Photographing at a fairground can be fun to do. It’s a fun place to go, with lots of people, bright lights and action. It can also pose challenges for capturing great photos. I have some ideas and advice if you are thinking of photographing a fairground.
Fun fairs reappear in the Netherlands in the spring. These travel from place to place, providing many exciting entertainments for many people. For the photographer, this can be a difficult subject. Shooting a funfair at night offers many possibilities. Lights, action, and people having a good time are great subjects for taking pictures.
A funfair can seem chaotic at first. How is it possible to take beautiful photos in this chaos, where people are coming and going, talking, calling or shouting against the background of constantly changing lights and movements? Do you want to take photos of fair visitors or attractions? What parameters do you need and how can you bring order to this chaos?
It is impossible to use a setting that works for every type of photography in a fairground. The correct setting depends on the result you want to achieve or the subject you are capturing. Photographers often ask about EXIF data when they see a photo taken at a fairground. But that won’t offer much help when they make their own attempt.
There are basically two types of photos you can take. One captures people’s moments at the fairground. The other is movements by fairground attractions. Both require different settings.
The first is perhaps the most difficult. Photographing people often requires a relatively fast shutter speed. That means you have to rely on high ISO levels, even if you can use a wide aperture like f/1.8 or f/1.4. I would definitely recommend a shallow depth of field in order to isolate someone from their surroundings. It offers a way to reduce distractions in the background. Often f/2.8 will do just fine.
Exposure can be tricky due to the vast difference in light levels. The background is often much brighter than your subject. You either have to choose between an exposure for the highlights and the subject in the shadows or a well exposed subject and the highlights blow out in the back. The choice is yours. It is possible to use the fill flash, but it will attract attention.
Capturing motion can be much easier. Just use a narrow aperture and a low ISO level. The shutter speed will become long enough to capture the movement of the lights. You can even use a neutral density filter to more easily get the shutter speed you want, but I wouldn’t recommend anything over three stops. Of course, a tripod is recommended.
A sense of calm in the photo
A carnival can be quite chaotic. The chaos can be distracting if you try to capture too much of it in the frame. Using a wide angle lens can allow you to get a lot of lights and attractions in one shot, but it may not result in an attractive image.
It’s often best to choose one topic and focus on it. For example, zoom in on people and capture what they are doing. Or you can capture great silhouettes of people standing in front of a brightly lit fairground attraction. Combine that with a longer shutter speed and the results might surprise you.
Capture the movement
Everywhere you look at a fairground, everything seems to be moving. The attractions and their lights never stop. Capturing these attractions with a fast shutter speed doesn’t show the dynamics of the carnival; it just freezes the moment. Increase your shutter speed to capture this movement. Sometimes a second is enough, but you might want to experiment with that.
As said in the previous chapter, adding a human element can help make the photo more appealing. It gives a sense of dimension, something the viewer can relate to. It doesn’t matter if these people move during a longer exposure. This only adds to the dynamics of the carnival.
Using fill flash
To resolve the difference in light levels between people and the background, fill flash can be helpful. Simply adjust the exposure of the background and use the flash to illuminate your subject. If you want, try dragging the shutter to add movement to the back.
A fill flash may not be suitable for candid shots, as the bright flash attracts attention. If you want to use fill flash, just ask people to pose. You will be surprised at how willing they are. Or you can bring your own model for a great photo shoot.
Use your creativity
Fairground lights leave plenty of room for creativity. Especially long shutter speeds are a great way to express that creativity. But instead of taking long exposures from a tripod, try them handheld. Use intentional camera movement (ICM) as a special effect.
Maybe your camera offers built-in multiple exposures. The carnival is a perfect place for this kind of images. Combine sharp capture and blurry shot with a wide aperture for so-called bokeh balls. Or you can combine a short shutter speed and a fast shutter speed. Let your imagination guide you.
Do you have any other ideas or tips?
There are probably many other photographic possibilities at a fairground. Just try things out, no matter how silly they may seem at first. Watch the results at home and start over with the knowledge and inspiration you gained from your first results.
Maybe you have another great idea or tip for this type of photography. If you do, please share it in a comment below. It can help make a lot of great and fun photos at a fairground.