San Diego County Fair – Closing Day – Midway at Sunset

San Diego Del Mar County Fair Midway Carneval Night Ferris Wheel SunsetSony NEX-3, 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 OOS at 18mm, f/8 for 1/4s at ISO 200


All good things have to come to an end and this year’s San Diego County Fair (formerly the Del Mar Fair) ended with a bang on the 4th of July. It is a long wait until 2014, but 2013 was a blast.

How to get this type of shot

In my previous post of the Opening Day at the San Diego County Fair I shot the midway and Ferris wheel from ground level. This time I wanted to capture more of the midway and after noticing people out on the third floor balcony of the grandstand, I made my way up and shot from this elevated position. This image was shot directly west into the already set sun (you can just make out the Pacific Ocean on the horizon). Fortunately, there was a break in the marine layer that resulted in a decent sunset with some interesting clouds in the sky.

Because we were going to spend the entire day at the fair, I wanted to travel light, so I left my Canon 5D Mark III and tripod at home. So what can you do to get acceptably sharp photos without a tripod? The following are a few things you can do to increase your hit rate. 1) Brace yourself or your camera against something stable (in my case a wall). 2) Practice good technique in holding your camera and supporting your lens. 3) Control your breathing and depress the shutter as you hold your breath. 4) Shoot lots of photos (I shot around 40 of this scene, only 10 or so of which were without camera shake). 5) Shoot in continuous or burst mode (similar to tip 4) and 6) turn the image stabilization feature of your lens or camera ON.

Compositionally, I wanted to achieve a few things. First, I wanted to frame the scene to include the entire right most palm tree. Although the silhouetted palm tree trunks are recognizable, including at least a couple of complete trees adds to the overall image. I also wanted to catch the pendulum ride (bottom right corner) swinging towards me to give me the largest impact. Finally, I wanted to balance the lights coming from the scene (in this case the midway) with the ambient light from the sky. Regular readers know that this meant shooting around 20 to 30 minutes after sunset.

The image was shot at the widest focal length of the lens I was using and was set to 18mm (28mm equivalent). An aperture of f/8 gave a shutter speed of 1/4s, just fast enough for me to hand hold with the help of Sony’s lens image stablization (OOS) and good technique. This shutter speed was also fast enough for the pendulum ride to give a sense of motion without becoming a blurred mess.


The Del Mar Fairgrounds, site of the San Diego County Fair – Third floor grandstands(Coordinates: 32.974792,-117.264508)


14 thoughts on “San Diego County Fair – Closing Day – Midway at Sunset

  1. Great shot Mike, and at one of my favorite shooting hours of the day (the blue hour). The shot is amazing considering you hand held, and your advice is very helpful, especially shooting a bunch of shots as you will lose many of them. Never be afraid to shoot in low light, in fact I find such shots to be most interesting.

    One thing, especially with the current line of cameras on the market is pushing up the ISO. There was a time when I very seldom went beyond an ISO of 500 due to increased noise, but these days it seldom crosses my mind which creates a lot of freedom in low-light shooting these days. Cheers!

    • Thanks dalo. True about the ISO, However, I have a first generation NEX, it has a native ISO of 200 already, but at 400, you can see noise. The image was not tack sharp, but I was able to get a good image with the techniques I listed in my post.

  2. Great shot! As always, your shots are amazingly beautiful.
    Every one of your photos are very detailed and slick. You have great eyes for finding that right moment, when the lights and shadows makes the perfect scene. Looking forward to more posts!

    • Thanks for the flattering words Yuki. It is by viewing strong blogs such as yours that I get inspiration and ideas for my photos. So it looks like we feed off each other. I look forward to seeing more of your work as well!

  3. it goes without saying this is a stunning photo…the colors, lighting composition! Of course I’m learning all this from you and other fellow bloggers, which is wonderful to me!

      • I learn best/easiest visually, so seeing the photos along with the details of “how to” is great for me…I’m sure there are many people, who don’t take the time to comment, who visit your blog for the exact same reason I do…the fabulous photos of course, but I learn something every time I visit…and…I know you would help if I have a question…thanks!

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