- Reef Aquascaping
Reef aquascaping is not unlike that of planted tanks or any other tank for that matter. Ultimately, if the tank looks good and is functional, it is a success. There are a few considerations to bear in mind though, when scaping your reef or any marine aquarium. 1) You may want fewer, and less jagged rocks for a large fish only tank, 2) You will most likely need high rock work for an acro tank, 3) Many reef fish enjoy elaborate rock work with lots of "nooks and crannies", 4) The old addage, "the more rock the better" is generally true for any marine aquarium, and this is more true of reefs.
Aquascaping your Reef Tank by: Andre Silvestre
With the increase of aquarists interested in raising the bar on reef keeping projects to match the Modern Times when it comes to equipment and husbandry techniques, much of that attention has been directed to the smallest details that altogether are known to build the big picture. Still, Modern Reef Tanks are not reflected just in the technical area but also in the aesthetics and the replication of the marine habitat as natural as possible. While the “ rock wall” layouts or tank full of rocks are still favoured by some reefers, newer and refreshing ideas are becoming more and more common practice when it comes to rock arrangement. Aquarists are beginning to take interest in the construction of their rockwork, paying the same attention to detail in positioning the smallest of the rocks like an artist painting the rocks of the wild riverbed. This article focus this type of commitment and tries to share some principals and notions of Reef Aquascaping, the same principals and notions that can be found in Landscaping and Planted Tanks Aquascaping which are firstly and always inspired by Nature herself.
Building a reef layout can be tricky. While it is always a personal taste, the willing in setting up an environment that is natural and comfortable for the tank inhabitants, providing shelter and space for the fish to swim or enough area for coral placement, or both is, most of the time, common to all aquarists. These are all valid goals that are shared by the reef enthusiasts but the personal taste is something that differs from one person to another. Some will also say that they don´t have the skills or the imagination to create a reef environment that is eye catching and so they leave that effort for coral placement, hopping that these will create a more interesting scenario once they fill in, distracting the view to their beauty. Truth be told, corals do have some of that capability, specially when one plays with colourful species and place them regarding colour contrast and shape but what isn´t realized is that the rockscape itself can be the primary and first factor for a more natural and balanced coral placement, promoting an easier way to appreciate the tank in detail and as a whole. Aesthetics aside, rockscapes that are planned and meticulous built can also promote better biological filtration since water flows more efficiently through and around the rocks, helping bacteria and microorganisms perform their job better, while reducing the chance of detritus accumulation. I try to follow five simple rules or guidelines, when building a reefscape which can be very orienting and make the task much easier. These are: - Good water flow around and through the whole rockwork - Fish shelters - Fish swimming area - Coral area - Natural and aesthetic feeling of the rockwork So, how should one aquascape his tank in order to provide the five major factors? Lets begin with some Aquascaping notions…
People often make themselves the questions: what does it mean “ Aquascape”? What is “ Aquascaping” a tank? I don´t think there´s a particular definition of the term, though it´s something that is used for some years by people who refer to something that is created with natural materials so the creation itself can be inserted in a natural underwater or water related context. Some people will consider it as an art form, others a way of life, some will play with it for personal joy, others use it to get away from the daily life. Whichever is the connotation or use, the term “ Aquascaping” is tightly associated to Nature and the pursue of man building scenarios that have Nature as inspiration. So, instead of having at our disposal an infinite amount of space to build such scenarios like in nature, we are limited to a glassbox and it´s inside that glassbox that we try to recreate a small piece of reef. To make such scenarios more natural and more view-friendly, some art notions like, e.g., the ones us ed in paintings, have been imported to the home aquaria, to be used when aquascaping the reef scenario. Lets review the most important… Focal Point ( fig. 1): this is probably the most important “ rule” of all. It represents the cradle where the layout is born and from where it develops to other parts of the tank when it is viewed from the front glass. When aquascaping a tank, this is the part of the layout that should stand out the most, the dominant area of the whole tank. Focal Point is related to Fibonacci´s number and the Golden Ratio which, in few words, is located in the point where the 2/3 of the tank meet the other 1/3 or, more exactly, in the point achieved by the division of the tank´s length with the constant 1,618. This rule has been used since the Renaissance for artists and architects in their works to make these more balanced and aesthetically pleasing and is now transferred to the aquaria decoration. Focal point can be created through a big rock or pile of small rocks that when positioned in a particular way, can capture the viewer´s attention the minute he looks into the tank. Later on, that same focal point can be strengthen with flashy corals that have warm colours ( red, purple, orange, yellow, etc) or corals that will form a big colony once they fill in, or both. Some aquascapers like to create the focal point in a negative zone such an open sand area or even create more than one focal point. The first technique will have a limited effect since creating the focal point in a sand area will inhibit a pleasing and fluid observation through the rock structure and the corals placed over it since the observation begins in the sand and will continue through the sand until the viewer is forced to turn its observation to the rock structure and corals placed over the rocks. This is because there´s not a natural transition from the sand to the rock. Transitions are made through connection points that belong to the same material or subject. For example, sand pathways will have fluid transitions even if a rock is placed in order to narrow that same pathway because the sand has continuation and we have that perception. Also, rocks will have smooth transition, even between two islands that are separated by sand. This is because rocks can have bigger contrast over the white sand and we can explore that contrast by placing small/medium rocks that will make the transition from one island to another without loosing fluidity. It´s a matter of perception and how equal or different materials can promote or inhibit the viewer´s natural observation of the layout. The technique of using more than one focal point is also very difficult to achieve with success and will often result in confusion and a not so natural feeling when the aquascape is observed. The viewer´s observation gets lost because there isn´t an area where the vision is fixed and from where it begins it´s course through the rocks and corals all the way to the escape lines in order to achieve a balanced perspective of the entire composition.
Tension or Escape Lines ( Fig. 2): Tension lines are extensions of rocks that have it´s origin in the focal point and from where they take the direction towards the infinite and/or towards other rock structures. They serve to guide the viewer´s observation from the focal point to the rest of the rockwork, giving a fluid and balanced notion of the entire layout through the background, midground and foreground. They also serve as connections between the main and secondary rock structures, e.g., when one builds a two or more-island layout. They also give detail to the overall composition at the base level ( sand) and provide coral area at the base, middle and superior level of the layout. Always aim for a combination of rocks that can be puzzled together in order to get the appearance that it is a single piece of rock. Playing with tension lines also gives a three-dimension perspective but it should not be done in excess to the point it gets over-distracting or unnatural. Aiming for an impar number of tension lines contributes to an asymmetric effect and asymmetric layouts should always prevale over symmetric ones. Again, for a question of balance and natural feeling since symmetry doesn´t exists in Nature.
Depth with rock bleachers ( Fig.3): rock bleachers will provide depth to the reef layout by promoting a smooth transition between the foreground, midground and background. The “ Bleacher Effect” is much more noticed if the rocks that serve as “ base rocks” to the rest of the rockwork are smaller in the front and taller in the back. Besides rock size, one can also play with the sand bed by sinking or raising the rocks in/from the sand. Rock bleachers provide more visual effect over the whole tank depth by simply playing with the base rocks and connect them with the upper rocks. When searching for the “ Bleacher Effect”, remember to visually diverge the front base rocks with the back base rocks in a way that the back ones are exterior to the front ones or, in other words, in a way the back ones can be seen from the front glass. This will also give the extra depth at the sand level and will allow a wider view of the layout. The rock positioning must be tried out in several ways to find the best angle for the rocks when viewing the tank from the front and then from slightly angled areas. Remember that depth is a matter of perspective so you have to promote it by playing with several perspectives when looking at the tank. Small rocks in the foreground with bigger rocks in the midground and finally smaller rocks in the background also promote depth as they give the feeling that rocks get smaller with distance. Do not confuse with the “ Bleacher effect” where it´s the opposite ( big rocks in the back, small rocks in the front). The “ Bleacher Effect” is made with the base rocks. The other rocks ( smaller in the back, big in the mid and small in the front) are positioned next to the base rocks to give the final depth effect. Again, remember they always have to be angled to get the most perspective.
Aesthetics of Aquascaping by: Paul Whitby
When setting up a new tank we all have a very similar desire to create a living image of a reef, or other biotope that is best suited to the inhabitants we wish to keep. An image forms in our head of how we want this to look and then we begin to add sand, stack rock, create structure and inevitably step back and shake our heads. Welcome to the world of aquascaping. While at first glance the process of building an appealing structure seems easy, it is often the case that the more we work at it the further from our conception it becomes. In this series of articles I want to share with you some hints, tips and ideas on how to create living pictures that are balanced, harmonious and most of all, suited to the species we wish to keep. To give you some background on where these ideas come from, over the years I have dabbled a little in graphic design, photography, landscaping, and keeping reeftanks. All of these have a visual composition component that can be transposed to the image we wish to create. Some of the ideas presented here are based on experience, observation and personal preference, while others have a sound scientific basis behind them. In this article I wish to discuss some of the rules of thumb to creating a stunning scape and add to this the basis of composition.
Rule 1, Less is often more.
From a visual perspective, discreet structures add more depth and realism to an aquascape than does a solid rock wall. To achieve this, it is often better to fill less of the tank volume with rock to increase the contrast and visual impact. A little later in this series of articles I will delve into the actual process of building structures, but for now let us consider the rockwork as a whole prebuilt unit, that we can position at will. As most of us know, common knowledge is that the rock/water ratio is approximately 1.5 lbs rock/ gal water. Using this formula can lead to a somewhat cramped tank, however, not all the rock needs to be in the display and a fair proportion can be added to a chamber of the sump. Bear this in mind when designing the tank setup. To determine what would be an appropriate amount of rock to use, consider this simple rule of thumb. At least one third of the tank bottom should be free of rock, and one third of the back and side walls should be clearly seen. To further emphasize the visual impact of this space, both of these areas should be free of visual clutter that distract from what we wish to display. By this I mean keep the back wall and sides free of coralline algae growth, visible powerheads, overflows etc., Also keep the sand bed free of small rocks, shells, dead corals and other junk. When you achieve this, the results are dramatic and in essence a frame is created for the structure you are ultimately displaying. This is a concept commonly used in both photography and landscaping and is called “negative space.” Aside from the visual impact of negative space, it also has a number of other benefits that include increased swimming space for the fish, greater water flow due to decreased obstacles and better nutrient depletion since there are less areas for trapped detritus to occur. This beautiful tank of Adrian Moeller is a perfect example of creating a living picture by eliminating visual clutter from the sides and bottom of the tank, as well as using a large sand bed to emphasize the structure.
Rule 2: A Mirror is not the best reflection.
As humans, our brain has evolved to be a pattern recognition machine. Our alphabet, music and most visual cues are all centered around our ability to determine patterns. As a consequence we can very easily detect simple patterns, such as something divided down the middle, or symmetrically arranged. Having said that, we are also preprogrammed to automatically arrange things around us to give structure and order to our lives. In essence this translates to an unconscious drive to build things with symmetry. Knowing this upfront will help prevent you dropping into this simple trap and accidentally building something that clearly looks man made. Avoiding symmetry alone can make a huge difference in aquascaping; following the golden rule, detailed below will really help avoid this pitfall.
Rule 1, Less is often more.
Rule 3. Avoid the bends.
One stumbling block many people hit when scaping a tank is not allowing for refractive effects. Simply put, refraction is going to bend the path of light as it leaves the tank water/glass and enters the air before hitting our eyes. When it does this it acts like a lens and makes the contents of the tank appear closer. In actuality, refraction will compress the depth of the tank by about one third. Thus, a 2 foot deep tank will look 18 inches deep; a 3 foot tank will be compressed to an apparent 2 foot depth, and so on. Now, aside from the fact that refraction makes our expensive tank looks smaller, the main problem from a scaping perspective is that refraction only affects depth, not height or width. This means that any slope you create in the tank (such as an arch) will become compressed if it moves from front to back. This is a serious problem if you, as many people do, design a structure out of water. Once it goes into the tank a front facing slope will be compressed by 30%. So, a premade 45 degree slope becomes a 60 degree slope. Likewise, a 60 degree slope will resemble a shear wall. Knowing this upfront can save a lot of time when designing your scape. As a general rule of thumb, make slopes that run front to back as gradual as possible.
Rule 4. The correct ratio is Golden.
The Golden rule goes by a number of names, such as the golden rule, 5-3 rule, the golden ratio or the golden mean. Irrespective of the chosen name, the golden rule describes a very simple feature that is a constant throughout nature and science and is based on proven mathematical principles and, as such, is more than just a rule of thumb. As far as we are concerned it states that: Any two features when juxtaposed look most natural or harmonious when the ratio of their dimensions fits the golden rule. While this is a constant in nature, it has also been adopted by many human disciplines such as landscaping, architecture and photography and is a fundamental of virtually all visual based arts. The first people to really recognize the significance of the golden ratio were the ancient Greeks who described its properties in a mathematical form. In the 13th century an Italian mathematician went one step further and described an ascending series of numbers, the eponymously named Fibonacci series, where successive values are the sum of the previous two numbers. The first elements of the series are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 56 etc. The interesting thing about the higher numbers of this series is that if one were to divide successive numbers, the result is the Golden ratio every time. The two numbers 5 and 3 are often used to describe this since they are easy to remember and are the simplest combination that approximates to the golden ratio of 1.6.
Following the work of Fibonacci, artisans and mathematicians realized that sequential numbers of the Fibonacci series represented facets of geometry and natural structures and that the golden rule is a relative constant in nature. This was famously described by Leonardo DaVinci, who stated that bodily proportions exhibit the golden ratio (in fact many art critics speculate that the face of the Mona Lisa is constructed around this principle, explaining her enigmatic beauty). Aside from the work of Da Vinci, the golden ratio has been deliberately employed in a number of architectural structures such as the Taj Mahal, In nature, examples of the ratio can be seen in the arrangement of sunflower seeds, the growth of pine cones, the spacing between elements of our heart beat, crystal structures, flower petal arrangement, the segments of animal bodies and even the very structure of DNA. So to summarize, the golden ratio is seen everywhere and we have become so accustomed to it that anything following this ratio is automatically aesthetically pleasing to us. So- how can we utilize this peculiarity of math and nature to our advantage. Interestingly, there are a number of applications but all of them rely on the division of space into a 5-3 ratio. The simplest application is when choosing the placement of a “center piece” coral in an already scaped tank. Instead of adding at a central location, as the name would imply, divide the tank by an imaginary 5-3 ratio and site the coral as close to the dividing line as possible. If you can also do the same for its vertical spacing as well, the coral will be in the most ideal aesthetic position and will become the most noticed. This is a very common application seen in photography and painting. However the golden rule can be applied to much more. When planning the addition of a single feature to an empty tank- such as the negative space of a gully or canyon, position it off center such that it sits on the approximate 5-3 dividing line. If you are planning on adding multiple structures, work them to have an approximate 5-3 ratio in width and further emphasize this by applying the same ratio to height. If you are planning multiple structures such as rock islands, pillars and towers etc, initially figure where the key element would be (such as the largest or tallest piece), then divide the remaining space into 5-3 and site the center of the other one at this point. In the figure, a theoretical tank is divided into 5-3 segments to show all of the various applications of this simple rule. Choosing any of these easy-to-apply approaches will help create an aquascape that looks both natural (at least in composition) and ensure that symmetry is not inadvertently applied to your rock work.