Setting up the aquascape in a new aquarium can be a tough task, and it’s likely one of the most important ones. While buying live (or dry) rock online may save you a few bucks, you have no idea what shapes and sizes will show up on your doorstep. For this reason, hand picking live rock from a local fish store is a great way to kick off your reef. When you show up at a fish store, don’t hesitate to make a mess (so long as you clean it up). Pull the rocks out of the large curing containers, lay them out to get an idea of how things piece together, and swap out pieces until you find the right combination. Of course, you’ll want to take a snapshot (or several) of the structure so that you can recreated it at home, and you may have to go back to the store to pick out one or two additional pieces to make the layout perfect. Either way, the fish store might be the best source for your live rock, especially if you’re a picky hobbyist when it comes to the aesthetics of your reef.
That said, some online vendors sell individual piece of live rock that come with pictures of the actual item you’ll be receiving. This isn’t a substitute for seeing the rock in the flesh, but much better than getting a mystery box.