In a previous Steve’s Photography Tips post Finding Your Focal Length, I briefly mentioned fisheye lenses, particularly the 8mm fisheye lens that I have. But I started thinking that maybe one hastily taken sample photo was not a good representation of what a fisheye lens can do, so for today here are several more photos, all taken with the same lens.
A fisheye lens gets its name either because the bulging glass looks like the eye of a fish, or because it shows how a fish can see almost 180 degrees from each eye. Fisheye lenses are known for being able to capture an extremely wide field of view in a photograph, which sometimes makes for some interesting photos. So let’s take a look and see some examples.
This view from the Boardwalk Resort at Walt Disney World shows a bit of the wideness of what the camera can capture. However, it may not be readily apparent just how wide his view is, unless you are standing there in person. Those benches near the center of the frame weren’t that far away from where I was standing. And the ESPN Club on the left may not have been directly to my left, but it was more beside me than actually in front of me. And the wooden piece in the boardwalk that starts at the railing at the right and runs over to the ESPN Club is actually a straight piece of wood and not curved. The bending of those straight lines is known as barrel distortion.
This view from the beach at the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World begins to show more barrel distortion curves here. In “normal” photos, the horizon would appear as a straight line, but here it takes on a bit of a curve. I was standing practically right next to those beach chairs, and Jaylin playing in the sand really wasn’t far from me at all. But the fisheye lens was able to get in quite a bit of those cool sunset clouds, due to its ultra wide angle.
In this photo from the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, the barrel distortion becomes a little more apparent, as the light pole at the right and the buildings at the left look like they are starting to curve inward as they go up. Barrel distortion gives fisheye lens photos a slightly surreal look, and they cause you to see things in a different way.
But those curves can sometimes produce some really cool effects, such as this photo looking through Cinderella Castle, while the rest of the building seems to almost curl around the walkway.
And this photo of the Cocoa Beach Surf Company store in Cocoa Beach follows much the same pattern as the Cinderella Castle photo above. The circular structures over the walkway made this a perfect candidate for a fisheye photo. And you can even see the moon as a small speck in the sky between the building and the palm tree on the right.
To me, fisheye photos give me a feeling of being right there in the middle of things. Yes, these days virtual reality type things are starting to catch on, and 360 degree video is a thing now, too. But with these fisheye photos, you can see what is around you without having to use any of that fancy technology.
Keeping with the “you are there” feeling, this photo of a watercraft at Walt Disney World reminds me of what it is like to be sitting right there on the boat, from the water rushing by on the left to Laura’s feet propped up on the right, where she was sitting on the other side of the boat.
One of the tricky things about a fisheye lens is that the sun is much more likely to be in your photos than with a more traditional lens. This can either be bad or good, depending on how you work things. I often take several exposures and merge them together as an HDR photo to make sure that everything is exposed properly. But you also have to make sure that you don’t keep the camera shutter open too long, because the direct sunlight can damage your camera sensor.
Another tricky thing about a fisheye lens is photographing people. If you are too close to them, the barrel distortion can start to do strange things to them, just like it does to the straight lines. But if you frame things just right, you can get your people and a lot of what is around them, too, such as in this photo of Laura and Jaylin at the Dolphin hotel at Walt Disney World. It is a much different effect than traditional portraits with a tight crop and lots of background bokeh, but I think both are appropriate at times.
Fisheye lens photography may not be for everyone. Some people don’t care for the curved lines that barrel distortion brings, and some just don’t care for wide views, instead preferring to focus more on the details. You can use digital photo editing programs to remove some of the distortion if you prefer, but I don’t do that too often.
Personally, I find that in the past I have gone through phases, where I had my 50mm prime phase, my wide angle phase, and my fisheye phase. But these days, I am starting to settle in to more of a mix of everything instead of just shooting one kind of photo all the time. Diversity is nice sometimes.
So if you like these kinds of photos, maybe you should give a fisheye lens a try!
Check back soon for more from Steve’s Photography Tips!