Summer Photography Tips: Visit the Amusement Park After Dark

Amusements parks, carnivals, fairs, and similar are popular summer attractions. The next time you visit such attractions, be sure to take your camera gear (including a tripod) and ... make sure that you stay until the lights come on. To be more "attractive", amusement rides are typically well-lit at night and these rides (along with other signage) can make colorful images.
 
The first step: before you leave home, make sure that you know the park's rules for photography. The bigger the park, carnival, etc., the more likely that your activity will fall under regulation. The Ferris wheel shown here was captured at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA (America's largest free-admission park). This park requires permission for "Professional Photography".
 
Also before you go, scope out potential opportunities using the park's map, satellite imagery and photos found online. Look for colorful rides that move significantly and have lots of lights on the moving portions of the ride. While motionless lights can be attractive in images (especially if out of focus), moving lights can be made to cover much more of the frame, replacing dark sky with bright light. Spinning rides often work well, but roller coasters often do not.
 
A perfect night photography ride example is the big Ferris wheel at Knoebels. The park has recently installed a new LED lighting system that displays constantly changing colors as the big wheel spins. The ride looks impressive and attracts many spectators in addition to riders.
 
Though it has excellent image quality, my choice to use the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L Lens for this image was foremost for the ultra-wide focal lengths. Because of the many obstructions around (notably, trees), I wanted to be as close to the ride as possible and also wanted the close, looking-up perspective. This position also helped avoid people (the spectators I mentioned) in the frame (and the model release complication they could potentially add).
 
There are many options for photographing amusement parks in the dark (or just before dark), but I like to fill a significant amount of the frame with light. In this particular case, I liked having the entire wheel in the frame while shooting (I was over 11 hours into my commercial shoot and had gone to bed at 3:00 AM that morning, so I can't argue that my decision making ability was not slightly clouded at the time). During post processing, I decided that I liked the wheel cropped tighter, showing even more color in the frame and making the support structure larger in the frame. That the 5Ds R has such extreme resolution enabled me to crop significantly into the frame and still have a high resolution image remaining (roughly 22 megapixels). And, I still have the full size image available if wanted at a later time.
 
Camera exposure settings for lights moving in the dark are often determined by aperture and ISO. That was the case here. Since the lights in the middle of the wheel are not moving as fast as the outermost lights, there is an overall exposure balance required. The LED lights were very bright and ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture worked well in this case (I reduced the brightness somewhat in post processing). I adjusted the shutter speed (in manual mode) to capture the complete movement between wheel spokes without overlap (which would cause overexposure), generating a complete circle of light that, with the changing lights, resembles a pinwheel.
 
Dark park photography will test your visualization ability, but it is great fun to anticipate and view the results. It is not hard to create attractive blurs of light at these venues. Give after-dark amusement park photography a go! It shouldn't be hard to entertain the kids while you do.
 
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, 500px and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Posted: 8/28/2015 1:46:21 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
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