"Roller Coaster Photos"
Original Article by Steve Hynes
"Article first featured in Olympus User Magazine"
A BUSTLING ATMOSPHERE can provide rich
pickings for terrific fairground photographs. With
lots of action and colour, there are numerous
opportunities to put your skills to the test.
Opportunities range from pictures of terrified
patrons to bold and colourful images of the
whirling rides. And just when you think you’ve
exhausted all the possibilities, twilight falls
and transforms the entire scene, providing
a whole new set of image opportunities.
My first tip is to pick a nice sunny day with
bright blue skies. The brilliant colours just
don’t look as appealing against a washed out
sky. Also, time your visit to include twilight
as this is when many of the most interesting
fairground photographs can be created. Take a tripod, as you
will need it for the twilight shots.
Capturing these images will test your
reflexes and ability to anticipate the action.
Whether you’re trying to freeze the action or
use controlled blur to convey a sense of speed,
it’s your skill that really makes the difference.
There is one further point to keep in mind.
In these days of widespread misuse of
images on the internet, many people don’t
like having their pictures, or pictures of their
children, taken by a stranger. If you wander
around a fairground alone with a camera you
will soon be pounced on by security.
They’re not trying to give you a hard time, but merely
protecting the interests and wishes of their
patrons. The best approach is to go along
with a group of friends or family. Once they
see that you are taking fairground photographs of people
in your group they will leave you alone and
other patrons are unlikely to be concerned.
1The twilight zone
Dusk brings the fairground to life with
thousands of lights. But you have to
work quickly, as there is a window of
only about 20 minutes when the sky
still has enough light to render as a deep
indigo, providing a pleasing background for the
Once the sky goes black the
contrast becomes too great to make well balanced
fairground photographs. This ride made a pleasing shot
when photographed at a slow shutter speed,
allowing the riders to become a complete blur,
but freezing the motion with a higher shutter
speed also worked.
people on a ride
anticipation and reactions.
Firstly, you should watch the
ride a couple of times to work
out where you need to aim.
There is usually one point on
a ride at which people react,
while at other points they can
look rather expressionless.
Also, consider your angle when
choosing a vantage point –
shooting from below adds to
Once you’ve worked
out where the action happens,
you need to manually pre-focus
on that point and wait for the
riders to come into frame. Prefocusing
is better than autofocus
in these situations, as even the
best autofocus systems would
struggle to track such fast
movement so close to the
camera. A fast shutter speed
is needed to freeze the action.
This shot was taken at 1/1000
second using shutter priority
3Get down low
Rides are usually
colourful and bold in
form, but shooting
them from a normal
height can result in fairground photographs with a cluttered background of
equally dynamic machines. To
capture the essence of this ride,
a low shooting angle was chosen,
shooting through the safety
fence with a wide angle lens.
A fast shutter speed was selected
to preserve the overall sharpness,
but a slow speed that allowed
some blurring at the ends of
the arms would also work well.
Rides are not always full, so try
to shoot when there are occupied
carriages in shot. Although the
two girls are a minor element in
this shot, they are important to
the overall composition.
The ‘sky drop’ ride may
be exciting to ride on
but it makes a rather
static image when
Twilight provided a more
With its lights on and a deep blue sky
behind, and the camera on a
tripod, a slow shutter speed
was selected to show the
movement of the platform.
Angling the upright column
across the diagonal of the
frame also gives fairground photographs
Freezing the action of
fast-moving rides at
night requires the use
of high ISO settings.
For this image a setting of ISO
800 was used, with the lens
wide open to allow a shutter
speed of 1/125 second. The
penalty for using high ISO
ratings is an increase in the
image ‘noise’, giving a grainy
noticeable in areas of even tone
such as the sky.
some pleasingly vibrant fairground photographs
can be captured in this way.
Once again, the window of
opportunity for this type of
shot is quite narrow, lasting
only as long as there is some
light in the sky.
Let’s face it –
dodgem cars are
hardly the high
point of fast action.
However, some interesting
images can be made by using
controlled blur to produce a
sense of speed. A slow shutter
speed of around 1/4 second is
a good starting point. Images
that are blurred all over are very
easy to capture, but it’s a little
harder to get a picture in which
a key point, such as the driver’s
face, is relatively sharp while
the rest of the image is more
To do this you need to
pan so that the driver’s face
remains at the same point in
the frame throughout the
exposure. It does take some
practice and results are always
going to be rather hit-and-miss.
© Olympus UK
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