Should your aquarium be dark and shadowy?

Your immediately response might be, “Of course not — you won’t be able to see the beautiful aquascape!” People tend to think that low light is a bad thing, especially when you’re talking about art pieces. The more light you have, the easier it is for people to appreciate all of the tiny details of the aquascape, right?

Well, not necessarily. In much the same way that artists can use negative space to create more powerful art, aquascapers can use shadows to compose a more organic scene.

1. Create an Organic Look

Nature isn’t perfectly manicured. Trees aren’t divided into the rule of thirds, colors don’t always go together, and it’s generally one big hodge-podge of rocks and plants in a chaotic mess. Many aquascapes, especially natural aquariums that mimic the works of Takashi Amano, mirror the random chaos of nature. Shadows are an important component of natural chaos because they represent the random, overgrown qualities of wild plants. Out in the wild, trees and bushes grow upward and outward to soak up as much life-giving sunlight as possible, leaving large swaths of shadow that are integral to forests and jungles.

Creating pockets of darkness in your aquascape will replicate this effect. Just keep in mind that you can’t create dark areas anywhere — plants and coral need light to survive, so you can kill off some of your aquatic denizens if you’re not careful.

2. Add Depth

Take a look at the empty space in this aquarium. The plants are clumped together in the center of the aquarium, which leaves a doughnut-like ring around the aquascape. This negative space is critical for the aquascape because it allows the central cluster of plants to dominate the scene.And yet, if I were to ask you what part of the aquarium feels the deepest, what would you say? I bet that you’d point at that shadowy cave area on the right side of the aquascape. The cave doesn’t go back very far — just a few inches — but it’s enough to create a feeling of depth that makes the aquascape’s centerpiece appear much larger.

3. Ooh, Mysterious!

Caves appeal to our childlike sense of wonder. Caves are rare and mysterious, calling out to you with the oh-so-tantalizing question, “What could be hidden within those mysterious depths?”

Using shadow to appeal to our innate sense of curiosity will have a powerful affect on your viewers. The shadows tantalize viewers by suggesting that the aquascape hides some sort of hidden gem or mysterious creature. With well-lit aquariums, there’s no real sense of mystery — what you see is what you get. People can take in the whole aquascape at a glance and might not feel the need to investigate.

Twisty passages, caves made of rocks, shadowy overhangs, and dark crevices, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to resist!

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