How-To Create That Fabulous, Funky Fisheye Look


It was the swinging `60s, I was in college, and many wore a rainbow of tie-dyed colors. What had been "normal" was being challenged on every front, and that included photography. The bulging, startling perspective of the fisheye lens added an otherworldly look to album covers for rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Now, decades later, just as bell bottom pants recently returned for yet another cycle, fisheye images have again reared their heads in both print and television ads. A fisheye lens, of course, is one that takes in an extremely wide angle of view, often 180º, and appears as a circle within the black image frame. Yes, there are rectilinear full frame fisheyes (which give a rectangular, not round image), but to my mind, they're merely ultra-wide angle lenses. A true fisheye, on the other hand, is a unique special effects tool which renders a unique circular perspective of the world.

When I was a student, fisheye lenses cost a small fortune (some still do). What to do? I drilled a hole in the center of a lens cap and glued a brass door peephole from a hardware store to it. Snapping the lens cap/fisheye lens over a 50mm or wider angle standard lens, I got a small 180º circular fisheye image in the center of the black frame. Quality was not great, but the effect was spectacular.

Digital Fisheye
While a selection of prime and supplementary fisheye lenses can be found today, the easiest route to the fisheye look is digital. And you can apply it to any photo you've ever taken. The distorted perspective can add drama and humor to subjects like people, pets, and garage bands, even flowers and cityscapes. What's more, it's not very complicated at all.

1. Open your photo, #1, shot with a Canon 10D digital SLR, in Adobe Photoshop, Elements 2, or other image-editing program. Make a copy (Image>Duplicate) and experiment with the copy.

2. Make your rectangular picture square. This easiest method to do this is to crop it using the crop tool. So you lose some image data, so what? Here's an alternative method: choose Image>Image Size from the menu. At the bottom of the dialog, uncheck the box for "Constrain proportions." Check the box for "Re-sample image" and choose Bicubic. Finally, in the Document Size section, highlight the smaller dimension (width or height) and type in the same number as the longer dimension, so the image will become square.
Or, you can compress the image by making it square to match the smaller dimension. Either approach will, of course, add some more distortion. But for most of us, that's what fisheye is all about. Warning: Once you've completed this step, go back to the Image size dialog and check "Constrain proportions," then uncheck "Re-sample image."


3. Now, the fun begins. From the Menu, choose Filter>Distort>Spherize, #2. Try an amount of 100 percent and a mode setting of Normal. If you don't like the effect, try re-cropping your original photo before applying the filter. For a shot of a person or a pet, experiment with cropping so that the head is in the middle or to one side.


4. As soon as you click OK, the spherize distortion will be applied, #3. Note that the center of the image bulges out while the edges stay normal. You may like the effect just as it is now. Or you might also try running the filter two or more times, depending on how twisted you are.


5. Now, to emulate a true camera fisheye lens image, the edges need to be black. To accomplish this, choose the elliptical marquee tool from the toolbox. To select a circle the same size as the circular fisheye distortion inside your photo, hold down the shift key and drag diagonally across the image with the tool, #4. Holding the shift key changes the elliptical marquee to draw a circle. This may take a few tries to get the size right.

Also, if you make a circle that is the right size, but it's off center, release the mouse, then drag inside the circle to reposition it. If you make a circle, but it's too small, go to Select>Modify>Expand and type in 5 or 10 pixels. Click OK and your circle will expand by the number you entered. Drag inside the selection circle to position it exactly.

6. Next, to select the edge areas to be changed to black, choose Select>Inverse.


7. Fill the selection with black by choosing Edit>Fill, and choosing black (usually the foreground color), #5. Now, this is the real fisheye look. However, you may want to tweak it a bit more.


8. To add even more realism (or surrealism) to the effect, consider injecting some lens flare. Choose Filter>Render>Lens flare. I have to admit that this is a filter that I thought I'd never use, but it's perfect for the ultimate fisheye look. That's the Lens Flare dialog box in #6. For this image, I chose a brightness of 100 percent and a 105mm prime lens setting. I dragged the flare inside the preview box to position it where it best fit into the composition. Experiment with different settings to see what is available and what works best with a particular image.


9. After clicking OK, the filter rendered this flare to create the ultimate effect #7.



10. In my example of the skateboarder, I first re-sized the 6x9" image to 6x6" using the Image>Image size command with "Constrain proportions" unchecked, and "Re-sample image" checked #8 and #9. All the steps were the same as mentioned, except for the Lens Flare filter, where I chose "Movie prime" as the Lens type, and set the brightness slider to 76 percent.

Now that you've seen how easy it is, rock your world with this effect. It offers fast, painless relief from all those boring "normal," images assaulting your eyes every day.

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