Cole Bros. Circus Copyright 2005 Jeff Wignall
In my last blog entry I wrote about wandering around a traveling carnival and shooting pictures of the attractions and how it reminded me of going to the Clyde Beatty and Cole Bros Circus as a kid. After writing that, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to look up the circus online and see if, and in what form, it still existed. To my surprise and delight the circus not only still existed (now known as the Cole Bros Circus) but it was performing that very week in a town less than an hour from my home!
I was so excited at seeing this that I ordered tickets online immediately and made plans to go that Saturday night. I really had no idea what to expect from the circus because I stopped going to the circus years ago when I realized how badly wild animals are treated in most circus enviornments. The Cole Bros Circus, thankfully and to their great credit, doesn't use wild animals (though there are trained house cats!) even though the circus was founded by Clyde Beatty, perhaps the greatest animal trainer that ever lived.
Anyway, as I said, I had no idea what to expect, but what I found was a charming and exciting circus that, while it has an obvious (and at times mercilessly corny) bias toward young audiences, has kept the spirit and fun of the circus alive in a big way.
I had no idea, of course, what the lighting would be like or even if I'd be allowed to bring a camera into the show, but I decided to bring along my Nikon D70 and one lens (a 75-300mm Nikkor zoom) and just see what there was to shoot. Honestly I thought I would be shooting pictures on the grounds in daylight, but a moment before we went into the circus tent I decided that I would, as an experiment, boost the ISO speed to 1600 and see if there was enough light to shoot handheld. From the few peeks I got through the tent doorways, it didn't seem very hopeful.
I was surprised a bit when I got inside that there was more lighting that I had expected and from my seat in the third row, with the 75 to 300mm zoom (equivalent to about 112-450mm in 35mm), I was able to get very close to almost every performer. I only shot about 40 or 50 photos because much of the time I was just watching and enjoying, but I kept checking the images on the LCD and they looked great. Later in downloading the images I was surprised to find that even at ISO 1600 there was virtually no digital noise! Almost none. Go Nikon!
Being able to capture the circus handheld at ISO 1600 was almost as fun as watching it and the images capture for me some of the most fun moments of this very beautiful show. The Cole Bros Circus is one of the last remnants of the traveling big top show and the tent wasn't nearly full during the performance I atteneded, but the troupe of magicians, acrobats, highwire performers and trapeze artists were a joy to watch. The show travels for eight months a year putting 10,000 miles behind them each season and if you're looking for a fun photographic challenge, they DO allow still (but not video) cameras into the show. For me, going to the circus was a trip back to my childhood and brought back those memories of the big top (particularly the human cannonball--as thrilling to see now as it was 40 years ago) in a "big" way.
You can read more about the circus at: http://www.colebroscircus.com.
Think digital, think Joy!