Nat Geo Celebrates the Flamboyant Grandeur of Bettas

“A twirling dancer, a bird in flight?” asks National Geographic magazine of the above image. Nope, simply a beautiful Siamese fighting fish…

  • Bettas or Siamese fighting fish are a fantasy in fins through a photographer’s lens
  • Visarute Angkatavanich has established himself as the world’s foremost betta photographer
  • Angkatavanich has been photographing Siamese fighting fish for over a decade
  • His betta portraits first went viral in 2013 and again in 2019

Many artists have a muse. An artist’s muse is a source of inspiration for their work. Muses can take many forms, whether a person, a place, or a feeling. It’s all about providing ideas, emotions, and perspectives. Many artists have attributed their finest works to the influence of their muse.

For photographer Visarute Angkatavanich, he found his muse in an aquarium. Coming in decidedly fishy form, his aquatic muse was a common betta, Betta splendens. From his home in Bangkok, he now regularly captures the beauty, colours, and shapes of a veritable rainbow of bettas.

Adored around the world, Betta splendens is better known as the Siamese fighting fish here in the UK.

Merging Fishkeeping and Photography

Visarute Angkatavanich first found photography as a child. He’s now a successful commercial photographer focused on advertising. While he’s always been fascinated by fish, it wasn’t until adulthood that he found his particular passion for Betta splendens. As a child, he kept various fish, including bettas. However, these were the less-showy varieties, closer in form to their wild cousins.

Since becoming a father, Visarute has immersed himself back in the fishkeeping hobby. He did so after encountering a whole new world of bettas back in 2011. Infinitely more colourful than the bettas he’d owned and seen in fish stores as a kid, he was hooked.

He found himself newly and irresistibly drawn to the flamboyant grandeur of Betta splendens, researching the species and their latest care guidelines before purchasing his first Siamese fighting fish in many, many years from a Bangkok pet store. Since then, Visarute has merged his work as a commercial photographer and his new-found love of bettas.

Of course, as their name suggests, male fish must be housed separately or they’ll fight to the death. However, so taken with bettas was Visarute back in 2011 that he procured several at the outset. Housed separately, of course, he soon began experimenting with different tanks, lighting, and more.

Any of Visarute’s betta photographs showing multiple fish are composite images. His betta images originally went viral in 2013, wowing the internet with their beauty. The same happened again in 2019, with subsequent photos of newer and newer betta strains wowing once again.

This led to Visarute Angkatavanich putting on an exhibition title The Beauty of Siam: Anantara Siamese Fighting Fish. The exhibition, held at Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel, featured over 40 of the artist’s betta photographs.

Time Out said at the time that each image was more captivating than the next… and few would disagree, with Angkatavanich clearly the master of capturing magic moments involving bettas.

Capturing Magic Moments

Visarute Angkatavanich has now focused on photographing bettas for over a decade. Still, capturing magic moments like those above and below still poses a challenge. “I can’t ask the fish to act like people,” Visarute tells National Geographic.

Instead, over the past ten years or more, he’s developed numerous techniques utilizing different sizes and shapes of fish tanks to tempt his underwater models into the perfect positions. He now uses specially built tanks to capture stunning images of his much-loved fish. For instance, he has discovered that taller tanks encourage bettas to dive down dramatically, giving the artist the perfect opportunity to capture some of his most iconic images.

While the photographer now has an excellent idea of what to expect when shooting bettas, he says that capturing magic moments is still challenging. Visarute told Nat Geo that, when taking photos of Siamese fighting fish, there’s still a degree of uncertainty. On average, his betta photoshoots take between one and three hours to complete, during which time he may capture just a single winning image.

Interestingly, Visarute Angkatavanich says that after shooting bettas for over a decade, one of the biggest challenges is finding new perspectives. With that, he has taken photos from above, head-on, behind, and even below. The result of these more unusual angles is a chance to view these beautiful fish from a perspective rarely granted to even lifelong fishkeepers.

Betta Photographer Visarute Angkatavanich

Visarute Angkatavanich’s most iconic betta photographs are those shot on black backgrounds. However, he’s also captured many stunning images against other backdrop colours, including those seen above.

As talented as he is as a betta photographer, Visarute Angkatavanich doesn’t just focus on fish. He also delights in photographing other creatures in often far-flung places. For example, he has previously captured similarly stunning images of colourful wild birds in the Amazon rainforest.

Still, it’s bettas that remain arguably his favourite subjects. In the right light, Visarute delights in how his fish look like moving colours in the frames of paintings. And best of all? When it comes to his Betta splendens models, his many Siamese fighting fish are also a much-loved part of his family.

All photographs by Visarute Angkatavanich. The Nat Geo article, “See the Flamboyant Grandeur of the Common Betta Fish”, appears in the May 2023 issue of National Geographic magazine.