" How To’s "

Caring for Giants

Yesterday, Walt Disney World debuted a new behind-the-scenes tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom called Caring for Giants. An hour long, Caring for Giants is centered around elephants.  You learn not only how Disney cares for them, but researches them and uses that research to benefit elephant populations around the world. At $30 per person, this tour is well priced for what you get.  Disney says it is for kids all the way up to grown adults, but there is a minimum age restriction of 4 years old. The tour does take place in some backstage areas of Animal Kingdom, so that is something you’ll want to keep in mind if you have little ones and don’t want to shatter the magic of Disney for them.

All that been said, if you or someone you know loves elephants, this is a tour for you. Disney has ten elephants on property, three males and seven females. If your guide says that Animal Kingdom has 3.7 elephants, and then asks what that means, you can confidently reply that it’s a ratio, and it tells how many males and females they have. That’s the last bit of trivia I’ll give out; I do want you to learn new things on this tour, after all! Another unique element of this tour is that you are allowed to bring a camera with you and use it on the tour in a designated area. No backstage pictures are allowed.

There are tons of these tours a day, and they seem to leave every half hour. That being said, you will need to contact Walt Disney World Reservations to go on this tour.  You meet your tour guide by the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris, in what I believe used to be a camera supplies kiosk. Once checked in, you’ll get a lanyard with your name on it; be sure to turn it over because there’s a surprise on the back! From there, you’ll be lead backstage to your Adventure Vehicle, which is themed! This should show you just how committed to an incredible experience Disney wants to give you on this tour. They didn’t have to theme your transport van, but they did and it looks awesome! On your walk to the vehicle, be sure to look to your left and catch an awesome view of the mountains of Pandora.

Along the ride, your guide will point out various aspects of backstage Animal Kingdom as you take their “ring road” to your destination. That road goes around the savannas of Kilimanjaro Safari, and so you will see various night homes for the four-legged friends you’ll see on that attraction. See if you can figure out which holds the giraffes!

Soon you will arrive at the elephant house, where you may see your first glimpse of an elephant up close. As we passed by, baby elephant Stella’s father was hanging out. Then, a short drive down a gravel road and we were at the elephant berm, an elevated platform at the back of the elephant pastures. The views of the elephants were spectacular. You are much closer to the gentle giants than you are on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Disney says you are 80 to 100 feet away, but it feels closer. The animal expert you meet there is full of knowledge, and our’s said to keep our eyes on the elephants and that she would not be offended if she talked to our backs. We were allowed to touch elephant tail-hair, told how to tell the various elephants apart, and also given an update on two-month-old Stella’s growth and new social habits.

Halfway through our approximately 40 minutes on the berm, we spoke with an African cultural representative who told us about Africa and the elephants that live there. We learned why they are called the keystone of the savanna, and the pivotable role they play in keeping African ecology going. We learned how research helped discover a natural solution to keep farmers’ fields safe from elephants coming for an easy meal, and also provide them with a bit of extra income. We were told of a man who takes snare wires meant to capture elephants for their tucks and turns them into art of the animals they’re meant to ensnare. And then all too soon, we were asked to board our Adventure Vehicle and headed back to Animal Kingdom proper.

This tour is one of my favorites on Disney property, ranking up with Behind the Seeds. At $30 per person, I feel like it is a tour everybody should do. Seeing elephants so closely, learning about them, was a truly unique experience. As a photographer, I was able to take incredible pictures. My girlfriend, the elephant fanatic, was able to be closer to the largest animal in the world than she ever thought possible. I just wish we had more time on the berm; I could have stayed there all day!

Food and Wine Photography

Editor’s Note:  Hello everyone….with Food and Wine just around the corner, Ben Hendel is back on the blog with a post about food photography while you’re sampling the fine cuisine around World Showcase……

 

The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival has started! And with it comes lots of fun food and drinks to enjoy, and share with your friends and family… even if they’re not with you at EPCOT! How is it shared? Why, pictures of course!

It doesn’t matter if you’re sending pictures messages, Snapchatting, posting to Twitter or Instagram, or have a Facebook album for all your noshing; you’re taking lots of pictures of your food and drinks. So it seems timely to talk about taking pictures of food and beverages. While these photos are taken on a DSLR, do not let that scare you away from using your phone. Most of the principals I’ll go over do apply to any camera, and I’ll be sure to point that out where I can. Learning some of the more “manual” controls of your cameraphone before heading out will give you a distinct advantage in making your food look its best! This article will not limit itself to Food and Wine, however; it will also go over documenting fancier meals you may enjoy, from Disney Cruise Line’s Remy to the Grand Floridian’s legendary AAA Four-Diamond rated Victoria & Albert’s.

First, I’d like to talk about setting a scene. Just because you’re taking pictures of food on a plate doesn’t mean you can’t continue to tell a story. And there are a variety of ways to tell that story, not all of which apply to every situation. Firstly, a good background goes a long way to telling your story. While a trash can makes a great substitute for a table on a busy EPCOT weekend, do you want all of your pictures to have a lot of brown as the foreground? Do you mind the rivets or stamping where the pieces of metal meet? This is not to say that that trash can will ruin a picture, but think about what’s in the background of the shot as well. Take, for instance, this shot of the escargot croissant from the France Pavilion. While I would have loved to have a picture with the Eiffel Tower in the background, angles and places to put my food down didn’t allow for that.

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Instead, I chose a background that included France’s water feature and the recognizable water fountains. One lucky benefit of this was that droplets of water coming off the fountain reflected the sun nicely, and provided me with some interesting bokehs for my shot! I do regret, however, not cleaning my plate better and removing the errant piece of croissant. I find it super distracting, and you should too now that I pointed it out. Learn from my mistake, and make sure your food looks the way you want it before you take the picture. Whether that’s cleaning the plate, or perhaps accessorizing your food, it all will make your pictures better. How much more interesting is this sushi picture, when the shot includes not only the sushi, but common sushi “accessories” like chopsticks and soy sauce?

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Here, I spent time and thought about the layout of the Japan Pavilion, about a suitable background, and realized I could include the booth itself if I went to the landing halfway up the stairs to Tokyo Dining. Not only did the booth now feature into the picture, but so did the crowds, and the beautiful sand-and-bonsai garden. And these pictures were not taken with incredibly shallow depths of field. Both pictures were taken with my general walkabout lens, an old Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8, right in the lens’ sharpness-sweet-spot of f/5.6, though I have another version of the sushi picture that was taken at f/11 that looks fantastic too. How do you get such depth of field on a cell phone? Use selective focusing, usually activated by tapping on your subject on your phone’s screen.

Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of choosing your background, or having great natural lighting, to make sure your shots shine. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to enjoy a dinner at the fancier Disney restaurants, on land or at sea, where dishes are carefully constructed, like art. Once-in-a-lifetime meals scream to be documented. However, the ambiance isn’t always conducive to photography. The lighting is often dim very dim, quarters are often close, and you certainly can’t set up a tripod to nail your focus and enjoy long shutter speeds. You’ll be fighting to get a good shot, to get an interesting framing. But it can be done.

First off, you’ll want to equip yourself with fast, short (but not necessarily wide) glass. I don’t own any primes, but if you do, especially in the f/1.4 to f/1.8 range, you’ll want to bring them. This is like shooting any nighttime parade; you’re trying to get a sharp image in tough lighting conditions. A good, budget lens for this type of work is a photography’s trusty 50mm f/1.8 prime. Because of the light conditions, you’re going to be working with a narrow depth of field, whether you like it or not. When fighting low light, your aperture is your first line of defense. You will also want to shoot either in shutter priority or in full manual mode. Being able to set your shutter speed is critical for sharp images. Use the aperture to set your depth of field, keeping in mind that shallow is not necessarily a bad thing, and use ISO to expose the image properly.

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Because you’re likely working with shallow depth of field, make sure you pick the right subject for your dish. In the above photo, I made sure the picture focused on the octopus, and not the broth it was in. That dish, beyond behind delicious, was beautifully photogenic as well. The orange broth pops against the white bowl, and the greens (both the green ones and red ones) provided excellent contrast as well. Additionally, the bowl is textured too, and I love the way that it starts out of focus and then falls into it, before going back out of focus at the back. I didn’t have the luxury of time, because you can see there’s a bread plate hanging out in the background. Would I like it gone? Yeah, I would. But at the same time, I didn’t want to hold up dinner. It’s a fine line between documenting a meal, and being a nuisance.

Don’t just focus on food, as well. There are so many details at a meal that people may miss. One of our bread courses at Victoria & Albert’s had butter hand-carved off of an all-butter sculpture of a chef’s toque. Because it was hand carved, it formed the most beautiful ribbon curl, and the inside of that curl had a wavy texture to it. I had to take a picture!

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But it might not be butter that catches your eye. Both Victoria & Albert’s and Remy have stunning plates, literal plates, that greet you as you sit down at your table. They’re not used for food, just as a billboard to welcome you to dinner. Artist’s Palate on every Disney Cruise Line ship has bespoke butter knives that can’t be missed!

 

Editor’s Note:  The food looks delicious Ben!  Great job on the article.  

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Working in Layers – Symphony in the Stars Edition

I have had Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud for Photographers for a little over two years now.  For me, the $9.99 per month ($7.99 from this Amazon link) is a bargain.  A buddy of mine is a 3D artist and has always been my go-to resource for getting help in Photoshop, but back when I was using Photoshop Elements (a program I was getting every year for the latest features) I would always stumble into something where Rob would try explaining something to me only to find that those commands / feature wasn’t available in Elements.

I know I’ve said it here before but I’ll say it again and a thousand times more.  I wish I wrote stuff down while I was in the parks or followed a checklist.  I knew exactly what shot I wanted to get of Symphony of the Stars.  I knew that the lights along the Hollywood Boulevard would be dimmed during the fireworks, so I was going to need a “plate” image when the lights were still on.  I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I was still too dumb the first time I shot the fireworks to shoot a bracket of the image you see above.  What in the world was I thinking?  I was set up in my spot (just before the Sunset Boulevard intersection) thirty minutes before the show started and had plenty of time.  I just completely spaced it out.  Anyway, I was able to get a decent plate image (shown below).

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I brought the raw image into Photoshop and made all of the adjustments I wanted.  Then I shot the fireworks as normal.  Remember when you are shooting a plate like this, you need to keep the camera in exactly the same spot without moving.  This is a concept I can completely understand.  But do you see those really tall, really skinny trees lining Hollywood Boulevard?  Those things are going to move on you, and sometimes they are going to move too much for this kind of merge technique to work.  It was pretty windy that night so they moved a lot on me.  Luckily there were several shots that things worked out ok.

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So the above image is one of the fireworks shots.  Again, I opened it up in Photoshop and made all of my adjustments.  Then I selected Layer -> Duplicate Layer and told Photoshop to add it to the original image as a new layer.  And when you look at the combined image, initially it looks EXACTLY the image above.  But wait, there’s more Photoshop trickery to be had!   To get the image at the top of the post you have to change the blend mode for the layers.  There are a lot of choices, but what we want is Lighten.

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And Bam!  You get the image like the one at the top of the article or this other one here below.  I wish I had shot a bracket for my plate (and then I could merge it into an HDR image).  But such is life, maybe next time.

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Monorail Monday Sunset

Happy Monday everyone! For today’s post, I’d like to go through the steps I took to capture this photo over the weekend:

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Everyone loves an epic monorail shot. This one was actually the second photo I had taken of this monorail passing by. The first one was on the other side of the walkway facing the Odyssey building and the Test Track building. I completely botched that one, but as soon as I snapped it, I played Disney Frogger and evaded a bunch of people making their way through this part of the park to also capture the monorail coming through past this beautiful Flower and Garden Festival bed and the Imagination pavilion.

So, let’s talk settings. I knew that it was a pretty nice sunset, so I wanted to capture the colors in the sky. The water wasn’t as important, so I actually dialed down my exposure compensation to a -1. This made the edit on the computer a little more complicated, but it got me the oranges and yellows, so I was ok with it. I was in Manual mode, and had set my shutter speed to 1/320, my aperture at f/4, and my ISO to Auto. Since I would be running across the walkway, I really wouldn’t have time to set up everything and figure out the ISO on my own, so I elected to use the Auto ISO. With those settings, my camera decided to give me an ISO of 800.

Once getting home and seeing the shot on the computer, it was pretty underexposed. But, the colors were there, and the last bit of sunlight for the day was kissing the monorail, so I was happy. I warmed up the White Balance a tiny bit, and then did my normal editing process, which includes toning down the highlights a tad, lifting shadows, adding some contrast and saturation, and then sharpening. On a normal daytime image (and even some nighttime ones), that does the trick. But with this one, there were some other complications. The water area was essentially black. So, in Lightroom, I clicked on the little brush in the Develop module, and set my brush to be +1.20 on the Exposure dial, and I proceeded to brush the whole bottom of the photo. I got what you see in the finished result, but from pushing the sensor that way, there was some noise, so I also added some Noise Reduction, but only to the area that had already been brushed.

I also thought the sky could use a little bit more punch, so I created a second brush, boosted the saturation to about +35, and then brushed the entire sky.

At that point, you have the image seen here. Sunset images do tend to take a little more work to get going, but once you arrive at a point you like, they are rather satisfying. Have you ever shot the monorail, or anywhere at WDW at sunset? What tips do you have for everyone? Please let us know in the comments below.

For those curious, this was shot with the Sony a7 and the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens, both of which can be purchased at our Amazon store, along with anything else you may need for your daily life. Anything you purchase after clicking the link helps keep the site alive, at no cost to you! Thanks for reading!