" How To’s "

Weekend Reading – The Digital Photography Book

A brief note

Interesting that Wednesday’s post was about backup strategies and then the website went down yesterday, not exactly a good time to make sure that you have a backup of the website and all of its contents, right?  Turns out it was a problem with the server over at Bluehost and Cory was able to get them to work on bringing back the server as soon as possible.  Sorry the site was down for a few hours yesterday afternoon / early evening. Now back to today’s regularly scheduled post…….

Scott Kelby

I mentioned in my post about New Year’s Resolutions post that I wanted to do more photography reading this year.  I found there are a ton of good photography books at my local library (who knew?) and I was going to try and do a book review each month.  First up in the queue though is a book series I actually own, Scott Kelby’s The Digital Photography Book series which is now available in a box set so you can get all five books in one.   For those unfamiliar with Scott’s work, I’ll over a short introduction.  Scott Kelby is an incredibly good photographer, but what I like about him most is his ability to poke fun at himself.  He shoots college and pro football games for a wire service and he does great work.  But Scott isn’t afraid to post the clunkers that he gets on the sidelines too (or the time Aaron Rodgers broke his monopod).  He has tons of books available on Amazon, goes out on tour teaching classes across the country (and internationally) and runs KelbyOne an online platform that offers TONS of video classes on improving your photography technique, Photoshop skills, and more.  If you haven’t tried it out, there is a free month trial subscription available.  You really should give it a shot.

The Digital Photography Book

 

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The Digital Photography Book is a series at this point with 5 books in the series (with a 6th book essentially being a “best of” the first four).  If you hurry – KelbyOne has a contest to give away a free copy to people who retweet a message.  I don’t own the 5th book yet as I already own the first four, so I’ll stick my review to those editions.

Photo Recipes

The best part of this book series, and the reason I keep coming back to them is the layout of the book.  After a brief introduction of the topic with some basic tips, Scott then gives a quick primer for creating a shot that looks like the one he posts.  These aren’t master classes on the subject matter and they aren’t meant to be.  There are entire books dedicated to each one of the topics he covers.  These primers act as your first step to getting your photography better.  They also serve as a great reference works as they literally cover just about everything.  I find that before an event (like my stepson’s football game or a vacation trip), I’ll pull the books out and do a quick re-read of the sections that apply.  I’m not a wedding photographer, nor would I ever want to be.  But I will read through the wedding photography section before going to a family wedding.  Think of this book series as the perfect book to just keep in your camera or travel bag.  Anytime I know I’m going to be on an airplane for a long time, I’ll wind up flipping through one of these books.

Photo Recipes for the Disney Photographer

Now even though Scott has been known to shoot in the parks for fun when he’s on vacation, there isn’t a section in any of these books that end up being a photo recipe for shooting at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t information in there that can be used!  I know Cory did a great job of posting Dark Ride tips here, but Scott does offer tips that would apply to shooting Dark Rides as well.  Just read through is sections on low-light photography (like shooting in a dark church for a wedding, etc).  You might not think the sections on better Portrait photography apply, but what are we doing when we shoot character meet & greets?  Those are portraits aren’t they.  One of the best little sections is in Volume 1 where Scott talks about shooting something that has been shot to death.  The one tip he gave was looking for unusual weather, which is echoed Cory’s sentiments here in his Dark Skies at EPCOT post from last month.

Recommendation

I think you can tell by this point that I really like the first 4 volumes of this book and I should probably pick up the 5th with how much I use the first 4.  They are my go to books when I want to do some reading about photography.  Like previously mentioned I don’t have the 6th book in the series.  The description lists that one as a “Best of the Best” type book with a new section on making the transition from iPhone shooter to DSLR (why isn’t there a section on switching to the iPad as your primary camera, eh @WDWiPadography ??!?!?!?!).  So I don’t think the 6th volume will be on my wish list for now.

Up Next

The next book in the series will be Harold Davis’ Monochromatic HDR Photography book.   Are there any books on your shelf that you think I should be reading this year?  Leave a note in the comments (click Read more to bring up the form) and I’ll add it to my reading list.

Side Note

On a side note, Walt Disney World just announced that Lights Motor Action was being removed and there are rumors that the Earful tower is going to be moved / removed from Hollywood Studios.  It makes my post from last Friday even more of a must read.  There are more things disappearing from the parks and I’m definitely going to have to try and get some photos of these before they are gone.

Backup Strategies

Whenever I talk about backing up photos, I always start with my motivation for backing things up.  A co-worker of mine had his first child at the dawn of digital photography.  He had the same Canon 300D I had and he took tons of pictures of his new-born daughter.  He thought he was on top of things.  He had a server on his home network where all the photos were stored and actually had a tape backup drive that was regularly making back-ups of everything on the server.  Right around her first birthday disaster struck, but he felt assured that everything was ok – he had all of those tape backups to go back on.  After he rebuilt the server and got everything configured right he found out that the tape backup system had stopped actually working over a year ago.  It was always reporting the backups were being completed ok, but there was no actual data on the tapes to recover.  He lost every single photograph he had taken of his daughter.  When he originally came to me with that news, I vowed to never let that happen to me so I began to create my backup strategy.  I might be a little bit extreme in my backups, but I never want to lose everything the way my co-worker did.

Step 1 The Local Copy

When I’m done shooting and have copied all the pictures off of the memory card and onto my main computer, the first step is to make a DVD backup of the photos.  Back when I had my 6.3MP camera this process was much easier than it is today.  I never had to worry about having more pictures on the memory card then I could fit on a double layer DVD.  Nowadays, that isn’t as easy of an assumption and I probably should consider upgrading to a Blu-ray writer.  Once the discs are made, I label them (name and date of the event) and file them away.  Documenting the process here has identified a flaw here in my system.  The DVD copies are stored in a file cabinet near my desk.  Should anything happen to my desk, one of the copies goes with it.  I should probably take the disc copies and move them up to another level of the house.

Step 2 The Dual Hard Drives

Now that the data is on the internal hard drive of my computer (I’m still using my PC for photo work since my 7 year old iMac is bit long in the tooth) and on the DVDs, I move all the files off onto a USB backup drive.  When I started this backup process I bought two identical drives.  One lives on my desk at home and the other sits inside the safety deposit box at my bank.  On the first Saturday of the month, I take the drive off of my desk and swap it with the one in the safety deposit box.  When I brink the bank copy home, I update it with all the new files that have been captured during the previous month.  Running things this way, the most I could ever lose is a months worth of photos.  That’s if something happened to the house and I lost the internal hard drive, the external hard drive, and the CD / DVD copies.

Step 3 Backing Up Online

I resisted online backups for a very long time.  I never felt good about my data living on other people’s servers, and I remember a horror story of one of the early online backup places going belly-up overnight and everyone was scrambling to get their data back before it was gone.,  But travelling to the bank once a month to swap out the drives is growing tiresome and the size of those drives needs to be updated soon as they are starting to grow full, and I hear the Backblaze commercials multiple times a week due to their sponsorship of multiple podcasts I listen to.  I’ve always read their excellent quarterly report cards on long term hard drive performance (you can see samples here) so over this Christmas break I decided to give them a shot.  So far so good, at $5 / month it seems like an easy choice.  I like the idea that – in the event something bad happens – I can order a hard drive with all of my data copied on to it, rather than having to max out my internet connection with getting all of the data back.

Backup strategies are all very personal so I got a second opinion from site contributor Ben Hendel to share some additional thoughts.

Ben

When I worked at Apple, one of my managers had a saying: “There are two types of people in the world: those who have lost data, and those who will.” When he told me this, I was already in the first of those two categories, having had a Dell 20GB hard drive nuke itself on me, and much of the data was unrecoverable. So I back up religiously, in multiple ways.

First and foremost, owning a MacBook Pro, I use Time Machine to back up to an Apple Time Capsule device.  Mine is older, but it is a 2TB hard drive baked into a wireless router.  My computer automatically backs up to it hourly.  Because I started to outgrow 2TB of storage, and I wanted more redundant automatic backups, I’ve plugged my Time Capsule, via USB to a 5TB Seagate external hard drive as a secondary source.  In addition to that, for offloading old Lightroom Libraries, and creating backups of photos as I travel, I have a 2TB Thunderbolt G-Drive that lives in my travel bag.  Finally, for backup systems current in place, I also keep a 1TB Hard drive backup at my parent’s house out of state to use as off-site backup, because I’ve suffered a house fire and know how easily data can be lost from inside a house, even if its redundantly backed up.

Again, I’ve lost data before, and I’m paranoid about it happening again.   So I’m also looking at getting a NAS drive for my network as a tertiary way of automatically backup up my data.  And I’m looking at getting an off-site backup solution as well.  Look, in my opinion, you spend thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands on taking your photos.  You should spend more, rather than less, to back up those pictures once they’ve been taken.

Conclusion

Do you follow one or more of these plans?  I know everyone has their own system.  A buddy of mine sends me a bare hard drive every couple of months when he finishes a big project so I’m his offsite backup plan (no, I’m not taking on additional drives at this time, lol).  Chime in in the comments and let us know how you back up your Disney photos.  Hit the read more button below to leave a comment.

Also, if you are going to be ordering from Amazon.com anyway, please consider following this link.  It doesn’t cost you anything but we earn a very small commission and it helps support the sit

P.S.

The image above is of the Hollywood Hotel sign in Hong Kong Disneyland, if you want to see more Hong Kong Disneyland photos, check out my older post here.

Dark Ride Photography Basics

One of the things that we get asked quite often is, “How do you get photos on dark rides?” Well, today, we are going to dive into some of the basics of dark ride shooting. We’ll have future posts to go into the more advanced techniques as well as editing in Lightroom or Photoshop, but today’s post is strictly about the basics to make sure you get the shot. Also, these are recommendations based off of my success with dark ride shooting; other folks might have other ideas, and if you do, we would love to hear them in the comment section below!

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The first, and most important rule of dark ride shooting is to not use flash. There is no need to do so, and it does two things. First, it ruins the ride experience for other paying guests who are riding in your vicinity. Secondly, you get a washed out photo that doesn’t look anything like what the people who designed the rides were going for.

OK, with that out of the way, let’s talk about basic camera settings. When shooting dark rides, you aren’t necessarily moving fast, but you are moving, and the animatronics are moving as well. Because of this, we cannot really rely on what our camera thinks we should do in terms of shutter speed. So, for dark ride shooting, I suggest either shooting in Shutter Priority mode, or Manual, if you feel up to it. I do all of my dark ride shooting in Manual now, since every time I tried doing it in Aperture Priority mode, I would end up not getting the shot and getting frustrated.

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Typically, the general rule of thumb is that to get a sharp photo, you need to make your shutter speed whatever your lens focal length is. For example, the lens I use for 90% of my dark ride shooting is a 55mm. Ideally, that would mean I should be shooting at a shutter speed of 1/55. My camera doesn’t allow that, so 1/60 is the next best thing. But, with the technology that newer cameras have for better low light performance, I always stay between 1/80 and 1/125 of a second when shooting dark rides. I’d rather have something sharp where I can clean up the noise than something that is blurry.

When shooting at a shutter speed like that, your camera is going to adjust the aperture to be the one that lets in the most light. For some of you, that might be f/4. For others, it might be f/2.8 or f/1.8. The fastest lenses out there even can go down to f/0.95, but you get into stupid expensive territory with those! My 55mm is an f/1.8, and since I shoot in Manual mode while on dark rides, I always have mine set to be f/1.8. That way, the ISO can stay lower and I can capture photos with less noise in them. You shouldn’t get discouraged though if your lens only goes as fast as f/4, as the photo below was taken with an f/4 lens and still turned out alright!

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So, we’re in Manual mode, and we’re setting a fast(ish) shutter speed and the widest aperture available to us to let in the most light. That makes up two thirds of the exposure triangle, with the last being ISO. Now, the lower the ISO, the less noise will be introduced into the photos. It’s also worth noting here that the newer (and more than likely more expensive) camera you have, the high ISO performance will be better. The camera industry has come a really long way in the past few years with even making entry level DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras that work terrifically in low light situations. So, what should we do with the ISO? Well, you can adjust it on the fly as you see fit. This takes some finesse though, and it isn’t my favorite option. So, this is the only part of dark ride shooting where I let the camera pick, and I select Auto ISO. That way, my shutter speed and aperture are locked in, and the camera picks the right ISO to match those settings.

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Sometimes when in Auto ISO, your camera might try to go to ISO 12800 or 25600. This usually leads to unusable photos, with the exception of some newer cameras. But, most cameras these days have the option to set a ceiling for ISO. That way, if you don’t want it to go above ISO 6400, no worries. I usually have my ceiling set on the Sony a7 for ISO 12800, which is as far as I feel I can go and still be able to clean the image up on the computer later.

Lastly, getting sharp focus is important as well. There are things you can do, such as manual focusing, which can help ensure sharpness, but we’ll get into more advanced techniques like that in the next article. Since we’re sticking to the basics here, we’re going to stay in auto focus modes. For that, I try my hardest to stay within the center of my camera’s focusing matrix. The closer your focus point is to the center of the frame, you typically get faster and more accurate focus, which in these dark environments in crucial. You can always crop later to change the composition, albeit at a slight loss in resolution of your photo.

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Alright, so we’ve discussed shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focusing, which should really handle the basics of capturing the shot. You may be asking, “Where do we start?” Well, there are quite a few dark rides at Walt Disney World and Disneyland that are easier than others. it’s a small world and Gran Fiesta Tour at WDW are both pretty well lit. The west coast it’s a small world and the Little Mermaid dark ride at California Adventure would be two places to get a good start out at Disneyland. Once you master those, we can move on to super dark attractions like the Haunted Mansion and Peter Pan’s Flight.

Hopefully you enjoyed these tips and will be able to use them the next time you find yourself on a Disney dark ride. For those curious, all of the photos here with taken with the Sony a7 and either the Zeiss 55mm F1.8 or the Zeiss 16-35mm f4, all which can be found at Amazon. If you shop at Amazon, clicking the link sends us a little commission at no cost to you, so we appreciate it. We’d also love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

Dealing With the Crowds

If you have ever visited the Walt Disney World Resort during the week of Christmas and the New Year, you know what extreme theme park crowds feel like. But, sometimes, that is the only time to go for some, or it is the only time to see certain things, like the Christmas parade during the daytime. While it might seem like a wash to take photos while dealing with said crowds, it is most definitely possible, and I experienced it first hand while touring through Animal Kingdom this weekend. I’d like to share a few tips to not get too stressed in today’s post.

Think Small

In many cases during these busy times, forgetting the wide angle lens can be a good idea. Obviously, there are still some great shots you can get incorporating crowds, but in my experience, most wide shots during super busy times end up in my archives.

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Every photo in this article is shot with a 28mm lens, but with a lens like that, you have the ability to get up close to your subjects. Shooting with a small prime lens and just your camera is also a nice way to deal with the crowds, since you would not have to deal with people constantly bumping into your bag. There are lots and lots of details in the parks, and busy times are a great time to capture them.

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Look up!

When at Disney, there are things all around you. Up, down, left, right, everywhere. Sad thing about when it’s busy is that many of the things that are down, left, and right are obstructed by hundreds and thousands of people. But, looking up will yield you some success, because all of those people sharing the park with you in most cases cannot block that view. Take these great holiday decorations for example. They are probably close to 8 feet above the ground, and make for a pretty cool shot. I was surrounded by people when taking it, but you wouldn’t be able to know!

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Find the Photo Spot

There are many creative ways to get around shooting when crowded, but at the same time, many of the postcard type shots at WDW are ones that crowds cannot get in the way of, like Cinderella Castle with the moat leading up to it, or the monorail running past the Imagination pavilion. The Tree of Life is no different. Walk all the way up to the railing and take your shot! It might not be the most original, but you can still get something you can take home with you and share with friends and family.

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Hopefully this information helps the next time you take a trip to the parks and are anticipating the 90 minute waits for E-Tickets but still want to get a few photos in.

For those curious, everything taken in the post was with the Sony a7 and the Sony FE 28mm f/2, both of which are available at Amazon. Thanks for reading!