Settings for Low Light: Fair

Posted on August 12, 2012

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Have you ever wondered how do you shoot at a fair at night? There isn’t a simple solution to this question – as it all depends what I am trying to shoot and capture. I will try to cover a few of the techniques. Key to this is a good ambient meter and a spot meter of some kind. I use my studio meter for ambient light and my camera’s own meter for spot metering.

Let’s start with this image to the right (below) where I wanted an image with the outside lights all the way around, a sky that was evident, some additional details of light in the image:

I took three shots of varying times. I started with a spot metering of the sky, and shot that. Not enough motion for me. I changed the time to a longer exposure and bigger depth of field (f8 at 30th). This still didn’t do it for me and tried one more at 1/3 sec at f16. That gave me exactly what I wanted. Something you should take away from this is that you may have to chimp a few images to get the one you want. This is important because you are dealing with slow speeds and motion, and you never really know what you have captured until you look. Second, even though I don’t use a tripod for images like this, you need to learn how to stabilize yourself to capture tack sharp images and what the lowest speed you can shoot is and still be clear. For most, the stable point is the inverse of the effective focal length. What is that? Say you have a lens with a focal length of 50mm – the inverse is 1/50th of a second. The longer the focal length of the lens, the faster the shutter speed. You will get better with practice, practice, and more practice. Finally, have an idea what you want before you click the shutter.

Another image is this one of the ferris wheel sort of silhouetted where I wanted to capture the riders in the sky and some of the lights on the ground and around the ferris wheel itself:

Again, I started with a meter reading of the sky and then under exposed this one by one stop to capture the light and not the people. That was F4.5 at 1/60th of a second. The first shot was exactly what I wanted.

Yet another image, one that I came up with was to make the ferris wheel more like a daisy. This meant shooting the image out of focus so the bokeh (“bo-kay” or quality of unfocus of a lens) was brought out:

To increase the effect of the bokeh, I needed to shoot at f2.8 (the largest my zoom lens opens). Dropping ambient light to one stop under exposed because I am after the lights instead of the surrounding detail or background detail (and it is finally dark outside), this becomes 1/15th sec. Again, the first shot captured what I wanted and then cropped part of the dark sky away in post. Again, the first shot captured what I wanted.

Finally, another image of one of the food stands would be a great capture:

With this, I only took an ambient of the light in front of the popcorn stand, using the automatic metering of the camera in a full matrix metering mode. The camera captured it at F3.2 at 40th of a second. It sounded reasonable so I captured the image at it’s suggested settings.

I hope this more completely answers the question what the settings were and thought process behind the images I captured while at the fair. I tried to use four different types of examples so that you can see the thought that went behind the capturing of the images. Now it is your turn to go out and capture some of your own.

All information and images are ©2012 Don Krajewski on this post.

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