May 2014 Photo Tips: Using a Fisheye Lens

May 01, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

A fish-eye lens is an ultra-wide angle lens (short focal length) that produces strong visual barrel distortion intended to produce a hemispherical image or a wide panorama. They use special mapping to achieve these extremely wide angles of view but give you a characteristic convex non-rectilinear appearance to your image.  Typical focal lengths for full- frame sensors would be 15-16 mm (I shoot with a Nikon 16 mm on a FX sensor – D800 or 4 – not a DX ie. digital sensor). The name was introduced in 1906 by Robert W. Wood when he imagined how a fish would see objects from beneath the water. It was used primarily for meteorology or whole sky- sphere pictures initially. There are 2 groups of fish-eye lenses: Circular Fish-eye (180 degrees in every direction) – not as common and Diagonal Fish-eye (covers the whole picture frame but only 180 degrees on the diagonal field of view), but again lots depend on your sensor type (digital DX or full format FX). In general, however, there are only two middle straight lines – one horizontal and one vertical with zero distortion. Depth of Field (DOF) is almost limitless. Most of the time even at F/5.6-8 with focus on the nearest or the chosen object, the DOF will almost be to infinity.

But with that out of the way, let’s have some fun.

  1. The main reason to use a fish-eye lens on landscapes is to emphasize the foreground and still allow you to include the sky. Remember, you must have something of interest in the foreground, so move around and select carefully. Lismore CastleLismore CastleLismore Castle Ireland from the Blackwater River with reflections.
  2. Landscapes with the horizon at the middle: should have little distortion, and will look like a panoramic picture. So if you need a very wide angle landscape (nearly 180 degree view), this may be the perfect lens. Often, however this may be boring, and at times you may want to emphasize the curve of the earth in the image and embrace the distortion but placing the horizon line close to the top or bottom of the frame. However, avoid getting your limbs in the frame. Never forget basic composition so look for leading lines, color, etc. to vitalize your landscape.       Rome ColiseumRome ColiseumColiseum in Rome, Italy at night.
  3. Use the fish-eye lens to enhance shape or structure in architecture: such as the curve of a building or object. Fish-eye lens will bend and distort verticals so either embrace or avoid or correct this (Tilt shift lens or post processing in LR or PS).     BuddahBuddahBuddah in a temple with colorful orchids with HDR and a fisheye lens.
  4. Try using a fish-eye as a vertical image (instead of horizontal by rotating your camera 90 degrees) to be able to include the foreground and more sky.    Haleakala SunburstHaleakala Sunburst
  5. Also try pointing directly up at the sky or somewhere in between. In these pictures, the palms and sky take on a completely unexpected look.  Full Moon AboveFull Moon AboveSepia toned skyward view of 3 palm trees and the full moon Tropical PalmsTropical PalmsPainterly palms.
  6. Move closer to your subject to exaggerate DOF (versus a telephoto lens which will flatten it). However, with portrait subjects close to the lens, facial features will become quite distorted. Unless you want this comical effect, avoid getting too close to people. A good use would be to keep people closer to the mid ground to help capture them in their environment or place.  __ _-2_-2

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