It was a matter of timing the shot just right, and finding the correct angle. I wanted a long-exposure photograph of carnival lights at night. That was my whole point in coming to the fair. I wanted at least one good “ring of fire” photo for the front page of the Banner-News. I had taken a couple last year but those were my first-ever attempts and I figured, ‘What if I just had gotten lucky?’ This time, I wanted to be sure and take a little more time and get something more to my liking. In other words, I wanted the perfect photo.
I would be using the same formula as last year, all or most of it done in-camera: manual focus, f/11, ISO 100, and an exposure time of 8 seconds. The lens I had chosen was the same as last year, the f/1.8 35mm prime (really fast and excellent on night shoots), and Christa’s brand-new tripod. (It is very lightweight and not the sturdiest set of legs in the world, but seeing as I had somehow misplaced my own, I was glad to have it.) I couldn’t remember whether the formula was Richard’s or had come straight from the Internet (or some combination thereof), but it had worked last year and I had had the foresight to preserve it for this year’s fair. I had a copy in my wallet, just in case I forgot any of the steps in the procedure. So, I was set.
I attended the fair with Christa and the girls, whose agenda was a lot more fun than mine. (They would actually be riding rides.) Christa had brought her own Nikon D3200 and would shoot along with me. My plan was to scout the fair rides and decide which would offer the best angle/set of lights for me to photograph. My biggest concern was getting photo-bombed. There would be a ton of people, at least 90 percent of whom would be oblivious to the needs of a photographer. I wanted unobstructed views, with just enough human activity to keep them alive and interesting. Then again, I might also have to take whatever I could get — the world doesn’t stop for a picture.
It was approaching dark when we arrived and I wouldn’t need my tripod for an hour at least. We nonetheless carried our cameras with us. Christa has become passionate about photography and is now seen with a camera slung across her shoulder at least as often as I am. She really wants to learn and do more — same as me. (In fact, at one point she complained, “I want to be able to take a picture of anything!”) It’s not a competitive thing, it’s a mutual thing. We’ve become quite the team, taking pictures in tandem — different angles of the same or similar things, from football games to parades. We are pretty good and getting better.
I stood next to the Tornado ride (the girls’ first) and decided to try my hand at some shots there. I adjusted my camera’s control-mode dial to Manual and fiddled with aperture and speed some. To accommodate the failing natural light, I used: f/3.2, 1/1000, ISO 800, and got good results. Each rider appeared frozen in midair, inside his or her own spinning globe. Shooting in burst or continuous mode, I took 20-30 frames, just for giggles.
Later, we ambled over to the Himalaya, where Christa tried for some fast-action photos. I should have set her camera for her — most came out blurry. I was only half-interested and took some negligible frames of my own. My mind was on my planned long exposure.
I picked out a spot for the stories-tall Zipper ride (in which trapped participants are flipped like marbles in a rotating slotted cup), setting up my tripod beside a booth that gave away live turtles as prizes. (This was where Christa got distracted from her photography long enough to actually win a turtle.) But the ride seemed to take forever, so I began looking elsewhere for a shot. I found one soon enough — the ferris wheel had cranked up. As it was now full dark, it was time to try for my long exposure.
This particular tripod is shorter than I am used to, so I took the frame from a low-to-the-ground angle, but it was nevertheless a gorgeous image of a revolving ball of flame that only required slight adjustment for a better angle. Then I made my way across the fairgrounds toward the Tornado.
I hadn’t gone far before I realized the Zipper had finally fired up. I set my tripod on the uneven ground and snapped an up-tilted frame. Though less than perfectly steady, the setup allowed for an image that resembled nothing so much as a glowing ball of energy in a galaxy far away.
On to the Tornado. I noticed some trailers off to one side and slipped between them for my setup. I took pictures next to some fair-worker’s grill. Metadata from one frame: NEF image, f/11, 8.0, ISO 100, manual focus.