If there is one thing in the world that I'm highly attracted to visually, it's the combination of color, light and motion--and nothing combines those three elements better than a Ferris wheel. I've been photographing them since I was a about 16 and stopped one night at a carnival in a nearby town to take some snapshots. While I was shooting, a cop who was patrolling the carnival stopped to chat and asked me what shutter speed I was using. At the time I was just trying to record an image of the wheel and hadn't thought much (or at all) about the motion of the wheel. I was shooting as I always did, just using a shutter speed that was slow enough to record the Ferris wheel when it was stopped--probably 1/30 second or so. This cop (who told me he did a lot of photography for his department--in Shelton, Connecticut, by the way) suggested that since I was using a tripod I should try to capture some motion shots and experiment with long exposures--a second or more. And so I did. I shot a whole roll (Ektachrome slides in those days) of photos at between one and four or five seconds.
When I got that film back from the lab, I was completely blown away. Instead of just still shots of a pretty ride, I had these intense swirls of color and light. Wow, cool! Many of the shots were grossly overexposed (what I wouldn't have given for an LCD back then!). Ever since then I've been drawn like a moth to the light at carnivals and I think of that nice cop every time I shoot ride photos. Many of these photos have been published in my books and, in fact, the cover of my book Exposure Photo Workshop (the first edition) features a motion shot of a Ferris wheel (the 2nd edition features a shot of a different carnival ride).
Getting shots like the ones here is easy--and I didn't even use a tripod for the second shot, I was just resting the camera (a Nikon D90) on the roof of my friend Pam's car. The exposure for the second shot was about 1/8 second at f/8 and for the first shot above it was a full second at f/22, on a Manfrotto tripod. I shot both nights at ISO 200 to preserve image quality (though I did bump up the ISO for a few shots as an experiment). I shot hundreds of photos over the course of the two nights, endlessly experimenting with shutter speeds. There are three things that will effect the outcome of your photos: the shutter speed that you're using, the speed of the wheel and the color patterns since the lights are almost always changing. Also, these days one wonderful change in the wheels is that most use LED lights which are vastly brighter and more colorful--a really tremendous improvement for photographers. I also did some "zooming" shots both nights, racking the zoom during the long exposures and I'll post a few of those in a few days.
Finally, one thing you should do is experiment with your white balance. I set my white balance to tungsten lighting and then used the color picker graphic (available on most dSLR cameras) to custom set the balance. I had to play with the setting many times to get it to record the colors of the wheel accurately (and you're never really sure until you see the images on a bigger screen--which is partly why I went back the second night, to work more with white balance). Of course, I always shoot in RAW (and jpeg simultaneously most of the time) so that I can play with the white balance after the fact, as well. Both of the images here are exactly as they came out of the camera--I did nothing to the color balance other than set the black point for the background using curves (and you should be sure you have a good rich Dmax to set off the colors nicely). They are not sharpened either, though you could do this to crisp up the edges if you wanted.
Fun stuff, right? Well summer is here, so get our your tripod and make sure your batteries are charged (long exposures use a lot of battery power) and go have fun at the carnival.