How to use a fisheye lens to good effect

THE MISSION

To shoot a dynamic action shot with a fisheye lens and a flashgun

Time: 30 minutes

Skill level: Intermediate

Kit needed: D-SLR, Fisheye lens, Flashgun, Wireless trigger, Tripod or light stand

Manufacturers take great care to ensure lenses will produce minimal distortion, so that straight lines in a scene will be captured straight in the image. With fisheye lenses, however, they forego this approach and instead cram as many degrees of view as possible into the frame. The result is extreme distortion, with curvature that gets more pronounced the further things are from the centre of the frame. 

The widest fisheyes can capture a 180-degree view, but these are the ‘circular’ kind that produce a circular image surrounded by black. The ‘diagonal’ fisheye lenses are less wide but produce a more practical rectangular image. The 10.5mm lens we used here gives a rectangular image and offers 180 degrees across the diagonals of the frame. 

A fisheye is a specialist lens, and you wouldn’t want to use it every day. But it can give images a dynamic feel that’s ideal for certain subjects, like sports. It’s also the kind of look that will benefit from moody off-camera flash. Here’s how to get started…

STEP BY STEP: On your bike

1 FIND UNUSUAL ANGLES

Find an unusual angle to make the most of the fisheye effect. For our shot, James lay down on the ground and composed it so that the path and rails are at the edges of the frame, where the curvature is most extreme.

WHICH FISHEYE?

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of fisheye: those that produce a circular image surrounded by black, and those that give more image, but less field of view. The  10.5mm f/2.8 lens used here is designed for crop-sensor cameras. A 16mm fisheye may be a better option if you use a full frame camera. A good fisheye doesn’t come cheap, so it might be one to rent or borrow before you buy. If you’re on a tighter budget, there are also good third-party options, like the Sigma 10mm and Samyang 8mm.

2 GET IN CLOSE

It’s best to use a fisheye lens really close to your subject. The minimum focusing distance on our 10.5mm is just 3cm, so we had to wait until the bike wheel passed a few inches from the lens before firing the shutter.

3 LIGHT WITH FLASH

A flash set to Manual at ¼ power and fired by a wireless trigger lights the subject from the side. You can see the burst in the top-left corner of the image – a happy accident that shows the extreme angle of view.

QUICK TIP!

Unwanted fisheye distortion is a cinch to correct in Lightroom – simply click ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ in the Lens Correction panel

4 EXPOSURE INFORMATION

When using off-camera flash, it’s usually best to put your camera in Manual mode. We set 1/250 sec, ISO400. As the apparent depth of field with fisheyes is huge, even an aperture of f/5.6 gives near front-to-back sharpness.

KEY SKILLS: When to pull out the fisheye

1 CURVY ARCHITECTURE

Fisheyes can come in handy for architectural shots, especially for scenes where the curvature adds something extra to the composition. It is possible to correct the distortion with software like Photoshop, but we think the distortion is part of the charm.

2 FUNNY PORTRAITS

A fisheye is a lens to pull out of the kitbag if you want to try a funny portrait or pet photo. Framing the head in close to the lens will give you an unusual, distorted angle of the subject. It’s also great if you like to shoot video with your camera, as you can go for extreme angles.