Specialty Lenses for Photographing Nature - dummies

By Doug Sahlin

Specialty camera lenses give a different look to your nature photographs, and offer cool alternatives to traditional lenses. If you drew outside the lines as a kid, and still like to draw outside the lines, specialty camera lenses may be just what you’re looking for.

Fish-eye lenses

A fisheye lens enables you to capture a huge amount of what’s in front of your camera. Many fish-eye lenses have a 180-degree field of vision. Some fish-eye lenses give you a circular image surrounded by black, while other fish-eye lenses give you the wide view with a frame-filling image.

Fish-eye lenses are not without their quirks. Vertical lines at the side of the frame will bend inward, and horizontal lines at the top or bottom of the image will bend as well. If you tilt the lens, you’ll get a curved horizon line. Objects that are close to the camera are also distorted when you use a fish-eye lens.

There are plug-ins available that are used to correct these quirks, but some photographers leave them in for effect. Used with discretion, you can get some very interesting photographs with a fish-eye lens.

Take a walk on the wild side with a fish-eye lens.
Take a walk on the wild side with a fish-eye lens.

Lensbaby lenses

The Lensbaby was invented by Craig Strong, a wedding photographer and photojournalist who wanted to achieve the dreamy look photographers got with Diana or Holga film cameras on digital cameras. A Lensbaby lens has less glass than a traditional lens, and the optic glass is curved to achieve a sweet spot of focus surrounded by blur.

The size aperture you use with the lens determines the size of the sweet spot of focus. To change an aperture on a Lensbaby, you remove an aperture disk with the magnetic aperture disc removal tool and then insert the desired disk. A larger aperture disk (small f-stop number) gives you a small sweet spot, and a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) gives you a larger sweet spot of focus.

Lensbaby also makes a product called the Composer with Tilt Transformer for Micro 4/3 and Sony NEX cameras. This is two products in one — a Composer for use on these mirrorless cameras, as well as a tilt adapter that accepts Nikon lenses. The Lensbaby is great for landscapes, flowers, and close-up photography with the macro extensions. Prices range from $100 to $250 for Lensbaby lenses, depending on the model.

Lensbaby gives you soft dreamy images with a sweet spot of focus.
Lensbaby gives you soft dreamy images with a sweet spot of focus.

The easiest Lensbaby lenses to use are the Composer and the Scout. The Composer ships with the Double Optic, and the Scout ships with the Fisheye Optic. The other optics can be used in both lenses. The Composer has a ball joint between the lens mount and the optic, and a focusing ring. You focus the lens by turning the focus barrel.

After the lens is in focus, you move the outer portion of the lens left, right, up, or down to move the sweet spot of focus. The Scout does not have the capability to move the sweet spot. You achieve focus by turning the focus barrel.