Summer Fairs – Interesting Time to Try Something Different
by Peter Zack
As photographers, we’re always looking for something different we haven’t tried before. In many places around North America and other regions, this is the season of summer fairs. They offer some interesting photo opportunities—many have the ladies at the bake tables, the big BBQ spot, candy apples and cotton candy. My home town is hosting one right now. It was fun to go out and see the kids of all ages, still enjoy going to these events. Then there’s the animals in the petting zoo, the farm displays and in the case of our fair, lots of harness racing which will test your high-speed shooting skills.
What I wanted to do in this short article is suggest that you get out the tripod, a cable release, a wide-angle lens and prepare to shoot something a little different and a bit on the abstract side. It’s fairly simple and as long as your camera can shoot in manual mode (or a couple of tricks to get around the auto functions) you can get some very interesting results. The setup is fairly simple. Use the widest lens you have and try to frame the ride to get the entire motion in the frame. The great thing about this type of shooting is, there’s nearly no post processing involved. You’re either shooting it right, or you’re not. You are going to shoot at low ISO, partly to control noise and partly to get slow shutter speeds. At high ISO the lights on the ride can often be bright enough to get blown out and without an ND filter, your shutter speeds will be too fast to blur the motion. All the samples here were shot at ISO 200 at 12mm on a 24x36mm sensor. On a crop sensor, an ideal lens could be the Sigma 10-20mm or the Tamron 10-24mm. This might just be the excuse to get Sigma’s new 8-16mm ultra wide lens for APS-C cameras (like we really need an excuse to buy a new lens!). In any case, just pick a lens wide enough to get everything in, and don’t worry about the maximum aperture; the speed of the lens is not a concern because you’re likely to be around f/16 to f/22 for many shots.
Just like a wildlife shooter, watch and study your subject, see what the path and motion is so it doesn’t go outside the frame. Keep an eye on the sky. In the shot above, I think the sky adds quite a bit to the final image and might be better than just a black sky. Take a few test shots to see what length of time to leave the shutter open to give you the correct amount of blur or motion and the right exposure. You may decide that 1 second is right, and to keep the image from being over exposed, shoot at the lowest ISO available and stop the lens down to f/16 or more. It all depends how long you want the light trails to be. On average, I would say 0.5 to 3 seconds is about right. If your camera doesn’t have a manual setting, you may be limited in controlling the shutter speeds, but try to lock the exposure on something darker that will trick the camera into staying open long enough to give you the motion you want, or if you’re shooting a P&S with a “Night Scene” mode, use that. You have quite a bit of latitude in exposures as the night sky will stay fairly black. We just don’t want all the coloured lights to look white because they have been over exposed.
I will confess to not listening to my own advice. I hadn’t considered shooting the rides this way on my visit to the fair. So I had a monopod and no cable release as the harness racing was the intent of the visit. So with a tripod, you will get sharper details on stationary foreground subjects and that can make or break a shot. Without a cable release, you will have to gently hold the shutter down. Alternatively, if you can lock the exposure, you could use a setting like A (or Av). Gently squeeze and release the shutter, letting the camera close it when the shot is completed. Look for interesting angles to shoot from with few obstructions. In this case, the tripod is your friend and will keep a path clear. Just be prepared for the teenagers mugging for the camera! In 4 separate instances on this excursion, kids wanted their photos taken for Facebook.
So the equipment list is:
- Camera (Duh).
- Wide angle lens from fisheye to 16mm on DSLR’s. Wide adapter for a P&S.
- Sturdy tripod with (recommended) quick release for multiple moves and setups.
- Cable release.
- Admission fees, water and some time.
- Frame the entire ride path in the veiwfinder. Try to level the shot as much as possible with vertical or horizontal elements.
- Test the exposure times to increase or decrease the motion captured.
- Set the camera to as low an ISO as possible to reduce noise and slow the shutter speeds.
- Adjust the f stop as needed to expose the image based on the shutter speed/ISO combination.
- Look for unique angles that site staff won’t mind. Keep aware of where you are and that equipment can be flying around near your head.
Cheers and good shooting!
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Tags: Abstract photos, County Fairs, Photography, Photography Lessons, Slow shutter speeds