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Photo ideas: Capture powerful sports portraits with a fisheye lens

Watch video: Photo ideas – Capture sports portraits with a fisheye lens

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 (opens in new tab), 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 Nikon 10.5mm DX lens we used here gives a rectangular image and offers 180 degrees across the diagonals of the frame. 

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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… 

Shoot unusual sports portraits

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Find unusual angles

Find an unusual angle to make the most of the fisheye effect. For our shot, we laid 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.

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Get in close

It’s best to use a fisheye lens really close to your subject. The minimum focusing distance on our Nikon 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.

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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.

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Exposure info

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.

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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 Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 lens used here is a DX lens, so designed for crop-sensor cameras. Nikon’s 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.

When should I use a fisheye lens?

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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.

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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.

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N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine is a monthly publication that's entirely dedicated to Nikon users. As a 100% independent magazine, you can be assured of unbiased opinion from a trustworthy team of devoted photography experts including editor Adam Waring (opens in new tab) and Technique Editor Mike Harris (opens in new tab)


Aimed at all users, from camera newcomers to working pros, every issue is packed with practical, Nikon-specific advice for taking better photos, in-depth reviews of Nikon-compatible gear, and inspiring projects and exciting video lessons for mastering camera, lens and Photoshop techniques.


Written by Nikon users for Nikon users, N-Photo is your one-stop shop for everything to do with cameras, lenses, tripods, bags, tips, tricks and techniques to get the most out of your photography.