Nothing Fishy Here: Shooting with Fisheye Lenses

by | Nov 3, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. — Henry David Thoreau

The term fisheye was coined in 1906 by American physicist and inventor Robert W. Wood based on how a fish would see an ultra-wide hemispherical view from beneath the water aka Snell’s window*. (Yes this is the same Wood who defined  the “Wood effect” in infrared photography.) Fisheye lenses were first used in meteorology during the 1920s to study cloud formation also giving them the nickname “whole-sky lenses”.

For us photographers, a fisheye lens is an ultra wide-angle lens that produces strong visual distortion intended to create a wide panoramic or hemispherical image. Fisheye lenses achieve extremely wide angles-of-view by forgoing producing images that have straight lines of perspective (rectilinear), opting for an equisolid angle—think mirrorball effect—which gives images a characteristic convex non-rectilinear appearance. The angle-of-view of a fisheye lens is usually between 100 and 180 degrees, with (full-frame) focal lengths ranging from 8-10 mm for circular images, and 15–16 mm for more rectilinear images

How I Made this Photo: I shot the above image using a Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens in O’Brien Park in Parker, Colorado. Camera was an Olympus E-P3 with an Av exposure of 1/2000 sec at f/8 and ISO 320, with a plus three-quarters stop exposure compensation. Because of the wide angle-of-view, exposure can occasionally be tricky, so pay attention to your LCD screen. In the case of my E-P3 the screen provided excellent feedback for me to adjust exposure compensation.

Because of the lens’s exceptionally wide angle-of-view and its circular fisheye design it’s virtually impossible to make a shot without getting your fingers (holding the camera) in the shot. And believe me I tried but it never happened. To maintain the circular image that you see I cropped the photo in Photoshop using the Elliptical Selection tool along with some tricks found in this video.

*Snell’s window sometimes also called “Snell’s circle” or “optical man-hole” is a phenomenon by which an underwater viewer sees everything above the surface through a cone of light of about 96 degrees. This phenomenon is caused by refraction of light entering water, and is governed by Snell’s Law, a formula used to describe the relationship between the angles of incidence and refraction when referring to light passing through a boundary between two different isotropic media, such as water. The area outside Snell’s window will either be completely dark or show a reflection of underwater objects by total internal reflection.

PS, And just in case you missed hearing about it, Happy Godzilla Day everyone…