2014 Shutterbugging in the Emerald City – The Great Seattle Wheel

The Great Seattle Wheel
The Great Seattle Wheel

If you are a shutterbug living in the Emerald City or just heading into town for a visit there are some great locations that will provide some quintessential Seattle shots for your portfolio.  Obviously you are going to want to hit the Space Needle, get a cityscape from highland park, see Pike Place Market but you should also consider some more eclectic locations. Some suggestions on this front would be the troll under Freemont bridge, the statue of Lenin, Pioneer Square, Ferries departing off Faultenroy Beach and or CenturyLink Field if your a sports person. Another location I would suggest and the subject or this blog is The Great Seattle Wheel located on the waterfront below Pike Place Market.

The wheel is an interesting photographic subject at nearly all times of day. That said if you really want some stunning images shoot the Great Seattle Wheel at night. And not just any night you want to shoot the wheel on Friday or Saturday night as they usually put on a light show around 7-9. To make sure you don’t miss the show simply contact the wheel and ask one of the managers if they have light show setup for the evening you plan being on site.Here’s a link to their website: http://seattlegreatwheel.com.


Ok here are a few tips on shooting the wheel. First of all bring your tripod the shots I’m suggesting in this location require multi second exposures. Once on site try shooting from more than one location. This is a good rule of thumb for any shoot as you will learn visual details of any subject only after observing it. After you have looked around try shooting from the pier just north of the wheel. Walk as far as you can down the pier so you can see the difference in perspective and then choose the location you like best.

Setup your camera in your tripod and take an exposure reading on the lit wheel. I usually put my camera at ISO 400-1200 set this value dependent on how well you camera takes low light images without generating image static. If you are a beginner put your camera into shutter speed priority mode, set your shutter speed to 6 seconds and focuses it at the wheel. This will give you a proper aperture setting for the wheel with a shutter speed of 6 seconds… take note of the aperture value. Next shift your camera into full manual mode and set your shutter speed to 6 seconds and set your aperture to the value your camera gave you when focused on the wheel. Now take a shot of the wheel and look at it with you histogram on. Ensure you aren’t blowing out any highlights but still have most of your graph values sitting in the right side of the histogram chart. If you see some overly bright\dark or dark regions adjust your shutter aperture accordingly. Take another couple shots until you get your exposure right…. got it… ok.. good.

Close up image of the Great Seattle Wheel
Wheel Close Up Angle

Ok wait for the wheel to start turning and take a few shots at 6 seconds. Notice the effect of your extended shutter speed on the spinning lit wheel. Your images will have unique color patterns on each frame. Some of these patterns are visible to viewers beside you and some are only visible in your camera. Six seconds is more or less how long it takes for one of the metal spokes on the wheel to rotate to the next spoke of like size. As the lights are displayed on the spokes as well as the wheel shots longer than 6 seconds will almost always results in an the wheel looking like a glowing kaleidoscope devoid of black spaces on the final image. I think you will be happy with the full spiral effect of the lights on the wheel but punch you shutter speed around to see if you like other settings better.
Wheel Close Up 5 Sec
Wheel Close Up 5 Sec

Ok now look at the images you took and decide if you want more or less depth of field. If you want more depth of field increase your aperture value a stop or two and likewise raise your ISO to remain properly exposed (if you want less reverse the process). Place the image in your frame in multiple locations. Use the rule of thirds if you are unsure. Now change your location again heading just under the wheel itself using a wide angle lens. Use the same method we discussed earlier to get proper exposure fire away from a bunch of locations. Be thoughtful\respectful of the visitors to the wheel while you are doing this and the staff usually let you shoot to your hearts content. Ok one last note. You may want to bring a friend as the Seattle waterfront can be a little seedy at night. Always wise to be safe.

Football Wheel
Football Wheel

Suggested Equipment:
Tripod, Ball Head, 35-70mm Zoom for distant shots, 16-35mm Zoom for closer shots. Any static lens from 12 to 70.


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