Dark Skies at Epcot

One of the really interesting things about Florida is how strange and dramatic the weather can be. In the summertime, it will be bright and sunny one minute, and then a torrential downpour will happen and be finished within 10 minutes. Or during the fall/winter, the highs can bounce around between 50 and 80 multiple times a week. That being said, when I was visiting Epcot this weekend, I got to have a pretty neat weather event that I’d like to share with all of you. When I left my house for the park, it was sunny with signature puffy Florida clouds. But, by the time I got to the park all of 15 minutes later, there was a nasty storm blowing in with some very dark and ominous clouds. What that led to was the sun still poking through just a little bit, lighting most of the things in the park, but with this very dramatic and ominous sky in the background.

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Usually when we think of rain and storms, that’s usually the time we put the camera away. But, in this case, I had a few minutes before the rain came where I could keep shooting and come away with some photos that are quite different than the norm.

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When editing these photos, I cooled down the White Balance just a bit to add to the ‘dreary’ feeling they had. I also made sure to slide the Blacks slider much farther over in Lightroom than usual, and I added a substantial amount of more contrast than usual as well.

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I just think it is very interesting how by the time I made it to Norway, the dark clouds surrounded the entire park, but there was just enough light poking through those clouds to illuminate the viking here. I also added a touch of vignetting to all of these shots to make them a bit darker to go along with the mood set by the weather.

Overall, there are some times where all we want are the nice, big, and blue skies that Florida treats us to. But every once in a while, a change of pace can be nice and it was fun to shoot these couple of photos before the rain got bad enough that the camera had to go back into the bag.

Have you ever shot the parks in or before a storm? If so, we would love for you to share some of your photos with us in the comments below. For those curious, everything in this post was shot with the Sony a7 and the Zeiss 55mm F1.8, both of which can be purchased at Amazon. Thanks for reading!!

Fireworks Friday – Wishes

I can’t get enough of watching and photographing Wishes.  I know it is heresy among the Disney community to say this, but I’ll take Wishes every night of my trip over Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  Now to be fair, I haven’t seen any of the Holiday variants of Illuminations so that might tip the scale in one direction but I doubt it.  Thanks to tips I’ve gotten from this blog (thanks Cory, Ryan and Adam) and some of the other Disney Photographers like Kevin Davis, Tom Bricker, and Ben Hendel, I’m finally starting to like the shots of Wishes that I’ve gotten.  Now that I have some shots from dead center of the castle printed out, I’m going to have to work on getting some pictures from alternate locations around the park.

In the coming weeks we are going to have an entire series of posts up on the blog for improving your fireworks photography, but for now we will leave you with a couple of tips.

  • You’re going to have to get your camera on a tripod, as mentioned in my gear review here I shoot on the MeFoto RoadTrip.  The shutter is going to be open for a long time and any vibration is going to turn the shot into a blurry mess.
  • You’re going to need a remote shutter release.  Remember how I just said that any vibration is going to turn your photo into a blurry mess?  Well when you depress the shutter, you are probably (I’m sure there are shutter pressing ninjas out there in the world that can depress the shutter without moving the camera, but I’m not one of them) going to get a blurry mess there too.
  • A Variable ND Filter.  You are going to be leaving the shutter open a long time in order to get multiple bursts in one frame like the shot above.  Without an ND filter you are going to wind up blowing out the highlights out.  A Neutral Density Filter works like your sunglasses cutting down the intensity of the bursts and allowing you to get color on the castle and other objects in the image.  As you leave the shutter open longer you need to adjust the amount of filter you are using.

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See what I mean about blown out highlights.  The first time I shot fireworks in the parks was at Hong Kong Disneyland and I didn’t have my ND filter set up right.  There are spinners on the front of the castle and you can’t see a thing as they are so bright they overwhelmed the shot.

  • Pray for good weather.  Sometimes when you are shooting Wishes the wind is blowing from the wrong direction and your photographs will turn out to be a mess as the smoke clouds from spent fireworks flood the castle in a haze.

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Here’s another shot from that night at Hong Kong Disneyland.  See all the smoke clouds?  When the wind is blowing the right way the castle and your shot will be overwhelmed and ruined.  

  • Memorize the performance.  When you are shooting at a local fireworks display you just have to go with it.  Maybe you can see the streak of the shots going up so you can take a good guestimate of when the bursts are going to pop open.  But with the Disney fireworks shows, there are countless YouTube videos out there that show the fireworks shows.  By memorizing when the bursts are going to come, you can better time when you open and close the shutter.

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This shot is from PhotoMagic 2013 about six months after my trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.  I had gotten a bit better then my first attempt, but the shot still isn’t what I wanted.  

Many Disney Photographers have started to capture the whole fireworks show in one shot.  I haven’t tried that yet but the images I see on Flickr are just amazing.  We are going to see a post soon from Ben with a how-to article on this topic in the coming weeks.

On a side note, I would like to thank all the people that have found this blog again after it was dormant for so long.  We’ve gotten a lot of great emails and comments from you and we really do appreciate it.  We are going to stick to a regular post schedule of Monday / Wednesday / Friday for the foreseeable future as we fill the blog with content.  Are there any subjects you would like to see us cover going forward?  Please leave a comment (hit the Read More button below to bring up the comment form) and we’ll try to work on something to help you out.

Timbuk2 Snoop XS Review

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Disney Photography Blog friend Alan Rappaport (@AlanRappa on Twitter).  Alan was a frequent contributor in the past and we are glad that he’s returned for today’s gear review.  You can find more of Alan’s writing here and see his pictures on Flickr here. On with the review……

 

Finding the perfect camera bag is a holy grail quest that every photographer explores. For us Disney photographers, there’s the additional challenge of not only finding the perfect bag, but finding one that can also perform under the conditions of a Disney theme park.

 

To me, this means a bag that’s comfortable for extended periods of use, easy to access, easy to travel with and doesn’t get in the way while enjoying Disney’s attractions. I’m not saying the Snoop is the holy grail, but to echo the sentiment of the Knight from The Last Crusade, I feel I have chosen wisely.

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The Snoop Camera bag is a messenger style bag that comes in three sizes and retails from $130 –  $170 (though it can frequently be found on sale at Timbuk2.com).  (Editor’s note: The bag Alan is reviewing is currently on sale at Amazon for $84.99 and free shipping)

 

For this review, I am going to be focusing on the XS size which is perfect for anyone shooting with compact or mirrorless camera system.

 

Starting with the outside of the bag, one of my favorite things about the Snoop is that it doesn’t scream ‘camera bag’ when you look at it. This is essential for me when I’m traveling as prefer to keep my gear as incognito as possible. The Snoop is stylish, while remaining understated. It’s currently available in two styles – Black and Diablo, though I do hope Timbuk2 adds it to their custom bag builder at some point.

 

The exterior is constructed of ‘bomb proof’ Codura fabric backed with a waterproof TPU liner on the inside. While I can’t vouch for the bag’s ‘bomb-proof’ effectiveness, I have been caught out in inclement weather  a few times with it.

 

The outside of the bag got completely drenched, but my gear remained snug & dry on the inside. To help keep the elements away from your gear, the Snoop features extra fabric at the top corners that fold in like origami when the bag is closed.

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On the top of the Snoop you’ll find a sturdy hand strap which is great for managing the bag while getting on or off attractions. To make life even easier when loading/unloading rides is the single-handed shoulder strap adjustment.

 

This is a unique feature that makes adjusting the length of the shoulder strap a breeze which is fantastic when you’re trying to expedite your exit from a ride vehicle or speed you way through bag check.

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Directly under the front flap you have two storage pockets. The first being a clear, zippered pouch that is great for smaller items such as memory cards or spare batteries. Behind that, you’ll find a stash pocket with an anchor for your keys, or in my case, a microfiber cloth.

 

Flanking the zippered pouch are two Velcro strips which do a great job keeping the flap closed when not buckled. There’s a large strip of Velcro on the underside of the flap, which makes it easy to seal the bag without precisely lining up opposing Velcro sides.

 

The Velcro can be loud when opening the bag, but Timbuk2 includes Velcro ‘silencers’ along with the Snoop for when stealth shooting is a must.

 

Below the Velcro straps are two buckles to lock down and cinch up your bag when you’re on the move.

 

Ok, now on to the main event, the interior of this bag. The Snoop includes a cushy, padded interior with Velcro dividers for you to customize to fit your gear. The bottom of this comportment is well padded, giving your gear a nice soft bed to rest on while protecting it from bumps and bruises.

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The camera compartment can easily carry my Sony A7 with one lens attached along with two additional lenses (in my case a 24-70mm & 55mm). There isn’t room for much else, however you can get creative with the dividers to maximize the internal space. No matter how you slice it though, if you travel ‘gear-intensive’ then this may not be the right bag for you. It’s best for shooters who prefer to stick to a streamlined or ‘daily’ kit.

 

Best part about the camera compartment is that it is completely removable. This makes the bag even more versatile for traveling as it can double as a regular messenger bag when you don’t need to carry your gear along with you.

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In additional to the camera compartment, on the inside there is an internal divider that houses a zippered pouch along with two organizational pockets

 

The Snoop is comfortable on the shoulder, however I wouldn’t  more padding on the strap – especially since the pad is non-removable. You’re mileage may vary here, but as long as you pack a sensible load the Snoop will carry it in stride while going easy on your shoulder.

 

There’s no magic button to getting at your gear. Like any messenger bag, just swing the bag to your front, open the flap and grab what you need. While the velcro was strong on it’s own, I preferred to keep the buckles engaged to minimize the risk of the bag opening when not intended.

 

The small profile of the XS makes it easy to swing the bag around to your back and navigate crowds without having to worry about bumping you gear into other guests. It’s also easy to fit the bag between your legs on tight attractions such as Space Mountain or Expedition Everest.

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As far as Disney Photography goes, The Snoop is an easy recommendation for shooting around the parks as it meets all the criteria I stated at the beginning of this post. The XS suffers from a few shortcomings when compared to it’s larger siblings – namely the lack of a tripod attachment and no Napoleon pocket on the front. Aside from those two items (and the lack of a custom bag option) I have zero complaints with this bag.

 

Those of you who travel light in the parks, and are looking for a bag that likes to play as much as you do will be well served checking out the Snoop. Not only is it a comfortable, durable bag, but Timbuk2 is a great company, and stands behind their products offering a lifetime warranty.

 

Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any questions. I’d love to hear what everyone’s current ‘holy grail’ camera bag is.

 

The Snoop Messenger Camera Bag is available directly from Timbuk2, or can be found at Amazon, B&H Photo, and wherever fine bags are sold.  

 

Pros

Removable camera compartment

Easy to adjust shoulder strap

Waterproof liner

Velcro silencers

‘Incognito’ appearance

 

Cons

No tripod attachment (on xs)

No Napoleon pocket for quick access (on xs)

Strap pad could use more padding

No custom options (at least not yet)

 

Daylight Savings Time at Animal Kingdom

The last few months of the year are upon us, and with that comes daylight savings time. For many of us, this time of the year is kind of a bummer, since it gets dark super early, and the sun is fully risen by the time many of us wake up. It’s a weird shock to the system, and always takes a few weeks to get used to.

But, there is one major positive to this time of year. As many of you know, Disney’s Animal Kingdom runs (for now) on much shorter hours than the other three Walt Disney World parks. Because of the fact that most of the attractions are animal based, this was a necessity. Since Disney is doing a nighttime version of the Safari, adding the Rivers of Light nighttime show, and building an entire area themed to Avatar: The World of Pandora, chances are that by 2017, AK will have full operating hours just like the other parks.

But, until then, it’s 5-7pm closings. How does this tie into this time of the year though? Well, now we get the chance to, on many nights, actually see Animal Kingdom past sunset. During the summertime, it’s nearly impossible to do. So, when this happens, we must take advantage and get some photos!

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Sunset in this park is beautiful, with lots of water features and lots of foliage.

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One of the highlights of my recent trip to the park was being able to see the new Harambe Market area completely without any guests, but without it being nighttime.

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Once sunset falls, we hit the blue hour. Once it gets to this time, it is extremely important to use a tripod to make sure your shots are nice and sharp, while also keeping the ISO down so there isn’t too much noise. There are tons of areas throughout the park to photograph the Tree of Life, but I think they take on a new life once this hour hits. Check out these reflections!

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For many of these shots, you will have to tinker around with the White Balance once you get into your photo editing software. For many of the shots I took last week, the RAW file was rather bland with not a ton of color, so for many of these shots, I changed the White Balance to be quite a bit warmer and more inviting.

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If you walk down the exit area for it’s tough to be a bug, you can find one of the only remaining places to get up close and personal with the Tree of Life.

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Lastly, on my way out of the park, I did the traditional postcard shot of the Tree of Life, although it can be quite a bit different looking once the sun has fallen for the day. The new animal carvings that were added within the past year also help the composition here by adding some interesting foreground elements for us to shoot.

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We may hate how early it gets dark this time of the year, but the opportunity to get some nighttime or sunset photos at Animal Kingdom is worth it! Remember, if you do head out to the park to see it at night, make sure to bring your tripod. Keeping the ISO down low will help cover the large dynamic range of many of the scenes here. I also make sure to bring not just my wide angle lens, but a normal focal length as well to not limit the options for taking photos.

For those curious, these photos were all taken with the Sony a7 and either the Rokinon 14mm lens or the Zeiss 55mm F1.8 lens, both of which can be purchased at Amazon. Thanks for reading, and we would love to hear your thoughts on Animal Kingdom at night in the comments below!!