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The 4 essential parts of every AMAZING landscape photo
Today Nikon announced the release of the brand new AF-S Fisheye NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED lens. I’m excited to say that I had the honor and privilege of once again working with Nikon to create images for the launch of this lens.
This was an incredible shoot to be a part of as it took place in one of the most beautiful areas of the world: southern Patagonia. Thanks to the dramatic landscapes and topsy-turvy weather I experienced during the shoot I was able to create quite a few interesting images with this lens. However I also have to give a massive amount of credit for the success of the shoot to the creative director, Soichi Hayashi. It’s amazing to work with someone who has such respect for and faith in your work, to give you the freedom to create the photos you want while also providing excellent technical and creative feedback and ideas. Thank you very very much, Soichi.
The shoot was very loose, and the goal was simple: push the lens to its limits and discover its potential for landscape photography.
First, let me talk a little about the technical qualities of the lens. Pixel peepers will be happy to know that the lens itself is incredibly sharp, with excellent depth of field, even wide-open. It handles chromatic aberration well and has great color and contrast rendition. And with the new nano-crystal coat, flares and ghosts are virtually eliminated.
But as technically sound as the lens is, I was personally more interested in the artistic applications. Because a fisheye lens is not typically thought of as landscape lens I wanted to take the opportunity to dig into the versatility and unique perspectives of this new tool. If you’ve never used a fisheye lens before the first thing that will strike you is of course the fisheye perspective. Straight lines become wildly curved, objects close to the lens are exaggerated, and objects in the background are diminished.
And while the new Nikkor lens demonstrates all these classical fisheye attributes, it’s not a gimmick or a novelty. I quickly discovered that the neck-stretching perspective and fisheye distortion could be used creatively to create compelling, and otherwise-impossible, landscape imagery.
For example, on a full-frame body, the lens has a field of view of 180°. At 8mm, that gives you a fully circular image. At 15mm, the image fills the frame, but you still have almost 180° from corner to corner. This translates to roughly 150° across the frame. 150 degrees!! That’s huge! That means you can shoot panoramic images in a single frame. No stitching required.
Here’s a shot of the exact same scene using my AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens at 18mm for comparison.
In addition to the single-shot panoramics, the massive perspective of the lens gives you an opportunity to shoot foreground elements from extremely close and still get them entirely within the frame. For this photo I estimate that I was approximately 18″ away from the base of the tree, and that the tree is 7-8 feet tall.
The following photo was taken inside an ice tunnel in the Perito Moreno glacier. Even though the tunnel isn’t large the fisheye lens gives an immersive, wrap-around look.
And speaking of close, the minimum focus distance for this fisheye lens is 16 cm. Which means it can function as an incredibly unique macro lens as well.
One other cool thing about this fisheye lens is because of the way it renders real-world geometry, circular objects in the real world look like circles through the lens. Unlikely rectilinear ultra-wide lenses which turn circles into oblong ovals near the corners, this lens does a much better job of reproducing circles as circles. Here you can see a halo from the setting sun is almost perfectly circular despite being close to the edge of the frame.
Finally, let’s look at the heart of the fisheye distortion for this lens: straight lines in real life bend away from the center of the image frame. Because of that I found it very easy to create natural frames within a photo as shown below. In this case the trees in the upper right and lower left are actually parallel to each other, growing straight up out of the ground. But by laying down on the ground and shooting up I could easily wrap both of them around the interesting tree and clouds in the center of the frame.
Even within the confines of a dense forest I found this distortion to create a very pleasing effect, almost like the lines are wrapping around the central subject and giving it a visual hug. For example with this striking tree. The subtle curving of the branches and rocks around it do a great job of framing the main subject:
I also spent a few days creating lots of timelapse video using the lens.
And to cap things off here are a few more of my favorite images shot using the new AF-S Fisheye NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED. It’s a really fun lens to use, and surprisingly cool and versatile for landscape photography. And I personally can’t wait to buy a copy for myself. Hope you enjoyed seeing some of these first shots. If you have any questions about the lens let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.