Fisheye effect with curved horizon line from a GoPro photo

If you have a very wide angle lens or simply a GoPro action camera, you get distorted pictures with rounded lines. This is the famous “fisheye” effect or fish eye. Like anything out of the ordinary, this effect causes emotions. And they can serve or harm your emotions that you have sought to capture and share in your photo.

I will share with you:

  • Why the fisheye effect does not seem natural
  • A reminder about the theory of emotions
  • Emotions related to a fisheye effect
  • How to correct the fisheye distortion of your photo

Before We Begin

Succeeding in making remarkable photos means provoking emotions as close as possible as those you felt during shooting. Focused on the theory of emotions, I designed a 6-step method for learning photography first with what you feel. Development is the 5th step to achieve. Among the 6 major development techniques to know, there are the techniques for correcting the geometry of your photo: the correction of fisheye distortion is one of them.

Photo Development: the 5th level of the creative photography pyramid to share your emotions in picture
The Development is the 5th level of my creative pyramid to share ones emotions in photography, once having mastered the capture of the Subject, the Shooting, the Composition and the Light © Amaury Descours

Why The Fisheye Effect Does Not Seem Natural

The fisheye effect is obtained with a very wide angle lens that covers a field of view of nearly 180°. These are either specialized lenses that are found for DSLRs, or more commonly the lenses mounted on GoPro-type action cameras. Keeping a panorama so wide on the rectangular surface of the sensor creates a photo with a spherical deformation.

This deformation is totally normal if we follow the laws of optics. Yet our eyes are able to see almost 180 ° them too, but we do not see the same thing as our camera. It is our vision system that makes the image flat: our brain performs a distortion correction of the fisheye effect! For what reasons? Evolution has judged that representing our space in a linear way, rather than curved, was a factor of survival.

That’s why when we look at a photo with a fisheye effect, optical distortion does not seem natural to us. And anything out of the ordinary provokes emotions!

A Quick Reminder About The Theory of Emotions

All types of emotions that we feel can be represented on a wheel with 8 primary emotions according to the theory of emotions of Plutchik. These primary emotions come in varying intensities (the most intense are at the center) and combine in 24 other emotions through dyads.

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
Plutchik’s emotional wheel models 48 possible emotions thanks to the primary, secondary and tertiary dyads which are combinations of the 8 primary emotions © Amaury Descours

 Emotions Related To A Fisheye Effect

GoPro photo with fisheye effect
This photo was taken with a GoPro action camera that has a very wide angle fisheye lens. The fisheye effect is immediately recognizable with the curved horizon line. Pointe du Grouin, Cancale, Brittany, 2015. GoPro Hero4 on DJI Phantom 2, equiv. 15mm, f/2.8, 1/270s, ISO 100 © Amaury Descours

Because the fisheye effect is not natural to us, it can cause the following emotions:

But if the effect is very pronounced, then it can cause more negative emotions:

If these emotions are the mirror of what you felt and want to communicate in your photo, the fisheye effect is necessary and to be kept.

On the other hand, if all these emotions are contrary to what you have experienced and want to share, then you have to correct the fisheye effect distortion.

How To Correct The Fisheye Distortion Of Your Photo

Several photo development / editing applications like Adobe Lightroom offer optical distortion corrections. Their tools are often automated because they can recognize the camera and the lens that were used for shooting: you just have to press a button. This can give satisfactory results as mixed results. Indeed this type of correction can have 2 disadvantages:

  1. The corners of the image could be very stretched
  2. The photo will be cropped to hide the empty areas resulting from the correction

If you have taken care of your frame at the shooting, the automatic correction can ruin your composition by amputating too much your picture.

Photo with Fisheye lens with distortion correction in Lightroom
In Adobe Lightroom for desktop, it is possible to apply automatic correction of fisheye distortion. The result can be very variable depending on the photo. Here, the photo is framed too tightly so that Lightroom’s correction is cropping too much the image. Also note that the corners of the image are stretched, which could be an undesirable effect for your composition © Amaury Descours

A more advanced technique is possible with Adobe Photoshop and its Adaptive Wide Angle filter. The correction can be completely personalized and thus target only the deformation of the horizon line without trimming the photo.

Adaptive Wide Angle Correction in Photoshop
In Adobe Photoshop, the Adaptive Wide Angle filter enables more targeted and more subtle corrections. Here, I’m  only straightening the curved horizon. This brings up a void on the top of the photo: it will then be filled with the content-aware filling tool. As a bonus, the image is not trimmed and retains its original composition © Amaury Descours

Since the correction necessarily makes appearing empty areas, the content-aware filling tool must be used to complete the retouching.

Photo with Fisheye lens with Photoshop adaptive wide angle correction
The photo with the final correction of the fisheye effect in Photoshop with the Adaptive Wide Angle filter, plus the content-aware filling on the top of the photo © Amaury Descours
Fisheye effect before and after distortion correction
Animation showing before and after correction of the fisheye effect. Having a straight horizon makes us no longer experience discordant emotions with what the photo wants to share © Amaury Descours

Let’s Go On Together!

Learn how to photograph with my 6-step method to make your photos first with your emotions. a powerful and intuitive approach that minimizes tools and techniques to the background.

Then understand why development in photography is essential in the expression of your emotions and explore the different geometry correction techniques:

  1. The leaning horizon line
  2. The imbalance of the vertical perspective
  3. The curved deformation of the fisheye effect (this post)

Do not miss my future posts to better capture and share your emotions in picture: subscribe to my newsletter and get my free eBook!

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