Top Ten Tips for Amazing Amusement Park Photography

Top Ten Tips for Amazing Amusement Park Photography

Kristopher Rowberry is the creator and host of Great American Thrills and an anchor at 1590 KLIV: Silicon Valley News. He is an extreme theme and amusement park enthusiast and knows the ins and out of taking photographs at one of America’s favorite attractions. If you’re heading to an amusement park this summer with camera in tow, be sure to read this tips first!

Top Ten Tips for Amusement Park Photography
by Kristopher Rowberry

There are few places on Earth that allow you to use the full feature set of your camera skills and most people don’t think that place would be the grand old American amusement park! I’m here to show you how to get spectacular shots, while having fun at the same time.

My Favorite Arsenal:

Nikon D800
Nikon 14-24mm
Nikon 24-70mm
Nikon 70-200mm VR II
3 circular polarizing filters
Lowepro Flipside 300 Backpack

For most of my action shots, I shoot at a high shutter speed to avoid blur in the daylight (about 1/4000th of a second and above) and adapt my ISO settings accordingly depending on sun or shade.

TIP #1: If you intend on going on any rides or attractions, assume your gear isn’t coming on board with you.

While you’re spinning around in the air, your gear is on the ground and vulnerable to theft. Take this into consideration when packing your backpack the night before. Consider using an “All Day Use” locker so you can secure your items and not worry about your equipment being stolen while on rides. The $5-$15 investment is well worth it.

 TIP #2: Check the park press page for lens / equipment restrictions.

Some parks have limits as to how large a lens you can bring in as well as restrictions on bringing in full-size (or any) tripods. This is to thwart professionals from photographing the park without a public relations person present. It’s always a good idea to visit a parks’ media / press page beforehand and if you can’t find the information there then e-mail the park PR person or anyone who seems like they would know.

Be sure to check the park's policies about photography equipment prior to arriving.

Be sure to check the park’s policies about photography equipment prior to arriving.

TIP #3: Expect to wait. 

Just like waiting in line for a ride, “the shot” could take some time to get. Remember that the roller coaster trains usually go by only once every 90 seconds or so – be prepared to hang out in the same location for awhile!

The wait for the roller coaster train to come around is worth it for shots like this.

The wait for the roller coaster train to come around is worth it for shots like this.

TIP #4: Fences and signs are there for a reason.

It should go without saying – but sadly that’s not the case anymore. NO photo is worth risking your life for! Jumping fences or disobeying warning signs is a sure way to hurt yourself and others and can also get yourself permanently banned from the park.

That being said, some of my best photos were take while shooting THROUGH chain-link fences and I didn’t disobey any park rules.

Ride thru fence

You can follow all park rules and regulations and still find magnificent photo opportunities.

TIP #5: Landscaping is often overlooked.

Part of the beauty of parks is their landscaping. Many parks have traditions with regards to this, usually either a floral clock or even a daily changing floral calendar. Look past the rides and check out some of the scenery around them for good shots. Nothing beats a macro flower shot with a coaster behind it out of focus!

Don’t forget landscaping and macro shots while you’re there. It’s adds to ambiance and is a good break from the thrills.

TIP #6: Reaction shots are plentiful.

Looking for that “action shot” with an expressive face in it? Head to the water rides. They often produce the best facial reactions from people and if your timing is good, you can capture their expressions and the water geysers at the same time.


You’re guaranteed to find the best facial expressions (and reactions) on the water rides.

 TIP #7: Don’t focus on the obvious photo spots for rides.

Sometimes, it’s not the “signature element” of the ride that’s really photo worthy – it could be something much smaller that makes the ride unique and worth your attention.

For example, while the Looff Carousel at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is over a century old (and the horses are hand carved), it’s actually the RING MACHINE that offers some of the best photo opportunities. 


Sometimes, it’s the accessories to the ride which make for the best photos at the park.

TIP #8: Night shots are hard to find and harder to get.

Some of the best night shots are found where there is a lot fun lighting, usually decorative like at a carnival. But even parks and rides without specialty lighting can be beautiful subjects.

Always use what the park gives you to your advantage. Case in point – Santa Cruz’s Giant Dipper has an on-ride photo system with flash, making for some unique exposures:


By using features such as on-ride flashes and other light sources, you can be creative with your exposures.

TIP #9: Garbage cans make wonderful tripods.

There’s no reason to bring a giant tripod to lug around all day. Even a Joby tripod can sag and get annoying to constantly reposition. The lowly garbage can – while potentially stinky – makes for an excellent, stable platform to lock in that long exposure shot.

This shot was taken by leaning on top of a flat garbage tan in order to stabilize the camera and photographer.

This shot was taken by leaning on top of a flat garbage can in order to stabilize the camera. As you can see – the results aren’t garbage at all!

Over the past decade, many parks have decided to cut back their night hours, so these photos are becoming more and more difficult to take.

You’ll find the latest hours in the summer – traditionally Fourth of July (or the weekend near it). Plus, as an added bonus, there may be fireworks to shoot!

TIP #10: Know ahead of time where fireworks get launched from.

Ask any park employee and they should be able to tell you where the fireworks will be lit that evening. It will make searching for the “best” spot to shoot them from much easier.


Fireworks always bring the crowds, so be sure to stake out your spot early after you find out where they’re fired off from.

So, there you have it – my top tips for finding the beauty of the grand old American amusement park. Let’s ride!


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While we’ll never condone the wanton destruction of a lens (especially one of ours), sometimes a little home reverse engineering can do wonders–or at least make for a fun weekend project. This is exactly what photographer Jay Cassario did over at Lightshop. He took a $150 lens and converted into a tilt-shift, saving himself about $1,000. Of course, he could have just rented a tilt-shift lens from us but that is not the point! Read all about how he did it in this guest post. read more…

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There’s no shortage of lighting modifiers for small flashes like the Nikon SB–910 on the market today. From the Apollo softboxes we rent, to grid kits, snoots, umbrellas, and beauty dishes, small flash has really come into its own, especially for photographers working on location.

Now there’s a new accessory for Strobist-style shooters that will let you use a much wider variety of softboxes with your existing small flashes, including the high-end modifiers from companies like Profoto. I used it with two Profoto softboxes a couple of weeks ago for a portrait, with excellent results.

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Lightroom is an essential tool for the traveling photographer, allowing you to not only work on your images as your trip unfolds, but also to just enjoy them more while you’re still on the trip. Reviewing images at the end of each day, editing them, working on sequences and image pairings, is also a great way to notice visual themes and trends in your own image making during the trip. You may not always be conscious of these as you are taking the photos, but taking note of these potential creative paths during the image review process can suggest new directions, as well as help you clarify existing ideas for the types of images you want to make. read more…

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Ben on a greyish-blue background.

Ben on a greyish-blue background.

The image above was not shot on a white background. It has a minimal level of adjustment in Lightroom to it, mostly to clean up the edges, but that’s about it. It was taken in front of the greyish-blue wall in the lobby of the offices in San Carlos.

The thing about a relatively light-colored background is that it lends itself to a surprisingly large number of options for photographers. Though grey backgrounds work best for this, you can with some tweaking, turn just about any light-colored background — grey, blue, beige — completely black, as I demonstrated in this article on how to kill your background completely.

In this article, I’ll show you how to blow out that background completely to make it look like you’re shooting in front of a white backdrop.

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GM was looking for a combination of beauty shots as well as photos of the car in action.

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Set time and date manually

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©Fred Larson for the San Francisco Chronicle

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The San Francisco Chronicle ran this photo on the front page of the paper the day after the 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1995. The picture shows Jerry Rice, whose 10 catches for 149 yards and 3 touchdowns tied his own record for most touchdown receptions in a Super Bowl and the 49ers became the 1st team to win 5 Super Bowls. However, that wasn’t the only remarkable event of Super Bowl XXIX. The above picture was shot on Kodak’s very first Canon-based digital SLR–a 1.3 megapixel, no-LCD, nearly 4-pound behemoth that cost around $16,000. The image above was the first taken on this camera and published in an American newspaper. read more…

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