The London Aquarium

After a trip on the London Eye and a stroll along the South Bank to get some lunch, we finally made our way to the London Aquarium, which is on the South Bank just by the London Eye.

Being, as it is, a hive of unusual marine life, I was hoping to get some interesting shots of some weird and wonderful creatures. It wasn’t long before we found some interesting things.

1/25sec, f/3.2, ISO 5000, exposure bias -0.67, 100mm

Which came first, jelly, or jellyfish? Is it’s the former, why don’t Americans call them jellofish? But I digress, as I often do.

Photographing at the aquarium proved to be a different challenge than what I often face. Despite the saying, shooting fish in a barrel isn’t really all that easy (although I don’t think that was intended as a photography idiom. Also they weren’t in barrels).

There were numerous challenges facing me there. Firstly, it wasn’t really all that well lit, so I had to push the ISO on my camera quite a bit (as you can see, the image above needed an ISO of 5,000). Secondly, there were lots of kids about the place, and tourists, making it a bit cramped. Finally I was often shooting through perspex. No matter how good the optics on a lens, if you’re shooting though a cheap bit of plastic you lose image quality. The perspex caused its own chromatic aberration, furthered by the fact that light travels though water slower than air, creating the occasional distorted shot. I had the same problems shooting through glass, although they were less pronounced.

Fortunately, not every shot came out terrible.

1/30sec, f/3.5, ISO 3200, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.51), 18mm

I’m not sure if the two people you can see in the image are in the tunnel that dissects this tank, or if they were just behind me and I didn’t notice.  Much like in the London Eye earlier that day, reflections on the glass were a problem, and due to the amount of people I wasn’t always able to get as close to the glass as I would have liked to minimise them.

When I was able to get close to the glass, I wasn’t always able to identify what I was looking at.

1/5sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -0.67, 53mm

I have no idea what this is. I also didn’t notice the white dandelion-clock style bits until editing the photos at home. I didn’t see them there in person or in the viewfinder.

There is a bit of noise creeping into this image – even at 6400 ISO and an exposure bias of -2/3, the shutter was at 1/5th of a second, not quick by any means. For the most part, photographing in the aquarium was a dark, high-ISO sort of experience. Looking at these images alone, you don’t notice the noise so much, but when the occasional shot comes up that was taken at a lower ISO (this is getting overly technical, I’ve said ISO three four times in the same paragraph) you can really see the difference.

1/5sec, f/5, ISO 800, exposure bias -0.67 , 18mm

The London Aquarium is one of those ones with a tunnel running through one of the tanks, allowing you to immerse yourself in the water and the wildlife. This gave me the opportunity to get some interesting angles on some of the creatures.

1/50sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -1.0, 26mm
1/60sec, f/5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -1.0, 47mm

As you’ve seen, it wasn’t all turtles and sharks. There was also, er, whatever the heck this thing is.

1/200sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (+0.44), 135mm

Okay, I know what that is, but only because I’ve already seen this next shot.

1/125sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.42), 135mm

This image highlights quite nicely some of the problems I was having when photographing into some of the smaller tanks (the bigger tanks had better quality glass, the smaller ones plastic). There is clear colour fringing around the jellyfish, reminiscent of blue/yellow chromatic aberration but at the wrong angle for the software to correct it.

Sometimes, when the glass allowed sufficient light transmission, I still encountered problems. No matter what I try, I can’t get the colour balance of this shot right, but I like it enough to include it nonetheless.

1/60sec, f/5, ISO 5000, exposure bias -0.67 (-0.83), 53mm

I really like the reflection from the surface of the water in this one; I love how it is at the other end of the frame (and the other way up) than you’d expect.

It wasn’t all friendly Nemo fish in this section; there was this pissed off looking fella as well.

1/100sec, f/5, ISO 5000, exposure bias -1.0, 30mm

This trip wasn’t all about photographing fish, of course. I was there with my niece for a start and so I was taking quite a few of shots of her (these will turn up in another portrait-related post later), but I also wanted to get some more general shots of people enjoying the aquarium. I love the wonder caught in this next shot:

1/25sec, f/5, ISO 5000, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

Weirdly for an aquarium, it also had a water feature. Yes, I know technically all of it is one big series of water features, but this one was more traditional:

1/4sec, f/4.5, ISO 6400, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

I tried several attempts at getting this shot, trying to capture the water in motion. However, shooting handheld in such poor light made it difficult; this shot is the best balance of sharpness of the shot versus blurriness of the water out of the attempts I made.

This wasn’t my only opportunity to grab this kind of shot. Just along from this stream was another tank, this time containing a dry ice fountain and some weird, newt like creatures…

1/30sec, f/5, ISO 1000, exposure bias -1.0, 29mm

At the back of this tank there was another waterfall, this time a bit more brightly lit. It’s just a shame about the artificial looking foliage.

1sec, f/22, ISO 640, exposure bias -1.0 (+0.34), 18mm

This time, the increased light – combined with a tank edge to lean on – allowed me to catch the water with a little more movement, but the bright light has also bleached out it out, making it – my my mind – less successful than the last waterfall image.

Anyway, back to the animals.

1/100sec, f/5.6, ISO 2500, exposure bias -1.0, 135mm
1/60sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400, exposure bias -1.0 (-0.49), 135mm

This turtle/terrapin/whatever was quite the poser (on that front, although my species identification – or lack thereof – is often an issue I raise on this blog, one of the few species I am quite insistent of is the turtle/tortoise paradigm. Americans seem to call anything with a shell a turtle, when if it has legs it’s a tortoise. I lived with one for my entire childhood through to adolescence, so it bugs me). I got my camera out, he jumped in and swam past with the pose you see above, and then swam back and buggered off as soon as my camera was pointed in another direction.

Speaking of turtles, we soon found ourselves looking into the main tank from a higher level, and someone seemed pleased to see us.

1/50sec, f/4.5, ISO 4000, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm
1/40sec, f/4.5, ISO 4000, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

The fact these were shot at a focal length of 18mm – as wide as any of my lenses get – should give an idea of the scale and proximity of this amazing creature. And if that doesn’t impress you, then there’s a shark in the background. That said, this is my wife’s favourite shot. Unfortunately she expressed this by asking if we could ‘get that turtle blown up somewhere’ which gave me images of a Mythbusters-style experiment involving dynamite, a turtle, and attempting to keep the shell intact. I’m a horrid, horrid person.

Oh look, there’s that shark again.

1/80sec, f/4.5, ISO 4000, exposure bias -1.0, 20mm

Snuggled away in a corner somewhere is the penguin enclosure, where a tribe of penguins stand around looking sad in a pen that is lit bright red for some reason that I never bothered to investigate.

1/25sec, f/4.5, ISO 4000, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

I’ve had trouble with my camera and reds in the past. This shot was no exemption; the master image is actually more purple, and it took a little bit of tweaking to make it look more like reality.

We then came to the last tank on our journey, or at least the last tank in this post. It was one we’d seen from a lower level earlier on, but now we were seeing it from a different angle. It was only then that I realised the structures in the tank were the Easter Island statues.

1/13sec, f/4.5, ISO 1000, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

This is probably my favourite shot from this set; I love the blue and yellow together, the lighting on the statue, and the way some of the fish have found their way into a brighter patch of light.

There were also sharks in this tank.

1/30sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm
I love the reflection on the surface water in this shot; it’s not unlike the Nemo fish shot from a while back.

1/50sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200, exposure bias -1.0, 18mm

In this shot, I love the lighting on the statues, with the fish adding to the atmosphere of the shot. Almost as good as the other statue shot. Looking at those two images together like that, thought it would be a good idea to see if they would merge, but Photoshop couldn’t do it automatically. I might return to that one later when I have a little more time.

Well, that’s it. This post contains a different sort of photo than what I’ve been taking recently, there’s a lot less post-processing going on and these are more shots ‘of’ things, rather than ‘featuring’ things; that is, there is no need to be that creative with the shot, as the subject is so interesting. I have struggled, however, with low light and camera settings in the aquarium more than I have anywhere else I’ve been recently. It made for a nice challenge; hopefully next time I’ll be a bit more prepared.

And maybe the aquarium will be quieter so I can have the room to think.

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3 Comments

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  1. Great series Rob… the ones of the big turtles are my favorite, I don’t know what it is about turtles… just love them…

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  2. This all sounds like a bit of a nightmare, trying to shoot through the perspex and in low light as well – and when the subjects are moving! Great to see you came away with a lot of good results though. And interesting that the chromatic aberration effect applies to the exact opposite side of a lens.

    My favourite is the same as yours, there’s something very pleasing about the colours and lighting. Although the photo of your niece in silhouette and complete wonder is excellent – would have been even better if you’d been closer to her and could just get her outline alone!

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    • I’ll be honest, that isn’t a shot of my niece, it’s just some random kid at the aquarium. I just liked the shot!

      I’ll have to drag you down there at some point and see how you get on, it would be interesting to able to compare ideas of getting around the various challenges the environment sets.

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