Lights, Colors, and Action!

How to Photograph Amusement Park Rides

by Kerry Drager

Whirling Colors 1a
Whirling Colors 1a
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
When it comes to Ferris wheels and carousels, the photographic fun begins when the sun goes down and the lights come on. Best yet, you don't need a major theme park to capture eye-popping colors and studies in motion; local carnivals and country fairs are visually exciting too.

Working with Light
Midways can produce fantastic photos in any light, but with an evening sky as a backdrop, the bright rides will pop out of your picture in contrast. And, thanks to the resultant slow shutter speeds, you'll end up with streaks of lights and swirls of colors.

Although nighttime is always dramatic, be careful when composing your shot, so large areas of black sky and land don't overwhelm your picture. Many "night" shooters, however, actually prefer twilight - the magical time between sundown and darkness in which land and sky take on dramatic tones and multiple colors. Another twilight benefit: A brighter sky means an overall brighter scene - less of the dark vs. light extreme that makes nighttime metering a challenge.

Ride at Twilight
Ride at Twilight
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
Picturing Motion
To achieve the slow shutter speeds that produce a real feeling of movement, you'll need late-day conditions (sunset, twilight, or nighttime), a low ISO, a small aperture (large f/stop number), and a tripod or other support to keep things steady. If possible, fill the image with the subject, since the closer you are to a moving object the easier it is to show motion.

Rides and compositions vary, so to achieve the desired effect, you might want to experiment with different shutter speeds. A good place to start is in Aperture Priority mode: Set your lens at the SMALLEST aperture (biggest f/stop number), which will automatically result in the slowest possible shutter speed for the given ISO and light level. Then try another photo or two with slightly larger apertures (thus, resulting in faster shutter speeds).

Lastly ...
For inspiration, check out's Amusement Park Pictures gallery.

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website -

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.