Taming the Swirl

Since I’ve had the Nikon 10.5mm semi-fisheye I’ve come to regard it as an essential lens. It isn’t something I want to use every day on every subject, but when you find a subject that needs it, it is generally the only thing that will do.

One thing I love is the ability to shoot in crowds, where you have essentially zero working distance – if you try and draw back to get your subject in frame, other people just fill up the gap. With the ‘fish’ you can avoid leaving gaps and take your pictures. But there is a down side, and it is what happens close to the frame edges, where people (or anything else) gets curiously curved towards the edge and stretched out vertically. Sometimes you get a face that looks more like a caricature drawn on a kind of crescent moon.

Corrected Image
Image has been corrected using Fisheye Hemi.

It’s all a matter of perspective, and working on digital makes it a simple matter to alter the perspective projection; many images are considerably improved by re-mapping them using the free Panorama tools plugin for Photoshop. Its perhaps surprising that changing to the normal rectilinear mode seldom gives usable results, at least not without excessing cropping. It just isn’t a viable method for very wide angles of view, as it greatly stretches anything near the edges of the picture.

Usually the best results are made using the ‘QTVR-Panoramic’ setting, although the ‘PS-Sphere’ can also be interesting. Both do however involve a noticeable loss of the image.

You can see some examples and comments in my Getting More from the Nikkor 10.5 Fisheye
and also Fisheye Hemi and other plugins. The others include the very versatile PTLens, an essential tool for anyone shooting digital, particularly if you ever photograph subjects with straight lines.

The two images here were both made using the appropriate Fisheye Hemi plugin to remap the perspective. I also used Lightroom to remove chromatic aberration and remove the slight lightening at the edges of the frame – a kind of negative vignetting.

Corrected using Fisheye Hemi
Another corrected fisheye image

I don’t know what Reuters would make of this; it almost certainly would be in breach of the actual rules they set down. To me, this kind of manipulation is an important part in making my pictures more accurately represent the situation I was photographing. It would be nice if lens-makers could produce lenses that worked more like the way that we see things, but I think physically impossible. With digital we can use software to get closer.

Peter Marshall

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