After over nine years managing press relations of a major French park, I decided that is was time to move on and look for new experiences. Part of my responsibilities had been to shoot and provide photographs, and I knew it was the right time to put my experience and expertise in park photography into action. By becoming a freelance photographer, I opened up opportunities in photojournalism.
Image is of major importance for Theme Parks, more so than in other hospitality businesses, such as resorts or hotels. After all, Theme Parks are all about image. The visitor's visit expectations are set from photos seen in brochures, on billboards and in other advertisement material. Conveying the wrong image, either by underestimating the park, or worse by overstating it, is a common mistake. Creating false expectations leads to unsatisfied guests who will be soon become critics on websites and social networks.
Thus the photographer's work will be to find the right setting to make the park look at its best. Of course his first ally is light. The secret is to skillfully combine natural and artificial light. I personally prefer the softer, reflected light that helps create a soothing mood. Of course, it all depends on the type of attraction being shot. For faces in roller coasters, the strong contrast of direct light will better convey the sense of action.
My favorite subject in photography is image semiology (the study of meaning of the picture and its composition). Shapes and colors provoke behavioral responses. Advertisers have long understood this. A cinema crime scene, for example, will not use the same white balance as a family reunion scene. The same applies to the geometric construction of the image. You should know that the eye does not see the scene as a whole, but as fractions that are later assembled by the brain. The eye first looks at human elements (faces, silhouettes) , and then it is attracted by strong contrasts and incongruous things (the eye is voyeur).
It would take a book to develop this concept, but briefly, the eye must be guided in the picture. Here is one of my good photographer's secrets: The eye has been accustomed to reading since childhood. So I use this experience to build my images, being sure that all those who have been to school can decode them. Construct an image so that it is read as a book, as a page or as a letter of the alphabet, and the eye will automatically recognize and decode the message. This means that the photo composition has to be adapted for the reader, for example, who reads from right to left.
Photography trigger reactions from its viewer, but since we do not all share the same culture our perception of images can be different. In Theme Park photography, it is therefore safer to use symbols, codes and values common to all people and all cultures. Because the subject is by definition transcultural, especially with large parks, curiosity and openness will be the key words for the photographer.
We have reviewed some basics today: Semiology to guide the attention of any audience and create the desired atmosphere without undervaluing and overvaluing the product. I learned a last secret while dining in a fine restaurant with my friend: I realized that photographs must be prepared as a fine dish, with creativity but mostly with generosity and a genuine intention to please. This consideration and desire to share is no different than putting an attraction together, is it?
Yann Mathias is a professional photographer with extensive experience in the world of parks and attractions. His work can be seen on www.photomathias.eu