San Diego County Fair Opening Day – Midway and Ferris Wheel at Night

Opening day at the San Diego Country fair at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Night shot of the midway and carnival at nightCanon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 70mm, f/22 for 5s at ISO 100


The San Diego County Fair (formerly the Del Mar Fair) just started this past weekend, and as always, my wife and I were there to take in the food and fun. For us, the fair represents the kick-off to summer and we enjoy going multiple times during its run.

In addition to all the delicious and unusual food, rides and games, what interests me the most as a photographer are the fine art and photography contests and exhibits. We have been attending the fair for the past 5 years in a row now, and I must say that the quality of photographs entered into competition has become better and better with each passing year.

If you get a chance, you should definitely check it out, because there are some truly stunning and inspirational photographs on display. Maybe next year, I will enter some of my own work and see how I stack up against my peers.

How to get this type of shot

Finding a clean composition in the busy midway can definitely be a challenge. I circled the area multiple times to try and get the best vantage point and composition. I wanted the central element to be the Ferris Wheel since it is one of the most iconic of fair rides.

For this shot, I found a nice path lined with game booths and colorful tents which served as leading lines to the Ferris Wheel. As a bonus, I was also able to get the Skyflyer (tall tower ride) in the composition. Getting motion in both the Skyflyer and the Ferris Wheel took some patients and my wife and I stood at this location for around 20 minutes to get the shot I wanted. The problem is that although the Ferris Wheel is in near constant motion, the Skyflyer went up only once every 4 – 6 minutes. On top of the long duration between runs, the spinning at the apex of the tower only lasted 10 – 15 seconds, a small window for sure considering the shutter speed I was using.

As with my previous night time post, The Boulevard – San Diego Night Shooting, the key to a successful photo is to get maximum contrast between the lights on the rides and the sky. This means shooting well after sunset on a clear day where there is no light remaining in the sky. I experimented with various shutter speeds to get the desired motion in the rides and found 2 – 6 seconds worked best. Any shorter and the slow moving Ferris Wheel does not give an adequate sense of motion and any faster and the lights on the rides blur into non-defined patterns. For this 5s exposure you can still see the nice pattern on the Ferris Wheel created by the streaking lights. I used a f-stop of f/22 not for depth-of-field reasons, but so I could dial in a slow shutter speed.


The Del Mar Fairgrounds, site of the San Diego County Fair (Coordinates: 32.97481,-117.265513)

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