Chris Smith Offers 5 Cool Tips for Awesome Fisheye Lens Shots

Thanks, Rick, for having me back on your blog. It’s always nice to feel famous for a day! This time I'd like to share some quick tips for getting awesome fisheye lens shots.

Opening Image: Chicago’s St. Mary of the Angels.

1. Get centered: Looking through my fisheye images, there is one thing that almost all of them have in common. They are shot straight on with the subject centered in the frame. There are times when you’ll want to shoot off-center, but try the straight-on shot too. If you go for the straight-on shot, it’s critical that you really are centered and that your camera is level. If your camera is slightly tipped left or right, it will be almost impossible to fix on your computer. Shoot from a tripod, use Live View with the superimposed grid on the back of your camera to compose, and take a few minutes to make sure everything is lined up right.

Above: People’s Gas Pavilion at Lincoln Park, Chicago.

2. Get close: If you have a subject that you want prominent in the frame, get really close to it. This cement barrier with the graffiti was only a couple feet in front of the lens. And the cars providing the light trails were close too! The taxi driver of the car on the left rolled down his window, stuck out his chin, and asked, “Did you want me to smile?”

Above: The Kinzie Street Bridge, Chicago.

3. Tip up and down: Point your lens up so that the horizon is below the center of your frame. Tip it down so the horizon is above. Watch how it changes the curve of the horizon. If you want the horizon level, it needs to be in the center of the frame. If you want it to curve up like a smiley face, point your lens up. If you want it to curve like a frowny face, tip your lens down. Remember: Tip down for a frown.

Above: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

4. Use it in tight places: When you’re in a small room with little room to maneuver, you may need to get out the fisheye lens just to get it all in the frame. If you do this, you can choose to “de-fish” the image back on your computer. I used Lightroom to take the fisheye effect out of the image of the girl on the stairs. You lose some sharpness and resolution, but it may be the only way to get the shot.

Above: The Art Institute of Chicago.

5. A little goes a long way: Think of your fisheye images as the spice in your recipe. You don’t want to overdo it. I have been guilty of this. My friends have even offered to put me into a 12-step fisheye program. But, if you use the fisheye lens at the right time, you can completely change the look of your shot to create unique and memorable images.

If you’d like to shoot some of these amazing Chicago places for yourself, join me at the second annual Out of Chicago Conference this summer. Thirty-two fabulous photographers, including Juan Pons, will be teaching and leading photo walks around the city. Use the code “thegodfather” for $50 off registration. 

 Thanks, Rick (who is known as "The Godfather" among some of his friends).