Are Closer Than You Think By Peter Kolonia

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Can't swing Cozumel this winter? Consider a nearby destination that offers all the outlandishly colorful creatures of a Caribbean snorkel safari at a tiny fraction of the cost: a major aquarium. If you're like most Americans, you live within a 90-minute drive of one. And many include aviaries and plant habitats, as well.

Think you can't get good pictures there because it's too dark, too crowded, or too photographically challenging? We know three guys who disagree. They're staff photographers at some of the nation's most-visited aquariums, and each assures us that you can get great pictures of some of the planet's most amazing creatures with equipment you probably already own.

"First and foremost," says Bob Couey, visual services manager for SeaWorld, San Diego, "pack so your photo gear fits in a single bag. If you're earning much more, and it appears that you're shooting commercially, security is likely to stop you."

When following fish across a large tank, it also helps to have all your stuff in a single shoulder bag. That way, you're not forced to leave expensive equipment at one end of the window as you chase your quarry toward the other.

What should go in that bag? Bruce Carlson, chief science officer of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, answers, "You can't really shoot in an aquarium without an SLR and an off-camera flash. Leave the point-and-shoot at home. I also recommend an image-stabilized moderate tele zoom such as Canon's 17-85mm f/4-5.6

< LESS CAN BE MORE: Wilson Tsoi prefers smaller venues such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, OR, which let him use a tripod with his Nikon D200 and 10-20mm f/4-5.6 Sigma lens for this shot. Besides sea life, he suggests focusing on architecture and, most of all, visitors.

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