Getting Creative with a Fisheye Lens
The first decision any DSLR photographer makes is which lens to use. More often than not, I find myself reaching for my fisheye. I prefer the wide perspective, and the fisheye distortion adds additional compositional elements that keep the images fun and unique. The field of view can reach 180 degrees, so it becomes possible to capture literally everything in front of the lens. The round glass on the front of the lens adds a curvilinear distortion that increases toward the edge of the frame. When used with care, the distortion can add to images in ways that cannot be duplicated with traditional rectilinear lenses.
Subject placement gives the photographer control over how much distortion exists in a scene. Counter to traditional rules, I have found the best position for a subject is usually close to the center of the frame. Placing the subject near the middle minimizes the distortion, and any background elements near the edge of the image are distorted. The distortion forms curves around the subject and helps focus the viewer’s attention on the middle of the frame. Round or curved objects, like rocks or arches, work well with a fisheye. The distortion enhances objects curves, and the fisheye effect is less obvious than when it is used with straight lines.
A fisheye works well with strong foreground elements, and the wide perspective gives the ability to place the camera extremely close to the subject. This causes the focal point to appear larger relative to background components, which adds strength to the subject. When composing these kinds of shots through the viewfinder, be conscious of your distance from the subject. On more than one occasion, I have tried to fill the frame by moving closer to a small object, and before I knew it, I had run the front element of the lens into the object I was trying to photograph. Luckily, I have not caused any damage to my lens, but if you are looking to shoot a portrait, it can turn into an unintended close encounter.
The most common rule every new landscape photographer first learns is that the most interesting composition occurs when the horizon is placed at the top or bottom-third of the image, also known as the Rule of Thirds. However, with a fisheye lens, I have found the center is often the best fit. The middle horizontal and vertical axes are the only place a straight line like the horizon will be free from distortion. If the horizon moves above or below the center, it will end up curved by the fisheye.
A curved horizon is one of the most obvious signs a fisheye was used, but it can also help create a unique image. By angling the camera down and moving the horizon up from the center of the frame, the horizon will start to bend. The higher the horizon goes, the more drastic the bend becomes. This can cause the ground to look like a ball, or a round globe. The technique is especially effective when shooting from a tall building or any elevated view point. This gives the unique impression that the image was taken from a high enough place that the curvature of the earth was visible. The technique can also work at ground level, but be careful of tall structures that become heavily distorted or cut off at the top of the frame.
Using a fisheye lens can be challenging at times and is not meant to be used for every shot. However, if you are aiming to create a fun, unique image, I would highly recommend snapping a fisheye onto your camera to add that extra creative spark a normal lens simply cannot produce.