150821 Aquarium - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Last Tuesday I tagged along with some friends from FujiTuesday and Fujifilm Canada for a trip to the new aquarium in downtown Toronto. They're a good bunch of people – both bunches – and the aquarium is a particularly photogenic place, making for an excellent outing.

This isn't my post about the evening. I'm still working on that one. But I'm back in the state where I'm generating material faster than I can process it, and I wanted to get a few photos and thoughts posted now rather than waiting a week or few for it to all be done.

Despite being filled with fish the aquarium can be a difficult place to photograph. White balance is impossible, the light levels are quite low, and the animal sizes range from needing a macro lens to really really big. I was carrying my small cameras, which have 28mm-equivalent lenses; I could have benefitted from having my bigger camera, but its widest lens is 35mm. This is a conundrum.

I probably wouldn't have cropped the top shark that way if I was using a wider lens, but I like the result just the same. 

Much of the time photographing in the aquarium is spent battling the forces of darkness, but sometimes light is the bigger challenge. Protecting highlights often meant under-exposing by up to one stop; these shiny little fish under directional light took much more than that. But again something that I did because I had to turned out to be something that I prefer as an end product.

And speaking of the forces of darkness, this octopus is in it. It's an extremely dimly lit area, and it's so comprehensively signed to prohibit flash photography that most people actually comply. And I also have no doubt that when another species supplants humanity as the dominant force that develops the power to wreck the world, it'll be the octopus.

There were a few times when I tried long exposures. For the most part they didn't work, given that I was only using a pocket tripod and that the aquarium offers few level surfaces to rest it on. This also would have been a big problem for recording video, had I thought to try it. Next time I may try carrying my little travel tripod, but it's hard to imagine having the chance to use it with all of the crowds.


At the aquarium I also did that other thing I do, which is record audio. But while the conditions for photography are workably difficult, the audio environment is horrendous. The crowds are full of excited children but are otherwise mostly indistinct, there aren't many interesting sounds from the exhibits – it may be the hardest place in the city to hear running water – and there's a background of saccharine music that rivals Disney's "It's A Small World" ride for its pervasiveness. Ugly.

The results of my audio efforts can be found in the two-minute slideshow that starts my follow-up aquarium post


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