Looking at Lenses: Fisheye
by Taylor Slattery | March 9, 2020
So far in our Looking at Lenses series, we’ve covered telephoto and wide-angle lenses. One lens that is often overlooked due to its strong characteristics, is the fisheye lens. While it’s not uncommon for photographers to have multiple telephoto or wide-angle lenses with focal lengths that to most would hardly seem different, fisheye lenses are notably absent from many professional photographer’s kits. In many types of photography, the aim is to get tack-sharp photos and to avoid distortions that make their photos feel unnatural. To this type of photographer, fisheye lenses are often seen as nothing more than a cheap trick or interesting gimmick due to their over-the-top distortion.
Fisheye lenses are much more than just novelty items for amateur photographers and skateboard filmers. They offer a completely different perspective on the world, namely, that of a fish. They can take mundane subject matters and depict them in an entirely new light, and this is where their true strength lies. Wide-angle and telephoto lenses depict the world in the same way we see it through our eyes, but they don’t allow us to experience what it might be like to be something other than a human. This mode of thinking can open up a lot of doors creatively. Through a fisheye lens, you might take a sudden interest in a subject matter that had previously never caught your eye or play with shapes in new ways that result in compositions you might never have thought of.
The extreme wide-angle nature of fisheye lenses can result in very emotionally charged photos. Using the distortion to exaggerate the natural features of the subject matter can often have a dream-like effect. A disagreement between recognizable subjects and the strangeness of their depiction happens in the mind of the viewer and can be used to creative effect. A photo of a flower shot through a fisheye lens can show us what it might be like to be a bug. Pointing the camera straight up in a city can make buildings feel larger than they actually are. Their convergence towards the center of the frame can feel menacing, almost as if they are looming over the viewer, dwarfing them and adding to the apparent contrast in size. The opposite holds true as well. Photographing a city from above can put the viewer in a place they can’t even fathom, with the distortion giving them a taste of what it might be like to experience vertigo.
Wide-angle or telephoto lenses depict the world as we see it. With these lenses, we can look at a scene and imagine how it might be cropped. We can compose our shots without even needing to look through the viewfinder. With a fisheye lens, the world takes on an entirely new feel. Walk around with your eye glued to your viewfinder and watch how the lens captures your imagination, unlocking ideas that were previously inaccessible. Fisheye lenses present us with the opportunity to step outside of established convention and challenge ourselves creatively.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.
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