Guppy portrait – painting with lights and watercolours.


To take a good quality picture of a guppy is almost equally as difficult to breed a good quality guppy.

Almost everything is possible and good photography of our fish or aquarium is possible too. We can do it artistically or in a documentary way. When the beauty of the guppy is presented by our artistic approach, or alternatively with the documentary way, then the intention of the picture is to present the fish as for a passport picture, with all parts sharp, colours equal (as in reality) and with all possible body parts visible for spectators. My way is to try as much as it is possible on both. Sometimes results surprise me and I am very open to change lenses, flash position, and settings during the guppy photo sessions to get new images. Sometimes to get my expected result I have to change settings and idea many times and then, accidently, I am finding the best settings.

Do not be afraid to experiment with settings and cropping and then present those picture to your friends, which reach your standard or those which are interesting for spectators.

DO NOT present all the pictures taken during your photo session, I bet you can take 60 pictures in 60 seconds, however only a couple of them will be worth presenting.

Select as a guppy breeder.

Generally, taking pictures is like a painting watercolours but we do it with light. We just have to aim the camera at the object, press the button and all automatic settings will compress the light which is visible in to the picture. Unfortunately the light which shines, blinks or vibrates is sometimes too strong and sometimes is not strong enough to give expected results. When we take the picture of an item in water, sometimes the colours which are not visible with human eye appears on the pictures. Waving water and flash light cause light effects which are not repeatable like they may be in watercolour paintings. We can do it only once. Fish are the same, with colours on the surface of the scales changing on every picture.

So how to take high quality pictures with a home camera and not equipped with professional studio. To take a good quality pictures we have to become friendly with some rules regarding working with light, rules about how camera and lenses are dealing with this light, how to settle amount of light, how to position the object in the frame, and finally how to help the portraited guppy become more beautiful. Do not be afraid to try thinking out of the box and look at the fish, through the camera, in your own way. Let me share with you some hints, how to deal with camera settings and how to have fun during taking pictures for the best result.

Model: Poecilia reticulate veil GUPPY

Size: 26 mm body plus 26 mm veil – like match box

Speed: faster than a matchbox, changing direction three times during a second

Artistic pictures (in my opinion) Passport picture.

  1. Camera

Play with manual settings.

Mobile phone camera, automatic compact camera or SLR can take a good picture. We can take good quality pictures with all brands of camera. Brand is not that important as quality and settings available. All of these cameras can take pictures automatically. However automatic options gives us ideas how it can be done automatically by processor and sophisticated detectors. Unfortunately in demanding light conditions, automatic analysis do not give the best results. The automatic option limits us, to deal just with the target area and where it is supposed to be the sharp part of the picture. Manual options allow you to add or decrease the amount of light which is taken by the lens into the processor and then at this stage your painting begins. I do not know anybody who started painting watercolours and immediately has fantastic results. We need to practice, it take some time but when you find your way, the results will be as unforgettable as the beauty of your fish is.

If you decide to change from Automatic to the Manual option, then you will discover what are the results of the settings in different light conditions. For the first time, it might be that the picture is too dark or burned with light, but it is a good path to find your best settings. Later I will explain how to be on the path with this setting and not to get lost. To summarise we can spend a fortune every season for hottest brand of new camera or we can have fun with the gear which is already at home. In both cases I recommend to switch to MANUAL settings. It is obvious that more expensive equipment should give us better result, however I would say that price is not as important as the variety of settings which we are able to use in manual option. Results which can be achieved by cameras in the mobile phones (or palm tops) are fantastic, however I do recommend to play with manual settings on these high tech treasures too. It is worthwhile. A wider scale of settings gives you more possibilities, like the different brush and palette of colours in your watercolour painting. We can show the guppy just with the black and white colour like in Chinese calligraphy or use as many colours as in French poentylism but I repeat it is all possible when using the settings manually. Equipment should help us to have the possibility to use variety of colours and perspectives, then it is much easier to have a good quality picture. The better the equipment then the easier to paint your guppy portraits. If I can recommend the equipment, I would say that a full frame SLR should be the best option for that work. If you do not have one, no worries you can take good pictures with all gear. Obviously more sophisticated equipment will produce better quality and you will get it quicker. The same as playing an instrument, at the beginning you have to observe every movement and later you can play with your eyes closed. With good equipment, the variety of effects which you will be presenting is much wider but do not close your eyes during taking pictures. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine]

2. Lenses.

How black is the black colour? How big is your brush? Vibration or stabilisation?

It is so easy to describe the best lenses and so difficult to earn so much money to pay for it. Lenses are the key element for good quality pictures. That is why we need one. If you can choose the lens, there are two main things to consider. First is brightness of the lens and second the lens wideness. Wideness of lens, starting from 8 mm with very wide angle. This kind of lens is used for panoramic pictures from a distance. If one would like to take the picture of a landscape, forest or of city buildings I would use a lens from 8 to 35 mm. In the aquarium photo, this lens can be used for panoramic picture of the tank, fish on these pictures will be small in size and will be just a part of the landscape. Most of the compact or telephone cameras are equipped with wide angle lenses that is why we have to use the zoom to catch the fish or take the picture from close distance which might intimidate fish and sometimes it is difficult to do.

The 28 mm lens can widely present the whole tank, but guppies are size of pixels

In the SLR we can find lenses with all spectrum, starting from 8 mm and continuing up to 600mm. This time, big is not the best. This 600mm can be used for bird hunting or sport shooting from the distance (football players on the field), cost a lot of money and require additional tripod. To take a picture of the guppy we would probably have to stand 4-8 meters from the tank to hit the first sharp picture. So at this time the size will not help. Lunette perspective is not giving best results in guppy portraits.

In the best Christmas sales, deals are offering the lenses which are fitted for universal purpose and operate between 18 mm and 200mm. In one lens there is possibility to change angle manually and make decision what will be the size of the photographed item in the frame. These lenses are very useful (once assembled they do not need any changes for years) but unfortunately they are not the high quality that we would expect. The amount of light is not as big as we would need for our pictures. You can check this by observing how black colour looks on your picture. Intensive black, less grey means you can get more colour contrast from the lens. Blue will not be the same blue, it might be grey blue but not intensive blue colour like in reality, the same with red and yellow. There are no more colours, I mean base colours, all others are the mix of these.

I would recommend for best quality pictures fixed focus lens, which are a “pain the arse” during the setting up (sometimes just for one picture) but it gives best results. The other problem is that you have to pay for a few lenses because you cannot have an 'all in one', but for me it is worth it. Money and problems in changing lens is nothing compared to good quality pictures. Then you need in your bag, 10 mm, 20 mm, 30 mm, 50 mm etc. For portraits of guppies I do recommend a fixed focus lens 80 to 110 mm lens with macro option which allows to take short distance pictures. Currently my favourite one is a 105 mm stable micro lens. The real value of the lens you will find with the information about brightness. This is described on the lens as letter “f”, starts from f1,2 and gives extraordinary effects up to f2,8. Above f3,5 the amount of light is limited and will affect the quality of the picture and force us to use this lens only in good light conditions. And again, the black colour will be blacker if we use lower 1,2 or 1,4 1,8 … Above 5 you can find that your black is rather dark, dark grey not black. The deeper the black the better because richness of the other colours you will get. And the cherry on the cake is stabilisation of the lens, which prevents from the vibration inside the picture frame during shooting.

3. Settings.

Brushes and paints – ISO, Aperture, and shutter speed.

Apart from yourself, you will need a mix of these 3 components for a manually set picture. In watercolour painting: size of the brush, colour of the paint and quality of paper. ISO usually starts from 50 and goes to 24 000 or above. The rule is that in the full dark night you use highest ISO 24 000 and accordingly to increasing amount of light decrease ISO to a level of 100. During the mid-day sunshine in California I would recommend ISO 50. If there will be cloudy day In Kettering and we wish to take pictures, 400 might be not enough. So in the tank, depending upon the amount of light, we can set ISO 800 or 1000.

If we take the pictures of the fish in the sunshine, ISO could start from 100 for direct sunshine exposure to for example ISO 400 or 800 when light is not shining directly on the tank and fish stay in a little dark corner. Photographed fish during the sunset or sunrise, when the tank is located in the sunlight will give even more interesting effect, depending upon how strong it is. So there will be big difference in our settings for guppy photographed in the sunlight above the plant leave or under. The amount of light is different in these two positions and so you have to find how much light is there.

For the best effect from flash lights you can use optimally ISO 100.

Aperture – allows amount of light to get inside the camera. With lowest amount of it you will get more light. If you use lower aperture like 1,2 to 2,8 you can play with background and the sharpness of the fish. You can gain artistic effects where your first “plan” is sharp and the background will have no sharpness but a shady attractive effect. For the best colour results lowest aperture 1,2 or 1,4 is recommended. For the sharpness effect, higher aperture 5,6-10.

Depending upon light conditions it is necessary to set the aperture for the purpose of artistic effect or passport one. Low, aperture allows keep sharpness just in a small part.

Shutter Speed – 99% of the portraits are in still position. In our portraits our fish are moving, sometimes moving very fast. The result on the picture appear as a 'not sharp' picture, so if we open and close the lens more quickly the picture will be sharper. For something that is motionless, for example plants, you can open the lens for long time but if item is moving you have to calculate how many cm or mm it will move while you are shooting. And you will gain the best effect when, within the time that the lens is open to the light, the guppy will be in the same position.

It means that even Ben Johnson while running the 100 m with high speed can be photographed with a sharp portrait, but amount of time setting for this picture will be 1/2000 or 1/4000 or even more. If you are able to calculate this movement, then you will have the expected result.

When we take a picture in the city at night, it is such an attractive effect when cars are passing and leaving on the picture lines of colours made by front and rear light. Unfortunately when we photograph guppies they move as quickly as cars on the street but they do not have their own source of light and reflexes of light will not be visible on the picture and it does not look sharp and or interesting. And again, do we allow enough light to get in to the camera???

If not, change your settings and lower/higher the speed.

4. Light

Rembrandt or Rubens guppy portrait.

Natural sunshine day light is the best for impressionists from the Nederland and Italian School of filming. Natural sunshine is the best for taking any photo, however it is not simple to move a 1000 litre or gallon tank in to the sun. It is not easy to change directions of the natural sun and make it light a tank from the side or top or behind, even when it is only 100 litres. We can move fish to little tank Just for the photo session but not all the fish can be moved. I know blends etc.