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I'm just trying to understand how things are supposed to work as it relates to competitive photography in the aquatic plant world. So, Tex Gal's got this 125g tank with a wide variety of stuff in it. Front and center is a stand of Eriocaulaceae type 2. Here it is:



It's a very light green plant, almost luminescent. But with a darker group of plants in the background I have found it virtually impossible to find an overall exposure and/or white balance that properly shows the whole. I guess I could shade that particular plant with a piece of cardboard over the lights.

When I read the rules for Amano's contest I don't see any of the similar restrictions for touch up. And given that this is about the most high profile contest out there, I wonder if there are "unwritten" rules in this regard.

When I look at the Amano pics in TFH it is appears that they are photo shopped. None of the fish ever show up behind even one blade of plant life. The tanks are photographed sans fish and then the fish are photo shopped in. Also, plants in the background have an eery way of taking on the coloring of the background. I guess we can say that there is a different standard for magazine shots and contests.

I get it that there need to be such rules for contests. And you sure don't want it to be a photoshop skills contest (there are other places on the web for that). Let me ask, how do you police whether there is a violation or not? Do you think that people try to game the system against the stated rules?

Tex Guy
 

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Amano's pics have been around for along while and for the most part the style of photography is the same. If you look at some of the earlier aqua journals, you see them shooting their tanks with slides, with proofs and all, even showing the rejects.

As for the fish looking photoshoped, I imagine that Amano with his resources, has his photographer snapping away constantly while his minons/helpers try to herd/stimulate the fish. Plus you'll notice he never has a huge hodge podge of fish.

Also about plants in the background, they most likely add more lighting. Remember, they're not taking the picture just under normal viewing conditions, they throw on a bunch of other lights to make everything very bright and in focus.

This is all not to say that his pictures aren't photoshoped, but if they are not to the extent in which you are infering. Professional experienced photographers with the right equipment can do amazing things.
 

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With high dynamic range, the more novice photoshopper will end up with a flatter muddier image, but with a more expereinced photoshopper it'll be hard to tell. I think this is where things get fuzzy, because at some point it gets hard to tell. For contest entries the ones that seem to allways place the highest are the ones that look to be professionally shot, and i have no doubt they have been touched up. Even the rules say that you can touch things up i think (it's been awhile since i looked through them so i may be wrong) So technically it is allright to lighten and darken areas, as well as take away the annoying otto that decieded he wanted his picture taken too. So i guess the reality for contest entries is that if you want to increase your chances, have a pro take and process your picture. Ethics will be in the eye of the beholder, since nothing can really be enforced. I think there was a discussion around here somewhere about someone photoshopping in fish to there tank. So maybe community enforcement will help limit the blatant photoshop cheating out there.
 

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Tex Guy, I have to say, you are pretty much off on every point you make. Amano's keys to success are:

1. PATIENCE

2. Expensive lighting equipment. He uses studio lights, backgrounds and colored gels to create specific lighting behind and to the sides of the tank. He also uses high intensity strobes to achieve super high shutter speeds and a large format camera to get a very nice dynamic range out of his shots. He does not shoot with a P&S or even a DSLR camera, he uses much higher end stuff.

And, yeah, there is editing involved. Post processing has been happening since the beginning of photography, how is photoshop different. It is different when things like drawing in fish happen, as you assume, but I seriously doubt Amano needs to do such things. Color correction, fine particle removal due to the camera's ability to pick up much more than a naked eye sees and a few other things are REQUIRED part of digital photography. IT's NOT taboo or unethical.
 

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Let's not forget that Mr. Amano was a professional bicycle racer and photographer before he was ever an aquascaper. The length to which the high-end photo guys will go to get a shot is almost ridiculous by most people's standards. He uses a hair-dryer for the surface ripple, scares the fish into schooling tightly, and all of the other techniques that kkau1 mentioned. That guy is able to do things with a camera that sometimes look far better than real life.

Aquasaur's fish photos come to mind. I'm pretty sure my Congo tetras don't look any different than his, but he's able to capture fine details and the play of light that you just can't appreciate in real life.

The goal of our own contest it to reward skill in aquascaping. It is a regrettable fact that skill in photography (and photoshopping) can make up for lack of skill in growing plants and arranging a nice 'scape. It's equally true that the most fabulous aquarium can look pretty sad with poor photography. The annual Dutch contests include an on-site visit where the judges can observe plant health, fish health, and the layout for themselves. Surely this is a better way! Fortunately for them, Holland is a small country.

On a hobby level, we'll never be able to verify that an image hasn't been altered to make it more appealing. There isn't much at stake with our own contest except bragging rights, so there really isn't much incentive to stay up at night for weeks on end tweaking the final photo. We'll carry on with the rules that we have and look for those tanks that inspire us, push us to be better, and break new ground.
 

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Amano is a professional photog with tons of experience. I highly doubt that he does much PSing. His team of people and the equipment used takes care of that!

Im pretty sure you will find in the rules you arent to clone/dodge/burn your photos. Is it done? Probably but if you are that good that its pretty tough to tell, isnt that also part of learning photography?
 

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As others have mentioned Amano was a photographer first. I don't think we are even having this discussion if it wasn't for that fact. His breathtaking photography of his nature aquariums through his books captivated alot of aquarists who "had to have that in their home" I have one of his earlier books "Aquarium Plant Paradise" and many of the photos aren't as polished as his newer photos that appeared in subsequent books and journals. Still very good, but it shows he was still learning how to photograph aquascapes.
 

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I think Amano used large format cameras for many of his books - the only way I can think of doing that without majorly blurring fish is to use strobes with gels and diffusers. Does anyone know what equipment he currently uses.
 
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