Friday night I went with my mother to the aquarium. The company she works for was commemorating its 15th business anniversary (congratulations!). To celebrate, they took everyone to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a party. The entire aquarium was available, all evening; all exhibits except for a very few creatures that needed their beauty sleep. There were tables and chairs set up all over, buffet tables spread throughout, and a few bars. People brought their children and a good time was had by all.
Photography in a museum, zoo or aquarium is always tricky. The exhibits, be they live, painted or sculpted, are often encased, caged, entombed in Plexiglas, surrounded by people, mounted out of reach or otherwise inaccessible. Having the aquarium to ourselves meant that I had plenty of time to take pictures, and that I didn’t have to wipe very many fingerprints off the tank walls.
I did a little research before I went to learn about what kinds of shooting situations were unique to aquariums. I learned that the thick Plexiglas and glass tanks were a particular problem if one tries to shoot at an angle (always shoot straight on into the tank), and that one should clean the glass of smudges if needed. Obviously in a reflective situation like this one, a flash will only create a big white spot in your image and not light up any fish. The only time that a flash helps with fish photography, in my experience, is underwater while scuba diving, and even then, you need to carry a powerful torch, or more than one, to make much impact. Among fish enthusiasts, it is considered polite to label your images carefully and to always shoot the left side of the fish (“Excuse me, tuna, can you turn please? I want to get your best side.”). I’m afraid I did not manage these courtesies. I am sorry, fish community.
What I learned when I got there was that it is amazing to have the aquarium virtually to yourself. And it’s even more sumptuous when there is catering, a bar, and comfortable chairs. I also learned that convex Plexiglas tanks make photography more difficult, and that it’s dark in an aquarium at night. The exhibits were beautiful, the building was beautifully designed, and the experience was ethereally peaceful.
All in all, it was a great time and a beautiful place (Thanks Mom!). It was a fun chance to try something new photographically too. If you ever get a chance to go to this particular place at night, for a private party, seize it with both hands. It’s incredible.