What do you have at the top of your aquarium? Well, unless it’s feeding time and you’re sprinkling food on the top of the water, then the answer is probably nothing. Most aquascapers place a heavy emphasis on the bottom and middle parts of an aquarium, while leaving the upper-most part of the aquarium relatively empty.
It’s not surprising that this design trend became so popular. After all, it’s natural that aquascapers would emphasize the bottom of the aquarium simply because gravity pretty much demands that you start at the bottom and work your way up (unless you build a gravity-defying aquarium, of course). The other thing to keep in mind is that aquascapes rely on sources of light for nutrients, so an opaque ceiling would cause most of the aquarium plants to gradually starve.
But fear not! Aquascapers can easily overcome these two hurdles with a bit of creative problem-solving. The extra effort will be well worth it. As you can see from the picture below, creating a ceiling on your aquascape can create a truly unique and beautiful scene.
Whenever you place things along the upper-most portions of your aquascape, the most important thing to keep in mind is how it affects light. Basically, plants or organisms that need light to survive won’t be able to thrive in the shadows. You can get around this problem by placing inanimate objects like driftwood or rocks in the shadows. You can also utilize lighting solutions that pour light into the aquarium through the back or front of the aquascape rather than the top.
Freshwater plants and saltwater corals both need light to survive, so keep that in mind when you create aquascapes with ceilings. One clever solution is to use plants and coral formations as the aquarium’s ceiling. That way, the organisms will get all of the light they need while the inanimate objects below can rest in the shadows. In the Blackwater aquascape pictured below, the floating plants thrive on the surface of the water and cast dark shadows on the dead and decaying plant matter on the bottom of the aquarium. It creates a compelling scene that balances life and death in a cohesive aquascape.
If you’re using rocks or wood for your ceiling, then you also need to make sure that the aquascape has structural stability. Even amateur aquascapers can give input on design, but when it comes to aquarium construction that’s something best left to the professionals.
So, why bother creating ceilings at all? Three big reasons:
Light and Shadow
The interplay between light and dark creates depth and visual complexity for an aquascape. The lighter areas showcase vibrant plants and fish, while the darker areas suggest mystery and encourage viewers to come in for a closer inspection.
Framing is a big deal in the world of art. The whole point of a frame is to keep the viewer’s gaze focused on the art piece. Aquascapes with built-in ceilings naturally draw the viewer’s eye inward to the most visually interesting parts of the aquascape. Televisions, pictures, paintings, and even mobile photo sharing apps all frame images for easier viewing. Your aquascape shouldn’t be any different!
Simply put, there just aren’t many aquariums with built-in ceilings. The vast majority of aquariums have empty space at the upper-most parts of the aquarium. You’ve got all this empty space at the top of your aquarium — why not use it?