Fisheye lenses are incredibly popular for in-camera special effects as they provide a unique style of image, unobtainable with any credibility using software-based technique. The fisheye effect can certainly be simulated using filters and distortion tools, but for a true fisheye perspective a dedicated lens is required.
One of the issues with fisheyes, however, is their specificity; while fantastic for certain interior shots, the distorted edges are not well suited to portraiture or other scenes featuring straight edges. For this reason many photographers avoid investing in high grade optics, or find that they are unable to get enough use from these lenses to justify the outlay.
There are methods of getting around the challenges of distortion, however. With some key steps, and an understanding of how composition and camera angle influence the effect, it is possible to get the most from the ultra-wide angle of view that fisheye lenses are capable of providing.
By following the steps on this spread, you can use a fisheye for a greater range of subject matter and in a wider variety of environments. With some experimentation you might be surprised at the success achievable in some unexpected genres…
Assess the scene
As with any ultra-wide lens be certain that you don’t produce an empty, distracting foreground, devoid of detail. Make sure that there is a feature to lead the eye to the main subject, for a balanced frame.
Set tripod height
The distance from the lens and foreground elements, in addition to elements in the middle and backgrounds, will impact the strength of fisheye distortion. Balance foreground contribution with horizon placement.
Set focal length
If using a zoomable fisheye with full frame coverage, like we did here, zoom in to the longest setting for a horizontal fisheye effect. We don’t want a circular fisheye look for landscapes, which the shortest focal length will provide.
Place the horizon
We need to keep the lens as level as possible to minimize the fisheye distortion. Work out where in the scene the horizon line falls, then place it in the frame's center, ensuring minimal lens pitch.
Watch the edges
Distortion is most evident at the periphery of the frame, so take a test shot and zoom in on the edges of the image. Look for any extreme stretching or obvious bending of lines which will be distracting.
Recompose if necessary so that the scene appears wide, but with as few straight lines visible as is practical, which may give away the fisheye usage. Experiment with shooting position and horizon placement.
Get the kitbag essential for Enthusiasts and Professional photographers. Packed full of pro advice, tutorials, techniques, interviews and kit reviews, Digital Photographer Magazine will help you take your images to new heights.