Quick Tip: Speed and Light at the Fairground

I can’t think of a better reason to go to the fair then to capture those moments with a photograph. Fairs can provide some of the greatest photographic offerings ranging from multi colored lights, rides in motion, textures, crowds, and don’t forget the carnival food the options are infinite.

Important notes for taking photographs at the fair. Keep in mind that most people don’t want their photos taken by a stranger, and especially not their children. If you feel compelled to take a photo of a child, be sure to ask permission first. Remember that security is watching and may approach you to ask if you have permission to be there as a photographer. Security is not there to give you a hard time, but merely protecting the welfare of their patrons.

Capturing Motion
Capturing movement is a wonderfully challenging and rewarding opportunity, especially when the subject has lights. It can make for an incredibly dynamic scene. Fast shutter speeds are used to preserve the overall sharpness, but the use of slow shutter speeds allows the subject to blur creating motion and a sense of speed in the photograph. Experiment with different speed to get the desired results and push your comfort zones sometime you will be amazed at the effects.

Some of my best shots have been captured during twilight. The fair comes alive during twilight as thousands of light start to race and twinkle. The only issue with twilight is that it lasts about 20 minutes, so you can think of it like a sunset. You want to capture the rich blues and purples in the open skies, and the rich oranges and yellows at the horizon. That provides a pleasing background for the fairground lights. This magical time is when you can get fantastic eye popping balanced photographs.

Panning takes some practice to nail down. With practice and good timing this effect will convey movement and give a sense of speed like no other technique. Panning allows us to keep the subject in focus while allowing the background to blur.

The range that I use for panning is between 1/60th and 1/4th second. The reason there is such a large range of shutter speeds is that the lighting, speed of the subject and environmental conditions can vary dramatically. If you are going to drop below 1/4th second I have found that a mono pod will help with camera shake.
Press the shutter release as gently as possible to reduce camera shake.  Continue to pan with the subject, even after you’ve heard the shutter release close. This follow through is where most amateurs fall short. If you stop panning during the exposure you risk the change of blurring the subject along with the background. A smooth follow through will ensure the motion blur is smooth from start to finish.

Shooting up at carnival rides make them appear larger than they are, so get low if you can. By shooting low you can eliminate some of the busy ground and separate your subject from the background.

Freezing Action
Freezing the action of a fast moving carnival rides at night can be a bit of a challenge. Vibrant fairground photographs can be captured by pushing your ISO up so that you can obtain faster shutter speeds. Shutter speeds of 1/125th – 1/250th should capture most carnival rides although some rides can get some intense speeds. For these rides increase the ISO higher until you get a shutter speed that can freeze the action. You can also use a smaller aperture such as f/2.8 (or the lowest f number your lens has) to increase the shutter speed. Now keep in mind that increasing the ISO will also increase the grain in the image. However, capturing a photo is better than not capturing the photo, and most times higher grain adds to the character of the image. Don’t be afraid to experiment with higher ISO’s.

The Midway offers a plethora of photographic options so take some time to walk up and down and check out all the possible angles and vantage points.

Have fun and be creative.

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