Photograph Otherworldly Environments Using a Fish Tank, Salt Water, and Dyes

If you want to capture photographs or videos of otherworldly environments without using any computer generated imagery, one way is to create miniature worlds in your garage using a fish tank and salt water (a technique that has been used in numerous Hollywood movies). The video above is a tutorial on this trick by filmmaker and visual effects guru Joey Shanks.

The basic idea is to fill up a large fish tank with both heavy salt water and lighter fresh water… without having them mix. You can do this with the help of a large trash bag; simply pour in the salt water, place the bag on the surface, pour on the fresh water, and slowly remove the bag.

What you’ll have is a tank with water clearly divided in the middle. Drip various dyes into this water for extremely cool effects.

Shanks is uploading one of these visual effects tutorials once a week to his YouTube channel. Although they’re geared toward filmmaking, some of them can be applied to still photography as well (here’s one on creating “warp speed” with steel wool).

  • rtfe

    Yes! more of this, please!

  • Mauricio Andres Ramirez Lozada

    lol it clearly states that you “should not try to recrate or re-enact any of the activities on the video” and you post it like a weekend project, i dont know if the video creator is being silly or petapixel is being irresponsible.

  • Steven Alan

    I was slightly confused by that statement too… It seems odd for him to say not to try it then tell us exactly how to do it. However, I don’t think it is at all irresponsible to play with a fish tank.

  • gabe sturdevant

    Should we not try it in case we might drop our camera in the water? Looks pretty safe to me.

  • Tim

    This is the same technique Disney used in the 30’s to make the smoldering volcanoes in Fantasia.

  • Jim Schenkenberg

    For future reference, Joey Shanks heard you on the ‘warning’ comments and has removed from his future episodes. so Thanks for the comment. AKA Jimmy Shanks.