Revisited – The Florida Aquarium – Tampa, Florida

This is the first of my “Revisited” series. As I go back to places and see new things I will report them here as a new post with the word “Revisited” before it. I will make sure that the content is fresh and new. As my regular readers know, it’s never a dull moment when I go out.

If you missed the original post, check it out by clicking here. For this post, I will be showing you a couple of images that I took while I was in Tampa, Florida. I had the chance to revisit the Florida Aquarium. Having a close-knit photographer family, it was brought up that some of the folks were having trouble with low light. The hardest part of pulling something like this off is getting everyone’s schedules to gel. After a month of planning, we made it!

The aquarium is a great place to practice low light photography as the only illumination that you have to work with is the tank lights itself and usually the subjects are moving. Having been there before, I was prepared. I love my 18mm-200mm lens, however its sharpness isn’t that great and it’s slower than molasses in January. In the parking lot, I fitted my camera with my 50mm f/1.4 and I put my 24mm f/2.8 in my pocket. We all met in the lobby and got our bearings on what we wanted to do. We all set off in the smaller tank area. We didn’t go five feet and we hit our first snag. The aquarium installed one of those smoke screens that they play movies on. Of course we had to have a photo of it! I had first seen this at Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean after they came out with the recent movies. It wasn’t two minutes later and there were blurry photos abound. I fiddled around with my setting and I used manual mode. I knew that I was going to have to have a fast enough shutter speed to stop the smoke and get some saturation in the color. I ended up using ISO 1600, 1/125 at f/1.4. My Nikon D300 does pretty well up to 1600 ISO so I wasn’t to worried. We all huddled around each other and were comparing settings. Some were using “Program”; others were using “Auto” and lastly, “Aperture Priority”. Most of the time this would be ok, however this is one of those times where the camera will not have a clue what you want it to do. After we got all of our cameras in manual and set up with the same settings, we were shooting smoke screens like no one’s business.

 The real smoke screen.

We worked our way around the tanks and I notice that some of the members of our little group was focusing (pun intended) on a circular tank full of box jelly fish. These jellies were going around like laundry in a washing machine. There was no stopping them. This is where I switched out my lens to the 24mm f/2.8. This allowed me to get closer and get more of the scene in. This was basically like the smoke screen set up. I had to have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the jellies as they were going by. I cranked up my ISO again and opened up the lens as far as she would go (f/2.8). This tank was lit with multicolored LED lights. This was a good thing as they are brighter than the traditional fluorescent bulbs. Even though I lost a stop of light going from f/1.4 to f/2.8, I was able to hold my shutter speed at 1/125. This was fast enough to stop them on their way through the tank.

 The jellies in the tank go round and round.

I heard all kinds of noise coming around the corner. This is where the main display area is with a HUGH tank. They were getting ready to do a demo and were getting divers in the water. This is one of those photos that I had always wanted to try and get someday. I guess that this day was my day. As they were getting situated, I noticed that some of the backlit displays were reflecting on the acrylic tank. I moved around and I ended up shooting at a 45-degree angle to the signs. This minimized the reflection, but I still had some in the shot. At this point, a photo is better than no photo. I took a few photos and I was happy with the result. In post, I used my Nik filters to help get rid of most of the dingy blue cast that you get with shooting something like this. The same effect could be achieved using an “S” curve in Photoshop. I did a little cloning to get rid of the backlit displays and it was finished.

 Did anyone see the movie JAWS?

So there you have it. My students ask me all the time, “Is fast glass really worth it?” My response, “Absolutely.” Having some fast glass in your camera bag will pull you out of the ditch in a situation like this. I hear people grown when they use their zoom lenses and they only go down to f/5.6 when it’s racked all the way out. As I see it, if you take care of your lenses, you will have them a lifetime and they will take care of you.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


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