A Smile to light up the night

The Shot:
A long exposure with light trails to showcase The Smiler, the world’s first 14 looping roller coaster at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, England.

Light trails plot the course of the world's first 14-looping rollercoaster at Alton Towers Resort

Light trails plot the course of the world’s first 14-looping rollercoaster at Alton Towers Resort

The Story:
After an £18m investment, revealing the brand new rollercoaster needed to be a dramatic, dynamic affair for Alton Towers Resort. The stills and video were to take place at night and I was recruited to capture some dynamic images. With a huge temporary lighting install needed, the dates were locked down well in advance but on the night of the shoot we faced several challenges  in technical, logistical & timing areas which meant just one chance to nail a light trails shot. Pressure mounted.

A key feature of the ride is its inversion count: in the 165 seconds of ride time it rolls a world-record 14 times! To try and capture that from a static position meant installing LEDs all around the front of the car – both sides of course, but top and bottom also. I further had to think carefully about composition to avoid overlapping track elements whilst simultaneously representing some of the complexities designed to “marmalise riders’ minds and bodies”.

There was no way to simulate the illuminated car passing at speeds of up to 85km/h so a couple of ICM test shots helped me guesstimate the right aperture & ISO settings. The resort had arranged for all sources of ambient light to be switched off so exposure duration was never going to be an issue.

Taking up my position and waiting for the car’s release was probably my most tense photographic experience.  Ever. The klaxon sounded to indicate the car’s release and I triple checked settings while the car climbed the first lift hill in the bottom right corner of the frame. The ascent was naturally slower than the rest of the ride so to avoid overexposing the light trails I didn’t start the exposure until the car was clear.

The moment the car dropped was like an instant, furious electrical storm. Lights flashing past in the blink of an eye; thunderous noises as the car passed within a few feet of my position, shaking the ground as it went. I had to simply wait and hope that the preparation was worth it.

With the car safely back in its station it was time to review what I’d caught. As the pictures were to be distributed to the press, PhotoShop retouching was not an option so the final image here is unmanipulated, aside from a little colour balancing- an amusing twist, given that one of the ride’s hashtags is #GetCorrected.

More from the night:


The Tip:
For someone more used to working solo with inanimate objects, in this instance communication with all team members was key. I owe enormous thanks to the creative team for putting their trust in me to get the shot and to the lighting crew who worked tirelessly through the night to ensure the ride was lit to spec.


3 thoughts on “A Smile to light up the night

  1. Pingback: Andrew Whyte Light Paint Photographs The Smiler at Alton Towers | Strong Island / Portsmouth & Southsea's No.1 Cultural Resource

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