" January 2016 "

Every Click Counts

When I first started to get into photography as an adult (I had dabbled a bit in High School, thanks to my friend Bill’s Canon EOS Rebel), I dove right in.  I listened to a lot of podcasts, read a lot of blogs, took lots of bad pictures, and looked at lots of really good ones on Flikr.  One of the posts that always sticks in my mind is this post here by photographer Scott Bourne.  Mr. Bourne was shooting the IZOD Indy Car World Championship in Las Vegas the day driver Dan Wheldon was killed in a fatal car crash.  About an hour before the wreck he had the chance to take a shot of Wheldon during introductions.  Mr. Bourne’s commentary on the photo are a bit too harsh for my liking, it isn’t a bad shot by any means and it does capture a moment of fun and happiness, which was kind of the point.  But Mr. Bourne’s message is 100% right on.  You never know when you are going to get a chance to capture an image again, so you need to seize the moment when it is there.

So why did I remember that post today?  On Wednesday evening – January 6th, 2016 – The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights turned off for the last time.  Unlike the tragic death of driver Dan Wheldon, the Disney community knew this date was coming.  It was rumored for the past couple of seasons and formally announced in September of 2015 that this would in fact be the final year.  The loss of this beloved attraction is a casualty of all the construction that will be going on at Disney Hollywood Studios for the new Star Wars Land (and if rumors are to be believed, license negotiation problems between the Osborne family and Disney).

I only got to personally experience this wonderful attraction once.  November 13th of 2011.  I had just gotten my Canon 60D, I maybe had for a little over a month. I didn’t have my MeFoto tripod yet (by the way, Amazon is running a sale and the tripod can be had for only $150 in selected colors which is 25% off).  So at the end of the day, none of the shots I have of the Osborne Lights are very good.  They’re amateurish.  Hell, I even noticed one in my catalog where the pop up flash accidentally fired (for shame!).  I wish I had Cory’s blog post on shooting the lights back then.  I never even found the cat – heck I didn’t even know there was a cat to be found the one time I was down there to shoot.  But these are the shots I took, so that’s all I have.


Thankfully there is the Disney Photography community.  Cory did a great post (as I mentioned before).  Mark Willard has been documenting the last few weeks with lots of great photos on Flickr, Twitter, and Instagram.  Kevin Davis and Ben Hendel have some great shots too – including dueling takes on Stitch hanging in a tire in the Osborne lights.  Ryan Pastorino posted a great shot from his recent trip to Walt Disney World too.  People were Periscoping the lights the last couple of weeks so I could experience it again – and there are many more great examples online.  So while we can’t go to Osborne Lights in person any more, we will always have the photos because we took them  They are our memories, and when our memories are insufficient we can seek out the images and memories of others to relive the experience of it.

When I was looking through my photo library for the two Osborne shots I posted above I found this one too (another shot that isn’t very good)……


The wreaths aren’t strung across Main Street anymore.  They had to go in order to accommodate the larger floats in the Festival of Fantasy parade.  Sure, losing the wreaths aren’t the same as the passing of Osborne Lights but like Mr. Bourne said – every click counts.  As photographers we capture a moment and it might be our last or only chance to get it – so make it count.

I know there have been a lot of other things that we’ve lost at Walt Disney World and Disneyland over the years.  I don’t have a single shot of Spectromagic and it kills me.  But there are great photos online and there are even videos of that great parade.  Our friends on the West Coast lost Big Thunder Ranch this week too.  Even worse the rains that are battering California right now washed out everyone’s plans to visit the area or eat at the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ one last time.

So what attractions, areas, rides, hotels have gone that you miss?  Hit the Read More button and leave a note in the comments section.

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Renting Gear

Let’s face it, photography isn’t exactly the cheapest hobby to get in to.  The camera bodies themselves are expensive to start with and then you need to throw in tripods, bags (especially if you’re Alan) and then there is the glass.  Virtually the sky is the limit when it comes to how much the glass can cost us.  When I watch football games on Sunday I’m always doing the mental math on how much money I see when I see the sideline photographers…….that one’s $2,000, that one’s $7,000, ooh look, there’s the $10,000 lens.  🙂

One of the ways around this is renting lenses.  Professional photographers do it all of the time as a way to bootstrap their businesses.  If you only need a specific lens for a single job, rent it for now until you have enough work to pay for the lens.  We can use the same practice as amateurs when it comes to our vacation trips and there are plenty of places to help us out.

For a few years, there was a service that would deliver lenses right to your hotel room at Walt Disney World.  Kingdom Camera Rentals, however has closed down since then so that isn’t an option any more.  Thankfully there are still a lot of great options available to you.


The moon shines above one of the New Fantasyland turrets.  

In addition to Kingdom Camera Rentals, I’ve gotten gear from the folks at BorrowLenses.com.  With Borrow Lenses, you select the gear you want, how long you want it and the gear is shipped to you in excellent packaging with a prepaid UPS label to send the lens back to them at the end of the rental period.  I’ve rented the Canon 400 F/2.8 (a $10,000 lens) to shoot my stepson’s high school football games and I highly recommend the experience.  LensRentals.com comes highly recommended too, but I haven’t personally used them before.  I do like all the lens reviews that the owner puts up with each piece of gear that he rents out.

The downside to renting gear is that if you are only renting it for your vacation period, you are at the parks on vacation and trying to figure out how to best use this new, temporarily at least, addition to your bag.  That’s one of the reasons I like to rent a piece of gear for a bit longer and get it several days before the assignment or the vacation.  It gives me a couple of days to get more familiar with it.

The corollary to this theory is buying the gear you want to rent, and then quickly selling it again on eBay.  I’ve done this too.  Next time you have some time to kill hunt around eBay and look at what good lenses are going for. They tend to hold their value pretty well.  If you can get the gear on sale (when say Canon or Nikon is offering a good rebate) you can turn around and sell the lens back once the sale is off for at or more than you originally paid for the lens sometimes.  Even if you can’t time it right with a sale, you can still keep the lens longer (say a month or two) and still make out ahead versus what the rental price would be for keeping the lens that long.   It gives you more time to get familiar with the gear before your trip, which can mean higher quality photos on your vacation.  It just depends how comfortable you are selling on eBay.  The more expensive the lens, the more cautious buyers are going to be if you aren’t an active eBay seller.  Just think about it, would you buy a $2-$5,000 item off of eBay from someone with no sales history?

So what say you?  Have you rented gear before for a trip?  Have you done the buy new and flip it on eBay trick before?  Let us know in hte comments.   We know there are lots of people reading the blog, so hit the read more and leave a note in the comments.

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Side Note

If you are looking for inspiration on what you can do with your photography when you aren’t in the parks, please direct your attention to site contributor Alan Rappaport’s series – The LEGO Awakens.  Alan is recreating still shots from Star Wars – The Force Awakens with Legos.  His shots are truly inspiring and his behind the scenes posts on how he’s getting them are fascinating. Bonus points, there’s a Disney theme park tie in!  He’s using the Pepper’s Ghost effect (as utilized in the Haunted Mansion) in his work.  Check it out!!!!



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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

2015 was a pretty great year for me on the photography side of things.   I finally got some good Wishes photos that I have hung up at my office and in the house.  I got some good empty park shots at Magic Kingdom, and I got some half-way decent parade shots.  I can’t wait to get back to the parks and do even better in 2016 and take my shot at shooting photos on the Disney Cruise Line in May.

But the photo in this post – of Dumbo spinning around and around at night – pretty much sums up the last few months.   We’ve relaunched the blog, been working on new apps, and planning out 2016.  There’s a lot going on, but it has mostly been all going on behind the scenes so it has felt like we aren’t really getting anywhere.  That is all about to change.  We have a lot of great things in store for 2016.  The new apps are coming – I’m testing out the iOS version right now and should submit it to Apple by 1/4, and there will be an Android app coming probably the following weekend.  We have some great guest blog posts coming up.  We are in the early stages of planning a new eBook and we are probably going to have a couple of mini meet-ups in 2016 (nothing as elaborate as PhotoMagic, more info very soon).

Thank you all for stopping by the blog in 2015, we can’t wait to show you all what we have planned for 2016.  Here’s hoping 2016 turns out to be a keeper for everyone.

I’m going to keep begging for comments in every post to get the community engaged again.  We know there are lots of people reading the blog, so hit the read more and leave a note in the comments.

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