By LisaBeth Weber
There is no shortage of dog and cat Instagram accounts, but look for the same among pet fish, and you won’t find many. This lack of fish galleries was noted by one U.K. magazine, who questioned whether the lack of fish selfies correlated to a decline in fish pet sales.
According to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), out of nearly 125 million households, the number of homes with pets is nearly 85 million. Of that, the percentage of dog and cat ownership is 48% and 38% respectively, while freshwater fish is 10% and saltwater fish is 2%. For the curiosity seekers, birds are 6%, reptiles are 4%, and horses are 2%.
The Tech Evolution of Fish Ownership
Ziggy Gutekunst, owner of the Hidden Reef Tropical Fish Store in Bristol, Pennsylvania, sees a shift rather than an increase or decrease and believes the aquatic industry is healthy overall. With a 20,000 square foot store and over 30 years of experience in aquatics, Gutekunst knows fish.
“In the old days, more people had fish tanks. It’s different now,” says Gutekunst. “There aren’t as many young kids coming into the store, but those that do [come in] are involved and educated.”
Gutekunst has also seen steady growth among millennials. From large aquariums that become part of the home décor to the foods and medicines needed to keep fish healthy, more attention is being given to caring for the fish, both physically and mentally, rather than keeping them just for background color. Being an aquarist (fish-keeper) has become a more sophisticated hobby.
Gutekunst gives some of the credit to the growing influence of technology and how it can be utilized to care for our pets. “Because they can do so much research online, they come in with ideas and are eager to learn,” he said.
There are now apps available to monitor and control everything remotely, from tank temperature to leak sensors to fish feeders. Owners can receive text alerts and watch their aquariums via webcams and web portals.
With strict regulations on collecting wild fish for the retail trade, from permits to protected areas in the sea, Gutekunst also gives credit to the conscientious breeders and hobbyists who are promoting sustainable fish collecting and are reaching out to teach beginning aquarists how to buy and raise fish ethically.
“There is a lot of education to help protect the ecosystem,” said Gutekunst, adding that the biggest issue in fish care is for people to understand that they cannot release fish into the wild. “It causes problems, as with the Lionfish, an invasive species without a natural predator,” Gutekunst said. “If someone decides they don’t want their fish anymore, the best thing to do is bring them back to the store.”
Snapping Pics of Our Aquatic Friends
Going back to the heart of the matter, we wanted to know how to take a selfie with our beloved fish pals, so we talked to a few fish photographers, from pro to semi-pro to amateur. Longtime fish photographer and “aFISHionado” Mo Devlin has been professionally photographing fish for over 45 years, so he knows a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. Devlin is all about the tripod, using a good camera (as opposed to a phone camera), and most importantly, good lighting.
“The key with all photos is light. The more the better,” said Devlin. “Unless the fish is completely still, it’s almost impossible to get [the picture] with ambient light.”
Devlin’s advice is to know your subject, know your equipment, be patient, and take lots of photos. With certain fish, he can anticipate where they’ll be so that he can pre-focus, set the camera on a tripod with a remote shutter release, and wait for the fish to enter the “sweet spot.”
“Cellphees” as Devlin calls them, will improve as cell phone camera technology advances, but meanwhile, he recommends the ProCam, a five-dollar phone app that can mimic a professional camera.
Mo Devlin with his fish.
Persistence Wins the Day
Fish hobbyist and amateur photographer Kelli Wright, whose love of her fish sparked the before and after selfies below, says that “fish selfies are tricky. Patience and luck are important. Sufficient lighting for crisp exposure without glare is key and takes trial and error.” Wright said that she had to change the tank lighting and the way she held the phone to avoid glare from the flash, but her persistence paid off.
In Kelli's before and after selfies with her Discus fish, a change in tank lighting and holding her phone in a different position helped eliminate glare, which can be seen in the first picture.
Be Prepared for the Unpredictable
PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified rescue diver Hannah Arnholt has spent a lot of time underwater and behind a camera.
“The thing about fish photography is that your subject is unpredictable,” she says. “One second they’re still and the next they're zooming across the tank.”
Arnholt says that once your fish has slowed down, choose how you want to frame your selfie, and try to arrange yourself so that you have the fish on one side and your face on the other. “If your phone has a burst feature, I'd recommend using it in case your aquatic friend moves at the last second when you're not looking,” Arnholt said.
“Whether in a tank or not, fish are wild animals. If they decide to swim away, there's nothing you can do. Remember, you're in their home, not the opposite, so don't expect them to behave the way you want.”
Arnholt, like Gutekunst, believes that a conscientious and educated approach is key to ethical and sustainable fish collecting. As a devoted conservationist, Arnholt encourages others to help protect the ecosystem by using best practices in the ocean, paying attention to the latest news about overfishing, and being good stewards of the sea.
Hannah swimming - and taking selfies - with the fish and the sharks:
So, go forth, take fish selfies until you get the perfect one, and then turn your fish into the social media darling he or she was born to be. And remember this closing tip: When trying to get that ultimate fish selfie, whatever you do, don’t drop your phone in the fish tank!