5 Creative Uses for a Fisheye Lens in Photography

The search for that unique angle that sets your photography apart from the rest is a common aspiration for most photographers. In today’s article, you’ll learn creative uses for a fisheye lens that will give your photos the wow factor.

A fisheye lens is a unique lens with niche qualities that set it apart from other kinds of lenses. Read on and discover what you can do with this type of lens.

Kinetic light painting is one of the examples of creative uses for a fisheye lens.

What is a fisheye lens?

A fisheye lens is essentially a super wide-angle lens. However, it has more properties than this. This type of lens will cause distortion in your photo which, when correctly applied to your image, will enhance the photo. One of the key characteristics of this lens is the curved shape of the optic at the front of the lens. This means that you won’t be able to use a regular lens cap for this lens. It’s possible to get a fisheye as a prime lens or a zoom lens.

  • Prime lens: The majority of fisheye lenses are prime lenses. They come with a typical aperture of f/2.8 and a focal length of 8mm or 15mm, depending on whether you have a full-frame sensor or a crop sensor camera.
  • Zoom lens: Zoom lens fisheyes have a smaller aperture at f/4, but allow you to change the focal length. This can give you even more creative options, as at the widest focal length your photo will be circular with a black frame.

1. Create distortion on the horizon line

One of the obvious creative uses for a fisheye lens is to create distortion on the horizon line. You can use the lens to make the horizon line curve upward or downward.

In order to make the horizon line bend downward, you’ll need to aim the camera down toward the ground. This means a large portion of the photo will feature the ground, so make sure the foreground contains enough interest to do that.

Then, as you may have guessed:

To make the horizon line bend upward, you’ll need to aim the camera up and toward the sky. If you’re aiming at the sky, try to do this when the sky is dramatic as it will fill the frame.

creative uses for a fisheye lens
This photo makes use of a textured foreground with the wave. You can see the horizon line is clearly bending.

2. Use a fisheye for an ultra-wide perspective

It’s possible to use your fisheye lens as a regular wide-angle lens, but even wider. This is best achieved by aiming your camera at the horizon line and keeping the angle of your camera flat.

Look to avoid objects on the edge of the frame, as they’ll still distort and aim inwards unless you use post-processing to correct this. Locations with a minimalist feel like coastlines or deserts will work best for this kind of photo.

creative uses for a fisheye lens
In this photo the horizon line is kept flat, and the entire pond is captured.

3. Take photos of architecture

The fisheye lens is a real gift for architectural photographers. Its distortion can be used for creative effect to frame the scene you’re photographing. You’ll often be able to incorporate elements that are behind you, because the focal length is that wide. This all means you’ll really be able to emphasis the lines in your composition to create powerful architecture photos.

creative uses for a fisheye lens
There are lots of great lines in this photo, with the person adding perspective.

4. Use intentional camera movement

Intentional camera movement means moving the camera during the course of an exposure. The exposure length will need to be long enough for the camera movement to be obvious in your final image. An exposure of 1/15s during the day will work, and even longer exposures can be tried at night when using a tripod. Whether you’re photographing during the day or at night will lead to two distinct types of photography.

  • Radial blur: This effect is produced handheld, and involves rotating the camera around an imaginary central point. The result is best when you keep the camera steady as you rotate, and an exposure of around 1/15s is often needed.
  • Kinetic light painting: This is the nighttime variant of the radial blur, but taken from a tripod. This type of photo is a form of kinetic light painting, with the camera pivoting on the head of your tripod.
creative uses for a fisheye lens
This photo is an example of radial blur (taken handheld).

5. Interesting portrait photos

The fisheye lens can be a great lens for portrait photography, as well. It has some versatility, even though it’s a niche wide-angle lens. If you choose to get close to your model you can distort their appearance for an interesting effect, though make sure your results are okay with the subject!

A popular approach is to make one body part especially large, perhaps the person’s eye or a hand stretched out toward the camera. Another approach is to emphasize the architecture around the model. In this case, they’ll be smaller in the frame, with perhaps a tunnel surrounding them.

creative uses for a fisheye lens
Fisheye lenses can work very well for portraits, where they capture more of the scene.

The fisheye effect in a lensball

A cheaper alternative is to buy a lensball or, as many people know it, a crystal ball. The optics of a lensball, with its spherical surface, replicate those of a fisheye lens. The effect is different, but this can be a great introduction to the perspective offered by a fisheye lens with its distortion. If the composition works for a lensball, the composition will also work for a fisheye lens.

creative uses for a fisheye lens
A lensball is the nearest you’ll get to the fisheye effect without buying a fisheye lens.

Try out creative uses for a fisheye lens!

There are lots of creative uses for a fisheye lens; have you tried any of the methods mentioned in this article?

If you have any thoughts on fisheye photography, then please leave them in the comments section! As always, we encourage you to get out and practice your photography. So if you have examples of creative fisheye photos, then go ahead and share those in the comments section, too!

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