Fisheye Fun at Glacier NP

Glacier SM10-457

One doesn’t normally associate fisheye lenses with landscape photography, but, as I explained in an earlier post, they can be effective in small doses. The key is to remember that most of the worst distortion is toward the corners of image, and that if you can keep important stuff away from the corners, you’ll have better success. Below is what happens if you allow a tree to sprout up into the corner of an image on a fisheye lens:

The tree bends quite dramatically as it reaches the corner. Keep trees out of the corners, and you’ll have less problems:

The tree on the left is bent and even slightly curved, but not to an extent that it draws attention to itself. The other thing you need for a fisheye lens in landscape is skies with clouds. Since you have to keep the horizon at the center of the image, you may wind up with a lot of sky. Better to have some clouds there, for decorative effect.

Clouds are usually not much of a problem at Glacier National Park: there are often too many, rather than too few! Add towering mountains and you have a fisheye friendly landscape, as the images of St. Mary Lake and the surrounding Mountains demonstrate:

Fisheye lenses also can be used to nice effect at Two Medicine Lake:

Note how the fisheye effect reduces the background at the expense of the foreground, making the mountain in the center chain much smaller than it really is. That is Sinopah Mountain, and it rises nearly 3,000 feet above the lake.

Most fisheye lenses are primes, which can make them somewhat restrictive in what you can do with them. Back in the nineties, Pentax decided to introduce a fisheye prime; and when the company switched from 35mm film to APS-C digital cameras, they created a new APS-C version of the lens, the DA 10-17. The optical formula of the lens was subsequently licensed to Tokina, which brought out a version for Canon and Nikon DSLRs. I’ve already written of the advantage of a fisheye that zooms in landscape photography. It was certainly helpful at Glacier. At 10mm we get the ultra-wide look:

There’s not a huge difference at 13mm; but nonetheless the ability to fine-tune the focal length is convenient:

Zoom in some more for yet another look at 17mm:

General rule of thumb for photography involving ILCs: use primes for oft-used focal lengths, and zooms for infrequently used focal lengths.

Another trick when shooting mountain lakes with a fisheye is to tilt the lens downward to give the lake a circular look. Sometimes this can lead to a more realistic look (in that the lake may actually be circular, such as Crater Lake). At other times, it can do odd things to the mountains that rise along the edges. It’s still fun to try:

Fisheye lens are basically the ultimate in ultra-wide angle, useful for the tightest spots. Red Eagle Mountain towers over St. Mary Lake. It can be difficult to capture the entire mountain and the lake in one shot. Even with a wide angle rectilinier 15mm lens, you can’t quite capture the entire mountain and is entire reflection in the lake:

A fisheye lens normally has about a 180º field-of-view (from the top corner on one side to the bottom corner on the other), so it can encompass anything you throw against it. If you’re photographing a mountain rising from a lake, just keep the horizon in the center of the image and the distortion won’t necessarily cause problems: