Swimming in a Fishbowl

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO2500)

Before I went to Japan for the first time it was clear to me that I had to come here. The Kaiyukan, the Aquarium in Osaka, one of the biggest Aquariums in the world.

I love aquariums but the real reason why I had to see this one was the whale shark, the biggest fish in the world. There are not too many places where you can see whale sharks and there is a lot of controversy to put them in a tank because most of them don’t survive long in captivity. The aquarium in Georgia is the only place outside of Asia that have them on display. Beside all the discussion it is something truly special to see this amazing creature in real life.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/6.4, 1/450 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/160 sec, ISO4000)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/2, 1/200 sec, ISO1000)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO3200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO3200)

When it comes to photography in a zoo or aquarium there are two approaches. One is to solely focus on the animals and to try to blend out all fences, barriers and visitors to give the impression that the images are captured in the wild. There is nothing wrong with that. I prefer zoo images that look like they were taken in the wild.

The other approach is to include the visitors and show the interaction with the animals. That works particularly well in large aquariums. The best thing is to expose for the brightest elements in the tank which ensures that the visitors are rendered as silhouettes. That is also a good recipe to make sure that your ISO is not astronomically high. Aquariums are very dark places.

There is another big advantage when you include the visitors. You give the viewer an idea of the scale. Unfortunately the Kaiyukan aquarium is not very photographer friendly. The main tank sits in the middle and the path is a long spiral that takes you from the top to the ground of the tank. The problem is that this path is not very wide which means that I had to shoot with the 14mm lens to get the whole window in the picture. Shooting with such a wide lens made the whale sharks, the hammerhead sharks and the mantas smaller because they were 1-2 meters behind the visitors. And of course the last thing you want is that those big fishes look smaller in your picture but there was no way to avoid that.

The other, smaller issue is that the horizontal lines are not parallel to the edges of the image because of the spiral design.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO4000)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO2500)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (56mm, f/1.2, 1/200 sec, ISO250)

When I went to Japan I took three lenses with me. My trusty XF 14/2.8 R, the XF 23/1.4 R and the XF 56/1.2 R. I also considered to bring the XF 16/1.4 WR instead of the XF 14/2.8 R because of the aquarium and because most photography would happen after working hours but decided last minute that I prefer to have the more compact 14mm lens that has been with me on all trips to Asia so far. I just prefer its more dynamic image over the 16mm and in the aquarium the 16mm would have not been wide enough for the shots described above.

But since I also had the XF 56/1.2 R with me I thought that I would give it a try. Everyone who owns the 56mm knows that it is not famous for AF in low light. I was delighted to find out that it was focusing quite good in those difficult conditions. Especially on the hammerhead image below where the contrast was rather low. The newest generation Fuji cameras like my X Pro-2 really improved focusing in low light even with the 56mm or the 35mm lens. They are still anything but fast but now you can shoot them in those conditions.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (56mm, f/1.8, 1/200 sec, ISO800)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/1.6, 1/200 sec, ISO640)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/3.2, 1/200 sec, ISO8000)

All blue or not? When I look at my favourite pictures they have one thing in common: they are mostly monochrome. They are colourful but there is one dominant colour. In case of an “open ocean” aquarium of course the dominant colour is blue. Fuji cameras have excellent auto-WB but there is still a chance that the camera tries to compensate for the blue cast. In that case it pays to shoot RAW. That way its easy to adjust the white balance without any loss in image quality.

At the end two shots where I tried to make the glass to disappear. Especially in the shot below you got the impression that the fish sticks out of the picture. A very nice optical illusion.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/2.8, 1/200 sec, ISO2500)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/1.4, 1/60 sec, ISO1000)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/2, 1/60 sec, ISO200)

When I finally stepped out of the aquarium I was just in time for a beautiful sunset at the port of Osaka.

But that’s a different story that I have covered here.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/5.6, 1/210 sec, ISO200)