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Theme park photography, Part 1 (12/14/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Theme park photography is similar to any other type of photography in which people are the primary subjects. You'll want a camera with at least a 35-70mm zoom lens, plenty of film or digital memory card capacity, fresh batteries in the camera or fully charged internal battery, extra batteries if appropriate, a comfortable camera strap, and good weather. The difference is that a theme park has rides - lots and lots of rides.

And with rides, you'll have the challenge of fast-paced shooting. This can create a problem. With most cameras, at the time the shutter release is pressed, there is a fraction of a second delay as the camera focuses and the shutter opens, and this is especially true of compact digital cameras. If, for example, you pressed the shutter release just as the roller coaster car carrying your screaming and waving children passed by, you might be lucky to catch the car at the tail end of the ride, and miss the kids completely.

There are two keys to overcoming the shutter-delay problem in fast-action photography: panning, and learning to anticipate. Panning is the technique of following the subject with the camera. The idea is to move the camera at exactly the same rate as the subject in motion. This can be a little tricky because as you move the camera, you must also remember to press the shutter release.

What complicates things even more is that you must also anticipate the action. Because of the shutter delay, you must press the shutter release before your subject gets to the point at which you want to take the picture. Allow at least a second. The shutter delay isn't quite that long, but your reaction time also comes into play. You have to think about panning, anticipating, and pressing the shutter release all at the same time.

Rather than assuming that the camera will automatically focus as you take the picture, it's much better to pre-focus on the spot where the picture will be taken. If your camera has a focus-lock feature, just focus on the spot and lock it in place. If this feature is not on your camera, you can lock in the focus by pressing down part way on the shutter release and holding it there until you're ready to shoot. Pressing the shutter release part way will also give you an edge when it comes time to anticipate the action.

As your subject approaches, be ready to pan the camera several seconds in advance. In preparation for the shot, aim your feet toward the spot where the picture will be taken, then pivot at the waist in the direction the action will take place. As your subject moves into view, pick it up in the viewfinder and continue following. Then press the shutter release about a second before the subject reaches the point at which you want the picture to be taken.

But don't stop there. Continue following the action in the viewfinder for a second or two after the shot. This follow-through will assure you that you're not moving the camera away before the picture has been taken.

A theme park is one place where the compact camera has an advantage over an SLR. A compact is lightweight, easily carried in a pocket or purse, and has a bright viewfinder. SLRs are more visible to would-be thieves, more cumbersome in tight spots, and become heavy after a period of time. Compacts have a well-deserved reputation as point-and-shoot cameras.

More next time. 


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