Shooting Through Glass
The Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, GA - was the largest aquarium in the World when it opened in 2005 with exhibits totaling 10 million US gallons and the second-largest underwater viewing wall in the World measuring 23ft tall by 63ft long . I had the privilege of being able to shoot both photos and video at the aquarium shortly after it opened in 2005.
This posed many problems - the first was available light. Many of the exhibits are well lit, but the areas around them are poorly lit (for a camera - not the eyes of a person). In addition because all of the exhibits are behind large Plexiglas panels you have to constantly deal with reflections and stray light artifacts.
Lastly, shooting images underwater is never easy. Water is capable of suspending particulate matter throughout and therefore the phenomenon of ATMOSPHERIC DIFFUSION (where the natural particle makeup of the air - typically from moisture but can be from smoke or fine sand/grain - causes a natural refraction of light - limiting visibility and/or altering color perception) in water is greatly multiplied. Whereas distance visibility in various air scenarios can vary greatly, water tends to amplify the visibility obstruction caused by particulate matter.
Speedlights are no good cutting through either the Plexiglass or the particulate matter in the water, so don't waste your time... unless you are more interested in the people viewing the exhibits.
I shot everything on a Nikon D1x with a 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S lens - because the D1x is an APS-C sensor camera - the 17-35mm lens has an angle of view more akin to something like 25-50mm. I shot at 800 ISO - the maximum that camera would shoot - in RAW format.
ABOVE - Beluga Whales glide gracefully through the water in the Georgia Pacific Cold Water Quest exhibit.
Most of the photos I took were at 17mm. Because the lens is f/2.8 - I was able to shoot images of the various marine animals in motion without motion blur.
With over 100,000 different marine animals and wildlife living in the facility and boasting the largest salt-water tank in the Northern Hemisphere, the Georgia Aquarium is a must visit destination for anyone who loves the oceans and the amazing creatures who live in them.
The main attraction of the Georgia Aquarium is the Ocean Voyager Exhibit (sponsored by Home Depot). This is a 30ft deep - football field sized tank housing 50 different species of fish and marine life holds 6.3 million gallons of water and features the 2nd largest underwater viewing window at 63ft wide by 26ft tall.
When shooting in conditions such as these (knowing that a speedlight is not only prohibited, but would only create a nightmarish reflection on the 63x26ft glass-like surface of the viewing window) you have to decide what you are going to set your exposure for.
It was an easy choice... I chose to leave the visitors as silhouettes against the size and visual spectacle of the viewing window setting the water and the marine animals as my main exposure points.
Each section of the aquarium hosts the most impressive exhibits; there is no shortage of photo-journalism worthy material here.
I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition between the people viewing the exhibits (their size and scale) to the massive beauty of the exhibits themselves.
Next time I return to Atlanta I plan on spending another full day at the aquarium - this time I'll take the D4s - which will provide me a much better platform to shoot sharper, richer, more detailed images.
Ironically, I'd take the same 17-35mm lens and I'd add a 50mm f/1.4. But that's all. Seriously, save yourself the trouble. When you visit this aquarium, leave the long lenses at home or in your hotel. Take your wide angle lenses and if you have a 50 f/1.4 - bring it. But that's all you will need.
Like I said, this is a must visit stop if you love the oceans and aquatic life. And if you've always wanted to try underwater photography but never wanted to actually get yourself or your equipment wet. LOL.