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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. … but let’s be realistic. We can use natural light and it is the best, but we cannot rely on it.

Natural light pictures:

That is why we have to learn how to deal with an artificial source of light. Every different source of light has a different temperature of colours. It will be very difficult to describe here all the different light sources so I would like to concentrate on LED lamps, fluorescent lights that are assembled in the tank lighting systems most often. In each camera you can find symbols which describe what semi-automated settings for different kind of light are.

Apart from temperature of light, the direction of lighting will affect the results on our pictures. The same as the portrait of human, direction of lightning will be crucial for our results. Light from behind might cause dark parts of the portrait, direct light from the front might cause blinks on the glass and red eyes of none albino guppies. To have good quality colours we need light which will shine on the surface of the fish skin.

We can learn directly from the top portrait men. Rembrandt, liked to direct light from the front and Rubens placed his lighting torch on the top. Look at the difference of the classic portraits and compare this to the guppy portraits which are lighted in the same style.

Direct direction of light at Rembrandt portraits:

Direct direction of light at guppy portraits:

Top down direction of light at Rubens portraits:

Top down directions of light at guppy portraits:

When fish are moving fast, we need stronger artificial light if bulbs are strong enough, then we need to settle temperature of colour and this is it!

A flash lamp can be assembled with the camera or you will go forward and use a teleconverter between the camera and flash lamp and then you are able to play with different light directions. A flash light from the top and side, seems to give the best results for Mr Rubens. Depending from your idea you can light only the guppy as Rubens would probably do, or use it for lighting the fish and the surrounding background wall as Mr Rembrandt.

Light from behind:

The better the flour the baker uses, the better the bread he can bake. The same with light and photography. The more light you can compress inside your camera, the better the results you can get.

Even sunlight will not help when the source of light is behind the model.

5. Photo studio settings.

Goldfish bowl tank, not any more. Glass cage is Just for a moment.

When we set the studio to take the portraits do not forget that fish should be the central item in the studio. Try to take pictures of the Fish as close as it is possible from the front glass and as close as it is possible from the surface of the water. Water which is between the glass and fish might cause interruption in sharpness of the picture. Water passes light rays in a different way than in air and when the fish is hiding far from the front glass it causes problems with sharpness of the picture. The hint which can help in that situation is piece of glass or plexiglass which will form a back wall for the studio located 2-3 cm from the front glass. When guppy swims in this glassy cage, it cannot hide in the back corner of the tank and you can easily catch it in a good moment.

Water surface changes the light rays.

Background, well we can choose to have one or we can eliminate it and have a fish as the main object on our picture. The contrast of the background help to increase some colours. Light blue, black or grey are the best colours for the background for our guppy.

DO NOT forget to position your camera parallel to front glass. Any changes to the angle can cause interruption and pictures not to be sharp. It is easy to see and understand the results if you will try to photo guppy in the goldfish bowl ball. Interruption will cause deformation and lack of the sharpness. For the artistic purpose it might be interesting but for passport one, not acceptable.

6. Post production.

“Oh yeah, this is just a Photoshop trick”

Sometimes this comment appears when we have interesting picture. People tend to suggest that with Photoshop we are able to change reality. My opinion is that when you will have good quality picture you can increase attractiveness by Photoshop changes, however it is very difficult to change bad in to good when the raw picture is not good enough. Traditionally, taking pictures is the first part of the photographer’s job. The next part is developing, where we are able to change the mistakes in exposure and framing. The same can be done with a PC by Picassa or Photo Shop. Applications which were complicated and demanding at the beginning of the century become simple and intuitive nowadays. We do not need any special skills to navigate it.

Framing seems to be necessary especially for those who do not have good enough lenses. Also contrast can be added at this stage. Anything is possible in Photoshop – I agree, however I do not support changing colours in the portraits of guppies. I do change the contrast (black is black) which is difficult for me to get whilst taking pictures but adding more colour looks artificial unless we aim to make an artistic photo with special effects – then there is no limit for your fantasies either you are Wiener Secession Gustav Klimt fun or Spanish Pablo Picasso follower.

7. Gestures and attitude of fish.

Profile or a face? Yes, please – sex and rock and roll.

My wife loves when the fish is presented in a unique gesture. I would even say that more swirl it has, the more she is impressed in sharing her excitement about the result. Well, but we almost need a passport picture for the fish, it is difficult to place fish on the chair in a studio and take the picture. So we have to choose which of the movements will be most attractive. Excitement and sexual behaviours produce most pictures. It would be so easy to photograph a peacock when he is asleep, but the best effect we have is when male and female are presenting their mating dance. Betas for example, will be most attractive while protecting their territory and guppies will be most attractive while they date each other, dance around each other with excited fins to maximum. So this portrait is not still. It will be a lot of meaning in the gestures of our guppies. Do observe these most attractive moments and try to catch them in an artistic way like German, Wilhelm Pabst in his early movies.

Au face


Sex and rock and roll

8. Tripod.

Ground is moving under my feet, but I keep still as steel.

So why are my pictures still not sharp? We should not touch the camera to keep it max still while we take pictures, while aperture will be open. If we move the camera unfortunately it will appear as not sharp with smudged edges of the fish. A tripod is the solution and sharpness guarantee. When we sea tripod we can also set the aperture to open for longer, it will cause better light saturation.

9. Eyes in portraits.

Eyes are the mirror of our soul.

The same with our guppies. Eye contact with portraits is crucial for best results. If we cannot look in to the eyes we miss the meaning of a picture. So do not forget to concentrate your sharpness on the eyes. I am glad that guppies do not have eyelids, otherwise we will have another problem, pictures with closed eyes.

10.!!!!! GUPPY PORTREITS hints and triggers 1. Do portrait photo, it in the tank with the front glass made of OptiWhite glass – gives better colours and sharpness of the fish, traditional glass includes a high percentage of iron which stops light and has a green colour.

2. Parallel position camera versus portraited fish should give optimum results of scales shining and thanks to parallel position, sharpness of the picture is better.

3. Water surface can be used as mirror and gives mirror effects if you will take the picture from lower down towards the top. Unfortunately because of looping parallel position, sharpness and proportion can be disturbed.

4. Inner part of the glass of the tank, can be used as a mirror. From a parallel position gives a double perspective. If shot from the top downwards, in the tanks where there is no surface bottom cover and as you find by deduction in this situation also, because of losing parallel position, sharpness and proportion can be disturbed.

5. Second plan – colours and lights from the second plan can be used for activating background or for colour contrast. If you like to have Mr Rubens effect of portrait, where from the top darkness black is appearing King Guppy, do not use any back covers or background. Plain glass and nothing behind.

6. From the top or from the bottom – depending upon different strains, we can choose to shot most attractive view. For example FRA Full Red Albino, sometimes has white belly. If we position our camera above the fish, you can reduce this and present just the best parts of the guppy body – the same fish, first two pictures from top.

7. Profile or “au face” depending what we would like to present, however the profile seems to present guppy in its best look.

8. Clean the front glass. If you do not any stains on the glass it will be visible on the picture with double strength.

9. Oh damn!!! What to do with the digested food under the belly of my fish – ha this is the moment then you can use photoshop to cut it out and replace with same background.

10. Horizontal water surface line – when water surface it is not horizontal we might have illusion that the picture is falling down.

11. Solo, duo, trio, and pair – well the more objects you will have, you double and quadruple the risk of moving fish in to an unwanted position. Also you can help yourself by increasing aperture even to 10 to catch all as sharp as you can.

See, taking good quality pictures of guppy is simple and every one can do it. The same as watercolour painting. All of us have tried painting at school and those who continue a little work with brushes and paints can paint what they like. The same with the camera. I will be happy to find out what other hints you recommend for BEST QUALITY GUPPY PORTRAITS. I am sure there is a lot to say. If you find some time, do not be shy and write it to me please, on my email

I will learn from you about it with pleasure and pass it to the next generation to build a guppy picture library for all of us. All the best and let me see your GUPPY PORTRAITS – taking pictures cost you almost nothing and it is so simple. Special thanks to: My lovely wife Ania for teaching me basics of photography, Steven Elliott, Herman Magoschitz, Wind Wang and Irena Wang, Henri Tsai, Helven, Raymond Pandora, Jan Budaj, Krzysztof Kelman, Siju Cherian and Michael Milde for allowing me to photograph their beautiful guppies. Many thanks to Dennis Barbe, Cai Jing, Ralph Loch and Cristiano Salogni, for inspiring me with lots of photo hints and also to Eddie McKnight who ask me to put my mind on screen and write for Guppy Gazzete in Kettering UK.

Tomasz Czyz

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