The Fun of the Fair

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Enjoy our guide to pho­tograph­ing fairs

Whether you’re af­ter cre­ative long ex­po­sures or colour­ful can­dids, there’s plenty on of­fer at your lo­cal fair. James Pater­son re­veals how to cap­ture the colour and ex­cite­ment…

As the win­ter nights close in, tour­ing fair­grounds light up our lo­cal streets and parks with a kalei­do­scope of neon. It’s the per­fect time to head out with your cam­era, not just to cap­ture beau­ti­ful light shows, but also to pho­to­graph food stalls, co­conut shies and candy-floss-scoff­ing, roller-coaster-rid­ing rev­ellers. There’ll be in­evitable screams of de­light, mo­ments of panic, and ev­ery­thing in be­tween! And then of course there are the Christ­mas fairs which fol­low a few weeks later, and which of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for slightly more re­laxed im­ages of fes­tive fun.

There are two main ap­proaches to pho­tograph­ing a fair: you can ei­ther go dur­ing the day to shoot colour­ful can­dids and de­tail shots, or you go in the evening to shoot long ex­po­sures that trans­form the rides into glow­ing pat­terns. Or you could start off in daylight and hang on un­til night­fall, as we did on our shoot at the so-called Mal­bor­ough Mop in Wilt­shire, in the south of Eng­land.

Dur­ing the day

On short win­ter af­ter­noons the hazy sun­light comes in at a low an­gle, so it of­ten re­sults in soft, direc­tional il­lu­mi­na­tion, which is ideal for pho­tos of peo­ple. This is the per­fect time to shoot por­traits and can­dids. You can ei­ther shoot into the sun for del­i­cate back­light­ing, or use the an­gle of light to cre­ate patches of high­lights and shad­ows. It can be dif­fi­cult to sim­plify your com­po­si­tion when the fair­ground

scenes you’re shoot­ing are of­ten busy. A long lens comes in handy here, as it’ll help to iso­late sub­jects from their sur­round­ings and em­pha­sise back­ground blur. As well as the peo­ple, there’s also all the para­pher­na­lia of the fair. The brightly painted sur­faces and shapes can pro­vide a colour­ful con­trast to your sub­jects.

Freeze the mo­tion

Of course, most peo­ple come for the rides. You’ll see ex­pres­sions of de­light and terror every­where you look. If you want to cap­ture the full ar­ray of great ex­pres­sions, a high shut­ter speed of 1/1000 sec or more may be nec­es­sary to freeze the ac­tion. Later on, when the sun goes down, a flash will help to pick peo­ple out. This is a good time to try some slow-sync flash: use a slower shut­ter speed and set rear-cur­tain flash for an at­mo­spheric com­bi­na­tion of blurred mo­tion and sharp sub­jects (see page 56 for more on this).

Af ter dark

As dusk turns to night the fair takes on a dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere. The young par­ents with their ex­cited tod­dlers are re­placed by sug­ared-up teens, hand-hold­ing cou­ples, and those drawn to the lights from nearby pubs. The sound sys­tems crank up, the MCs keep bel­low­ing ‘Scream if you want to go faster’, and the owner of the teacup ride de­cides to pack it in for the day. The mood, loos­ened by a cock­tail of al­co­hol, sugar and diesel fumes, be­comes more chaotic. It’s the per­fect time to cap­ture the char­ac­ter of the fair and any an­tics that may oc­cur.

Night is also the time for long ex­po­sures, and not just be­cause the dark

It can be diff icult to sim­plify your com­po­si­tion when the fair­ground scenes You’re shoot­ing are of­ten busy. A long lens comes in handy here, as it’ll help to iso­late sub­jects from their sur­round­ings and em­pha­sise back­ground blur

The sky pro­vides the per­fect un­clut­tered back­ground!

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