" December 2015 "

Which is better? Grand Floridian Sunset

Welcome to another new week, and a new set of posts here at Disney Photography Blog. For today’s post, I would like to get some discussion going. I was lucky to be leaving the Magic Kingdom yesterday when it was very overcast and then have the clouds part and make way for a beautiful sunset. Naturally, I postponed my ferryboat ride back to the car to take a few photos. I had two of my lenses with me on this jaunt out to the park – a 14mm f/2.8 and a 55mm f/1.8. Since I didn’t have a ton of time and I was already out of the park, I decided to walk out past the boat launch for the Polynesian and Grand Floridian to get some photos with the sunset of the Floridian from across the Seven Seas Lagoon. So, I took a few shots with both lenses, and I’m going to post them both below. They were shot roughly at the same time and edited almost exactly the same way. I’ll explain what I like about each one, and then I’m going to ask for all of you wonderful readers to share which one you like best and why. So, here’s the wide one:


Ok, so here’s what I like about this one. It’s wide. Like, stupid wide. Shooting with lenses like this 14mm are a ton of fun down at WDW. And to me, this photo shows what Walt Disney World is all about. It is huge and epic and grand and all those superlatives combined into one. The clouds here are incredible and nature at its best. It’s also hard to believe the busiest theme park on the planet is just a few hundred yards behind where I was standing. What I’m not really a fan of is the focus of the shot. Is it on the Grand Floridian? Yes. I know that because I shot it. But, someone else might think this was just a pretty lagoon photo with a building that happens to be in the background. Alright, on to the tighter version shot with the 55mm.


So, I like that this one has a clear and defined subject. This is 100% a shot about the flagship resort of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. It still has some pretty epic clouds, although they aren’t quite as massive looking as the ones in the wide angle shot. But, it doesn’t necessarily have that ‘wow’ factor when you first take a look at it. By shooting it tighter, I also wasn’t able to get really any of the blue color that was in the higher parts of the sky that the 14mm caught.

I don’t want to say which one is my favorite, but I would love to hear from you. Which one do you prefer? Why do you prefer it? Which one puts you more into the atmosphere of WDW? Please let us know in the comments below.

For those curious, these were both shot with the Sony a7 and the Rokinon 14mm F2.8 and the Zeiss 55mm F1.8, both of which can be purchased at Amazon. Thanks for reading!

Fireworks in 1 Shot – Part 2

[Editor’s Note]

Today’s guest post is part 2 and the finale of Ben Hendel’s series on capturing the entire fireworks show in one shot.  You can follow Ben on Twitter and Flickr.  Make sure you read up on Ben’s part 1 from Wednesday.

We left off the last post with some general tips on Fireworks shooting and some tips for getting setup for the shot.  Now let’s dig into getting the shot.

Getting the technical side of the shot is only the first part of your image; framing is the other par and is equally important. Think about it, plan it. Fireworks pictures are boring if you don’t have an interesting foreground. Remember, you’re keeping the shutter open for twelve minutes, so think about what is around you that might move during the show. Bushes, trees, flags and banners may not make the best foreground subjects. They will look blurred or ghosted in the final image.  So you might have nailed the fireworks portion of the shot, but the foreground is lackluster. Hard structures on the other hand are really nice to have in your frame. The Tori Gate in Japan, the various Disney topiaries (which tend to be tightly shorn and don’t blow or waver much), or other park landmarks make great fore- or mid-ground subjects for your photo. They add interesting negative spaces, too, where fireworks can peek through. Water can also be a fantastic addition to your shot. A photographer way smarter than I once said “with still water, you get two pictures in one” referring to reflections cast upon the water.


This is the image from the top straight out of the camera before editting.

Most importantly, make sure you can see the fireworks! They are the star of this picture, after all, and you want to make sure you can get them all! As I’ve mentioned, EPCOT’s shows tend to be more portrait than landscape, but Hollywood Studios shows tend to be the opposite. [Editor’s note: Wait, they have fireworks shows at Hollywood Studios?  They do for New Year’s Eve, 4th of July, and they had them for Star Wars Weekends and the Frozen Summer Spectacular shows.] Magic Kingdom trends toward portrait, except when they throw in the 180 degree and 360 degree perimeter bursts for the Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and July 4th variants of the show.  If you plan on shooting any of these shows, do your homework. You’ve got to memorize what the bursts are exploding over, so you can plan your shot accordingly. If you’re concerned, go higher and wider than you expect. You can always crop down.

Alright, so, you’ve got your spot. You’ve got your camera on your tripod, your remote in your camera, the camera pointed in the right direction, the lens cap off (lol), and you’ve set it up to be on bulb mode with manual aperture. What’s left? A few more things and you’ll be set. First, focus your camera without the ND filter on it. In the darkness, cameras really, really don’t like focusing when you’re taking something wicked dark and artificially making it even darker. If you’ve got a lens that is sensitive about holding focus when you’re attaching a filter, set filter to its lightest setting and your camera to live-view and use the screen to manually focus. Most cameras will let you zoom in when you’re using live-view and you’ll be able to make sure you’re hitting focus that way. Once you’ve found focus, pop your camera, your lens, every switch you can possibly find to manual-focus and don’t touch your focus ring. Don’t even think about your focus ring. Lock it in and put it as far out of your mind as possible. Set your camera to a static ISO 100. You do not want to have auto-ISO turned on because your camera will absolutely use it. You’ve just made it insanely dark, and your camera does not understand that was on purpose and you’re shooting off of a tripod. Now, if you haven’t already, attach your ND filter and, if it’s variable, set it to the proper darkness. As quick and easy rule, if your shot is properly exposed with your ND at 3 stops at around 8 seconds, it will be properly exposed with your ND at 10 stops for 15 minutes. Getting the right balance between ND darkness and aperture is a process; you’ll likely take a few test shots before you get it right. This is why setting up early is important. It not only will assure that you have room to set up your tripod, but you’ll also be able to dial in your settings properly.

Now, we’ve got our gear set up and our settings squared away, you get to do the enjoyable part. Take the picture. When the clock strikes fireworks start time, open the shutter. That’s it. Lock the shutter open, however you camera requires you do that. Now, oddly enough for a photographer, enjoy the show. Seriously, watch and enjoy the fireworks, instead of thinking about what’s coming up and when you need to close the shutter. Hug your significant other or kids close if they’ve come with you. Think about how much crap you’ve put them through just to get “the perfect shot.” How many water bottles they’ve run and grabbed for you while you wait with your spot staked out for a parade. How many times they’ve saved that spot because you just drank a ton of water and now need to use the restroom. Disney fireworks are incredibly beautiful, sit back and enjoy them. When the show is over, close the shutter. If you’re in a crowded area, you’ll wanna be quick on the draw, in case someone bumps your tripod. It’s only one shot, so all of your eggs are in that basket.


Sometimes you have a great idea for a hot but it doesn’t work out.  Remember, you have one shot at this, it’s either going to work or it isn’t and you won’t know until the fireworks show is over.

A couple of additional tips? If you have a tripod with a long neck and it’s windy, drop it like it’s hot to the top of the legs. The farther you are from where the legs converge, the more susceptible to being blown back and forth your camera will be. I’m paranoid of things bumping the legs of my tripod, and I use a corded remote, so I tend to wind the extra cable around the knobs on my tripod and tripod head. This lets it hang as little as possible, and not bang around. Will a six ounce plastic remote bumping into my tripod ruin a twelve minute exposure? Probably not, but I’m not willing to chance it, are you?

[Editor’s Note]

Thank you for the great post Ben!  Not sure I’m brave enough to try this out, but I’ll have to see if I can pull it off with these great tips.

Let us know what you think in the comments below (hit read more to see the form for posting a comment).  We know you are reading the site……let us know what you think!

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Fireworks in 1 Shot – Part 1

[Editor’s Note]

Today’s guest post is from Ben Hendel (you can follow Ben on Twitter and Flickr).  Capturing the entire fireworks show in one shot is an incredibly difficult shot so we’ve broken up the post into two parts

Fireworks. The final frontier.

Maybe? I dunno, I never watched Star Trek. Fireworks can be a difficult enough thing to shoot before you look at someone else’s shot and say to yourself, “you know, I wanna take a shot like that!” The job is especially difficult when the shot in question captures all of Wishes in a single frame like this one here by Brett Kiger of Brett Kiger Photography.

Sadly for you, photography isn’t like Olympic gymnastics or snowboarding, either. You don’t get bonus points attempting a particularly difficult shot. You just get a more difficult shot and a higher chance of botching it. You get one chance per show to get it right and if you aren’t a local this might be the only chance you get to take the image on your trip.  Unlike normal fireworks photography, where you’re taking 25 to 30 frames per show, you can’t peek at the screen and adjust your settings if you’ve gotten something wrong.  No pressure right?

You open that shutter, and try to enjoy the next 12 minutes. Because you need all the distraction you can right then. Even though you’ve spend 30 minutes setting up, and framing, and making sure your settings are just right, none of that matters when you lock the shutter open. You worry about it all. You’ll worry about it all even after you read this handy article, telling you all the various ways I managed to screw things up so you don’t have to! Why? Because we are photographers, and worrying is what we do best. That and take photos. We’re pretty decent at that, too.

Single shot fireworks is the Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington of the photography world (Chef, I am still so sorry for shamefully ruining a perfectly good cut of beef. I promise! Just don’t scream at me again!). This isn’t for beginners. You’ll need some specialized, and sometimes expensive, extra equipment. You’ll need to be comfortable setting your camera to full manual mode. You’ll need to understand already how to take fireworks shots. But just like tackling a difficult recipe, when you do it and do it right, there’s nothing in the world that tastes better than the taste of sweet, sweet success. 

First off, what sort of extra weight do you need to throw into your bag? First off, you’ll need a camera that can be set to bulb mode, and for which you can manually set the ISO; sorry iPadographers, iPhoneographers, and the like. Next, you’ll need a tripod. You may have the steadiest hands on the planet, but unless you’re dead or one of those awesome monks from China, holding a camera perfectly still for 12 minutes isn’t in the cards. Bolt that sucker to a tripod. Once you’re on the tripod, you don’t want to push the shutter release, especially on bulb mode. You’d have to push it down for 12 minutes straight, and again, your arms will hurt. Plus, pushing the button introduces vibration to the camera, and in the words of Dr. Grant Seeker (get it? He’s seeking grants. Because he’s a scientist. He needs money to research dinosaurs!), “that’s not good.” This is where a remote shutter release comes in handy. They come in all forms now: wired, wireless of all varieties (IR, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth), and in all complexities. I use a very simple one, the Nikon MC-DC2. It has a shutter button, and a slide-lock, which I love when I use bulb mode. Finally, you’ll need a neutral density, sometimes called an ND, filter. [Editor’s note, if you are a Canon shooter like me, I use the Canon RS60-E3, I assume that there are similar remotes for the Micro 4/3rd cameras.]

What is an ND filter? There’s a lot of very complicated math that goes into it, but basically it is a filter that doesn’t affect the hues of light coming into the camera (hence the term neutral) while reducing the amount of light that makes it to the sensor. They come in all sorts of varieties of darknesses, but I tend to err toward the less-expensive side of the scale and purchase a variable ND filter. This uses two polarized filters, one static and one that rotates, to dial in the level of darkness you need. Plus, it’s only one filter in my bag, rather than a set of three to five. That’s the upside. The downside is that you’re now shooting through not one extra piece of glass, but two. More glass means more of a chance to lose sharpness in your shot. However, that is a trade off I’m willing to make. My biggest tip about ND filters is to buy one that fits your biggest lens (unless that lens is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or similar, something that requires it’s own bespoke ND and costs $500), and use step-down rings to fit the ND to smaller-threaded lenses. If your biggest lens requires a 77mm filter, but you also have a lens that need a 52mm filter, you know that the 77mm filter will have enough coverage for 52mm filter lens. A step-down rings will make the 77mm filter thread properly onto the smaller fitting lens. Just because they make a ring to fit a 52mm filter on your bigger lens doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

Now that we’ve got all our kit, I’ll take a bit to talk about the theories that make this particular shot work. Properly exposing a picture is all about controlling light. Too much light and you’ve blown the shot. Similarly, not enough light and your shot will be underexposed, and dark. It comes as no surprise that we have to set our cameras up in a specific manner in order to pull off a roughly twelve minute (678 seconds, in one of my pictures) exposure. An easy way to let less light into a camera, we know, is to use a small aperture. While it’s quite tempting to spin our thumb-wheels the f/22, there are some things to consider beforehand. Most lenses aren’t at their sharpest when shooting at either extreme of their aperture spectrum. And even at such an extreme aperture, we would still need to use an ND filter to properly expose. We don’t want to double our chances of a soft shot, with both a filter and a high aperture value, so that’s out. Additionally, f/22 is going to put everything in focus, and depending on how you frame your shot, that may not be what you are trying to achieve. I recommend setting up where your lens is sharpest, generally in the f/5.6 to f/8 range. I’m a huge fan of f/5.6, but your mileage may vary.


This is what the image at the top of the post looked like straight out of the camera.

Planning out your shot is also important. I may love to take night photos, and sometimes even fireworks photos, with my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle lens. But that only accepts drop-in ND filters, and the kit is well north of $500.  That means it’s not the best choice for attempting a single-shot of fireworks. In my bag, my next widest lens is a venerable old Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens, which is what I used in EPCOT for IllumiNations. Even though 28mm is relatively wide, as far as fireworks shows go, IllumiNations is more of a vertical show than a horizontal one. Shooting in most spots around World Showcase Lagoon with a 28mm lens in landscape orientation won’t get you the height, but also the foreground, you want in your frame. For my shot, I decided that a portrait orientation would give me an interesting human element at the front of my frame as well as enough height to not chop up any of the higher bursts in IllumiNations.

We are going to finish this up with part 2 on Friday.  Let us know what you think in the comments below (hit read more to see the form for posting a comment).

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