In Sight

Capturing the magic and whimsy of the Maryland State Fair in photos

I’ve photographed many fairs in my career, but this was my first time at the Maryland State Fair. Although state fairs are full of magic and whimsy, it’s also an annual event, which means coverage — and especially photographs — of the happenings can become predictable. I was working on deadline and needed to get top-quality pictures as quickly as possible. But sometimes, the only way to get the right shot is to have a little patience.

1:52 p.m.

I decided to concentrate on the agricultural barns first and a translucent enclosure of baby chickens. I waited as people walked by to get a glimpse of the chicks. After photographing several groups of people, I left, but it wasn't long after walking away that I felt I hadn’t gotten the best photo I could. I returned two more times, finally capturing a young girl planting her face against the plexiglass to get a better view.

The approach that worked well was one that I use often as a photographer — identify a situation that has visual possibilities, then stay there until the photo reveals itself. This is where patience comes into play.

2:55 p.m.

From here I moved to the midway. I began photographing a ride called the Hydra. After trying several different angles, I noticed that if I photographed riders as they were swung into the air directly over my head, I could get an image of them upside down while framed by the legs of their fellow passengers. Capturing this was not an exact science. This, too, was an exercise in patience. I lost track of how long I tried to capture the perfect frame. Riders would unload from the ride, and others would get on, time and time again before I got a photo I was happy with.

5:32 p.m.

I filed some photos from my car in the parking lot and was drawn back to the midway by the rich afternoon light. While making one last lap around the vendors and attractions, I noticed a man carrying a large stuffed toy over his head. I quickly matched his pace and took a few frames. After getting his name for my caption I returned to my vehicle to send a few more frames before driving back to my home in Virginia. Sometimes you never know what you’ll find when you go back one more time.