To call Tran Phan ‘just’ a hobbyist doesn’t seem appropriate for an aquarist with an eye for mesmerizing photos. I first saw his pictures on my Instagram Feed (@metrokat in case you want to follow me). Tran’s Instagram is just full of beautiful pictures, one better than the other, I found myself not being able to scroll away. I soon found that he also has a Facebook page to celebrate his reef.
Tran has been in the hobby since 2008, and took a break from 2011 to 2018 to focus on being a dad. <3 His current system is a Waterbox 130.4 (100g display) that has been running for almost 2 years. His lighting is powered by 2 x Radion XR30 G4 Pros and 1 x Radion XR15 G4 Pro. The system is a mixed reef that has been running the Zeovit Method for 14 months and uses Tropic Marin Pro-Reef Sea Salt. In deciding which method to follow in his reef keeping, Tran was sold when he saw some reef tanks that local hobbyists had that showed great success on the zeo method. I was able to chat with Tran a bit about his reef life.
Which do you prefer to photograph and why, corals or fish?
Tough call! Corals are much easier to photograph but fish are more fun since they are always moving. I do prefer to shoot fish but I don’t mind an occasional macro shot of my corals.
What photo equipment do you use?
I shoot with a Sony A7iii mirrorless camera. My primary lens for fish photography is a Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM lens. For corals, my lens choice is a Rokinon 100m f/2.8 manual focus macro lens. For full shots, I use a Sony 24-70 f/2.8 GM lens. (For all you photography a-fish-ionados out there)
How do you compensate for the blue light?
I typically will adjust my lights to a 12K-8K spectrum depending on the look I’m trying to achieve. I also use a custom white balance in camera to get a visual of the image to make sure it looks as realistic as possible.
Do you always plan your pictures or it is a stroke of luck?
Most of my shots are planned ahead. For fish, I usually wait until mid day when they’re out looking for food. They’re less camera shy when they know food is about to be served. (That’s a good tip!)
You suddenly see something in the tank that must be captured on camera. How fast can you move and what would you do?
I usually keep my camera near my tank but sometimes my mobile phone will have to suffice.
Pizza or Pasta?
Pizza – hands down! I’m always game as long as Pizza is on the menu
Favorite fish and coral and why
My favorite fish is the Kole Tang. He’s an algae eating machine and goes about his business without bothering his tank-mates. He also adds a lot of movement to the tank and is quite entertaining to watch. My favorite coral is an Acropora, and I love the Superman Tabling Acro. I love the structure they create within a reef as they grow. Not to mention the vibrant colors they display.
Any experience with underwater photography?
Although I love reef keeping and photography, I have not tried underwater photography. Something about being underwater freaks me out so I usually stay on land.
Do you name your fish?
I leave the pet naming to my kids. We have a lot of fun coming up with silly names. Our Blue Chromis is always misbehaving so we named him ‘Grumpy McGoo’. The Kole tang is ‘Colie’. My 9 year old named the Copperband ‘Cooper’.
Does anybody in your family/friends share your love of the hobby?
My kids are really into reef keeping. My 9 year old wants to be a Marine Biologist when he grows up which is one reason why I got back into reef keeping. Besides my kiddos, I have a great group of reef keeping friends who have provided a tremendous amount of advice and support throughout my hobby. I don’t think my tank would be where it is today without our great community.
What is your dream system, how big, what fish or corals are in it?
My dream tank is the one I currently have. There are some things I would change if I had to start over, however, the size of the tank is perfect in terms of maintenance and space consumption. That being said, I would like to build a 20g cube someday.
Advice to hobbyists trying to take good pictures of their reefs?
Clean your glass. If possible, adjust your lights so it’s not too blue when you take your photos. This will make your images look more natural. Adding an orange filter to your lens will help reduce the blue spectrum while still being able to capture the neon luminance of the corals. The best time to take pictures of your fish is when they’re hungry since they’ll be out hunting for food.
Do you use a filter n your phone camera – which one?
I currently do not use any filters on my phone camera. If I were, I would like to try out the PolypLab kit. They seem to produce the best filtered images that I’ve seen online.