The Joy of a Fish Eye Lens

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The Joy of a Fish Eye Lens

I had just pulled over along a small dike in Holland, looking for a viewpoint that would allow me to photograph a lone tree and the many baby sheep that were both playing and sleeping underneath it. At some distance behind the tree were several large factories, and were clearly causing a distraction from the otherwise innocent landscape that was before me. I managed to record several acceptable compositions and was just beginning return to my vehicle when a young man on a bicycle rode up behind me and asked me what I was doing. It didn’t take long to discover that he was the young farmer who owned the sheep and was truly not at all worried that I might be doing harm to sheep but rather more curious about what kind of photographs I was taking of his sheep. The nice thing about the digital age of which I am the first to embrace, is the ability to share the results with anyone who has an interest in seeing the work that you are producing. Granted the size of the monitor on the back of most cameras is rather small yet certainly large enough to allow others the opportunity to express excitement at what you are photographing or in the case of their own portraits satisfaction of how you photographed them. Within five minutes of meeting this young farmer myself and a workshop student, Susana Heide, were invited two drive the vehicle no more than 150 yards where we would then park it in front of his 120 stall milking barn. The farmer then asked Susana and I if we would like to hop over the short single wired electrical fence and take portraits of his many black-and-white milking cows.

Since I don’t live in the country and since it’s been years since I gave up my farm in Oregon, you can certainly imagine how long it had been since I was afforded any opportunity to photograph a group portrait of cows. In fact the last time I was remotely close to being afforded a similar opportunity was in 1990 while living in Bavaria Germany. I had been carrying around with me for many years an idea to make a group portrait of cows, specifically with a full frame fisheye lens. What very few times I may have been able to do so, I either did not have a full frame fisheye lens with me or the weather was far from being favorable to making the shot. I have hopped over my share of fences but none faster than the small electrical fence that was stretched between me in the many cows in the field I had of me. Susanna was just as quick to follow me into the field.

The full frame fisheye is so predictable in terms of its look, that it is sometimes not even necessary to place the camera and lens up to your eye but rather you can simply stick it out in front of you as I did here on this particular afternoon knowing that I was framing up fisheye group portraits of the cows. Fortunately for me, Susanna fired off several frames of the cows and myself, which can certainly give you an idea of my point of view get dressed the cow’s point of view. This group portrait of the black-and-white cows has quickly marched into the top 10 of all time pictures that I have made throughout my 40+ year career of being a photographer. Although I don’t use the adjective that often, I can only describe this image as truly endearing.

Nikon D800E, Sigma Full Frame 15mm Fish-Eye, f/13 at 1/200 sec, 100 ISO

If I were to choose a photograph throughout this entire book that might cause some disruption in your perception of what’s really going on, I would suggest that this photo is probably the one. Your initial impression, like most people, is that this girl is extremely flexible but then on further inspection you begin to ask yourself, “Is anyone really THAT flexible?” You are then quick to come to the realization that something is amiss here. And you would be correct in coming to that assumption. What began as a simple idea of photographing the young woman doing a headstand soon became the disorienting composition that you see here. The young woman doing the headstand was having difficulty maintaining her balance and so her close friend came in to hold her legs straight up and it was at that moment that I realized there was truly a photographic opportunity here that could play with the mind. So what we are really looking at is a photograph of two people, the legs belonging to one of the young women and of course the arms in the face belonging to the other.

What you don’t see of course is the woman holding up the legs of the woman who is doing the headstand. And again due to the extreme angle of the full frame fisheye the slight tilting downward of the lens creates the bowl like horizon that you see here.

Nikon D300S, Nikkor 10.5mm Fish-Eye Lens, f/16 @ 1/60 second, 100 ISO.

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