Fisheye Lens Landscapes

by | May 16, 2011

© Darren HuskiWide angle lenses are a staple of landscape photography. The wide angle zoom seems to be the modern standard in everyone’s camera bag. Often, when a grand landscape presents itself, the wide zoom is the first and sometimes only lens that gets used. It seems that “go wide and include everything in the image” is one of the more popular way folks photograph. Those who like this style should consider going beyond really wide and trying a fisheye lens.

In the strict landscape photography sense the idea of using a fisheye lens probably seems silly. After all, the extreme distortion and huge angle of view can really seem like more of a gimmick than a serious tool.

While that might be the case, the fisheye lens is a tool I find myself reaching for quite often when photographing a vast landscape. I usually start with a more normal wide zoom but I experiment with the fisheye quite a bit. It might not always work but when it does the fisheye can create that “wow” factor and make the image pop.

The obvious thing about a fisheye lens is that the view is very wide. Actually “very wide” is too cautious of a term; fisheye lenses are freakishly wide, as in so wide you will probably photograph your own feet on a regular basis! That huge view means a person who likes a wide view can now go far beyond the range covered by popular wide zooms like the 10-20mm lens on cropped sensors and the 14-24mm or 17-40mm models on full frame. A fisheye gives a 180 degree view, meaning that anything you can see in front of you will be included in the image.

Antelope canyon big room © Darren Huski

I bought a fisheye lens specifically for a trip I was planning to Antelope Canyon. I had been to the canyon a couple of times and thought that a fisheye would be a very different way to photograph in the narrow confines of the canyon. I was not disappointed. With the fisheye lens, I could see the canyon in a whole different way and include more of it in an image than ever before. The waves and curves of the narrow slot canyon even hid the fisheye distortion. The images had that something extra I had been looking for and were different than what anyone else was getting. Score one for the fisheye!

I found the fisheye had uses at other locations too. Just a day after I visited Antelope Canyon I was at the nearby Horse Shoe Bend and again I put the fisheye to use to capture the entire bend, resulting in another unique image.

I started to use it more. A sky full of amazing clouds, star trails, or in a bamboo grove – I kept finding places the fisheye was useful. Now it is a lens that is always with me.

You do need to take care with your subject choice and the use of a fisheye. Often, things that seem close with a regular wide angle lens can become small with the fisheye; objects at 15 feet can seem far away and that mountain in the distance might become pretty tiny in the image.

The fisheye comes into its own in tight spaces or when things are really close to the lens. If you want to show something in its surroundings, this is the lens with which to do it. The fisheye is a good lens in a forest, in a canyon, or looking into the night sky.

Petroglyph rock © Darren Huski

Depth of field is also huge with a fisheye. At f/8 or f/11 basically anything more than a few feet in front of you will be in focus. I usually set the focus to about 8 ft and then use f/11; no need to focus, just compose and shoot.

Something to think about when using a fisheye lens is how the image can be distorted especially toward the edges. Tilting the lens up or down can really make things curved. While that can work, in some images does not. So even though I really like the lens it is not the right tool for every image.

I often will try to frame a landscape subject to minimize or negate the distortion. Framing your subject closer to the center of the image and away from the edge can help. Sometimes that works, while at other times it means cropping the image. However, the extra wide view I can get using my fisheye lens makes up for cropping the image because even cropped the view is usually far beyond what my other lenses can do.

Old rock church © Darren Huski

You can make the distortion work for you too. With the right image, the pronounced fisheye distortion can work or at least be forgiven because of the image. It can be a great way to bring some new life to an oft photographed location – see my take on Mesa Arch (below).

Mesa arch sunburst © Darren Huski

I also find it a great way to show a location like my campsite, do a group photo, or make a fun portrait. The distortion becomes part of what makes the image stand out and in those situations works really well.

If you find that all of that distortion bothers you too much, try to fix it in Photoshop. Software solves many issues and it can work here too.

So, if you are a photographer who likes wide landscapes, consider taking a chance on a fisheye and explore the possibility of creating images way beyond the realm of ordinary wide angle zoom lens. You might be surprised how much fun really wide can be.

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