Every new photographer, young and old, longs to learn and experiment with night photography in some way. You see your first photograph of a pair of headlights blurred on a roadway, or something like it, and you are immediately hooked. I, for one, love shooting at night; the night brings a sort of magic and ambiance that can’t be felt or captured during the day. Shooting at night does not come easily or without failure, but you can become accomplished by having a bit of patience and some of the right equipment. I am by no means an expert at night photography, but I have experimented and learned along the way some valuable knowledge that now makes capturing moments like these at the fair somewhat easier.
Michigan is a great state to get out and take a shot at night photography, and what a better place to do that than some of Michigan’s fine county fairs. I took these photos on the wonderful and always fun midway at the Monroe County fair. This event dates to the 1830s and moved around the county until landing at its permanent home in Monroe in 1947. Each year Michigan plays host to 85 county, youth and social fairs as well as the Michigan State Fair, of course, so no matter where you are in Michigan, you should be able to find a fair nearby to shoot.
Midways are a kaleidoscope of colors and movement that is a night photographer's dream. Now, in order to really be able to capture some wonderful shots, there are a few must have items in my book. First and most important is the tripod; without a tripod, you can take these types of shots by resting your camera on nearby items, such as trashcans or fencing. However, in order to really be successful, I recommend a tripod, which creates a stable platform that can be angled in the way needed to capture your vision. Second, you need either a camera with a self-timer or a manual shutter release. Both of these work well to take your shot and with minimal camera shake. I have used both at times and have become much more accustomed to using the manual shutter release only because sometimes with the self-timer you still must press the shutter release button for your shot to fire. Using a manual release allows you to keep your shutter open for as long as you like without being limited by your camera settings. I often experiment with different shutter times and f-stops, but for the most part I use around an f 20 or f22 and then adjust my shutter times to get the desired affect.
Some other thoughts: Go with a person or group of people who are patient because good night photography means getting that well-planned shot. Be prepared to attract a few odd looks, since you will be carrying around your camera on a tripod, and be willing to field a few questions from interested folks passing by. Finally, don’t forget to have some cotton candy.
© Troy Sieck, 2010