Fall is my favorite time of year to take photographs, and I always push myself to get out and make the most of the brief window of brilliant color. I have spent the last week chasing fall foliage in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. This year, after taking the obvious shots of deep oranges and reds, I used my Sigma 15mm F2.8 Diagonal Fisheye lens to capture the forest from a different perspective.
I find that the most compelling fisheye images include a strong foreground element that is positioned less than 12 inches from the front of the lens. For fall foliage, I decided to find colorful leaves to use as foreground elements to frame the forest in the background.
At a towering 5 feet 2 inches, I am often too short to get my lens close enough to the leaves with my eye still on the viewfinder. I solve this problem by lifting my camera up above my head and moving the lens around to capture different angles. By reviewing the composition on the back of my camera, I am able to readjust and eventually capture a pleasing frame. A few of the images in this series were shot this way, enabling me to get a perspective I could not achieve with my camera on a tripod. Luckily the Sigma 15mm Fisheye is so lightweight that it is easy to handhold.
When shooting up at the sky, the foreground element is often dark or silhouetted. I deal with this by using a little fill flash to add light to the leaves in the foreground. I shoot with an off-camera flash dialed down to – 1 or -1 2/3 and use a small diffuser on the flash to spread out the light. In the following two images, you can see the difference a little fill flash makes in the overall exposure. The first image is shot without fill flash and the second has the fill flash set at – 1.
I have also found that midday is a great time to photograph foliage with the fisheye, because the foliage is backlit if you stand directly underneath the leaves. The sunlight adds beautiful contrast to the colors. On a clear day, you will also get a nice blue sky behind the foliage. I even include the sun in many images (as in the first example) because the fisheye adds a nice sunburst to the image and makes the sun small enough so that it is not distracting.
I often hear people say that fisheye lenses are only novelty lenses, but I find myself using this lens more and more as I search for different ways to photograph common scenes. If used effectively, the results can be very dramatic. For me, the fisheye is also a great tool to get me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to look at subjects I love, like fall foliage, with fresh eyes.