Looks Kinda Fishy?

This is a shot of a recently remodeled Wendy’s. At times Wendy’s does have a fish sandwich on their menu, but this post is not about a picsean nosh–assuming “picsean” is an adjective meaning “related to fish” and not about people born in late February or early March. It’s not even about dubious activities. I would have used “shady” as a synonym for “fishy,” but that could have been confusing in a photographic context.

Nope, I’m talking about a fisheye lens, a strange beast indeed. This lens says “to hell with distortion” but it captures an extremely wide angle of view. In the case of the lens I was using, it covers 180 degrees diagonally, and it does distort. I promise you that the chrome-topped half walls were straight as an arrow and met at right angles. Technically, you’re seeing a stereographic projection. Now don’t you feel smarter?

There is a practical use for fisheyes. Starting in the 1920s they were used for cloud studies by meteorologists. Just point the camera up and you can get almost the entire sky. I don’t know how they used the images, but then I’m not sure about the differences between  cumulonimbus and cirrocumulus clouds. I only know that when I look outside, a black sky means precipitation may follow.

There are other scientific uses such as measuring rain forest canopy coverage. These lenses are used in planetarium projectors to project a flat digital image onto the dome of the room. Fisheyes are also used in the decidedly unscientific application of hotel room peepholes.

But for photographers, its all about the distortion. The first consumer fisheyes for photography showed up in the 1960s, and as with every “new” look, their use was tentative then overdone. Like any fad, using a fisheye soon became passé.

With the right software–called “de-fishing software”–you can remove the distortion from a fisheye image at the cost of losing significant resolution at the edges. Some photographers use a fisheye and software to as a sort of poor man’s panoramic lens, although there are better ways using software and multiple shots to create the same image with higher quality.

I purchased a Rokinon 8mm fisheye a while back to a play with. It wasn’t expensive…I couldn’t justify the cost of a fancy Nikon fisheye for something with such limited use. And it has been fun. I think with the right subject the distortion can lead to an interesting interpretation.

After all, Wendy’s never looked that interesting to me before.

This entry was posted in Photography.

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