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Dive Photo Guide


Photo Series: La Vie Aquatique
By Grant Stirton, February 17, 2015 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

In this latest article in The Guide, Grant Stirton dives into the world of aquarium conservation with an insider’s look at the Aquarium de Paris, France.

Editor’s Note: Aquariums are a controversial topic for many divers and conservationists. For those who support these institutions for their educational value, you’ll find this inside look compelling and insightful. If you have an alternate opinion on aquariums, make sure you share your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom of the page.

A pair of young school boys examines a freshwater fish exhibit in the main entranceway of the Aquarium de Paris

The Aquarium de Paris showcases the rarely seen underwater landscapes and marine life of French territorial waters and sees more than 700,000 people visiting every year. Visitors can travel from the Mediterranean to French Polynesia with just a few steps, while students can attend talks divulging the diversity of local waters and the fragility of our oceans. For many children, the visit to the Aquarium de Paris is a first face-to-face experience with the 500-plus animals and invertebrates, 1,000 aquatic plants, and 600 coral species housed in the aquarium. 

Behind the glass, a team of biologists, aquaculturists, and engineers negotiate a maze of humid passageways, filled with duct work and piping, connecting industrial filtration systems with millions of gallons of fresh and saltwater, at varying temperatures and salinities. More than a ton of fresh seafood is prepared to feed aquarium residents each month.

The series of photos that follows is my effort to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the daily activities of a major aquarium. I hope that it conveys the balance of economics, education and conservation that combine to make aquariums both a conduit for empowering future generations and helping secure the health of our marine wildlife and ecosystems.

A view inside the Mediterranean exhibit housing species found in what are known as calanques, the steep-walled inlets and coves which dot the coastline

An instructor delivers an educational program to school children. The aquarium runs a number of conservation orientation programs daily for school groups, working with educators and displaying student works

Aquarium keepers negotiate a maze of passageways away from visitors’ eyes. These link exhibits with industrial filtration and water treatment systems and allow staff to perform the day-to-day functions necessary for running such a complex facility

Maintaining the cleanliness of the tanks is vital for keeping exhibited species healthy

A keeper cleans one of the smaller freshwater tanks housing species found in the local Seine river and its tributaries

Shooting an Aquarium – The Photographic Challenges

This project posed a number of unique challenges on account of the cramped spaces, the proximity of the animals to each other, and the local regulations, which did not allow me to get into the tanks.

  • As with most photography involving animals, it’s impossible to plan every detail. Most of your time is spent patiently waiting for a brief moment of unique behavior. In the case of the cold aquarium tanks, it meant holding my camera in the chilly water for minutes at a time while my arms went numb, waiting for one of its residents to swim by and pose for the camera.
  • Because of the awkward shooting position, I often had to shoot blind. In these instances, I had to hold the camera underwater without looking through the viewfinder, and it was a process of trial and error with exposure and composition before I could accurately predict how a shot would turn out.
  • Over three months of shooting, I noticed that eventually some animals seemed to recognize the camera and would completely ignore me. This made it possible to remain stationary with my camera in one position near the surface and wait until something got close enough to allow for a good shot.
  • I had to use manual focus when shooting fast-moving subjects, as autofocus wasn’t effective in the low light available at the surface of the tanks. I set my lens at its hyperfocal distance for a chosen aperture, usually f/5.6 or f/8. I also set my shutter speed at its maximum sync speed of 1/200s and then adjusted exposure using ISO. This allowed me to shoot while holding the camera underwater from above the surface, but without actually framing the image through the viewfinder.
  • For fast-moving subjects, I set my flash at half power to improve recycle times, giving me a better opportunity to capture the action.


The resident school of golden trevally circle within the aquarium’s largest enclosure. The tropical marine exhibit is home to a variety of species, including rays and eels

A group of scientists conducts a research experiment concerning the physiological bite force of a freshwater pike fish species. Using multiple high-speed cameras and slowing down the footage, they can analyze the exact properties of a strike

A keeper feeds the resident common reef octopus a small crab, its preferred food.

A yellowmargin triggerfish, found mainly throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific, has become habituated to its feeding schedule and waits at the surface of the tank



edouard mollard
Nov 12, 2018 12:43 PM
edouard mollard wrote:
the perfect job !
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