A trip to an amusement park is a special day to remember and for many, ride photography is a way of bringing those memories flooding back. Helen Fletcher looks at the technological advances changing the face of ride souvenirs…

Photographs are a great way of remembering a special occasion, whether it is a birthday, a family holiday or a day trip to a theme park. They have the power to bring feelings flooding back in an instant, no matter how many times they are looked at.

Since the dawn of all things digital, there is no denying that the quality of photographs has improved dramatically. The soft focus, grainy look is most definitely out and sharp lines and strong, vibrant colours are in. Whether it is a professional photographer or your average person taking the photograph, a camera that can take high quality images is now expected as the norm.

Photograph opportunities at parks come in all shapes and sizes, from the likes of Legoland and Alton Towers in the UK to Disneyland and Universal in the US, all of which provide a professional photography service to customers.

Being able to capture the moment as a ride starts to hurtle you back down to earth in an upside down, topsy turvy kind of way is a great way for park visitors to re-live the moment once they get home as well as share their experience with friends.

Image+ Digital’s ride photography systems are internet connected and applicable to any ride, roller coaster, or log flume and are currently located in parks that include: AttractiePark Slagharen and SafariPark Beekse Bergen in The Netherlands, Ok Corral in France and Plopsaland in Belgium.

“Many parks use staff that would normally work in the retail side of the park to operate the ride photography side of things as well,” said Jan Bijl. “You cannot expect all staff at the park to know how to handle a photo system and for this reason having our systems online makes it easier for us to correct the mistakes when necessary.

“Downtime of all of our systems is less than 98-99 per cent and at our office all of the latest pictures that have been sold can be seen on one huge screen. If we are not happy with the quality we intervene online and correct any wrong settings.”

Image+ Digital’s system allows customers to also receive their photographs via email once they get home and for the gadget lovers out there it can even be sent via MMS to a mobile phone.

Adding to Bijl’s comments, Neil Dimmick, of Picsolve International, told InterPark: “With the massive investment a new ride demands it is very important to recover some of this cost by the owner or investor through additional revenue streams such as ride photography.

“Photographs are an important addition to a park’s retail range and a high revenue valued product, which is in most cases expected by the customer.”

With over 265 photography installations in over 60 parks and attractions worldwide, including those owned by the Merlin group, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Drayton Manor Park in the UK, Picsolve has imaging solutions for any set-up.

The company’s multi-shot system combines shutterless, digital cameras offering two, four, 11 and 16 megapixel resolution and a range of frame rates from four to 30 frames per second, with the latest Canon lenses to obtain pin sharp pictures on rides moving at up to 70mph.

“Each camera operates through a timing control unit that ensures we take pictures of every row of seats on a coaster timed to be accurate to the millisecond,” Dimmick said. “With the ability to use shutter speeds of up to 1/10,000th second there is no motion blur and every photo has the rider in the same position time after time.”

DVD souvenir

In the early days, when Picsolve first offered ride photography systems to parks, it was a new product, which was only available on a few of the rides. Now, as ride developments and technology become more advanced, the customer expects to have the opportunity to purchase their photograph riding the fastest and scariest rides the park can offer.

However, as technology improves and new souvenir initiatives are introduced it seems that ride photography could well be in danger of losing out in the popularity stakes as more companies look to DVD options.

MyVidayo, Ridercam and YourDay are among the first companies to have introduced DVD souvenir systems into parks. Picsolve and Image+ Digital plan to have systems in place some time in 2008.

Based in Germany, Ridercam has been developing its real on-ride video system for the past three years and it has been installed on two rides – Stampida and Furius Baco in PortAventura in Spain – since the beginning of the 2007 season.

Anja Behrens from the company told InterPark: “The development of DVD systems has made it possible to generate video images along with the sound of the entire ride and not just a photo of passing passengers.

“With the Ridercam system the camera is installed internally on the attraction, rather than externally as in conventional systems, so the image and voice quality is much better and equal to that of PAL/NTSC.

“The system works automatically and autonomously without the need for regular maintenance, which is an obvious benefit to operators,” added Behrens. “High quality equipment such as IBM servers and Rimage DVD burners also ensure a high availability of the system and remote diagnostic via the internet is a possibility.”

Another company that provides such a service is MyVidayo. It has been developing personalised video application since the beginning of 2006 when it was approached by KPN to set up a system that enabled marathon runners to download a film of themselves participating in such events.

The company’s personalised video system has been installed into the Dutch Water Dreams Park, a whitewater sports complex in Zoetermeer, in the Netherlands and allows customers to be filmed throughout the waterpark.

All in the wrist

More recently YourDay’s patented technology was introduced at Alton Towers in the UK in August of this year and chief executive officer of YourDay, Al Page, told InterPark how it works: “On arrival to the park, the guest is offered a passive RFID wristband, which they wear during their visit.

“As the ride vehicle and guest pass along the track they pass a sensor which reads the unique number on each guest’s RFID, triggering a video camera to film the guest. On high speed rides, the cameras use enhanced frames per second and super slow motion.”

According to the company the advantages of a DVD over a photograph is that the film shows the whole range of memories as the guest is filmed at the start of the ride, during the ride and at the end, meaning their whole range of emotions are shown.

“The final product is around 20 minutes long and also contains footage of the visitor walking around the park,” said Page. “The personalised footage is then digitally routed, catalogued and stored, then when the guest is ready to leave the park they go into a YourDay shop where their wristband is scanned and their DVD created in five minutes.”

The DVD system covers Alton Towers’ most popular rides including Air, Oblivion, Nemesis, Corkscrew and Congo River Rapids, to name a few and, according to YourDay, the product has done relatively well in its first few months with about 15 to 20 per cent of visitors using the system.

“We have had quite positive feedback from Alton Towers so far, the technology is working well and is a huge leap forward in the application of existing technology,” said Page. “The only real challenge has been making the customers aware that the product is available, but this will disappear over time and ride DVDs will become the norm, just as ride photography has.”

Rachael Lockitt of Alton Towers, added: “Research so far has been very encouraging and the system is so easy for our customers to use. The YourDay outlet on Towers Street has attracted a significant amount of attention as a result of its sheer number of screens and hi-tech computer systems.”

So, could it be that technology holds the key for the future of theme park souvenirs? Well Rachael Lockitt certainly seems to think so. “Back in the ’80s, when Alton Towers first opened as a theme park, the concept of capturing guest reactions while on board roller coasters was most probably laughed at, so we are confident that advances in technology will continuously offer theme park guests something new and different.”

Dimmick added: “In our opinion there will always be a market for still photography to be captured and sold on rides and attractions. However, as technology develops there is no doubt that onboard DVDs will have a place in the market.”

Although it is expected that DVD sales will be successful, it is hoped by many that the future of ride DVDs will lie in an online downloadable version. However, this sort of service will only become available once the technology has been developed in such a way that the films can be downloaded quickly and are of a high quality.