Seán Duggan is a fine art photographer, author, educator, and an Adobe Certified Photoshop Expert with extensive experience in both the traditional and digital darkroom. His Jump Start series provides photographers with the informative ideas to effectively experiment with alternative photographic equipment.
Creative Jump Start: Shooting with Fisheye and Ultra Wide-Angle Lenses
by Seán Duggan
On my recent Autumn & Aurora Discoveries workshop in Iceland, I decided to step outside my usual focal length comfort zone and do some experimenting with a 15mm fisheye lens on my full-frame Canon DSLR. BorrowLenses.com is a great resource that makes it easy to take different gear for a test drive and I really appreciate the large selection they have. Sometimes a lens is needed for a very specific purpose but at other times I’ll try out a lens simply because it offers such a different perspective from the lenses I normally use.
This was the case with the 15mm f/2.8 lens. Most of my wide-angle shots are made at the 24mm focal length, with occasional images made with a 16–35mm. I knew, however, that the 15mm would offer a much different perspective than the 16mm. It is technically only one millimeter of focal length difference but the level of distortion is significantly more with the 15mm lens.
Although the super wide angle-of-view was quite useful for some shots, it was actually the distortion that I was most interested in. Shooting straight at the horizon yielded an image that was very wide with not too much distortion but tilting the camera either up or down yielded a very pronounced curvature of the horizon. Tilting up created a bowl-shaped look, while pointing the camera downward resulted in a sphere effect.
For most purposes this level of warping and distortion would be too much but I found that this extreme perspective was so radically different from what I was used to that it really lit a creative fire inside me. And although this type of view does not currently fit in with any of my other work, it was good to just immerse myself in the distortion that I could create with this lens. Ordinary scenes and objects became totally new to my eyes, whether from the super wide-angle view or the exaggerated “funhouse mirror” type effects that the distortion created.
Stepping outside your usual comfort zone in terms of the type of lens you use can be a useful and productive creative experiment. Even if you do not end up using that lens on a regular basis, or incorporating its viewpoint into a body of work, the act of seeing and composing images from such a different viewpoint can be very rewarding. And like rainwater filtering down through the earth into an aquifer, rewarding creative experiences – no matter how they originate – filter into your overall reservoir of creativity and that is always a good thing.
So the next time you’re planning for a photo trip, or contemplating exploring a new creative direction, consider trying out a new perspective and seeing the world through a different lens. I’ll be returning to Iceland in March 2015 for a workshop exploring Winter Landscapes, Ice Caves & Auroras. I’m definitely considering taking a 15mm lens for exploring the ice caves!
Here are some more images from Reykjavik shot with the 15mm lens, as well as two from elsewhere in Iceland:
Seán Duggan is the co-author of Photoshop Masking & Composting, Real World Digital Photography, and The Creative Digital Darkroom. He is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and leads workshops all around the world. You can see some of Duggan’s Lightroom tips below:
• Lightroom Keywording Tips
• Adding Value to Your Image Archive with Keywords
• Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: Merging a Travel Catalog with your Main Catalog
• Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: The Island of Lost Files
• The Lightroom-Photoshop Connection: Sending JPEG Files Back and Forth
• The Lightroom-Photoshop Connection: Sending RAW Files Back and Forth
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