In the late 1960s, I purchased a fish-eye-lens attachment, which — according to my hippie vernacular at the time — was a “groovy” contraption to capture “far-out” disfigurements of the world around me.
In 1974, I used the lens to warp the monoliths and canyons of the Big Apple and subsequently self-published a limited-edition book for family members. Soon after this particular burst of creativity, the lens was relegated to the dark recesses of a drawer for three decades. A few years ago, when searching for some other photographic paraphernalia, it resurfaced, and I decided to once again allow light rays to be distorted by it.
So I screwed the odd convex relic onto the so-called “normal” lens of my 35 mm film (yes, good old film) camera, which I loaded with a black-and-white silver halide emulsion, and headed through the great outdoors. I looked for subjects that could be advantageously portrayed by the unique perspective the lens attachment afforded.
On some excursions, the only lens I took with me was the fish-eye, so I could concentrate on which vista would be the most receptive to this way of seeing. I searched for objects that were prominently displayed in the foreground — leaves, flowers, branches and automobile parts.
Some of the resulting fish-eye photos seem to have a surrealistic M.C. Escher-like view, with layering caused by shadows and/or foreground objects such as branches that cause the viewer to look twice.
Prospective patrons who see my work at art shows often ask how I achieve the effect, to which I jokingly reply, “This is based on the Colombian principle — that the Earth is round.”
The lens definitely does not lend itself to taking portraits — with noses appearing greatly accentuated — unless a caricature is what the artist is going for.
Care must be taken by the photographer to not include their feet, tripod legs or the brim of a baseball cap. Sun flare can also be a problem, unless the photographer wishes to include it. In a forest scene, I generally block the sun by using an overhanging tree branch, which also helps to frame the scene.
At times, I purposely include my shadow. In one instance, I located it between two parallel tree shadows, leading the viewers’ eyes into the photo.
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A fish-eye lens is basically an ultra-wide-angle lens that covers from 100 to 180 degrees and bends light rays to produce intense visual distortions.
Objects closer to the lens appear larger than life, while those near the edge or circumference, seem more distant and are curved.
The term "fish-eye," dating back to 1906 and attributed to American physicist and inventor Robert W. Wood, is based on the panorama that a fish supposedly views.
A common, non-photographic use for fish-eye lenses is found in doors of motel rooms and apartments, as it allows the viewer to see down the hallway as well as visitors who might be shorter.
- The sale of fish-eye and other extreme wide-angle lenses has increased in recent years as the current generation of photographers looks for ways to extend the vision of digital cameras.