" December 2015 "

Going for a swim

I had a much longer of post set up for today about using Lightroom’s Merge to Panorama tool, but then I left the photos at home and didn’t have access to them, doh!!!!!   So today’s article is going to be shorter than usual.  I’ll make sure I get the Panorama photos edited tonight and the post will go live on Friday.   Sorry!

The Kilimanjaro Safari ride at Animal Kingdom is my favorite ride at Animal Kingdom.  Expedition Everest, Festival of the Lion King, and Finding Nemo are all great attractions but for the most part they are the same every time.  But each time I ride the Kilimanjaro Safari it is a new experience.  The animals are always in different places and doing different things. I remember one time that a rhino had come up so close to our ride vehicle that we had to stop for a long time to let him wander off rather than us drive off and possibly bump him.  The rhinoceros was so close to the vehicle that you could have reached out and touched it – though we were told repeatedly not to reach out of the vehicle.

The shot above was taken in 2010….back when I was shooting with my  first DSLR – a Canon 300D back in 2010.  I actually was able to capture the whole sequence of the elephant making a splash.  I saw him wind up, drop his trunk into the water, make the splash, and then follow through (but only have this image here on my laptop, sorry).

To get the best shots on the Kilimanjaro Safari set your camera up as follows……

  • Shutter Priority, typically 1/500th of a second.  The ride vehicle is very bumpy (except when the ride stops) and the animals are always moving around.
  • ISO 800 (or 400 if it is really bright outside).

Again, sorry for the short post – we’ll have something longer on Friday.

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Epcot Holiday Storyteller Photo Tips

One of my absolute favorite things about the holidays at Walt Disney World is the added entertainment at Epcot. Between the Peace on Earth fireworks tag, the Candlelight Processional, and the Holiday Storytellers, the added value of this park is pretty great. There can be some challenges though when it comes to taking photos of the Storytellers, so for today’s post, I’m going to share a few tips on how to capture them!

1. Use a fast shutter speed.

Whenever shooting anything that has motion, it is important to use a fast shutter speed. That way, you freeze the motion and don’t get any blur. You may have to sacrifice your ISO to do this, but a slightly noisy shot that is sharp is better than a noise-less shot that is blurry. If you have a fast lens, like an f/1.8 or f/2.8, you might be able to have the best of both worlds.


There are many times that you might have your camera in Automatic mode, or Aperture Priority, and in order to keep the ISO down, the camera might default to a shutter speed of 1/60 or 1/100. This may not cut it when shooting motion, like the shot of the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs above. So, the best thing to do is to switch to Manual mode. For the shot above, I did that, set my aperture to f/1.8, and my shutter speed to 1/500. I let the camera decide the ISO for me, and I came away with a sharp shot!

2. Catch them in the wild.


This may seem a little odd to hear, as it sounds like we’re shooting animals on a safari. But, all of these performers do their show on a stage of some sort. That means that the vast majority of the shots people will take will be while they are on said stage. You can capture something unique by getting some photos while they are making their way from backstage to the stage. You also get the chance to capture them with the background of the country they are from, like this shot of La Befana of Italy.


3. Get there early and get a spot!

Much of successful photography is planning, and getting shots here is no different. The stages for all of these shows are pretty small, and are meant to be seen by small to medium sized audiences. That said, if you get there too late, there is a good chance you’ll be far away, or there will be the heads of families in front of you, which may make it hard to capture the shot that you want. For the shot below of Father Christmas in the UK, we made sure that we got to the stage area about 25 minutes before to make sure that we had no one in front of us.


4. Tell the story.

Many of the storytellers have a prop that they use in their show, whether is be the shoe of Babette in the Pere Noel show in France, or the Nutcracker and Advent Calendar in the show with Helga in Germany. Pere Noel uses the shoe in a comedic fashion during the show, and then does a very Santa Claus-esque laugh when talking about it. Capturing that moment can help tell the story, and draw a connection from your viewer.


5. Go with the light.

Lastly, many of these storytelling shows happen right in the middle of the day. Typically, that means that the light isn’t always going to be the best. When that happens, it is best to just go with it. Take this shot of La Befana in Italy for example:


The sun was shining down directly behind her, since the showing we saw was around the 2:30 hour. So, I actually got down a little bit low, and aimed upward to capture the sun backlighting her. From there, when I went into Lightroom, I pushed the exposure up even further, and added a lot of contrast. That way, La Befana pops off of the screen. Obviously, these aren’t the ideal conditions to shoot in and capture these shows, but you work with what you have, and you can still be successful.

Hopefully you all enjoyed these photos and the tips that came along with them. Shooting the storytellers is a ton of fun, as well as just listening and enjoying the season. Hopefully, if you’re able to make it out to the park soon to see them, you’ll be able to use some of these tips to your advantage.

For those curious, every single shot here was taken with the Sony a7 and the Zeiss 55mm F1.8, which are both available at Amazon. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Hong Kong Disneyland Photo Tour

The image at the top of this post looks a lot like Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland doesn’t it?  It’s not actually.  Hong Kong Disneyland has a replica of the Disneyland staple.  In fact, if you ever get the chance to visit Hong Kong Disneyland like I did in 2013, it will strike you as very similar to the Anaheim, California staple.  There are a lot of fan favorites, like the Disneyland Railroad, It’s a Small World, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and Space Mountain from Disneyland and Festival of the Lion King that is a unique adaptation of the Animal Kingdom show.  But there are a lot of unique things in Hong Kong Disneyland and it is definitely worth a visit – especially if you happen to be in the area.  The company that I work at used to have an office in Shenzhen, China which is right next door to Hong Kong.  I got to extend my trip by a day and spend it on the Chinese version of the happiest place on earth.


One of the unique items is this plaza near the entrance to the park.  Here Mickey rides a surf board on top of the plume of water with small statues of the rest of the fab 5 around the base of the fountain.  The Mickey bounces up and down, so capturing the shot at night is quite tricky.  There was a pattern to the up and down movement and it took me forever to time it out so I could get as little movement in Mickey while capturing the long exposure shot.  The image below is what that fountain looks like during the day time.



One of the things you need to bring along with you on a photography trip to Hong Kong Disneyland is a Circular Polarizer and / or a UV haze filter.  The links above are to the two that I own.  I followed DisneyTouristBlog’s advice and ordered the largest filters I could and use step up rings to adapt the large filters to my suite of lenses.  That way I don’t have to have different filters for each lens.  I know there are cheaper filters out there then the ones that I bought and there are more expensive ones too, but you definitely don’t want to have a whole bag of different ND, Circular Polarizers or UV Haze filters in your bag.  Just don’t go too cheap.  Think about it.  You are putting that filter in front of your $300, $500, $1000, or even more lens.  Why put a $10 or $20 piece of plastic in front of it.  If you are going to buy a filter, get the best one you can afford.

If you’ve watched the news at all, I’m sure you’ve seen the stories about how bad the smog is in China.  I can tell you that after spending over 50 days in China over the last three years, the smog is just as bad as they say it is and the sky is often a bland shade of grey.  In fact, in all of those days in China I saw a true blue sky once.  I was in the Northern part of China, and a massive thunderstorm system was swirling over Southern China.  It had the effect of pulling all the smog south and when I woke up that morning the sky was blue with nice puffy white clouds like we get at Walt Disney World.  The shot above, taken during the day is with no filters on the camera at all, where as the shot below I had the circular polarizer affixed on the lens.  It isn’t a great sky image by any means, but it does help out a lot.  If you want to read more about how a circular polarizer works, check out the wikipedia article here.



The real attraction for making a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland is three unique lands – not found in any other park (at least as of yet).  There’s Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, and Toy Story land.  Toy Story Land is mostly for little kids – there’s a Army Man ride that’s a lot like Jumping Jellyfish at DCA, a slinky dog spinner type ride, and a simple RC Coaster ride.  Toy Story land was closed for the fireworks show, so I didn’t get a chance to head back there at night.  The over-sized Toy Story characters and colors would probably look great at night.


Mystic Point wasn’t open the week I was there.  They area was closed off as they shot the commercials and promotional videos for the area.  In fact, the land soft opened the very next day but I couldn’t stay any longer.  Tom Bricker over at DisneyTouristBlog got to visit after I did and got to tour the land as well as the signature attraction of the area – Mystic Manor.


Grizzly Gulch is, in my opinion, the star of the three.  Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine cars is by far the best roller coaster ride at any Disney theme park.  Unlike Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom, Grizzly Gulch is a long roller coaster ride.  You go forwards, backwards, and then forwards again.  There are animatronic bears!  The only think that would make it better would be an inversion.  The rest of the area is themed a lot like the area around Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom.  The whole area just works.  The only thing that would make it better would be another ride or two.


Want a great tip for getting good photos at Hong Kong Disneyland?  Stick around for after dark.  You won’t have to worry about the grey skies when it is night time.  The cast members are extremely polite to photographers at Hong Kong Disneyland.  At least they were the night I was there.  They security guards suggested places to shoot as I was walking around.  Hong Kong Disneyland was the first park I stayed in after closing and it was a blast.  I wish I had a chance to go back there and try getting some of the shots again.

If you are worried about the language barrier, I wouldn’t.  Almost everywhere I’ve been in China, the people there speak far better English than I can speak Chinese.  Most of the cast members speak at least some English.  You can see which languages the speak by the little flags on their name tags.  You can actually ride the Jungle Cruise in three different languages – English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.  Most of the shows are mostly English with a little bit of Chinese thrown in.


So let’s have a little bit of a roll call, has anyone else visited any of the international parks?  Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Sea?  My fingers are crossed that I’ll get a chance to heard back to China is 2016.  Nowadays when I fly to China, I fly through Shanghai and a side trip to Shanghai Disneyland would be easy to tack on to a business trip.  The plans for the park look amazing, though I think the park will be marred by the smog just like Hong Kong Disneyland is.  The skies around Shanghai have been better than Hong Kong, Beijing, or Qingdao when I’ve been over there, but one can hope for some Florida like skies, can’t I?

Please leave a comment in the section below (Click Read More to leave a note).  Tell us anything you want – tell us what you would like us to cover going forward, tell us our stories stink, even tell me that my photographs are garbage (you wouldn’t be the first one 🙂 ).  Just post a comment so we can get the community talking again.


Paying attention to your settings

I need a better system.  No, I don’t need a new camera system.  I need a new system for remembering to double check all of my camera settings before I take a shot.  For the Orlando locals, if you make a mistake it isn’t that big of a deal.  You can go back to the park the next night, next week, next month and its not that big of a deal.  But for someone who visits the park once a year or once every other year, if you blow the shot you don’t have an opportunity to try it again.  It’s kind of the reason why I’m not so sure I would even attempt one of the all-in-one fireworks shots like Ben described last week.  At best, I’ve got one or two nights to shoot Wishes on a typical vacation and I want to maximize the number of keepers I get.

But like I said, I need a better system because I’m still not maximizing my opportunities in the parks.  Case in point the shot at the top of the post.  After I got the family back to the hotel for the evening, I headed back to the Magic Kingdom to close down the park and get some night shots that I wanted.  One of the shots I wanted to get was a picture of Gaston’s courtyard in New Fantasyland.  I started the evening grabbing some shots of the Dumbo spinners at night, grabbed the shot in the Little Mermaid queue that I mentioned before, then wandered over to Gaston’s courtyard.  When I finally went in to edit the photos, I couldn’t figure out why there were no starbursts coming off the lamp posts.  Then I looked at the exif data.  Somehow when I was shooting the brackets for the HDR shot, I must have accidentally changed the aperture on my camera to f/5.6 rather than the f/16 or f/18 I should have taken the shot at to get the starbursts I wanted.

The shot above isn’t bad, but it’s not great either nor is it the shot I wanted.  I guess I’ll have to try this again the next time I’m in the parks.

So, when you are shooting (in the parks or otherwise) how do you make sure you’ve set your camera up right before you take the shot?  Do you have a checklist (either written down or mental) to make sure you’ve got things right?  Please drop off a suggestion in the comment section below (hit the Read More button to bring up the Comments page).

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