gets edgy with the flash.
Other Camera Settings
White balance settings on your camera can probably be set to auto for most aquarium setups. If the lighting conditions in the room you are in are really rather strange, as in you only live in rooms that are lit with black lights… you may want to mess with the settings just a bit. And consider providing your room with a fog machine to go with the black light. Now I’m going to go redo my room. That sounds awesome.
Avoid Flubbed Betta Photos
Take a look at pretty much any betta fish picture on a social media platform out there. The internet social world is flooded with really not that great pictures of betta fish. Yes, you can still make out their color and partial fin type, but they really don’t cut the mustard when it comes to good, clear, picturesque photos of betta fish. You are hear reading this right now to help remedy the situation… right?
Most of the betta photo flubs fall into one of, or all of, three categories:
Blinded by flash (flash reflecting)
Pretty picture of a clear water stain (dirt on the tank)
The betta looks like a blue & red Marimo Moss ball (fuzzy)
The use of flash has been talked about in this article several times. In case you are skimming through and stopped at this part only, I’ll give you a brief rundown on its use. Don’t use it. There, done.
Clean the dirty tank and clean it done and proper. Trying to take pictures of a betta fish through dirty or water stained glass is like trying to eat a hamburger with the wrapper on. You will get to the burger, but the fished “product” will come out unsatisfactory… Maybe you need fiber though.
Now, if all of the pictures of your betta fishy come out looking like you took shots of a pompom, you may have a few different issues. If you already made sure that you don’t have grease on the lens, it’s a focusing issue. In that case:
You may have the camera set to focus only on one area. The wrong area.
Your camera may be focusing on the dirt on the tank. Clean the tank.
You may be taking pictures closer than the camera is able to adjust for. Step back some.
Your fish may have moved faster than the shutter could take the picture. Wait till the betta holds still.
Betta To Have Fun With It
All things considered, there’s really not a lot to taking good pictures of your betta fish. You may want to try a lens hood for your DSLR camera, or have a go at inventing your own as described above. If you want a cheap camera upgrade for your phone, those clip on lenses are not only handy for aquarium photography, they make your phone’s camera incredibly versatile for all other picture taking needs.
One other thing you may want to try for clearer betta fish photos is recording a video and screen-grabbing a frame. Every cell phone camera I know of can also shoot video. When I’m out taking pictures of fast moving things (my 3 year old nephew for example) I’ll record a video of the subject. Then I’ll upload the video to my computer and play the video with whatever video playing software I have built in. The “print screen” button on the keyboard saves a copy of whatever is on your screen at the time much like the common “copy/paste” function you are familiar with. Open up a photo editor after you have hit the “prt scr” button on the keyboard and choose Edit/Paste, or “ctrl+V” on the keyboard. You can try this out right now on this screen if you want.
One other thing to think about that I forgot to mention above is the use of a backdrop. There are many different options available for purchase. Backdrops make for neat looking betta tanks even when you are not taking pictures so, it a good idea to get a nice quality one. You can also look online for some photos that would suite an aquarium and print them. The problem with printing your won though is that aquariums contain water. Water has a tendency of splashing. Splashing causes printer ink to run and smear. If you want to later use photo editing software to crop out only the betta from the original pic, it’s easier to do that with a solid color backdrop. A backdrop that is pure black seems to work best for me and my fish.
Take lots of pictures. If you are using a digital camera, it’s not like the film expense is an issue. If you get a good one, find me on one of my social profiles and let me see too! Hope you found at least a few things here that help you along the way to betta fish photography fantasticness!