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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!!


The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

My daughter loves the Little Mermaid ride in New Fantasyland so I found myself spending a lot of time in the queue during our last family trip.  During one of the waits, I stood right where this photo was taken and said to myself, I bet this would make an interesting photo at night.  So after I got the family turned in for the evening I headed back into the parks for some late night and after hours shooting.  It was an Extra Magic Hours night and the park was pretty empty so I thought I would have a good shot at grabbing the brackets I needed for an HDR image. Boy was I wrong!  Every time I started the +2 exposure bracket someone would wind up walking into the queue and I would have to start again.  I know, I know, many HDR images have that ghost effect where you can see people moving through the shot, but I wanted a truly empty picture.  Looking back at the time stamps I spent over 30 minutes standing in the queue to get an empty shot.  There would be a gap of now people, I’d start the shot, and then a group of teenagers would come running through the line.  Which brings me to the next story……

So I’m standing there in the queue, grabbing the shot and there’s an “excuse me” from behind.  People had been passing me from the front of the queue for a while and occasionally someone would stop to chat about the shot.  But this was the first time someone had approached from behind so it startled me.  I turned around to find one of the ride’s Cast Members standing there.  As I turned around she added “Can I ask what you are doing, you’ve been standing here for a long time?”  Uh-oh, I’m in trouble I thought.  I explained to her I was trying to get a photograph and showed her some of the images on the back of the camera.  I won’t lie, I thought she was going to kick me out of the queue right there and I wasn’t going to end up with the shot I wanted.  But after a long pause she said “Ok, we just wanted to make sure everything was ok and find out what you were doing.”

Not trusting that the camera didn’t move while I was showing the Cast Member the photos on the back of the camera, I started the sequence over again.  This time, however, I got all three shots with no waiting in between and nobody came running down the queue.  Checking the time stamp of the photo, the final shot in the bracket was captured at 12:08 am.  I thought about trying to get a few more extra exposures (I had 5), but the interaction with the cast member made me feel like I was pushing my luck so I packed my stuff up and ventured on to Gaston’s Tavern for some more long exposure shots.

To edit the bracketed images into a single HDR, I used both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop which are a part of the Photography Plan for only $9.99 / month.  We will do a longer piece on HDR image editing shortly, but if you are looking for some basic tips, might we suggest starting with this video here provided by Adobe.

I’m not 100% happy with the way this shot turned out, so I think I’m going to try and get this one again next time I go down to the parks.  Either that or I’ll try editing the brackets again.  When it comes to creating HDR images I’m definitely a novice.

This image was shot with my Canon 60D and the kit 18-135 lens at f/8 and I was using my MeFoto RoadTrip tripod (which I reviewed on the site here).  Please consider following the Amazon link as it helps support the site.

So, have any of you had any good interactions with a Cast Member when getting a shot in the parks?  Share your story in the comments section below.