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It’s a Festival of Fantasy

Walt Disney World rolled out the Festival of Fantasy parade back in 2014 to great fanfare.  By now you can watch countless videos on YouTube or even catch a live broadcast of the parade on Periscope from frequent park guests like Mark Willard (and by the way, if you aren’t following Mark on Twitter or Instagram you really should), but there is nothing quite like experiencing the parade for yourself in person.

While I love the parade, Disney does not do photographers any favors with when they schedule the parade – 3:00pm.  The sun is high and bright in the sky making lighting less than ideal.  Shooting the characters high upon the floats can be very tricky with all of that sunlight to manage.  Make sure you are shooting in RAW mode on your camera so you can adjust things in your favorite photo editing software.

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In general I’m happy with the way this shot turned out.  I did have to push things pretty far in Photoshop farther than I’m usually comfortable with, but I like the pose and expression I was able to capture so the shot works for me.

You are more likely to get a better shot of the dancers walking at street level or some of the lower to the ground floats if you are shooting along the Main Street corridor.  The buildings can provide some shade – which again, is less than ideal but you can usually do better at eye level than shooting up.  The performers in the parade….well they are PERFORMERS so if they notice you with your camera, they can mug to the camera and give you a nice look.  You just have to be watching for it and get the image.

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I was lucky enough to catch Anna and Elsa looking right into the camera here as the Frozen float unit moved past.  

But even when they don’t notice the cameras, the cast members are having fun.  Make sure you capture that fun in your shots.  It seems like a simple thing to remember, but make sure you get the characters with their eyes open and a good expression on their face.  I know there are a lot better photographers out there and one only needs to look at the volume of parade shots I took where I miss timed it and the cast members eyes are closed.  If this were the film days I would not be a happy camper.

MeridaParadeBlogWe sat through the Festival of Fantasy parade nearly every day of our Spring Break this year, and the cast member playing Merida always seemed to be having the time of her life. 

The other shot to get is the Maleficent dragon breathing fire.  As you are watching the parade, use your ears and not just your eyes.  The dragon will breath fire to the proper cue in the music and it will allow you to time your shot.

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Keep in mind that if the wind is too high Disney safety will call off the fire portion of the parade.  The Dragon’s mouth will still open at the proper cue in the music though.  They should probably play The Price as Right sad trombone tune at that point when there isn’t going to be fire that day.

Please leave a comment and provide us with some feedback!  We would love for you to share your tips for shooting the Festival of Fantasy parade. We would also love to hear your thoughts on anything you want us to cover on the site.  Please just click the Read More button below to bring up the page where you can leave a comment.

All of these shots were taken with my Canon 60D.  Some of them I was able to grab with the Canon 70-200 lens which really helps with getting in close to the performers faces.  I don’t own that lens but I rented it (there’s a future post coming on renting gear for a Disney trip).  As always, please consider following this Amazon link as it helps support the site.

Dark Skies at Epcot

One of the really interesting things about Florida is how strange and dramatic the weather can be. In the summertime, it will be bright and sunny one minute, and then a torrential downpour will happen and be finished within 10 minutes. Or during the fall/winter, the highs can bounce around between 50 and 80 multiple times a week. That being said, when I was visiting Epcot this weekend, I got to have a pretty neat weather event that I’d like to share with all of you. When I left my house for the park, it was sunny with signature puffy Florida clouds. But, by the time I got to the park all of 15 minutes later, there was a nasty storm blowing in with some very dark and ominous clouds. What that led to was the sun still poking through just a little bit, lighting most of the things in the park, but with this very dramatic and ominous sky in the background.

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Usually when we think of rain and storms, that’s usually the time we put the camera away. But, in this case, I had a few minutes before the rain came where I could keep shooting and come away with some photos that are quite different than the norm.

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When editing these photos, I cooled down the White Balance just a bit to add to the ‘dreary’ feeling they had. I also made sure to slide the Blacks slider much farther over in Lightroom than usual, and I added a substantial amount of more contrast than usual as well.

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I just think it is very interesting how by the time I made it to Norway, the dark clouds surrounded the entire park, but there was just enough light poking through those clouds to illuminate the viking here. I also added a touch of vignetting to all of these shots to make them a bit darker to go along with the mood set by the weather.

Overall, there are some times where all we want are the nice, big, and blue skies that Florida treats us to. But every once in a while, a change of pace can be nice and it was fun to shoot these couple of photos before the rain got bad enough that the camera had to go back into the bag.

Have you ever shot the parks in or before a storm? If so, we would love for you to share some of your photos with us in the comments below. For those curious, everything in this post was shot with the Sony a7 and the Zeiss 55mm F1.8, both of which can be purchased at Amazon. Thanks for reading!!

Fireworks Friday – Wishes

I can’t get enough of watching and photographing Wishes.  I know it is heresy among the Disney community to say this, but I’ll take Wishes every night of my trip over Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  Now to be fair, I haven’t seen any of the Holiday variants of Illuminations so that might tip the scale in one direction but I doubt it.  Thanks to tips I’ve gotten from this blog (thanks Cory, Ryan and Adam) and some of the other Disney Photographers like Kevin Davis, Tom Bricker, and Ben Hendel, I’m finally starting to like the shots of Wishes that I’ve gotten.  Now that I have some shots from dead center of the castle printed out, I’m going to have to work on getting some pictures from alternate locations around the park.

In the coming weeks we are going to have an entire series of posts up on the blog for improving your fireworks photography, but for now we will leave you with a couple of tips.

  • You’re going to have to get your camera on a tripod, as mentioned in my gear review here I shoot on the MeFoto RoadTrip.  The shutter is going to be open for a long time and any vibration is going to turn the shot into a blurry mess.
  • You’re going to need a remote shutter release.  Remember how I just said that any vibration is going to turn your photo into a blurry mess?  Well when you depress the shutter, you are probably (I’m sure there are shutter pressing ninjas out there in the world that can depress the shutter without moving the camera, but I’m not one of them) going to get a blurry mess there too.
  • A Variable ND Filter.  You are going to be leaving the shutter open a long time in order to get multiple bursts in one frame like the shot above.  Without an ND filter you are going to wind up blowing out the highlights out.  A Neutral Density Filter works like your sunglasses cutting down the intensity of the bursts and allowing you to get color on the castle and other objects in the image.  As you leave the shutter open longer you need to adjust the amount of filter you are using.

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See what I mean about blown out highlights.  The first time I shot fireworks in the parks was at Hong Kong Disneyland and I didn’t have my ND filter set up right.  There are spinners on the front of the castle and you can’t see a thing as they are so bright they overwhelmed the shot.

  • Pray for good weather.  Sometimes when you are shooting Wishes the wind is blowing from the wrong direction and your photographs will turn out to be a mess as the smoke clouds from spent fireworks flood the castle in a haze.

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Here’s another shot from that night at Hong Kong Disneyland.  See all the smoke clouds?  When the wind is blowing the right way the castle and your shot will be overwhelmed and ruined.  

  • Memorize the performance.  When you are shooting at a local fireworks display you just have to go with it.  Maybe you can see the streak of the shots going up so you can take a good guestimate of when the bursts are going to pop open.  But with the Disney fireworks shows, there are countless YouTube videos out there that show the fireworks shows.  By memorizing when the bursts are going to come, you can better time when you open and close the shutter.

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This shot is from PhotoMagic 2013 about six months after my trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.  I had gotten a bit better then my first attempt, but the shot still isn’t what I wanted.  

Many Disney Photographers have started to capture the whole fireworks show in one shot.  I haven’t tried that yet but the images I see on Flickr are just amazing.  We are going to see a post soon from Ben with a how-to article on this topic in the coming weeks.

On a side note, I would like to thank all the people that have found this blog again after it was dormant for so long.  We’ve gotten a lot of great emails and comments from you and we really do appreciate it.  We are going to stick to a regular post schedule of Monday / Wednesday / Friday for the foreseeable future as we fill the blog with content.  Are there any subjects you would like to see us cover going forward?  Please leave a comment (hit the Read More button below to bring up the comment form) and we’ll try to work on something to help you out.

Daylight Savings Time at Animal Kingdom

The last few months of the year are upon us, and with that comes daylight savings time. For many of us, this time of the year is kind of a bummer, since it gets dark super early, and the sun is fully risen by the time many of us wake up. It’s a weird shock to the system, and always takes a few weeks to get used to.

But, there is one major positive to this time of year. As many of you know, Disney’s Animal Kingdom runs (for now) on much shorter hours than the other three Walt Disney World parks. Because of the fact that most of the attractions are animal based, this was a necessity. Since Disney is doing a nighttime version of the Safari, adding the Rivers of Light nighttime show, and building an entire area themed to Avatar: The World of Pandora, chances are that by 2017, AK will have full operating hours just like the other parks.

But, until then, it’s 5-7pm closings. How does this tie into this time of the year though? Well, now we get the chance to, on many nights, actually see Animal Kingdom past sunset. During the summertime, it’s nearly impossible to do. So, when this happens, we must take advantage and get some photos!

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Sunset in this park is beautiful, with lots of water features and lots of foliage.

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One of the highlights of my recent trip to the park was being able to see the new Harambe Market area completely without any guests, but without it being nighttime.

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Once sunset falls, we hit the blue hour. Once it gets to this time, it is extremely important to use a tripod to make sure your shots are nice and sharp, while also keeping the ISO down so there isn’t too much noise. There are tons of areas throughout the park to photograph the Tree of Life, but I think they take on a new life once this hour hits. Check out these reflections!

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For many of these shots, you will have to tinker around with the White Balance once you get into your photo editing software. For many of the shots I took last week, the RAW file was rather bland with not a ton of color, so for many of these shots, I changed the White Balance to be quite a bit warmer and more inviting.

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If you walk down the exit area for it’s tough to be a bug, you can find one of the only remaining places to get up close and personal with the Tree of Life.

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Lastly, on my way out of the park, I did the traditional postcard shot of the Tree of Life, although it can be quite a bit different looking once the sun has fallen for the day. The new animal carvings that were added within the past year also help the composition here by adding some interesting foreground elements for us to shoot.

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We may hate how early it gets dark this time of the year, but the opportunity to get some nighttime or sunset photos at Animal Kingdom is worth it! Remember, if you do head out to the park to see it at night, make sure to bring your tripod. Keeping the ISO down low will help cover the large dynamic range of many of the scenes here. I also make sure to bring not just my wide angle lens, but a normal focal length as well to not limit the options for taking photos.

For those curious, these photos were all taken with the Sony a7 and either the Rokinon 14mm lens or the Zeiss 55mm F1.8 lens, both of which can be purchased at Amazon. Thanks for reading, and we would love to hear your thoughts on Animal Kingdom at night in the comments below!!