Friday, December 26, 2014

Using a fish-eye lens for architectural photography

The fish-eye experience, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we saw some of the fun you can have with a fish-eye lens and learned what you have to watch out for when using one.
As with any architectural photography, the lines and light are the main elements and should be kept in mind at all times. When using a fish-eye lens, however, your lines often turn into curves, especially on the edges of your frame. In the photograph below you can see how the lines of the spiral staircase actually complement the curvature of the framing window, as do the round-back chairs in the café.

Café in downtown Stuttgart
As with any wide-angle lens, your photograph will be focused over a large depth-of-field, especially if you are trying to get the maximum amount of sharpness out of your lens. Take some test shots in good light to find the best aperture for your lens. The sharpest aperture is usually two stops down from wide open.
These photos were made with the Walimex f3.5/8mm ASP-C fish-eye lens for Sony. (Walimex is also sold under the names Samyang and Rokinon.) I usually shoot at f8 but if there is enough light, I'll stop it down to f11 or f16, as in the image below. When you close the aperture so tight, your light sources will appear star-like.

Tempodrom in Berlin
Putting yourself in the picture: Architectural selfies

In 2013 the word of the year was "selfie", so why not use it in 2014? I'm sure you have used the word and the technique of pointing the camera at yourself and clicking the shutter!
But do you think of your background when taking one? That's probably the most interesting thing in a selfie after looking at 100 pictures of yourself, don't you agree?
With a fish-eye lens it is often difficult NOT to get in the picture. If I don't lean forward and shoot straight, I invariably get my toes in the frame. Placing yourself in the picture is easier if you have a flip-out display, as on the Sony A77. In the shot below (taken with the A7), I positioned myself in front of one of the dark sides of the cement slabs and let the light cast an outline of sunshine on my profile. The negative space of the sky is as much a part of this composition as are the slabs.

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin
The more lines the better

Bending the perspective with a fish-eye is simply fun. The observer won't see it as skewed, however, if you don't provide a point of reference, a straight line somewhere.
And remember that you can cut down a great deal of the distortion during the post-processing in Photoshop or, as I did here, slightly in Lightroom (by pushing "Distortion" up to +88).
Side note: With light entering the lens from 180°, you are bound to get some lens flare now and then, despite the small lens hood. Opinions differ, but I think lens flare is not necessarily a bad thing. It is natural - usually. Photoshop offers a special tool to help you add it after the fact if you like. Here it is in its original form.

It's not the "what" but the "why" of the photograph

One of the most poignant tips I've ever received about photography was that it is not as important what you take a picture of as why. With a fish-eye lens, you may want to ask yourself how the image makes you feel because the "what" will be skewed to a point that it is nearly unrecognizable. In the case of the image below, the extremely short lens added a feeling of being swallowed up by the stairway and graffiti.

Stairway in Tübingen
One last tip: Keep your lens parallel to the ground when shooting architecture. Your Sony camera will probably have a built-in level to help you. Levels can be bought for other camera brands which fit on top of the hot shoe.
The fish-eye lens is a lot of fun in town if you know how to make the most of it. Enjoy!

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