How to: Get awesome Photos at the Fun Fair at Night

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This is an old blogpost from the time when I still used a DSLR. I keep it online for nostalgic purposes as this is now an iPhone photography blog.

I always wanted to try taking photos of spinning rides at the fun fair. It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. It can be tricky to get the exposure time right. If it's too long, I simply got a white circle. During a too short exposure the ferris wheel wouldn't turn far enough and the photo would just look like a blurry photo of a ferris wheel. I used a Manfrotto 055XProb Pro Tripod [Amazon Link] for that photo.

I enhanced the photo by slightly increasing saturation and contrast in Apple Aperture [Mac App Store Link].

I thought it was easy to take some good photos at the fun fair. Turned out, it is not. I've compiled my learnings into 5 tips for taking awesome Night Photos at the Fun Fair

I learned the hard way that it's not easy to get good photos of fun rides at a fairground. Here are 5 learnings from a photo session at a fun fair.

Check operating Hours

Although checking for the operating hours might seem obvious, I failed on this one. Shame on me. The fairground I visited for this photo session had two different operating schedules. The opening hours of the fairground itself and a different schedule for the fun rides. The rides stopped two hours ahead before the park closes. I heard "last ride" announcements all over the place just 15 minutes after it got totally dark and I started to photograph.

Try to find out if your fun fair has two different schedules, too.

Have a look at the Lights

When I arrived at the fairground, I set up my tripod and began to take photos right away. But everything I got was photos of illuminated circles in a single color. Only that was not what I was looking for.

Flashing lights will appear as a simple, single color circles on your photos. Most suitable are rides with running lights with multiple colors. This will produce some nice effects on your shots.

Watch the light show of the fun rides for a while before you start to shoot. I recommend looking for running lights in different colors and not just flashing lights. Observe the lights from a distance to get an impression.

Get the Exposure right

These two photos illustrate the result of a too long or too short exposure setting.

To get the exposure right is one of the most difficult things when shooting at a fairground. If the exposure is too short, you will just see a partial spin. If it's too long, you will get a boring, luminescent circle.

Use a stopwatch e.g. on your smartphone to get an idea of the right exposure time. Either measure the time a fun ride needs for a full spin or the time the light show needs to run through once.

Then set your camera to shutter priority, use the determined time, and adjust aperture and ISO to match the exposure. Remember to keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid noise.

Turn ISO down

Unless you own a full-format digital camera, I recommend keeping ISO as low as possible. Conventional DSLRs tend to produce (lots of) noise during a long time exposure at night. Depending on your camera, I recommend keeping the ISO setting at or below ISO 200.

Use a Tripod, Mirror Lockup and a Remote Shutter Control

Once you got the first four tips right, make sure you get a perfectly sharp photo. When photographing at a fairground, you will be using exposure times up to 3 seconds. Place your camera on a stable tripod. Additionally, use mirror lockup and a remote shutter control to avoid even small vibrations and blurry shots caused by releasing the shutter.