skip to Main Content

Capturing Nemo: How to photograph anemonefish underwater

Pink anemonefish on the cover of The Tube magazine

Nikon D70s, 105mm lens, Ikelite housing, 1/320th @ f22, ISO 200, two Nikonos SB105 strobes at half power

The folks at Crew Tube were looking for a cover shot for their September issue, and asked to see a selection of photographs. This is the one they ended up choosing. It’s a Pink anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion) that I photographed in Fiji quite a few years ago.

Anemonefish can be maddening to photograph. They seem to be in perpetual motion—flitting from one side of their host anemone’s tentacles to the other, peeking out for only the briefest of glimpses before disappearing again. Fortunately, there are ways to save your sanity and get a successful photograph.

The anemonefish may have a favourite part of the anemone that it will return to again and again. Try to figure out where that is.

Spend some time observing the fish from a distance before you approach. Look for repetition in the route the fish swims. Often there is a pattern in what appears to be chaos. The anemonefish may have a favourite part of the anemone that it will return to again and again. Try to figure out where that is. Would that section of the anemone make a pleasing background to your photograph? If yes, then slowly approach and hold your camera in a comfortable position, one that will allow you to stay still for as long as possible. Focus your camera on a tentacle in your viewfinder, and wait for the fish to enter the frame. Be patient; don’t be tempted to switch to another location. As with all wildlife photography, it really does pay off when you invest some time on each subject.

If I see a balled up anemone when I’m set up for macro, I head straight for it.

Sometimes nature will give you a helping hand. There are species of anemones that occasionally and temporarily ball themselves up—possibly to evacuate their stomach. A balled up anemone has all its tentacles gathered into one small area, and the underside is exposed. Anemonefish usually prefer to swim among the protection of their host’s tentacles, so when these tentacles are concentrated into a smaller area the fish has a smaller area to roam. As a consequence, the fish will return to its favourite spot more frequently, and may even linger there a moment longer than usual. This means more frequent shooting opportunities for you. If I see a balled up anemone when I’m set up for macro, I head straight for it.

When choosing your exposure, take into account the bright white stripe on the fish’s side. Many species of anemonefish have these white stripes, which are so easy to blow out with your strobe(s).

You will end up deleting a lot of your images.

Take plenty of shots, as many as you can. Anemonefish will duck and weave very fast, so you will end up deleting a lot of your images: the fish may be looking in the wrong direction, or a tentacle has strayed in front of its face, or the focus isn’t sharp enough. The job of aligning all elements in the frame is even tougher when you’re photographing an anemonefish pair.

Opt for the vertical (or portrait) orientation if you’re trying for a cover shot. And remember to allow enough good negative space around the fish so that editors have space to arrange their text.

—Liz

You may also be interested in:

1
Comments & Questions

1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
Vanguanuarkig

what I was looking for, thanks

Back To Top