180 Degrees of Awesomeness

Last spring, I purchased a fish-eye lens. A Samyang 8mm f/3.5 to be exact. I didn’t have an immediate use for the glass, but I couldn’t help but want it. Especially after The Angry Photographer’s video on why you absolutely MUST own a fish-eye if you ever wish to do wedding photography. Yes, I should have gotten the f/2.8 version, but I wasn’t exactly sure how good an investment this would be (and frankly, good glass is too expensive if you’re not sure you need it). This lens, at just under $300, was cheap enough to live with.

And live with it, I did! …for over a month of non-use. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have an immediate need for it. This lens fell into the “I’ll be happy to have it, if I ever need it” category. Plus it had a bit of a learning curve, compared to other lenses. I was used to glass that “just worked”. Hell, most of the time my camera is in Aperture Priority, auto-focus, and auto-ISO (I tend to be more of a point-and-shoot photographer). So a manual-focus lens that shoots butt-ugly wide open isn’t exactly a perfect match for me. By the end of that first month, I’d only used it a couple of times, just to tinker with.

One night Rome invited me out to do some shooting out on the Pacific Coast Highway. I agreed and began to assemble my kit. He had mentioned some time before that he wanted some portraits done, so this seemed like a good opportunity to get some practice. My kit included just about everything I owned. Not surprisingly, it didn’t all fit in the bag, so I had to carry my D610 and 24-70mm lens separately. …At least I WOULD have, had I not forgotten it. But this is where things took an interesting turn. Without my standard setup, I was forced to use my smaller camera and my more unconventional lenses. And it’s that experience that made me fall in love with my fish-eye.

The first stop that night was the giant sand dune just south of Mugu Rock. Though I’ve never given much thought to climbing it (surprising, since I’ve driven by it many times), we ended up heading all the way to the top. And what a pain in the ass that was! The dune is deceptively large. Despite the number of times I’ve passed the thing, it was only on the day that I climbed it, that I realized how big it really is. I’d say about 10 stories, easily. But I digress…

Now, there wasn’t much up there to photograph. But after all that climbing, I wasn’t about to go back down without getting as much as I could from the location. So I had to get creative.  I had two lenses: my 90mm macro, and my fish-eye. The 90mm just wasn’t right for the location. All I could really do with it, is zoom in a bit on the cars below. Mostly a boring shot. So then I tried the fish-eye. This produced more interesting results. In addition, the limits of the lens demanded that I take some longer exposures in order to get clean images. So I took out my flash, and things got REALLY interesting.

I should take this time to explain that I know next to nothing about flash photography. In fact, the two I own are left over remnants from when I used to own Canon equipment. But because I was doing long-exposures, I felt that flashes could help produce better portraits and maybe reduce some blur. So I started experimenting.

During the first few tries, I ended up with ghost images of myself. Not what I wanted, but certainly interesting. Eventually I got something I kind of liked. Though by then, the location had gotten pretty stale and we left for the Channel Islands harbor to find some new sights. There, we took several other images on and under the Channel Islands bridge before finally heading home. The evening left me with a new-found appreciation for my fish-eye and needless to say, it wasn’t long before I found myself out shooting with it again.

About a week later, Rome and I went to Ventura Pier for some more photos. And of course, I brought the fish-eye. This time I focused specifically on landscape long-exposures. And boy, did this lens shine! I got some great shots, both on and off the pier. But most importantly, I gained a better understanding of this lens’s purpose- to capture (or create) a sense of grandeur- no small feat for this little lens!

All in all, this lens was a great purchase. It pulled me out of my photographic comfort zone, and presented me with new opportunities for creativity! It is a welcome part of my arsenal, and one that I hope to continue using for years to come.