Friday, April 5, 2013

The Fisheye Lens - Adding Some "Wow" To Sports Photography

Classic fisheye shot - a drive along the baseline.
Many photographers consider a fisheye lens as a gadget, unworthy of finding its way into a camera bag. Me? I can't think of a single event that I wouldn't take this lens to. I almost always find a way to fire off a few shots with it and it always produces images that catch peoples' attention.

Photo courtesy of Sigma Corporation of America
You can drop between $700 to $800 or a new 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens made by Nikon or Canon or you can do what I did a few years ago and pay half of that for a good, used Sigma 15mm f2.8 (above) from KEH Camera or (if you dare) Ebay. I can hear the gag reflex from many of you out there as you read this. What, you say? A Sigma lens? You heard me. S-I-G-M-A.

Miami Hurricanes' Head Coach Al Golden and team take the field. Notice the guy on the bottom left? I was kneeling right next to him when I took this shot but he looks like he's several feet away.
Say it ain't so, Mikey -  but I'm afraid it is. A couple of years ago, I invited +Scott Kelby to join me at the Tavistock Cup in Orlando to shoot some golf. Scottie came over and brought a Nikon 10.5mm f2.8 dx fisheye lens. I mentioned how happy I had been for many years using my Sigma but Scott was a wee bit skeptical of my baby. Somehow he saw the light because if you check the list of gear Scott uses nowadays, guess what's listed prominently? That's right, a Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye.

Fisheye HDR. I braced myself against the beam on the R so I could take the multiple exposures.
Before you start wondering what I've been smoking, I will admit that I normally shy away from non-Nikon lenses. I have found through experience that while Sigma, Tamron and Tokina make fine lenses for the kind of use/abuse non-professional sports photographers subject their equipment to, my equipment is used day in and day out under the worst of conditions. Even the top of the line lenses made by others just don't last for me; but my Nikons take a beating and keep on ticking. My fisheye is the only exception to this rule because I use it sparingly, as in only for a few shots during any given event. Since it doesn't stay on the camera long, it doesn't get the beating other lenses do.

FSU Strength Coach Vic Viloria pumps up the players in a pre-game huddle
A couple of fisheye images mixed in with a set of sports images are all you need to spice up your end product. Fisheye images are analogous to a very rich or ultra sweet dessert - a little goes a long way. Eat too much and your teeth start to itch. Include too many fisheye images and its overwhelming. Because of the limited use, I see no need to blow twice as much on a Nikon lens when a good used Sigma will do the job just as well.

Long jump, taken just beyond the foul line with the camera on the track pointed up. Image was processed with OnOne Software's Perfect Effects to give it a grunge look. 
OK, so why a 15mm fisheye? There are several different fisheye focal lengths available, from as wide as 4.5mm up to 16mm. Take note that any full frame fisheye lens wider than 12mm is typically what is known as a circular fisheye. A circular fisheye is cool and creates some funky images (I have one, a  Sigma 8mm f4 fisheye, but I use it for other types of photography) and it's called a circular fisheye for a reason - the image is circular in shape with a large blacked out border all the way around it. A 15mm full frame fisheye is known as a diagonal fisheye and generates a distinctively curved image while still retaining easy recognition of the subject. Most if not all of this curvature can be corrected in Photoshop (Filter - Lens Correction) if desired but I hardly ever do so.

FSU QB E.J. Manuel warms up.

FSU Basketball Pre-Game dance.

I find that the coolest images I get with a fisheye is when I place it on the ground and shoot up or when I hold it overhead and shoot at a downward angle. Almost every photo posted here was taken with the camera on the ground or held over my head. But that's just me.

Volleyball shot from just beyond the referee's stand
A 15mm fisheye will give you a 180 degree field of view so I'm always mindful of that so I don't include myself in the image. It's very easy to include a foot or some part of my body in the frame if I'm not careful.

FSU Pep Band raises the roof during a March Madness game.
Another neat thing about a fisheye is that it makes a very effective "point and shoot" lens. When speed dictates that you simply fire a shot after pointing the lens in the direction of your subject, hoping for the best (like when a particular image opportunity suddenly surprises you and there isn't time to compose), the fisheye is your best bet to get a sharp image. Just point it in the general direction of your subject matter and with the inherent depth of field that the lens has, more often than not you'll get a sharp image.

Start of a 400m heat during the Florida State Relays

Hands down, when it comes to bang for the buck, you can't beat a fisheye. Pick one up and it'll soon be one of your favorite lenses.

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