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Fisheye lens: creative tool or a joke? How to shoot eye-catching portraits and lifestyle with it

This is a little story using pictures I snapped during our ocean retreats using a fisheye lens.

I had several lenses with me on both locations, and I used my latest purchase, the Canon 8-15mm F4.0L Fisheye lens most of the time. Especially when shooting my kids in action (well they are always in hi-speed action when not sleeping :-)). You can read more about this test on this mini-review I posted a while ago: Canon 8-15mm F4.0L Fisheye lens first impressions.

fisheye lens review

I know many people don’t understand fisheye lenses, thinking that it is just a toy for poor (reach?) photographers.

I used to think the same way, before I bought mine. Really, why would I need a lens that produces images with enormous barrel distortion? Even the best ones have quite a serious amount of aberrations all around.

I¬†can¬†tell you this:¬†¬†it is a unique lens to create crazy and eye-catching images, in any way you’ll use it: from¬†landscapes¬†to¬†portraits. Yes, it is hard to get a boring result with this lens; much harder than with any other. :-)

I am going to show you how I was using a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens in lifestyle (maybe portrait?) photography, a very hi-speed action type of photography. Hope it will inspire you to do something crazy too. :-) Life is short, and the most wasteful way to live it is to be serious all the way to the end, IMO.

This is how I used the fisheye lens to take lifestyle photos:

  • First of all, in most of the shots I didn’t even look at the viewfinder. We were right in the water, running and¬†laughing, and there was no way I could get shots like this if kids were posing. The camera was secured in one hand using a¬†hand strap, and I set the camera to auto selection of focusing points, on servo mode (continuous focusing¬†adjustments). This allowed me to get most of my “running” shots in focus without looking at the viewfinder.
    I had to remember to aim it in the right direction, keeping the target in the center of the frame.
  • We all were moving in many of these shots; photographer and models. I was pointing the camera from the bottom up, almost touching the water, or shooting down from the top. Such angles work best with a fisheye;¬†barrel distortion in this case is a tool to make photos look crazy, and the more we get it the better the shot.
    For steady shots where I needed to see the results in the view finder, I used a Canon Angle finder. It is a must-have when you use fisheye lens to shoot people, IMO.
  • I used a camera-mounted¬†speedlite (Canon 580 EX-II in my case), set to Hi-speed sync (FP) mode. Meaning I was able to shoot at shutter speeds higher than x-sync. In most cases¬†1/1000 and shorter would be enough to stop action such as running kids.
  • Camera settings: (Av) Aperture Priority, F 5.6-8, ISO 100. The idea is to have ISO high enough to keep shutter speed relatively short. I do not like (Tv) Shutter Speed priority mode, as I want to control image quality (read: aperture) manually all the time. I raise ISO if needed to keep shutter short.
  • Exposure Settings is very similar to what I’ve explained here:¬†3 Minutes Effect to Make a Difference for Your Photo. In short, I dial “-1” Ev for ambient, and “+1” Ev (or more) for flash exposure compensation. This is what produces such vivid colors of the sky (BTW, fisheye lens is really good at creating a deep blue sky), and¬†slightly¬†overexposed¬†foreground with strobe makes it easier to use that Dodge and Burn technique to add even more drama to the images.
  • The most important thing not to forget:¬†Make sure you shoot really close to your¬†subject. With fisheye, one foot is the distance I keep to make a cool looking portrait, with the subjects face covering at least 1/4 of the frame.


Enjoy the gallery, click on each thumbnail to open the large image:


Portraits and lifestyle with fisheye lens



 Smile, and people will love you:-)

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