Gas Prices Got You Down? Let the Photo Ops Come to You

With the price of gas edging ever closer to the $5 per gallon mark (at least here in Connecticut), the cost of gas is really having a profound effect on summer travel plans and impromptu shooting trips. It can cost as much for a tank of gas now as it does for a night in a motel. It’s nuts. And if you’re shooting photos for a personal project or for your stock files, it’s hard to justify expensive trips these days.

One way to beat the high cost of travel is to wait for the entertainment to come to you. As summer approaches, carnivals, fairs and farmers markets will be popping up in towns and cities everywhere — and they offer lots of great photo opportunities.

Shooting Carnivals and Fairs

While working on my book Exposure Photo Workshop (Wiley; March 2008) last summer, I didn’t have a lot of time to travel and needed some interesting new photos, so I spent all of my spare time haunting local carnivals and country fairs.

I probably spent 20 nights at parking-lot carnivals just photographing the colorful rides. I did a lot of experimenting with different night techniques and had a great deal of fun creating brilliantly colored abstract shots with long exposures and motion techniques (you can read more about night photo techs on my Web site). The shot of the Ferris wheel here, for example, was created using a 15-second exposure.

You will need a tripod for night shots and very long exposures, of course, but to be honest, I rarely ask permission to bring a tripod into carnivals (state fairs are different, they’re a bit more organized) because no one seems to be in charge. Once I get past the main gate, I’m rarely asked not to use a tripod. I do make sure that I find out-of-the-way vantage points so that I’m not tripping people in the dark.

During the day, I usually travel light with a single zoom (I use my 20-120mm Nikkor zoom more than any other lens at outdoor events) and a monopod. I rarely carry a flash, even when I’m shooting in large agricultural barns (which are notoriously dark for some reason), and if I find a really interesting animal (like a prize rabbit), I’ll often ask an exhibitor to bring the animal outside to photograph.

You can also find interesting shots near barn doors. In this shot of a cowboy watching a merry-go-round, I used the contrast of the dark interior against the brightly colored ride.

Find Out What’s Going on Near You

You can find listings of local fairs and carnivals quickly on Google — just search under the name of your town and/or state and add the words “carnivals” or “fairs.” The entertainment section of daily papers, local arts weeklies and even the bulletin board at the local 7-Eleven are pretty good places to find out what’s happening locally, as well.

I was really surprised how many events I found, and there wasn’t a single weekend when there wasn’t some type of fair coming to a neighboring town. Those events really bailed me out in finding interesting subjects to shoot for the book.

So don’t let the high price of gas keep you from shooting creative photos this summer. Just let the entertainment and the photo ops come to you!

[tags]photography advice, stock photography, travel photography[/tags]

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