Love it or hate it the fisheye lens has played a huge role in BMX photography over the years and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. It has a certain way of showing BMX in an incredibly unique light and gives the viewer a perspective that is only possible with a 180-degree view. Mass-produced fisheye lenses starting coming off of the assembly lines around 1960 and by definition a fisheye lens is “an ultra wide-angle lens that produces strong visual distortion intended to create a wide panoramic or hemispherical image.” Basically, it can turn what would be an ordinary photo into an eye-catching work of art. If used correctly, the fisheye can be an amazing tool that every BMX photographer should own. Read on to find out why.
Within BMX specifically it is all about showing the trick that you are shooting in the best way possible. You want to engage the viewer and give them a chance to really understand what’s going on in the photo and a fisheye lens can help do just that. It can also make most spots look much bigger than they are. That doesn’t mean that you should just go out and shoot everything fisheye for the simple fact of making the spot look bigger, it just means to understand how you can use it to your advantage. If you are shooting a trick long lens that just doesn’t seem to be working out, throw on a fisheye and re-think your shot and you might be surprised at how much it can do for a photo. A fisheye also provides you with the option of getting right up in the action like no other lens can. Sometimes you will find yourself within inches of getting hit while still having the entire rider in the frame, which definitely takes some getting used to. I definitely don’t recommend buying a brand new lens and then sitting at the bottom of a rail waiting for someone to bomb down it. Rather, take it easy and slowly work your way closer to the action as you get more comfortable with the distances in reality and the way things look through your viewfinder.
This photo of David Gamble’s pedal pick was an easy choice for a fisheye. The bank to rail in reality is actually hard to ride and would have looked much smaller if I had shot the same thing long lens. It takes time and practice but once you get the feeling for when fisheye looks best it all comes together pretty naturally when it comes time to shoot.
Although I could have gone either way with this one as far as long lens or fisheye is concerned but I went the fisheye route to really show off the entire scene more than anything. This is a good example of getting low and using that to your advantage.
This photo of Anthony “Boy” Flores presents a perfect time to talk about the use of a fisheye to make a fairly big spot look even bigger. Although this was definitely not the case of “shoot it fish because it’s too small to shoot long” but rather a case of shoot it fish and show the spot some justice.
There are a few options out there to go with when it comes to fisheye lenses and it all depends on how much you want to spend really. There is the tried and true (now discontinued but you can find it very easily still online for around $600) Canon 15mm fisheye, which works best for full-frame sensors if you are shooting digi. Same with the Sigma version of that which you can get for around $600 as well brand new. Sigma also makes a 10mm fisheye that was designed specifically for use with digital cameras. If you don’t have a full-frame sensor there are a few fisheye zoom lenses made specifically for D-SLR’s like the Tokina 10-17mm ($679) that will take care of that problem and still provide you with a really wide 180 degree shot depending on your cameras crop factor. You don’t have to be dead set on the idea of it being an exact 180 degrees because even a super wide-angle lens creates a similar look to a fisheye it’s just that a true fisheye happens to be 180 degrees. Of course if you are a baller there is always the new Canon 8-15mm zoom fisheye for around $1500. Be prepared to spend a decent chunk of change to get a good fisheye lens and consider it an investment worth making. If you buy a quality lens and take good care of it you can shoot with it for a lot of years to come and get a ton of use out of it long after you are done paying for it.
Some things to keep in mind.
*Don’t just assume something will look good if you shoot it with a fisheye lens.
*Always check your angles and lens choices before shooting.
*Then double check them to make sure you are using the combination that will showcase the trick the best way you possibly can.
*Don’t rely on the fisheye to save a shot. Instead you should make sure you use it to your advantage to make the shot look better.
*Don’t just assume that putting a fisheye on will make anything look cool, that’s not the case and not everything looks cool just because it’s shot with a fisheye.
*Be selective. Don’t over do it and pull it out of your camera bag before every shoot and you will be surprised at how useful it becomes when the right shot calls for it.
If you are into the idea of getting serious with your photography I strongly suggest you save up for a good fisheye lens to add to your setup. I can’t guarantee that you will leave it on your camera for good but I can assure you that you will have the urge to use it in certain situations and be stoked that you have one. Be sure to check back next Wednesday for the tenth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at [email protected] and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @JeremyPavia.