It's fall fair time again!

Have you ever wanted to get out and photograph a fall fair? Let me help you with some tips on how to take midway long exposures. 

Paris fair.jpg

Here we are at the tail end of summer, in Ontario the fairs have been going on all summer but now we are getting into some nice fall nights. This begs for the creature of the night to get out with their camera and take some images of rides. This can be a fun experience, by no mean should you get frustrated at all. Its all about letting the artistic side of you fly and enjoying the atmosphere. 

Lets start off with a quick gear check so you are ready for the night.

Camera, 2 batteries, memory card or cards large enough to take a few hundred photos, tripod, shutter remote and a few lenses, possibly a wide angle and something longer to zoom in for tight abstracts. Lens cleaning cloth. 

Let's get started! Have you ever taken a long exposure before? If not its fun as it can be so foreign to your eye. Let alone if you are at the fair with all those vibrant colours that just make vivid images to begin with. First I would say get to the location at least an hour before the starting of the sunset. This will allow you time to walk around and get a feel for the area. Try to find places where you can safely shoot from out of the major traffic zones. Lets face it kids are not at a fair to be mindful of photographers with tripods. Most likely they could bump into you or your gear so always be on the look out for people not paying attention. Boy's are out with the gang looking for a nice girl to sit on the Ferris wheel so they can get a big smooch. Girls, well they are girls! Its all about the Instagram photos, selfies and looking their best to make the boys want them. So don't laugh at my blog post when this happens right in front of you. 😁 

Ok you find the spot and its starting to get into a blue hour so the long exposures can start. Set up the camera on the tripod, install the remote and lets get ready. Base settings for this time of night will be ISO 100, autofocus set to manual and manually focus on the rides. F18 to narrow aperture to let in less light and a shutter speed of about 1/5 of a second. Here is the exact science to getting the best picture, are you ready? There is none, long exposures are all about trial and error photographing rides. Contributing factors can be ride speed, colour of lights or if there is bright white lights. So when you are shooting look at the preview on your camera and make sure you are not blowing out the highlights. This can also be done to an extent by using a histogram monitor or highlight monitor. The lights that are going to be the brightest are the stationary lights around the rides. These lights will give you big starbursts or even highlight blowouts. Once you are in the darker hours try different shutter speeds possibly up to ten seconds, this will always give you different looking images. 

Here is an example of 3 images below, all the same subject but yet different. 

From left to right the image times were 1.3 seconds for the still image and 4 seconds for the last two images. But they look so different? Why do they look different if they were taken at the same shutter speed you ask? This has to do with ride speed, another factor that will always make your images look slightly different than somebody shooting right beside you. 

Lets look at a different ride, these three images are of the same ride at three different fairs. You can see the ambient light and image shutter speed can make all the difference in the image. Another thing to mention is this ride and many others have lights on the bottom of the seats, baskets or other areas. These may be controlled or hooked up into a light unit that is effected by music. Meaning the drive to the song thats playing is a slow part it may not light up as much as a part that has a hard drive. This is another reason why you will likely never be able to re create the same image twice.

Look for different areas that you can shoot the fair wide as well. Look for something that may offer an interesting foreground to pull the viewer into the image. Also remember the eye will always be drawn to the light. This image below took me half hour to achieve the look I wanted based on the rides moving in the scene. I also used a flash in hand to freeze the motion of the dragon head, look hard for it  

fair crop.jpg

My advice when you are looking for rides to photograph is to look for lights on the seated area, as well something that moves up and down so you can get some really abstract images. Also look for backgrounds that allow your viewer to look around and see more of the fair. Don't worry about people moving around, its a byproduct of a long exposure. If you think they will bother you try using a ND filter to have an even longer exposure to eliminate them. 

2012 fall fair.jpg

Like I mentioned make sure you have fun! Enjoy the scenery, possibly bring up some old memories of when you got a smooch from that person of the past or your significant other at the fair. Possibly play a game or two and try your luck out, or just throw your money away.😉 If you are feeling tired you can always grab some cotton candy to give you a jolt of sugar so you yawn the whole ride home after the fair :) 

Here is a collection of some other long exposure images I have taken over the years so you can find ideas for your next outing. 

If you are looking to get out before the season is over we still have about a month of good fairs left. Here is a link to the remaining 2018 Ontario fairs, Western in London and Rockton are two good fairs to visit.

Thanks again for reading todays blog, remember try different shutter speeds and apertures, it will make each image unique. As well make sure you wipe off your lens every now and then, nobody wants to come home and see spots all over their images. 


Chris Pepper




Are you looking for a private guide for trips in Canada? Contact me through our private guiding page.

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