Also known as a superwide or ultrawide lens, the fisheye lens is a camera component designed to shoot wide angles, usually up to 180 degrees. With its round and convex design, the fisheye lens produces a distorted image, creating abstract photographs as if we were looking at something through the eye of a fish.
The fisheye lens is useful for a number of photographic styles. The distorted nature of the images created makes the lens great for extremely wide angle, such as catching a stadium or a crowd. You can also create the impression that you’re looking at someone through a peephole, or create a drunk effect on the image. With enough creativity, there’s plenty that the unique image created by the fisheye lens can do for your photography.
But where do you begin? Read on as we explore different ideas and tips for creative fisheye photography.
Decide what you want from your lens
There are two important lens effects to note when it comes to fisheye photography. The circular fisheye effect creates a barrel-like distortion and vignetting occurs around the edges of the image which places the scene inside a black circle. You can achieve this effect at a focal length of 8mm with a full-frame camera. It’s important to know, however, that if you plan on shooting with an APS-C camera, you won’t be able to achieve this effect as your 35mm film equivalent focal length would be 13mm, even when shot at 8mm.
The other effect is called the diagonal fisheye effect. Also known as the full-frame fisheye effect, this effect captures the whole shot still in the heavily distorted view of the fisheye lens. You can achieve this effect by shooting at a focal length of 15mm on a full-frame camera, or a focal length of 10mm on an APS-C camera.
Shoot at a 1:1 aspect ratio
Where possible, try shooting at a 1:1 aspect ratio to minimise wasted space. The resolution of the image tends to be the same as if you weren’t since the distorted effect of the lens usually means you’ll only be focusing on the middle of the scene anyway.
Get up close
The fisheye lens offers a huge field of view compared to other lenses. By getting up close to your target, the perspective of them will become increasingly distorted, exaggerating their appearance. Alternatively, to have more objects appear more normal but on a warped horizon, get your distance from your subjects instead.
Shoot low to the ground
The massive angle also means you can get low to the ground. Not only does this capture a whole new perspective, but it distorts your subject in a whole different way. If you photographed a building closeup from this angle using a fisheye lens, the building would reach out in the middle and close back up towards the top of the shot, creating another massively exaggerated view.
Watch your body
Since a fisheye lens can capture photos at 180 degrees, it can capture things a regular lens usually wouldn’t. 180 degrees means the image will capture what is directly below the camera as well as what is in front of it. Keep an eye on where your legs and feet are positioned, or you might accidentally capture them in the shot. This might be something that takes a while to get used to, but simply check your shot before you snap and with enough practice, you’ll eventually get into the habit of standing back.
Keep your subject in the middle of the shot
As previously mentioned, the design of the fisheye lens means that the closer to the edges of the shot something is, the more distorted it appears. The middle of the lens is the least affected by this distortion, so whatever is central in the shot will appear less distorted than the rest of the photograph. Keep the subject of your image in the centre of your shot to keep their image as clear as possible, while the rest of the image warps around them. Since the attention is naturally drawn to the focus of the picture, the rest of the image will seem even more distorted as you look at it.
Be wary of the background
The background of your shot can be carefully chosen and manipulated when using a lens with a shallow field of view. Unfortunately, the same is not the case with a fisheye lens. Due to the huge field of view, a fisheye lens is going to pick up everything around you, so choose your background carefully or you might find out you caught something which ruins the shot.
Experiment with story
As is usually the case with photography, you can tell a lot of story in a single shot. Try out different things, shoot different subjects, try different themes. The warped perspective a convex lens produces is evocative of several other things. Of course, you can shoot something from a body of water to create the illusion that the picture is actually seen through the eye of a fish. Peepholes in doors also feature convex lenses so that the user can see as much of the scene as possible – maybe try to experiment with this and see what you can come up with.
Play with post-production
Of course, fisheye photography is just like any other style of photography and post-production should be involved. But instead of just correcting light and colours or removing unwanted objects, try to play with the vignette created by circular fisheye photos. Change the black vignette to a colour that contrasts or matches the scene, or use the content-aware fill tool provided by Adobe Photoshop. You could even play with the idea of covering your vignette. Maybe place the image of a camera shutter over the image to create the illusion that the picture is still being taken. Keep a copy of your original photograph and go wild with creativity – this is always key to finding new things that turn your image into a winning shot.
Knowing exactly how to make the most of your fisheye lens is key to taking a winning shot. With so much to manipulate and utilise, don’t be surprised if you find yourself experimenting nonstop with different angles, shots and editing techniques.
There are quite a few differences when comparing the ultra-wide perspective fisheye lenses offer compared to portrait shots, so make sure to keep practising and eventually you’ll find your abstract photos are better than ever.
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