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Aquascaping perfection

James wrote:
> Amano is to Aquascaping what Martha Stewart is to Style. <

There must be as many styles to creating an aquascape as there are
styles of painting. To say that Amano is the epitome of perfection in
aquascaping is just as subjective as saying that Vincent Van Gogh is the
epitome of perfection in painting. Both are masters in their respective
styles. Aquascaping is similar to art in that defining what is good is

As in art, there is technique. Good technique is always a prerequisite
for good art. Things should be "clean", that is most people don't want
to see algae covering the glass, on the plants or detritus littering the
tank. The leaves of the plants should be well formed, undamaged and we
like to see the colour of the leaves that indicates that the plant is
getting all the nutrients that it needs for good growth. More
subjectively, we often like to see large leaves, close internode
distances, compact bushy growth and symmetry of growth. This is seldom
achieved without work. You must expend enough time cleaning the
aquarium, fertilizing and removing plants which have been damaged or
have not grown to our liking. For slow growing plants like Crypts and
Anubias, we must often wait several months before the Crypts can attain
the size and coloration that we want.

As in art, there is composition. There are many suggestions here. Using
contrasts in leaf texture, size, height and colour help to change an
aquascape from a jumble of green into discernible patterns. Amano talks
about the use of the ratio of golden rectangles, the use of space and
the creation of a design which mimics something in nature.

When you make a picture of an aquarium (either for a web page or for a
competition) you also need to take into account photographic technique
which also has two elements, technique and composition. 

Technique implies that you have to get the glass clean, get the plants
clean and get the lights onto the plants so that you get a good
exposure. Composition involves framing the subject of your photograph.
You need to get it filling up the image so that you get enough
resolution later so you won't loose definition when you crop the image. 

Another aspect of composition is looking for the colors and using light
to bring out the colours. Some very interesting photographs are created
by finding the hidden dramatic colours on your plants. Try shining a
bright light onto the underside of Crypts with reddish under leaves. 

To see an example of this, take a look at some of the images of the C.
blassii on my web pages http://home.infinet.net/teban/Oct97/oct97.html
These dramatic colours are real; I used halogen spotlights directed
below and to the side to illuminate the leaves. I did not adjust the
colour balance or gamma on these images. The overall brightness of the
image was increased until it looked right on _my_ monitor. Some monitors
may be brighter or dimmer; you just need to twiddle the brightness knob
to get it to look right. These particular jpegs were scanned by Black's
and they are the best quality scans that I had gotten. It probably
didn't hurt that they were better pictures to start with. Other prints
which were scanned on home scanners did not have nearly as good
definition in the dark areas as what the high quality scanners could
produce. No surprise, you're going to get what you pay for. But the
biggest difference is going to be starting with a well composed, well
lit, properly exposed photograph.

Another hint for you aquarium photographers: eliminate the background;
use a black cloth or towel draped over the back to obscure any
detracting background. This really improves the contrast and composition
of a shot. Eliminate all reflections from the front of the glass; shoot
at night with all the other room lights off and wear dark clothing.
Drape anything that shows in a reflection with black.

Another important point is that you want to avoid too much crowding of
the plants. That's why its best to photograph a tank shortly after
you've done pruning; or for a Crypt tank, when it has just reached the
stage of looking really nice before its starts to look really overgrown.
When the tank is crowded, you loose contrast; things become a jumble to
the eye.

The last aspect about composition, is that living plants have their own
rules of symmetry and randomness. When they grow naturally in good
conditions, they almost always look attractive to us. Root covered
specimens like Hygrophila corymbosa and Lobelia cardinalis tend to look
a little messy esp. since the roots can easily get covered in detritus.
To my eye, I allow and accept this as part of the natural composition
that the plant itself creates. I do not dictate the way the plants will
grow; to take credit for the natural beauty would be hubris. You can
also find great beauty by moving your perspective closer and studying
the incredible textures that are present in the leaves. Crypt leaves
like C bullosa, C nurii and C griffithii have wonderful speckled
patterns! Look at the leaves from the underside especially when strongly
back lit. You can see the patterns in the veination. These all make
wonderful subjects for photography or for just plain contemplation.

Steve Pushak                              Vancouver, BC, CANADA 

Visit "Steve's Aquatic Page"      http://home.infinet.net/teban/
 for LOTS of pics, tips and links for aquatic gardening!!!