You spin me right round, baby, right round like a rec… OK I’m done now, sorry. A few days ago I drove to the Schaghticoke Fair, armed with my 2.5 tons tripod, a wide angle lens and an appetite for cider donuts. Shiny colors spinning all around just call for long exposure photos, don’t they? This is one of these fun little exercises a photographer owes himself to try once, I definitely recommend it, each photo turns out to be a small surprise of its own.
More photos below. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.
I had in mind to start shooting half an hour before sunset, but the intense clusterf*ck that is Main Street in Schaghticoke, NY delayed me by that much. Parking on the fairgrounds is free, and after leaving my car in what the parking attendants had affectionately called “The Pit”, I walked my long way back to the Ferris wheel, eyes on the prize. But first, donuts.
The picture on top of this post is of the Ferris wheel. As it spins, the segments on each spoke pulse and change colors. This happens too quickly to be clearly visible to the naked eye, but by exposing a photo for several seconds the segments can be made to leave a circular trail and create captivating patterns. Try as you might, it is fairly difficult to get the exact same photo every single time. I found the sweet spot to be between 1.5 and 5 seconds exposure; longer than that and the patterns just blur into a uniform trail.
This image above is a giant 134MP collage I assembled out of 9 original 21MP photos. Nothing fancy. This monster is 12250 x 10996 pixels though, that’s nearly 61 x 55 inches printed at 200 dpi, almost 5 ft by 4.5 ft. I’m tempted to print it for kicks and giggles, we shall see what the good people at McGreevy ProLab have to say (update: might be expensive). I can’t upload the whole image to Flickr, but check the quarter size on black background. Too bad about the umbrella and flare stuck there, ugh. There is a bit of a private joke here, with respect to the power of gimmicks and panoramas (Hi, B). More Ferris wheel photos below, click on any thumbnail to bring the slideshow.
The fair was packed but people were pretty careful not stepping in front of my camera. This wasn’t a big deal, really, unless they had planned to stand very still for 15 seconds, the time it would take me to expose some of the photos coming up below. Walking at a normal pace and you would barely register as a faint silhouette in a long exposure shot. Anyway, thanks, guys.
I spend quite a bit of time in front of the kid’s Chair-O-Planes. I was a bit concerned actually that parents would ask me what my deal was taking pictures of their kids. I had my speech ready, just in case. I’m French, but I wasn’t going to surrender my memory card that easily. The photo above took about 2 seconds to expose. That’s not very long by many standards, but good enough to hide the kids dangling from the carousel. I took another one at 1/250 s. to bring them back.
The Zipper. A long, rotating, oval boom with a cable around its edge that pulls 12 cars around the ride. It features strong vertical G-forces, numerous spins, and a noted sense of unpredictability (Source: Wikipedia). Unpredictability… unless you take a single photo during 8 seconds, to reveal its very regular and colorful path. That being said, you wouldn’t pay me enough to get in that thing. Check the safety issues and revisions section on the Zipper’s Wikipedia page, it’s entertaining if you like the words “death” and “gruesome”. Maybe I made the second one up.
The Zero Gravity machine. There are people spinning in there, trust me. It gyrates, goes up and down, and you get to spend quality time with your dinner again. I really command the operator above, as he managed to stay perfectly still for the whole 15 seconds it took me to expose that photo. Well done, Sir, well done.
The Gravitron, a popular ride since its first appearance in the early 80′s. The ride is completely enclosed, with 48 padded panels lining the inside wall. Riders lean against these panels, which are angled back. As the ride rotates, centrifugal force is exerted against the pads by the rider, removing the rider from the floor, due to the slant. At full speed, it is possible for a skilled and strong rider to stand horizontally on the pads. (Source: Wikipedia). I’ve done it a few times and I’ve seen kids almost crawling horizontally. Reminded me of The Exorcist but with bad techno music. This ride is legit. As in, if you are old like me, it will reclaim your neck.
A good old pirate ship. This is your pretty classic open, seated gondola which swings back and forth, subjecting the rider to various levels of angular momentum. It also subjects me to an irrepressible need for screaming like a pirate girl.
The Freak Out. As you can tell from the mess above, this pendulum-based ride will shake you good. The riders sit facing each other on chairs suspended around the bob on the pendulum. The pendulum is supported by two A-frames with a height of 43 ft. During motion, the pendulum climbs to a maximum angle of 127° and reaches a height of 72 feet. While swinging, the chairs rotate around the axis of the pendulum. (Source: Wikipedia). In a nutshell: it rotates a lot. It doesn’t last very long for a reason. This photo was exposed for 20 seconds, which gave the Ferris wheel an opportunity to make an appearance in the lower left corner. Hi.
I don’t recall the name of this carousel, but this was easily the fastest and loudest ride on the fairgrounds. At full speed the cars are, literally, just a blur. This photo above took 8 seconds to let the lights create this circular carpet at the center. When you think you are done, the ride goes backward. Wait, did I ruin surprise? Don’t worry, your brain will be too busy hating your guts after that.
Close Encounters of the Third Merry-Go-Round Kind. At this speed, it takes only about 1 second exposure for the horses to disappear into a blur. I tried to combine a long exposure and a second curtain flash to freeze the horses in the foreground against a trail of lights in the background, but wasn’t quite successful. Unless you like horse ghosts. In that case, you are welcome.
The Schaghticoke Fair was a good time. Its small size gives the amateur photographer the opportunity to quickly go from one ride to the other. I had no trouble with the personnel, or the crowd. Did I mention the cider donuts?
My photo tips. Long exposure photography entails using a long-duration shutter speed to sharply capture the stationary elements of images while blurring, smearing, or obscuring its moving elements (See: Wikipedia). I’ve described the process throughout this post already, but here is a recap. The patterns and trails in the photos above were captured by leaving the shutter open for a few seconds, instead of the short instant it usually takes to freeze motion. It isn’t difficult at all and can even be done with a point&shoot.
Stability is key. For any long exposure photo I make sure to secure my camera on a tripod. To avoid further vibrations I trigger the shutter remotely, either using a cable release, or a wireless remote. I tend to lose these pretty easily, so I often use the camera’s timer instead, set to 2 seconds. As I press the shutter-release button, the camera waits 2 seconds to take the actual shot. This gives some time for the vibrations coming from my finger to dissipate. If this is already familiar to you, go the extra-mile and enable mirror lockup to reduce vibrations induced by the mirror flipping inside the camera body.
I put my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 wide angle lens to good use the whole night, it’s a very helpful lens when dealing with large scale subjects. I set my ISO speed to 100 to avoid capturing too much noise in low light. From this point on this is just a matter of experimenting with different shutter speeds. I either set my camera to Tv (shutter priority) or M (full manual) mode. I try different durations, from 1 to 15 seconds and check the result immediately. If my photo ends up too bright I need to either decrease the shutter speed or pick a lower aperture value to capture less light and more details. Rinse, repeat and have fun.
Long exposure photography works better at night because the sky isn’t quickly overpowering the lights in your scene. I personally like to have a nice end-of-sunset gradient in the background, as seen here. Unfortunately, I got stuck in traffic and arrived too late. To avoid completely “blowing up” the sky, I would recommend bringing a Neutral Density filter, a small piece of glass I have used at the Barberville Falls to smooth motions out during the day. Next year hopefully.
The Schaghticoke Fair can be found 69 Stillwater Bridge Rd, Rtes. 67 & 40, Schaghticoke, NY. Traffic is a bit crazy getting in and out of the fairgrounds, plan accordingly.