I'm always looking for ways in which to help me to be more creative with my photography straight out of camera. This can be done by using a different perspective, using slow shutter speeds, voluntary camera movements, creative blurring, etc. Another way is to use lenses to aid creativity such as the Lensbaby range of "art" lenses.
A lens in my bag that I've used creatively for a number of years now is the Sony "A mount" Samyang 8mm f3.5 fisheye lens. The lens gives a 180-degree field of view and the edges of the frame are distorted, which is handy where exaggerated perspective and an extreme field of view is needed.
The lens is extremely easy to use. There are no electronics in the body so aperture and focus is manual only. Simply set the aperture to f3.5, set the focus distance to 1 meter and everything from two foot to infinity is in sharp focus leaving you free to compose your image and shoot away. A bonus of a fisheye is the ability to capture good images in low light at slow shutter speeds hand held if you are careful. It's a very forgiving lens and a lot of fun to use. Because there are no electronics the lens is cheap and can be bought for around £250 depending on the mount. All of the photographs in this post were taken with the lens.
|Porters Cottage - National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port|
|Narrow Boat - National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port|
At the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, Wirral I had no room to step back to widen the view but the 180-degree view of the fisheye lens allowed me to get a shot and capture something different at the same time.
|Cloisters - Chester Cathedral|
A fisheye lens lends itself well to architecture where space is tight but also where you want to display the majesty of a building. I've used it to great effect inside a number of impressive buildings.
|Liverpool Central Library|
Use the camera in portrait mode as with the above photograph of Liverpool Central Library you can capture an 180-degree view of the floor and ceiling in the same shot. Likewise the shot below of the central spiral staircase of the Museum of Liverpool life is accentuated by the distortion created at the edges of the images.
|Staircase - Museum of Liverpool Life|
|Rudbeckia - Ness Botanic Gardens|
The extreme field of view pushes detail and points of interest into the far distance so getting up extremely close to foreground interest and letting the middle ground fall away into the distance can be effective. Fortunately the minimum shooting distance of this lens is 12 inches which was used in the above photograph. The biggest problem with a fisheye lens is keeping your feet or your shadow out of the shot.
|London From St Pauls Cathedral Dome|
When you do want to show the majesty of a scene then get up high and use the fisheye lens distortion to your advantage as in the above photograph taken from the dome of St Pauls Cathedral in London.
|Flaybrick Cemetery in Bidston, Wirral (720nm Infrared)|
For me the bonus of the Samyang fisheye lenses are their suitability for infrared photography. They produce sharp images with no hotspots. The only problem of course with a lens this wide is keeping flare out of your shot.
The fisheye effect doesn't suit every situation or every photographer but the Samyang fisheye lens is a cheap creative lens to have in your bag. I've now switched from Sony A mount to an E mount mirrorless camera and the first lens I bought was the Samyang 8mm f2.8 fisheye 11 which is even sharper and smaller than the early A mount version used to capture these images.