Taking Animal Photographs At The Fair


For those of you on the show circuit this is an exciting time of year full of travel and ribbons and fun. It’s also tiring and hectic. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about making images at a show. It’s the perfect time for good images because your pets are groomed to the nines (whew, don’t have to groom them just to take a photo), and their radar is on full alert so their ears are cocked and up. Plus there are all those grab shots that are truly wonderful like this little girl at the fair. Oh my gosh…there are lots of things wrong with this image that I am continually ranting about in my book…but oh the adorable expression, the twisted halter, the sawdust. All of it just adds to the enchantment of the pair in front of the lens.

If you are photographing outside at a show or a fair, all is relatively well with the light. But once you enter an indoor arena, the dark side of the Force is in play and even Obi-Wan Kenobi can’t help you in a dark arena that “eats” flash.

So we need a Jedi Master, yes?

Unfortunately we don’t have one. Let’s see how we can change our settings to help get the shot.

We start by setting the f-stop to its lowest setting (wide open) because that will allow the aperture to let in as much light as it can. (Every lens is different, so every lens will have a maxium and minium aperture setting.) Since shutter speed and the f-stop (aperture) are inversely related, the shutter speed is now headed down (slower speed) each time you open up the aperture a stop. Yikes. Now you don’t have a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action. Your flash may be powerful enough to help, but only if you are really close to the subjects.

So go into your menu and change the image sensor’s sensitivity to light (the ISO) to a higher setting. For the oldies who remember shooting with film, digital has retained the principles, terminology and ratings systems used for film cameras, so the terms are the same. Going into the menu and changing the image sensor’s sensitivity to light is the equivalent of switching to a higher or lower ISO speed film.


In this case, we need a higher ISO. The film junkies in the group will remember that the best quality was produced with the slowest film they could use. Same thing with digital, only you don’t have to switch films. Just go to your menu for the ISO setting and set it for the lowest ISO setting you can get away with in the light you have to work with.

Ideally you want to keep the ISO on 100 and move it higher only when necessary to achieve a balanced exposure between the aperture and the shutter speed. Ok. So  why not just set the shutter speed and aperture first and then choose a high enough ISO to balance the exposure?

Because each stop to a higher ISO speed comes with a cost. Noise.


Noise is the speckled effect you get with digital at high ISO settings—it’s the equivalent of grain with a film camera. See how the black in the image below  (look at the pants of the people in the image) have a speckled effect? They look washed out. That’s noise.

poor ISO

Here’s one where the blacks are black and the rest of the image is colorful…it doesn’t look washed out or pixelated.


Much better!

One of the good things with digital is that you don’t have to burn a roll of film before switching to a higher or lower ISO speed. Just change the sensitivity setting whenever you need more speed and lower it again when you don’t.

So the next time you end up in a dark arena and know you can’t get a good image with the existing light, try setting the ISO speed higher. Then higher still. Leaving your shutter speed and aperture constant, take a series of shots at progressively higher ISO speeds.

When you get home, throw them on the computer and examine the grain in each image. Don’t try to do this with your camera’s LCD screen…it’s too small to show the grain. When you enlarge them on your computer screen, bingo. The grain of the higher ISO images will be very visible.

Good shooting,

Tagged ,