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Discussion Starter #1
I enjoyed last week's responses so much that I decided to make this a weekly event. I also got a lot of positive responses from those who did not post on the thread, stating how helpful and informative it was. These layout threads will be archived at a certain point.

I've also decided to include member's layouts in the fray. If you want your layout critiqued in the future, please PM me with the aquascape and any other information you deem important to the layout. The layouts will be screened for quality, as this isn't a "scape my tank for me" service. I'll also be taking ADA/Amano/AGA layout suggestions to post here. Just PM me on which tank you would like to see here.

Aquarium:


The summer of einthovenii
Grand Prize ADA 2002 entry by Takehiko Honoki
90x45x45cm (~50g)
Plants: Blyxa japonica, Cryptocoryne retrospiralis, Eleocharis acicularis, Fontinalis antipyretica
Fauna: Rasbora eithovenii, Cardina japonica

Questions an ADA judge would ask (taken from contest booklet...they judge on creativity, composition, fish choice, creation of natural atmosphere, aquarium condition, and viability):

1) Does the aquascape make an original creative impression to the viewers?

2) Is the aquascape composed well (is there compositional balance within the aquascape)?

3) Are the aquatic plants appropriately positioned within the aquascape? Does the balance exist in the colors and shapes of the plants used?

4) Do you feel harmony between the fish and the aquarium layout?

5) Is the aquascape laid out well making a natural looking atmosphere?

Some questions of my own:

1) What compositional rules does this layout follow? Which compositional rules does it break?

2) What are the main elements in this layout? How do they work together harmoniously (or unharmoniously)?

3) What type of atmosphere/impression does this layout seem to create for the viewer?

Just questions to help aid discussion. However, discussion can head in directions that have nothing to do with the above questions (but still relate to the above aquascape).

Carlos
 

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A majestic display that visually implies a much larger body of water. Its use of craggy driftwood reminds veiwers of the inevitable presence of death in the midst of vibrant life. This is the most sublime aquascape that I have ever seen. It is unfortunate that this digital image suffers from scanning/halftone degradation.

defdac if you are reading, this is the 2002 ADA grand prize winner that I mentioned.
___
Jeff
 

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I really think this tank beats some of Amano's best layouts. Its really looks like something you would find in a river. I dont have anything bad to say about this one. That is the best white based foreground i have ever seen. The way the tank leads into it is amazing... all the little moss rocks and what not.
 

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The way the driftwood leads back into the two top left corners really forces you to see just how much depth there is to the layout. The fish selection is low key but just enough of a highlight to be visually interesting. I generally don't like blue backgrounds, but that is a personal thing.
 

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This is one of the most memorable aquascapes I've seen photographed. I will not disagree much with the ADA contest judges.

tsunami said:
1) Does the aquascape make an original creative impression to the viewers?
The aquascape is solidly in the nature aquarium camp. I'm not sure how much creativity can be applied and still stay in that camp. The aquascape certainly did ccrate an original impression when thiis photo first came out. It was one of the first uses I recall of the white foreground. I think the use of lighiting in this tank (bright foreground, dark background) is very original and effective.

2) Is the aquascape composed well (is there compositional balance within the aquascape)?
The aquascape is very well composed and produces a great sense of balance. There is also a great balance between foreground and background in this tank that is possibly unlike anything else I've seen.

The sense of depth in this photo is enormous; it seems almost like the tank should be deeper than it is wide. The position of the two central driftwood groups contributes greatly to the sense of depth because of the way they appear to converge with distance from the viewer. This is one of several effects that makes me wonder how much of the overall impression from the aquascape is unique to the photo and how much one might see if you were able to walk about the tank and see it from different angles.

3) Are the aquatic plants appropriately positioned within the aquascape? Does the balance exist in the colors and shapes of the plants used?
It amazes me that the entire aquascape is made with only four species, and I'm not sure what roleis playe by one of those (the Blyxa). Most of the visual impact appears to be created with just three plants -- the moss, the Crypts and the Eleocharis. The arrangment of the C. retrospiralis is particularly interesting to me in the way it is used to frame the negative space in the rear center.
4) Do you feel harmony between the fish and the aquarium layout?
Uh. no. The fish seem to be alienated from their environment. Of course -- as is usually true in tanks that place well in the ADA contest -- the fish are very fortuitously placed in the photo.

When I think of fish in harmony with the layout I think of dwarf cichlids among leaf litter, or datnoids lurking in ambush. A school of rasboras or tetras seems to have little relationship to their environment as they school in open water and don't interact much at all with the plants or other decor.

I suspect that "harmony between the fish and the aquarium layout" implies less then I'm trying to make of it. Maybe it only means that the tank shouldn't contain orange discus.

5) Is the aquascape laid out well making a natural looking atmosphere?
It feels very natural. I agree with Jeff that this aquascape conveys a feeling of the cycle of life in it's balanced juxtaposition of death and renewal. What could be more natural? Besides, it is reminiscent of moss-covered stumps on a grassy hilside -- something I have seen in nature.

Some questions of my own:

1) What compositional rules does this layout follow? Which compositional rules does it break?
I expected that the convergence of the two big bits of driftwood (what I sense as the focus of the aquascape) would be in the optical center. It is not. The arrangement is slighly off-center but the "golden section" appears to play no role in its horizontal proportions. I think the same thing can be said about it's vertical proportions; the horizon is positioned about in the center of the photo.

2) What are the main elements in this layout? How do they work together harmoniously (or unharmoniously)?
This layout is boiled down to such fundamental simplicity that all of its remaining elements are "main elements." They are all harmoniously balanced in color and in form. I am particularly impressed by the tremendous role played in this aquascape by a combination of a simple blue backdrop and lighting that emphasizes the foreground.

3) What type of atmosphere/impression does this layout seem to create for the viewer?
From my standpoint as a wannabe aquascaper the tank creates a sense of awe and wonderment. I think more generally this aquascape is cool and inviting; it beckons the viewer to enter. It stands apart from the repellent effect of brilliantly lit backgrounds or glaring red plants.

Roger Miller
 

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I love this tank, but the nature aspect it screams to me is 'shipwreck off the Florida coast'. Substitute a school of barracuda for the Rasboras and you have a Discovery Channel treasure hunt documentary. :lol:

The depth created by the placement of the driftwood and the integration of the hairgrass is awesome, but again, I can't help looking for a team of divers to emerge from within the 'hull'. :D

So in that respect at least the 'scape is representative of an underwater scene (to me, anyway), rather than a terrestrial scened recreated in an aquarium.
 

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These threads are great! Please do keep the coming!!!

As for this tank, I will have to disagree with all who find this tank expemplary. I was quite shocked to see that this was the grand prize winner 2 years ago and still shake my head when I run into it now and then. I personally find this tank too symmetrical, contrived and static. Before I go on though, I will say this tank is very successful in showing tremendous depth, something very difficult to do.

The tank is vertically divided into two equal parts, where each side (left and right) exist independant of one another. The groupings of driftwood are indeed different but are generally the same size and shape. I also feel there is not enough variation laterally in the rockwork, plants and sand to break up the symmetry. Each side effectively reflects the other, and as a result, one misses nothing if half the tank is cropped from the picture.

There is also something to be said about the horizontality of the layout. The beach, the Eleocharis, and the Cryptocoryne exist on parallel bands, fore, mid and background. The scaper (?) or artist (?) clearly sets boundaries between each zone where for the exception of one small sprig of Eleocharis poking out in the sand on the right side, nothing is allowed to cross the line. How natural is that?

The overall feel of this tank that I get is one of stasis and artifice. Everything is pruned to the point where it just does not look alive or real. The moss on the driftwood as been trimmed and trained to the point where it looks like chunks of medium shag carpet, same is to be said about the moss on the rocks bordering the beach. I will say the Eleocharis looks good but what about the Crypts in the back? obviously placed in no random, natural order, a straight single file line across the back.

I guess what it boils down to with me is that for something wonderful to happen, a creative balance needs to be found between the scaper/artist and the plants in the glass box. It is a collaboration between the two where both have a say in the direction of the overall layout. My 2 cents is that this guy did not give his plants a chance to gain their "voice".

Yeah, I know, very critical from someone who has never posted a single picture of any of his tanks on this or any site, OR ever entered any of these comps... sorry, these are just my opinions, there are better stuff out there...
 

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Excellent threads tsunami, keep em' comming:) Tsunami, I believe you will really like Aaron:) ;)

First I also must say that to me this is a very beautiful aquarium. When the thread open the first time I was struck with sense of tranquility and a feeling of "coolness" that was entirely unexpected. I then of course starrted to look for that answers to the questions.

This actually looks very terrestrial to me. I actually could find a place in Ohio where i used to fish that looks like that, standing in the water looking toward the shore. Many scapes look terrestrial to me though and often I like them the best.

I guess I hev only a couple of negative things to say. First, I agree with Aaron that it is way to symetrical although the positioning ot the driftwood is excellent. I don't know if you could fix the problem without ruining the scapes feeling of tranquility.

The hairgrass in the very middle, where the two pieces of wood meet is way to tall and kills some of the "v" effect of hte layout The sense of depth created in the scape is amazing but the tank does not work for me in that same sense. It almost feels like the crypt in the background is not even inthe tank. It is to far away, I can imagine a dead space of substrate between the mid and background.

I could say a bit more but most of it has been said already, and I'm late for work:)
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Let me cap on a few things already said...

4) Do you feel harmony between the fish and the aquarium layout?
Uh. no. The fish seem to be alienated from their environment. Of course -- as is usually true in tanks that place well in the ADA contest -- the fish are very fortuitously placed in the photo.

When I think of fish in harmony with the layout I think of dwarf cichlids among leaf litter, or datnoids lurking in ambush. A school of rasboras or tetras seems to have little relationship to their environment as they school in open water and don't interact much at all with the plants or other decor.

I suspect that "harmony between the fish and the aquarium layout" implies less then I'm trying to make of it. Maybe it only means that the tank shouldn't contain orange discus.
The harmony between the fish and the layout has little to do with the interaction of those fish with their environment. If that were true, a tank with a school of hatchetfish would ALWAYS be 'inferior' to a tank with a group of kribensis --even if the kribensis would clash with the layout while the hatchetfish would match aesthetically.

They mean harmony in the artistic sense --size, coloration, body shape, and movement. The fish should neither be underwhelming (too small) or overwhelming (too big) for the aquascape. The colors and markings of the fish should play together and complement the aquascape --so you really need to know what type of mood/atmosphere you are trying to create in your layout. For example, small fish with horizontal black stripes work together with horizontally arranged driftwood really well. The latter enhances the former. Same goes for body shape (ever noticed how wonderful Altum angelfish work so well with the vertical lines of a stand of C. retrospiralis?). Movement, of course, is important --one does not want a highly active school of Danio shanensis in a subdued, tranquil layout. If a layout is colorful and dynamic, perhaps a group of calm, retiring fish really aen't the best choice.

I guess I hev only a couple of negative things to say. First, I agree with Aaron that it is way to symetrical although the positioning ot the driftwood is excellent.
Despite being symmetrical, I think this layout manages to achieve a very natural feeling. The aquascaper obviously has a lot of talent to pull off this kind of symmetrical driftwood arrangement so effectively. The pieces of driftwood seem to me like open gates, inviting the eye to look deeper into the layout. It feels different and unique just because it is not using the often touted golden ratio.

And it's not because this scaper didn't know better not to place the driftwood the way he did. His layout from last year (stem plants and iwagumi rock arrangement) was a classic example of using the golden ratio/rule of thirds.

Just a few thoughts...keep them coming! :)

Carlos
 

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tsunami said:
They mean harmony in the artistic sense --size, coloration, body shape, and movement. The fish should neither be underwhelming (too small) or overwhelming (too big) for the aquascape. The colors and markings of the fish should play together and complement the aquascape --so you really need to know what type of mood/atmosphere you are trying to create in your layout.
I think I understand the "artistic" standard. I don't find it to be a sufficient standard.

Aquariums are first and foremost living systems and should be judged as such. An aquascape in which well selected fish interact with the plants -- like altum angels drifting through a stand of vertical leaves -- should score better than an aquascape populated by open-water schooling fish that don't relate to the aquascape in any way except through their shape or color. "Harmony" describes a complimentary interaction. If the interaction is limited to an advantageous orientation of lines then it is not as "harmonious" as when there is both an artistic and a functional interaction.

Limiting the standard to an artistic rather than aquaristic standard also poses a couple problems. The worst problem I've seen is that it fosters abuse of fish. The "nano-tank" competition that featured artistically-selected baby angel fish in 2-liter aquascapes is an example. If we applied the same animal abuse standards to ornamental fish that we apply to livestock or pets then the aquarists who set up those photos might find themselves in court.

The second problem with the artistic standard is that it applies more to the photograph then it does to the aquascape. You can't judge the artistic element of the fish's movement from a still photograph, you can't judge whether the fish normally behave in a way that is consistent with the aquascape and you certainly can't tell if they normally occupy a visible position in the aquascape.

I suspect that in practice the question of harmony between the fish and the aquascape boils down to a much simpler question; are fish positioned in the photograph so that they contribute positively to the impression? It has little to do with the aquascape and everything to do with the photograph.

If you don't mind I will continue to apply that standard as both an artistic and aquaristic standard. For there to be harmony the fish must be kept in a suitable surrounding and they must interact with the aquascape. If fish are merely artistically well-selected then the aquarist only gets credit for satisfying part of the standard.

Roger Miller
 

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I just saw last week's, having been out of town for a while. For me, this is a much nicer aquascape, photographically and in layout. I agree with Dennis, it reminds me of places I have been here in Florida. I like how he has created almost a mirror image with the sand vs the blue of the background (sky, I assume is his intent). It would look better to me, had he defined the triangle in the sandy, rocky foreground a little more. But a beautiful scape, imho.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I think I understand the "artistic" standard. I don't find it to be a sufficient standard.
For this judging category in the ADA, it is sufficient. The other half of the standard you are describing goes under another judging category --viability.

Aquariums are first and foremost living systems and should be judged as such. An aquascape in which well selected fish interact with the plants -- like altum angels drifting through a stand of vertical leaves -- should score better than an aquascape populated by open-water schooling fish that don't relate to the aquascape in any way except through their shape or color. "Harmony" describes a complimentary interaction. If the interaction is limited to an advantageous orientation of lines then it is not as "harmonious" as when there is both an artistic and a functional interaction.
No one said that aquariums are not living systems. However, I believe that the "harmony" you are explaining is really a personal one. Which is better? An Apistogramma darting in and out of a tussock of hairgrass or a group of hatchetfish swimming over a tussock of hairgrass?

Functional? How do we judge harmony through functional use? How do you compare functionality between the rainbowfish who use a piece of moss covered driftwood as a spawning medium to the Apistogrammas who use it as a spawning cave? How about to the 'open water schoolers' who use this said driftwood for security at night? All are interacting with their surroundings, but somehow one of them is using it in a "better" way than the other.

Characins (atleast mine) do interact with the plants and other species. They may not be quietly foraging through the undergrowth all the time, but they are swimming in and out of the plants and do actively use the plants for security (especially at night, when they all huddle in the dense growth).

Limiting the standard to an artistic rather than aquaristic standard also poses a couple problems. The worst problem I've seen is that it fosters abuse of fish. The "nano-tank" competition that featured artistically-selected baby angel fish in 2-liter aquascapes is an example. If we applied the same animal abuse standards to ornamental fish that we apply to livestock or pets then the aquarists who set up those photos might find themselves in court.
Although important, these really are issues of viability and should be kept in that category. The ADA fosters that the aquarium must first and foremost be a good home for the fishes. They do take this consideration into account, but not under this category.

The second problem with the artistic standard is that it applies more to the photograph then it does to the aquascape. You can't judge the artistic element of the fish's movement from a still photograph, you can't judge whether the fish normally behave in a way that is consistent with the aquascape and you certainly can't tell if they normally occupy a visible position in the aquascape.
Then isn't it all about the photograph? How many of these aquascapes always look like what the photo shows? Most likely, only a few. Most of these layouts (both in the AGA and ADA) are barely a year old, if even.

If you have never kept the fish before, then you would not be able to judge the fish's movement from a still photography. However, fish's movement has a large role to play in seeing your tank from a day to day basis. At least it does to me --I love the colors of rainbowfish but their boisterous nature keeps them from being in any of my tanks. I really I hope we're not speaking just about photos here, as aquariums are more than just a digital image on a web page.

As for the photo...
Just as one patiently trims ones moss or hairgrass for a photo, one can also patiently wait for the right moment to take a photo. The characins I have kept (cardinals, green neons, rummynoses, etc) always school at a certain point in the day. If that is the moment of my aquarium's life that I want to capture, then that should be o.k. It is all about showing your aquarium at its best in these contests. How different would it be if people could actually come to your home and see the tank for themselves...

Carlos
 

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tsunami said:
I think I understand the "artistic" standard. I don't find it to be a sufficient standard.
For this judging category in the ADA, it is sufficient. The other half of the standard you are describing goes under another judging category --viability.
this is perhaps a difficult division, but its interesting to discuss. I don't think that viability covers the issue. Compare a school of corydorus sifting through the foreground of a planted tank to a school of hatchetfish skimming the water surface. Neither of these is a problem for viability, but the hatchetfish live quite happily without the aquascape below them, while the cory's live in the aquascape, interact with it, depend on it's specific features. To me the corydorus provide a more harmonious element in the aquascape and that remains true even if the hatchetfish happen to be photographed in a particularly handsome arrangement.

The difference here is not a question of viability. It is an entirely aesthetic difference but an aesthetic difference that depends on harmonious relationships in the aquarium as much as it does on appearances captured in the span of 1/100th of a seond.

Then isn't it all about the photograph? How many of these aquascapes always look like what the photo shows? Most likely, only a few. Most of these layouts (both in the AGA and ADA) are barely a year old, if even.
Different contest rule sets emphasize the aquascape or the photograph. The ADA rules strongly emphasize the quality of the photograph. I think that diminishes the value of the contest. We are aquarists. Most of us live with the work we do, yet the ADA contest gives value to work that is only seen in a single 2-dimensional view and that only "lives" for a photographic instant.

I don't think that its important for an aquascape to exist for years before it is photographed. I do think it's important that the aquascape actually exists -- that it isn't an illusion created in a single photograph. I also think that it's important to judge an aquascape based on characteristics that are not fleeting and not -- like temporary lighting effects -- created just for the photograph.

As for the photo...
Just as one patiently trims ones moss or hairgrass for a photo, one can also patiently wait for the right moment to take a photo. The characins I have kept (cardinals, green neons, rummynoses, etc) always school at a certain point in the day. If that is the moment of my aquarium's life that I want to capture, then that should be o.k. It is all about showing your aquarium at its best in these contests.
Absolutely. But I think the ADA rules encourage people to show their tanks under condtions that are only attained for the photo.

How different would it be if people could actually come to your home and see the tank for themselves...
Then you would get something like the NBAT contest. I think that is a much more valuable result then a photo contest. I think local and regional clubs need to start getting together and organizing contests where the judges see the aquascape as it actually is.

Roger Miller
 

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I think that the seperation in plant and substrate is very natural looking. In my lake as a matter of fact their is an even sharper change in plants and white sand. It is a straight ring where the dirt and sand seperate and the plants grow on the dark dirt and not on the white sand at all. This is all underwater. In many springs you will find the same thing. But i think i see what you mean in that if he was going for a terrestrial look then maybe it does look unnatural. But i'm not so sure if that is what you mean.
 

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Well, I have to say, the more I look at this layout, the less I hate it... I am a professional artist and teach art on many levels (including college) so this is fun for me... finally a venue that mixes two of my passions in life!

The pieces of driftwood seem to me like open gates, inviting the eye to look deeper into the layout. It feels different and unique just because it is not using the often touted golden ratio.
Okay, I might buy this, but there is nothing of interest behind the gates! It is different and unique, I will give you that. The symmetry is bothering me less. Besides, the Golden section is overrated and is counterproductive to the growth of aquascaping. (I'll save this rant for another time)

Then isn't it all about the photograph? How many of these aquascapes always look like what the photo shows? Most likely, only a few. Most of these layouts (both in the AGA and ADA) are barely a year old, if even.
For comps on this scale, a photograph is all you have. I like how the AGA allows more than one image, but even they only judge from one chosen shot right? Taking the photo at the right time is really important. You want to capture the tank en medius res and give the viewer a sense that this is not staged, but a glimpse of a working system that is always changing. I feel this is what makes Amano's shots so incredibly sublime. This photograph I fill is stiff and contrived, kinda like a highschool senior portrait. It does not do the school of fish any good, no implied schooling motion which I feel is the only thing R. einthoveni has going for it. (gotta be one of the ugliest of the rasboras) I think good shots allow for implied movement, whether it be ripples on the surface, plants leanig in a current, and motion blur (used exceptionally well in last years ADA grand champ) I guess it is like comparing a passport photo and a candid shot. [/quote]
 

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Aaron said:
there is nothing of interest behind the gates!
As an art instructor you are well aquantainted with the significance of negative space. In this case that space is filled with blue. Blue is often associated with concepts of the eternal or with Madonna figures. This tanks narrative, whether intentional or not, draws on implications of transcendence from earthly substance.

When I call it sublime, I comment on the ambition of this scapes illusory power and draw upon Edmund Burke's philosophical distinction from beauty.http://www.bartleby.com/24/2/327.html The illusory power of this scape rides the coattails of its central ornament. It borrows an object from ordinary experience and places it in a context that stimulates new associations; it is Duchampian.

Aaron is bothered by the artifice evident in this scape and desires a more natural chaos while I am impressed with the degree of artifice and the effectiveness of its presentation. Some enjoy a more blissful deception while others are excited by accomplished guile.
___
Jeff
 

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Aaron said:
I like how the AGA allows more than one image, but even they only judge from one chosen shot right?
In the AGA contest all of the photos the entrant submits and all of the layout and narrative information they provide (up to the contest limits, anyway) are passed on to the judges. There is no way to really constrain how the judges make their decision, but I'm reasonably sure that most use all of the information. If a contestant doesn't submit the full compliment of photos and information it places them at a competitive disadvantage. The judges are trying to find the best aquascape and few want to base that decision on a single photo. With just one photo to work from it is hard to say much about the aquascape that may not be wrong when the tank is viewed from a different angle and at a different instant in time.

How much of your impression of this aquascape is unique to the photograph and how much would carry through if the aquascape were viewed from other angles? How much of your impression is based on fleeting conditions like the position of the fish or the curve of a leaf? How much of your impression is based on effects set up just for this one photo? Any guesses?

I think that even if you were to take the fish out of the photo and put normal lighting on this tank that it would still be a beautiful aquascape, but it may not have won the competition. Other entries when viewed at different times and different angles might give more than this aquascape has to offer.

Roger Miller
 
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