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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Now you can see Lilly’s legs look more normal—in fact she looks smaller, but everything else looks more or less the same.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In this image, you can clearly see the curve, and this time the software recognises the lens.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Head to the Stitcher tab, and hit Stitch, because this is a panorama stitcher and this is how you save it out.
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.