Roger Hicks considers… ‘Palace garden and Cathedral, Chichester’, 2018, by Nigel Hayes
Fisheye lenses are extremely seductive: who has not been fascinated by them? But all too often they seduce us into paths of unrighteousness: of poor composition, novelty at the expense of all else, and sometimes of dubious technical quality as well. Full-frame fisheyes are bad enough, but circular-image fisheyes are worse. And yet, when I saw this picture by Nigel Hayes, El_ Sid on the AP forum (go there, and thence to his Flickr gallery), I was mightily impressed. So was my wife Frances Schultz, but she was more succinct: she just said, ‘Wow.’
Why, then, is it so successful? One reason, I suspect, is that it reflects the not uncommon experience of simultaneously seeing and experiencing both the near at hand and the far away: the far that we are going towards or returning from, and the near that envelopes or even immerses us. Compositionally, this is always hard to achieve, on any format with any focal length, but here the balance is superb. We almost fall into the scene as if it were a microcosm, as if we could pass through the (domed) looking-glass or into a world within a paperweight.
The cathedral and the flowers are the principal picture elements, but there are at least two more: the people on the extreme left, and the bench and sunlit tree trunk on the right. For that matter, the orange boundary wall is important. As so often, I’ll suggest a simple experiment. Cover up one or more elements with your thumb(s), and the picture is weakened. You can’t possibly analyse everything consciously while you are shooting, but if you have looked at enough good pictures for long enough, you see it on a semi-conscious level.
Near and far are not the only contrasts. Another is between the enduring and the transient: the centuries-old cathedral and the flowers and foliage of spring. All will be very different in winter. Now add the contrasts of man-made, natural, and the interplay of the two. The straight lines of the cathedral and the bench; the natural profusion of the garden; and the fact that they are after all more or less formal gardens, created and tamed by man. Then there are the contrasts of colours, and their own profusions and contrasts: red against green, orange against green, warm-coloured stone against deep blue.
Everywhere, too, there is more or less asymmetry, somewhat in the Japanese manner. In a circular fisheye composition, all conventional bets are off: where are the thirds, the left-right balances, the tonal masses? I’ve never seen enough good, round fisheye pictures to analyse them properly before. But now, at least I have a basis for comparison.