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Another Perspective on Your Pond

By J. Maxwell Smith

Would you like to get pictures like these of your own pond? Record your pets’ markings for posterity? Or just visit their world?

Chances are you have all of the equipment you need:
A camera
A clean, dry aquarium (glass aquaria are more transparent than plastic ones, resulting in brighter, clearer images)


Optional extras
Remote shutter release (my camera doesn’t accommodate one)
Small mirror mounted at an angle so you can see a little better where you’re shooting (there are many ways to fashion the mounts, I simply cut diagonal grooves in blocks of wood)

Aquariums are fragile, so be careful when assembling your photography rig. First, place the empty aquarium in your pond, and then carefully load the ballast sufficiently that the aquarium sinks about halfway down. The aim is to have the aquarium low enough under water that the camera will be below the waterline, but the top of the aquarium remains high enough above the waterline that the camera stays dry. With the aquarium adequately ballasted, put the camera in the aquarium with the lens flat against the glass.

You can use many different things for ballast; I used pavers (patio bricks) but bags containing sand, stone, or pea gravel would do the job. Be sure to bag whatever you use. Use several bags for ease of loading and adjusting, and keep the bags clean, so you don’t scratch your aquarium.
The amount of ballast you need depends on the size of your aquarium. Water weighs 8.34 lb per gallon (1 kg per litre) so if you know the capacity of your aquarium, you can estimate how much ballast you’ll need to sink it. In other words, a 10-gallon aquarium will need about 83 lb of ballast to sink completely, but we only want our aquarium to sink halfway, so about half that amount of ballast should do the job.
Obviously you should practice this without the camera!

Aim to get the tank floating high enough for safety so that your camera doesn’t get wet if water splashes about. Move the ballast about in the tank so that it is evenly distributed; this will make it easier to keep the rig steady and to tilt it up or down slightly when required.
When you’re finished, carefully reverse the procedure to remove the tank from the water: take out the camera first, then the ballast; and the empty tank last of all.


Light causes a variety of problems. Ambient light can makes it difficult to see the viewfinder display at the back of the camera. You could fabricate a shield for your viewfinder, or move the mirror about a bit so that it catches less light. But may I suggest you keep it simple? Just shoot. At least with digital cameras, that’s best. Shoot a lot. Fill your memory, dump it onto another media, and shoot some more. Sooner or later you’ll get good images worth keeping, and the rest you can throw away.
On the other hand, if there isn’t enough natural light your photographs will be too dim. You’ll get the best results at midday, when the overhead light is strongest. You can also get good shots at night as well if your water is very clear and you have underwater floodlights.
Suspended matter in the water will be catch and scatter the light from the flash. For best results, wait for the water to cool and the fish to quiet before using the flash. The same applies to long exposures, where suspended matter will streak across the image in a very annoying way.


Yet more fun

You can use an Omnigrid placed in the pond to provide you with a way to measure the length of your fish photographically. An Omnigrid is a tool quilters and sewers use. The fish doesn't have to line up with the grid; it just needs to be in the same photo, and square to the camera. Place a piece of paper over the monitor and mark the fish's length, then line that up with the grid. More accurate measurement is derived from the fish's shadow, eliminating perspective error
One last word (okay, six): Wait until you see your movies!
  1. On rig the mirror is held in place behind my camera by a couple of pieces of wood, making it possible to view the display at the back of the camera without difficulty
  2. Another view of the rig, this time with the ballast in place and with the camera below the waterline
  3. An Omnigrid placed in the pond provides you with a way to measure your fish photographically
  4. Initially my fish were alarmed by the aquarium, but after throwing them some food they quickly got over their shyness
  5. The central portion of my pond is about 7 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep
  6. For my pond fish portraits, I use a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC V-1 in a 10-gallon tank
  7. Even pond plants take on a magical new appearance when viewed from underwater
  8. Who needs to go diving on a reef to see beautiful fish in their natural habitat?
  9. Strong midday light works best by illuminating the pond from above

Photography on WWM

Related Articles: Aquarium Photography: A Wonderful Offshoot By:  Adam Blundell and Shane Silcox, Underwater Photography,

Related FAQs: Underwater Photography 2, Above-water Photography, Digital Photography, Aquatic Videography,



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