Taking Advantage of the Distortion of a Fisheye Lens
I purchased a Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens recently. I’ve had it for about 6 weeks, and I did rent the similar Nikon 16mm fisheye a while back, so I’ve now had some time with this type of lens and thought I would share some impressions. This isn't a review of either lens, just some thoughts on the usage.
Just like any new piece of gear, there is the excitement factor when you first get it. You just want to run out an shoot everything and see what happens. A fisheye lens distorts your perspective, so there is even more of that, as you are seeing something different.
Here’s the reaction from a bystander as I shot:
“hey, look at this fisheye shot of the baseball field”
“what would you use that for?”
“Well, it’s a view no one has really ever seen…”
But of course, that only goes so far before the novelty wears off...
The lens requires more thought to get the most out of it. We all have to go out and take those cheap “wow” shots, but upon reflection, I think you will find that these early shots don’t really stand the test of time. Lots of practice and shooting a variety of subjects will lead you down the road to what really works with this kind of lens.
The first thing you’ll notice about it is that anything around the edges of the frame will be curved. This can work to great advantage, or make your photo a passing fad. As with any snap of the shutter, it is always better to have a clear idea about the composition of the image, and what the image will be used for. What is the goal of the image? It may be an interesting abstract image just to enjoy, or there may be a specific use intended. Keeping the goal in mind will always produce a stronger image. This is not to imply that every image will be a keeper, but I think your percentages will be higher.
Let’s take a look at some examples. We know that the edges of the frame will be curved, while the middle will be much less affected.
This shot really shows off the distortion this type of lens provides. This was shot with the Nikon 16mm fisheye a few years ago on a trip to Costa Rica. The distortion only accentuates the leading lines, and frames the symmetry nicely. It almost invites you in to the setting, and the red doors provide a nice focal point.
The distortion is less noticeable in the main subject of this image, but the circular nature of the composition plays right into the implied motion.
This image is a 4 image panorama, shot with the fisheye, and stitched together in Lightroom. Obviously the steps and the roof line are straight lines in the real world, but the curves create a nice frame around the main glass windows.
In this case the lens was no more than a few inches away from the tire, but the wide angle of view and shallow depth of field create a dramatic view. Again, the distortion is not as obvious due to the curves present in the subject.
I've found that this lens can be just a lot of fun, after hurdling past the initial frustration. It takes some practice, and learning to recognize what will work comes with time, but I have found a number of uses for these images in commercial design work.
Have you ever shot this type of lens? What did you think?