Full Tank Shots Tutorial

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Full tank tutorial 01.jpg

Taking the Photo

  • set your camera up on a tripod or rest it on a piece of furniture if you don't have a tripod
  • you must keep the camera straight onto the glass, if the camera is at an angle (even a slight one) it will cause the photos to be soft and in extreme cases totally out of focus
  • do not use a flash (it will bounce back into your photo and wreck it. If you ever use flash on a tank then you may need to slightly angle the lens to allow the flash to bounce away from the lens and sacrifice a little bit of sharpness, but the lower the angle the better.


  • RAW
  • Aperture priority ( f8 )
  • ISO (200 - 400)
  • exposure -0.7 (this will speed up the shutter speed and help keep the moving fish relatively sharp)
  • If you have some background or bright light in your shot you will need to spot meter on the tank (check your manual as this function is different on each brand of camera)

Editing the RAW Image

Temperature - this is your white balance. You will get true colors by sliding this bar towards the right (yellow colors)

Exposure - generally tweak this slightly lower in conjunction with increasing the recovery slider (next) to bring back detail in the sand

Recovery - This is a great tool that, in a lot of cases will bring back detail in very bright areas (such as white sand in this case)

Full tank tutorial 02.jpg

Editing in Photoshop

Once you are done in the RAW editor, open in Photoshop or what ever image software you are using. Cropping and re-sizing the image is the first thing to do once in Photoshop.

Levels - this is basically another way to adjust contrast but with more control. Some editing software will not have a levels option so just use the contrast button. Levels sliders allow you to adjust the shadows, mid-tones and highlight in an image independently.

In this image move the mid-tones slider to the right a few steps to darken the background of the tank a little but you can play around with all 3 sliders until you get the desired contrast. If you have white sand don't brighten the highlights otherwise you will counteract what you achieved in the RAW editor with the exposure and recovery sliders.

Full tank tutorial 03.jpg

Saturation - this will in most cases need to be increased to make the image look as it does in real life. All monitors are different so its often hard to control this without going over the top. Try and keep the corals looking as they really do.

Full tank tutorial 04.jpg

Burn - this is a brush tool which can use to isolate the shadows and darken up the background as it can often look patching even after a levels edit. Select the tool and then pick 'shadows' to ensure only the shadows are darkened and at about 10% exposure you can brush over the background areas that need a bit more darkening and ensure the look is smooth. In this image the 'V' in the center is a bit patchy and the burn tool darkens it to match the remaining background

Full tank tutorial 05.jpg

Sharpening - there is a few ways to do this but can use a method called high pass which has more steps than using say a sharpening tool but can find it gives you more detail in the final image and less digital artifacts. Note: in the final image below sharpening was not applied.

Step one is to duplicate the layers so you have 2 x identical layers (right click on the thumbnail (see arrow) and select duplicate) then select the high pass option in the filters menu.

Full tank tutorial 06.jpg

The radius slider will be adjusted based on level of sharpening and image size but you want to just be able to see the outlines of the image in the grey top layer.

Full tank tutorial 07.jpg

To apply the high pass right click on the drop down menu above the layer thumbnail (right of screen) and select overlay. Soft light will give a softer sharpen and hard light a harder sharpen. I often use soft light for coral shots. Once you've done this flatten the image (menu -> layers -> flatten).

Full tank tutorial 08.jpg

End Result

You now should have a full tank shot that looks something like what it does in real life

Full tank tutorial 09.jpg