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How to Use Fisheye Lenses for Photography

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If you're a photographer and you’d like to know more about lenses, then you’ll love our free course, What Every Photographer Should Know About Lenses. In this lesson, you’ll learn about fisheye lenses and see what they look like in action, as well as how to correct the curve if you prefer a straighter image.

How to Use Fisheye Lenses for Photography

What Is a Fisheye Lens?

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye Lens / David Bode

A fisheye lens is an ultra-wide-angle lens that produces a strong visual distortion intended to create a wide panoramic or hemispherical image. These lenses achieve extremely wide angles of view by opting for a special mapping, giving the image a characteristic convex, non-rectilinear appearance.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye example imageVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye example imageVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye example image
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye example image / David Bode

The picture angle produced by these lenses is only 180 degrees when measured from corner to corner. They have a 180-degree diagonal field of view, while the horizontal and vertical fields of view are smaller.

The lens used in the example above and in the following ones in this tutorial is an inexpensive prime made by a company called Samyang and rebranded by several other companies; this one happens to be Vivitar. One of the great things about this lens is the exaggerated perspectives that it gives. This particular lens is manual focus, but because it has such a huge depth of field, it isn't too hard to deal with.

The Vivitar 7mm Fisheye in Action

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - New YorkVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - New YorkVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - New York
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - New York / David Bode

The image above and the one below were shot with the 7mm Vivitar lens on a Canon 7D in New York City from inside a car.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - New YorkVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - New YorkVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - New York
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - New York / David Bode

The camera was up against the windshield, and particularly in the example above, the perspective is really weird. The building in the upper left-hand corner of the frame is actually behind the camera, behind the car it was taken from, and that’s very strange, but that's what a fisheye lens will give you.

‘Normal’ Photos With a Fisheye

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a beach looking 'normal,' without a distinctive curveVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a beach looking 'normal,' without a distinctive curveVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a beach looking 'normal,' without a distinctive curve
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - a beach looking 'normal,' without a distinctive curve / David Bode

The same lens was used here on the beach, and what’s interesting about it is that the characteristic, hyper-distorted fisheye look is missing. It depends on what you're shooting, the distance you are away from any immediate objects in the foreground, and where the horizon is if there's one in the shot. As long as the horizon is near the centre of the lens, it looks fairly normal, but if it gets above or below that area, things start looking weird. If you compose your shots carefully though, you can make them look wide but not super-distorted.

Extreme Distortion

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a more extreme example of fish-eye distortionVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a more extreme example of fish-eye distortionVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a more extreme example of fish-eye distortion
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - a more extreme example of the distortion from fisheye lenses / David Bode

Depending on where the objects are in your scene, as you get really close, a fisheye lens exaggerates the perspective and the spatial placement of objects in an extreme way. It's very interesting what you can get when you're shooting with a fisheye lens.

two children on a bench two children on a bench two children on a bench
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - two children on a bench / David Bode

In this shot, the size of the child on the left (Lilly) looks as if she has very long legs. But shifting position will change the perspective of Lilly a lot, without affecting the background objects.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - two children on a bench, shifted position / David BodeVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - two children on a bench, shifted position / David BodeVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - two children on a bench, shifted position / David Bode
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - two children on a bench, shifted position / David Bode

Now you can see Lilly’s legs look more normal—in fact she looks smaller, but everything else looks more or less the same.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - building cornerVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - building cornerVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - building corner
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - building corner / David Bode

One of the things that to watch out for when shooting with this type of lens is obvious distortion. As you can see above, the corner of this building is an obvious sign of distortion.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a Ben and Jerry's sign lends well to distortionVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a Ben and Jerry's sign lends well to distortionVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a Ben and Jerry's sign lends well to distortion
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - a Ben and Jerry's sign lends well to distortion / David Bode

Sometimes, however, that distortion can work in an image’s favour. This example works well for a fisheye lens because we have this big circular object which lends itself nicely to the distortion.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a unique angle of a rollercoasterVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a unique angle of a rollercoasterVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - a unique angle of a rollercoaster
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - a unique angle of a rollercoaster / David Bode

And the same with this image here, which was taken on a rollercoaster in Walt Disney World at arm’s length. A shot like this is just about impossible to do with any other lens because they're not wide enough to get this cool effect.

Vivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - capturing big skies is easier with a fish-eyeVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - capturing big skies is easier with a fish-eyeVivitar 7mm Fish-Eye - capturing big skies is easier with a fish-eye
Vivitar 7mm Fisheye - capturing big skies is easier with fisheye lenses

Another great use for fisheye lenses is to capture a storm or interesting weather because you want to get a lot of sky. In the case of lightning, you’re not sure where it’ll be, so this means you can point to where the lightning generally is and hopefully you catch some.

How to De-Fish Your Images

Sometimes, fisheye images look cool just as they are, but other times you may want to 'de-fish' them and try to bring back some of the more natural proportions. You can do this in just about any professional photo suite like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Camera RAW, but there’s also a free program if you don’t have access to one of those, and we'll look at that too.

Adobe Camera Raw

Profile corrections in Adobe Camera RawProfile corrections in Adobe Camera RawProfile corrections in Adobe Camera Raw
Profile corrections in Adobe Camera Raw

In your editing suite—I'm using Adobe Camera Raw—navigate to Profile Corrections and select that option. Hopefully your software will determine which lens you were using, but if you’re working with an older lens like the one we’ve been using through this tutorial, then you won’t have any options there. But don’t panic—if your lens isn’t available, you can choose one with similar attributes.

So here, I’ve chosen a GoPro Fusion lens profile, which is the closest match.

Profile AppliedProfile AppliedProfile Applied
Profile Applied

You can immediately see that straightening it out has lost the trees at the side, and the trees at the far top edge might be a little elongated, but you can use the Distortion slider to adjust that to better fit. And you can see that the dramatic curve of the fisheye has gone.

Here’s another example.

Another image taken with a fish-eye (Canon 15mm)Another image taken with a fish-eye (Canon 15mm)Another image taken with a fish-eye (Canon 15mm)
Another image taken with a fisheye (Canon 15mm)

In this image, you can clearly see the curve, and this time the software recognises the lens.

Example image with profile correction and distortion correctionExample image with profile correction and distortion correctionExample image with profile correction and distortion correction
Example image with profile correction and distortion correction

You can see after applying the lens profile and then upping the Distortion correction to 200 (neutral is 100) that it’s much straighter. You could even crop in a little to just rid yourself of those remaining curved edges if you wanted to.

If you’re editing a JPEG, then you’ll have far fewer options when it comes to lens profile corrections than you do with RAW, but you can alter that.

What to Do If Working From a JPEG

In Windows, you’ll need hidden files and folders enabled.

change folder and search optionschange folder and search optionschange folder and search options
Change folder and search options

To do that, click File and Change folder and search options.

Then, in View, you’ll need to make sure that Show hidden files, folders and drives is checked.

Lens Profiles folderLens Profiles folderLens Profiles folder
Lens Profiles folder

You should now be able to see a faint ProgramData folder. In there, scroll down to the Adobe file, CameraRaw, LensProfiles, and finally 1.0.

Folder 1.0 in Lens Profiles Folder 1.0 in Lens Profiles Folder 1.0 in Lens Profiles
Folder 1.0 in Lens Profiles

Once here, find the folder with the profile you’d like to have available and copy the relevant folder. Then navigate to:

Local Disk > Users > YOU > AppData > Roaming > Adobe > CameraRaw > LensProfiles

uncheck read onlyuncheck read onlyuncheck read only
Uncheck read-only

And paste your folder into the LensProfile folder. You might then need to go into the properties of the folder you just pasted in to uncheck ‘read-only’ and make sure that’s applied to folders and sub-folders. Now go into that folder and find the correct profile (the one you’d like to use on your JPEG) and open it. You can just select WordPad to open it in if it asks.

change 'false' to 'true'change 'false' to 'true'change 'false' to 'true'
Change 'false' to 'true'

Search for stCamera:CameraRawProfile=”false”. There are quite a few, and you’ll need to change them to say ‘true’ rather than false, which you can do with a Find and Replace search. Then resave the file, and when you go back into ACR (or whichever Adobe suite you're using) and open your JPEG, you’ll find the profile is now listed.

This is going to be useful if you used to shoot JPEG and have a bunch of images that wouldn’t necessarily have those profile corrections available to them.

Hugin

If you don’t have an editing suite that will let you correct a fisheye, then you can try Hugin, which is a free, open-source panorama stitching programme.

Hugin is free and open sourceHugin is free and open sourceHugin is free and open source
Hugin is free and open source / David Bode

In Load Images, you can open your fisheye photo to work on. This was one taken with the 7mm lens from the earlier examples in the tutorial. Initially, it’ll read the metadata and look at the focal length, but remember it was taken with an older lens, so it doesn't have the correct information. So instead, we can change the focal length from 50mm to match more accurately, 7mm (7.5mm turns out to actually be closer) and the Lens type from Rectilinear to one of the other options. You’ll need to test them to see what works best with your lens.

Hugin after initial correctionHugin after initial correctionHugin after initial correction
Hugin after initial correction / David Bode

You can see that still looks wrong, so the next step is to go to the Projection tab and change this from Equirectangular to Rectilinear.

The image is bending in a better way nowThe image is bending in a better way nowThe image is bending in a better way now
The image is bending in a better way now / David Bode

Now the image is bending the proper way because we're taking the lens type which is stereographic and we projecting that so that it's rectilinear, which essentially means you’re straightening it out. You might need to play around with the settings to find what looks right for your lens.

Adjust the slidersAdjust the slidersAdjust the sliders
Adjust the sliders / David Bode

You can use the sliders above to crop in on the image to get rid of the odd edges. Or, back in Projection, you can crop in with better control by typing in the exact size you'd like.

Now save your image. To do this, click View and Panorama Editor in the top menu.

Further adjust and then saveFurther adjust and then saveFurther adjust and then save
Further adjust and then save / David Bode

Head to the Stitcher tab, and hit Stitch, because this is a panorama stitcher and this is how you save it out.

before and after Huginbefore and after Huginbefore and after Hugin
Before and after Hugin / David Bode

The original image is on the left, and the post-Hugin one is on the right. It is being stretched, but it's being stretched in a somewhat pleasing way. It could be cropped in on the top and bottom a little more to lose some of the obviously stretched parts and also some uninteresting parts of the image.

This kind of lens correction is different to the Adobe suites. It's not necessarily better or worse—they work in different ways—but this is free and definitely does a nice job. With Hugin, you also have a little bit more to work with on the top and bottom of the image, whereas the  Adobe suites would just crop it out. It’s heavily stretched here, but the actual correction is pretty good; it involves a few more steps, but the result can be worth it.

More Lens Tutorials

About the Video Author

David Bode created the video course that includes this lesson. Dave is an expert on video and audio production, and he lives in the upstate NY area. He works as a camera operator, editor, inventor, motion graphics designer, recording engineer, and studio musician.

Marie Gardiner wrote the text version of this lesson and it was edited and published by Jackson Couse. Jackson is a photographer and the editor of the Photo & Video section of Envato Tuts+.

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