A year ago I sold my first picture to MontgomeryVillage.Patch.com, a local hub in a nationwide network of blogs. Ever since, all I’ve wanted was an assignment (and credentials) to cover the Montgomery County Fair. I’ve been tasked with covering local events, but this is something I really had passion for, and was given carte blanche to shoot whatever I wanted. I love walking around and getting pictures of the rides, the animals, the general vibe. I live about 10 minutes away from the fairgrounds and wanted to go over multiple times in the week (sometimes with my family, other times, just me and a tripod). I got the above photo from the top of the Ferris Wheel. Note to other photographers, the Ferris Wheel operator didn’t allow single riders, so I had to bum a spot in someone elses party (spoiler: it’s mostly young couples trying to make out). I found a pair of girls that didn’t mind me joining them*, and I got this fantastic view of the midway. More photos from my first big assignment below.
*there was no making out, just enjoying the view.
Shutter: 1/640, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 100. ©2012 Patch.com
It’s exciting to get pictures of the big spectacle like the demolition derby, and get electric images of the rides all lit up, so I didn’t want to neglect the agricultural aspect. Instead of just shooting a bunch of animals, I specifically hunted for moments of families interacting with the farm animals. I love the eagerness of the cow to get to know this young lady, and her visible apprehension at the possibility of losing a finger. With situations like this, I would shoot first and ask permission second. I ran up to them afterwards (I was zoomed in) and I would introduce myself and ask for names for the captions. One of the toughest aspects of this assignment was that I had to provide a telling caption for each image. I would get names, ages, and city whenever I could. But a lot of times I’d have to move pretty quick to catch the subject. (Especially coming off of rides). I’d also give most of the people a business card so that they could contact me and I’d email them a copy later. So far no one has followed up.
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: F/3.2, Lens: 15mm, ISO: 1600. ©2012 Patch.com
Not all of my ride shots are long exposure. (I won third place with this montage of the Ferris Wheel in the photo competition) I got lucky with the clouds and lighting (just after sunset) and figured a centered, balanced image would work best. If you’re shooting rides, a wide-angle lens is best. I didn’t use my zoom lens at all near the rides. For effective story telling, you want to include the whole ride so viewers can figure out what happens on the ride, and for some energy shoot it at dusk (or night) so it’s all lit up. If you’re focusing on a person, you don’t need to include the entire ride. I feel photos of carnival rides during the day are jarring and limp, kind of like walking around Las Vegas in daylight. This was a quick shutter, to freeze the motion, but you can move in the opposite direction, slow the shutter and try to capture the movement like…
Shutter: 1/40, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 15mm, ISO: 1600
I’m particularly proud of this image. I slowed down the shutter to 1/40 so there would be plenty of blur. My goal was to get the ride very blurry, to convey the motion, but get the rider in focus, so there is a contextual focus to the image. You can take blurry images of carnival rides as much as you want, but there has to be something for the viewer to focus on. For this effect, I slowed the shutter and moved the camera as the ride went by. The theory is that the shutter will match up with the moving object, keeping it in focus, but the stationery background will become blurry. Since I also have a shallow depth of field (f/2.8) even less of that subject is clear. After many attempts, I found the best trick for this ride is waiting until it moves in reverse. In this image, the cars are all moving away from me. This gave me just another split second or two of time to grab the faces of the riders. I stood my ground and twisted my top half in a flicking motion, firing the shutter as the camera was moving. After getting a lot of garbage, I finally got several gems to pick from. The official Patch gallery is using a similar image from this ride, because by the time I saw this one, I couldn’t grab the couple to get their names/permission for the caption.
Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: F/6.3, Lens: 15mm, ISO: 1600. ©2012 Patch.com
For this shot I used a similar technique, however because the ride moves differently coming and going, I found a different sweet spot. There appears to be a point where time slows down as the rider comes into frame, changes directions and then moves again, the trick was firing the shutter right at that second, and then getting a usable expression, and then getting permission to use the photo (I started going through my images before the ride was finished in order to catch the subjects of the good photos. In this case I found these boys’ parents right as they exited.) There were these huge spotlights, so I had to use a slightly faster shutter so it wouldn’t be washed out. I didn’t want it too fast, because I still want the blurry surroundings, so I cranked up the aperture. This helps keep the light and blur where I want it, but now there’s a deeper depth of field, and more in focus. It took some fooling around to get the right balance (lowering the ISO could have helped too).
Shutter: 1/40, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO: 640, Lens: 15mm. ©2012 Patch.com
One of the selling points on getting this gig was my experience with shooting spectacle like this. I love shooting Monster Trucks and other bombastic theatrics. I was using the method of moving the camera in sync with the monster trucks flying through the air to get them in focus and everything else blurred out. Then at halftime, Megasaurus came out. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a robotic dinosaur toast and eat a car, but it is awesome. (Here you go, you’re welcome.) With all the safety measures in place, I couldn’t get right up under him like I wanted to, so I cropped in on my wide-angle shot (I had some heads in the way) Glorious stuff. One other thing, I have been dying to get “pit access” to a monster truck or demolition derby event for years, and I finally got one this year. However I really wanted to do the bulk of my shooting from the stands, sitting next to my five year old son. So I’d go over to the opposite side of the grandstand in the pit, get a few photos to include the whole audience, then return to my seat. I’m glad I did that this time, as I would have missed the entire Megasaurus portion from the pit area. Also, best moment from this evening? My five year old son lamenting “I wish I brought my camera!” I know he’s heard me say it before, but he genuinely wished he had his too.
Shutter: 1/100, ISO:640, Aperture: f/5.6, Lens: 28-135mm
The main difference in shooting a demolition derby and a monster truck rally in my opinion, is that the still shots from the monster trucks look better (a truck jumping over a bus, frozen in time) where the motion of a demolition derby crash is best served with video. Also, monster truck shows are more choreographed, for the most part, you know when and where they’re going to jump and get a good shot. With a demolition derby, it’s a free for all, and you hope to get something good.
I tried a trick here where I twisted the zoom while hitting the shutter. I’m hoping the viewer feels the cars coming together with the slight blur on the sides. I know how to do this exactly in Photoshop (Radial blur filter, but set to zoom) however this was done in camera. In a photojournalistic setting, a photoshop filter would be unethical, so I’m glad I pulled it off in-camera.
Shutter: 1/200, Aperture: f/1.4, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 1000
This is now one of my favorite monster truck photos ever. When I first set out shooting monster trucks, my ultimate goal was to present the sport (which is typically regaled as low-brow entertainment) with some reverence. The easy route would be to go exploitative in camera angles, but I really want to capture the magnificence and presence of these trucks as if they were respected by society as a whole. I’ve done all kinds of tricks to get good, technically correct, yet still exciting photos, but I feel this one gives the truck a bit more awe. Just moments before I grabbed this shot I had leaned over and complained to my fiend that the “idiots in the press area” were firing their flash, and they of all people should know they’d have no impact on the scene they were shooting… but then again, they help me out, so I say fire away. In this shot, the flash is lighting up a huge dust cloud, giving much more flare than the flash alone would.
This was a dream assignment for me. The best part was being told I could shoot whatever I wanted. The editors knew I’d get a good mix of animals, people, rides, and events, so they wouldn’t need to get me a shot list. That’s a big luxury for an assignment like this. When I shot the pro soccer game, I had a pretty specific shotlist to keep up with. That wasn’t very restrictive, as it was pretty obvious, however I was constantly checking things off a list instead of just exploring and happening onto picturesque moments. (The soccer game was also 4 hours versus a whole week). The main goal of the shoot was to present the fair in a positive light. I really wanted to focus on people. And if I showed rides, focus in on people riding the rides. The benefit of the Patch network is that it’s hyper-local. I want the readers to feel connected to their friends and neighbors that I’m photographing.
Now for a slew of links: