Maintenance – and a VC Fair Report

Maintenance by I Nancy, on Flickr

I love creating at a carnival or fair, especially as the sun goes down and the lights go on. The local Ventura County Fair opened last Wednesday and, as is now usual custom, a bunch of us from the local camera club headed down to visit the photography exhibit and do several hours of night photography.

First, I must express my delight in bringing home three 1st-place ribbons and one 3rd. I will get to posting and talking about those images in the near future. I entered eight images and it was interesting that the images that received less recognition were all quite abstract, but these four really hit the mark. With the exception of my beautifully shallow depth of field Cherry Blossom Sundae (1st Flowers Color), each of my winners were what I’ll call soft street which made me all the happier: Phone Home (1st Photo Journalism Color), Ready to Roll (1st Transportation Color), and Late Night Pickup (3rd Transportation B&W). It was also great to see many, many, many of my friends win ribbons of many colors.

But this night at the fair wasn’t about sitting on my laurels and basking in my blue ribbons, it was about pushing forward and building on my study and successes in street photography. It was a difficult night. There are things going on in my life right now that are requiring a huge amount of emotional energy to change. I had a great burst of energy during a week off in July where I photographed, wrote, and studied, but for the last few weeks, I’ve not done much creation. I was not only emotionally stressed, but also a bit rusty – and the light sucked with a typical marine-layer-gray day in Ventura. I walked and wandered taking in the sights and sounds and looking at the washed out colors. I knew I just had to start shooting and, in a way, warming up my senses and reflexes.

Finally, the sun began to set, the lights began to glow, and the colors started to come alive. This image, taken at 6:02 still a good hour before sunset, was the first keeper of the night. It has everything I’m looking for in my street work – story, visual interest, and strong gesture. I was desperately working on taking images of the children on the carousel and it just wasn’t working. My reflexes were too slow, my AF not tracking, flat light, too many distractions. After the carousel stopped I noticed this scene and was able to frame it up and capture a few in sequence.

Fair Nights Noir

Fair Foods
Fair Foods by I Nancy, on Flickr

This is a short series of the Ventura County Fair in B&W. I visited the fair twice this year. The first visit was primarily intended as a night to look over the Photography exhibit and to see how I did (2 – 1sts, 1 – 2nd, and 2 Honorable Mentions – thank you). I spent some time that night also shooting but had a very limited amount of time. I wrote up one shot from that first night a few posts ago.

The first round of shooting got my juices flowing for the use of light, color, and the wonderful vendors. This prompted me to set up a second night coordinated with a bunch of my photo friends. I knew I wanted to get more of the vendor booths. Little, outrageous, gems of architecture. Glowing with lights and serving up fabulously bad food. I wanted to catch their quirky characteristics. I was thinking about more HDR set with a low, wide angle. I shot the night away.

When I got home, I was surprised that I was not as happy with these images as I would have liked. Even with the combination of the color and the exaggerated angle they seemed boring. I was disappointed. As a few days went by and I couldn’t let these images go. Something inspired me to test these images out in B&W instead of the HDR I had planned. Voila! They came to life.

I think I need a photography psychologist to help me unravel this one. My list of things to portray as I shot centered around the lights and the color. Subconsciously I was pushing the envelope on angle and view and I guess it is the angle and view, with the color subdued, that really brought out the feeling I was after. What do you know?

I hope you enjoy this excursion to the strange and odd food venues of the summer fair.

My Dogs are the Best
My Dogs are the Best by I Nancy, on Flickr

Summer Fair Night
Summer Fair Night by I Nancy, on Flickr

Rainbow Candy
Rainbow Candy by I Nancy, on Flickr

The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

Artist and Geek collided for this shot at the Ventura County Fair.Night at the Fair

Like a hunter in pursuit of that elusive prey, I’ve been in pursuit of night-time fair shots for some time. Mostly they end up in the bit-bucket, a jumble of over exposed lights and chaotic people. (A notable exception is my 2nd Place Fair Theme win at this years Ventura County Fair. It was taken last summer at the Santa Monica Pier). Given that luck and quantity weren’t helping with the quality of my output, a bit more thought was needed. Time to get the Artist and the Geek to talk to one another.

I’ll explain this one like I have a few others since listening to David duChemin’s CreativeLIVE Vision Driven Photography webinar. First a list of what I saw and felt. Then lists of how I went about the Frame, Capture, and the Process using the list as a guide.

The List – what I saw and felt, what I want to convey in the photography

  • Lights and bright colors
  • Excitement
  • Vendor booths of junk, pure junk
  • People, together and separate
  • Colors
  • Light in the darkness
  • People are part of the scene, but not the scene itself

The Frame – what will I put in the frame

  • I really wanted to see people interacting with the brightly lit vendor food booths. Here I saw these three friends in front of this booth. There was a lot to attract me to this subject. They were there for quite some time so I had time to think and compose. They were well back lit. It was a group of 3 (perfect!). There were good colors and contrasts of the group – red, black, and white.
  • The background booth was as colorful and audacious as it gets – The Good Stuff – all junk, pure junk. Then think about the friendship of the group of 3, hanging at the VC Fair for the evening. Now, isn’t that the Good Stuff too?
  • The rest just sort of fell into place – nice oblique angle, balance using the rule of thirds, timing getting the rest of the path clear.

The Capture – what camera settings, lenses and why

  • The oblique angle gives me some excitement
  • The exposure was the difficult part. The obvious solution to high-contrast situations is HDR – so I bracketed -2, 0, +2. This would allow me to capture the detail inside the building as well as the outside. I also knew that I would need to reblend in the middle-exposure of the people in order to avoid ghosting of movement.
  • 55mm – really just a standard street length. Let the building and the scene do the speaking.

The Process – post processing

  • I’m not a fan of wild HDR, but it is quite useful for these high-contrast scenes. For this I wanted lots of detail within the image, but keep the people as silhouettes with just the edge light. A combo of Photomatix from the RAW images and tweaks of the tonemapped image in Lightroom.
  • Then I processed the middle exposure to match the HDR and using Photoshop and layers, I masked the people in over the HDR to remove the ghosting effects of the people movement.

The result is a bright and dark scene. The colors of the fair and the emotion of friendship.