Accessories And Their Preparation For Fish Photography
( Originally Published 1902 )
To any one who has not attempted fish photography it would seem an absolutely easy matter to beautify the aquarium by adding vegetation and stones as a background for the fish. That is exactly what I thought when I first began aquatic photography, but it did not take me very long to discover how mistaken were my ideas on the subject. Absolute clearness of water is highly desirable, but almost impossible to obtain. After straining the water so that it is clear enough for ordinary work in a good light, take an apparently clean stone, not a smooth marble of course, but an ordinary, moderately rough stone, drop it into the aquarium, and watch the result. The water will be seen to be filled with a muddy substance, and instead of crystal-like clearness we have a murky-looking water that is most undesirable. But your troubles have only just commenced. Add some fresh green aquatic plants, and you will notice that they too give off scum and muddy material, even though they may have been placed in the water with the greatest of care. Now when the fish runs amuck through these beautiful plants, and really disturbs the mud and scum, the water has lost all its clearness, so that it is absolutely impossible to photo-graph a fish through it. With tropical aquatic vegetation the difficulty is even greater than with our more simple northern plants.
The beautiful "sea-feathers" that one sees waving about with every movement of the water in the tropical seas appear to be a clear, clean yellow or purple ; but on putting them into the aquarium they will be found to discolour the water immediately. "Sea-caps" are even worse, and sponges cause so much trouble that after a few discouraging attempts one gives up the idea of using them. What, you may ask, is the remedy for these difficulties? The only thing I have found to answer at all is to thoroughly clean every leaf by washing it with a soft cloth. It is a task requiring great patience ; but once the plant is really clean it will remain so for several days, requiring only to be well rinsed in clear water each time it is used. Betweenwhiles it is, of course, kept in clean water, which should be as near as possible the temperature to which the plant is accustomed. Over-warm water will cause the plant to lose its colour and become covered with scum. Never put any plant or stone, or in fact any accessory, into the aquarium until you have ascertained that it is free from scum and other foreign matter. Stones, especially those that are rough and honey-combed, require to be scrubbed with a hard brush and sand until they are perfectly clean. Sand, if it is necessary to use it, may be cleaned by throwing a little at a time into a bucketful of water. The part that does not immediately sink should be emptied out. This must be repeated until only the clean, heavy sand remains. But even this should not be used unless you have a very quiet fish to photograph. A restless fish will disturb the sand, which in sinking will fall on the fish ; so that if he remains still enough to be photographed, he will be covered with a fine deposit of sand, and, needless to say, this will entirely spoil the picture. Occasionally one finds a fish so well behaved that he will allow the deposit to be swept off, staying quiet the meanwhile. Such fish are very rare. A piece of white coral looks so clean that one is tempted to place it in the water with-out previous washing, and too late we discover our mistake.
Many of the aquatic plants are so light that they float, thereby causing great annoyance. Especially is this true of the grasses. Heavy split shot attached to the ends is a good preventative, but these must be carefully tied if the plant is brittle, as most of them are. Another plan which can be used to good effect, with grasses is to take a thin strip of sheet-lead and attach the grass along this at intervals. It saves much time in the end if, before placing the fish in the aquarium, all the accessories are carefully arranged and secured.
In selecting the surroundings to be used, some-thing should be known of the habits of the fish. For instance, trout require stones or rocks, with a little light vegetation, such as grass. Yellow perch need only plants. The bluefish should have no accessories, while the angel- and parrot-fish look more natural if placed among weed-covered rocks and a luxuriant growth of plant life. Any fish that lives on a muddy bottom should either be photographed on the white oilcloth or on sand. But don't be tempted to use mud, unless you are fortunate enough to find a clay that packs tightly and is not easily disturbed.
Surface fish should always be shown near the surface, for it adds so much to the interest and even the value of a photograph if the fish is seen in surroundings that are natural. In arranging the plants and rocks (the tongs mentioned in the outfit will be found most useful in doing this), place most of them between the glass partition and the back of the aquarium. In this way they will not be disturbed by the movements of the fish. A fish that becomes excited will disarrange everything in a very short time. It is therefore better to have only a few plants between the glasses.
One of the great difficulties met with in fish photography is the moisture which condenses on the surface of the glass. When cold water is used and the day is hot, the glass must be wiped and polished every minute or two; for it is as well to remember that unless the glass is absolutely clean and dry a good photograph cannot be made. The slightest mark on the surface of the glass shows with a distinctness that is very discouraging, while the presence of a little moisture makes everything behind it blurred and ill-defined, just as though it were entirely out of focus. It will be seen by this that too much care cannot be taken in keeping the glass in proper condition, and in order to do this avoid using any cloth that leaves lint.
The water-supply is an important factor in fish work. Not only must the water be constantly renewed, but it should be kept at the correct temperature. Few fish will live long in water that varies more than six degrees from that to which they are accustomed. If the change is very gradual they do not appear to feel it so much, but a sudden change is usually fatal. If trout are to be photographed, it is nearly always necessary to use ice, as the temperature should be about 420 or 460 Fahrenheit.
It is well to keep a thermometer in the part of the aquarium where the fish is. With some fish this is not needed, but with delicate cold-water fish it is an absolute necessity.
The easiest way to keep water constantly fresh is to place a pail of fresh water either on the back upper corner of the aquarium or on a convenient place near by. A small rubber tube used as a syphon will allow a steady stream to flow from the pail, while another rubber tube placed in the aquarium, with the end hanging out over the edge, will syphon out an equal amount. In this way the supply will be constantly changing; but even so it is advisable occasionally to aerate the water by pouring some in from a dipper held several feet above the surface.