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Rivers of Light – Review (no spoilers)

Rivers of Light is a new evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s currently most famous for having been delayed quite a bit since the intended opening date of April 22nd, 2016. It began public “invite-only” soft-opening shows on February 10th for anybody with a FastPass+ reservations or is an Annual Passholder or DVC Member who is able to collect a wristband. It lasts approximately 18 minutes, and is filled with projections, water cannons, water misters, boats, and floats.

I’ve seen it described by some as a longer version of the intermission scene of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, where the globe floats to the center of World Showcase Lagoon. This is not an inaccurate description, but also not an entirely accurate one either. It joins nighttime rides on Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life projection shows, and the soon-to-be-opened Pandora: World of Avatar (which itself opens on May 27th, 2017) in expanding Animal Kingdom’s evening offerings. Like the Tree of Life projection shows, it does require you to bring some interpretation with you; it’s not always 100% clear what Disney is trying to get across. That last point, however, is one of the things I really like about Rivers of Light. Different people will see different things in it, and that’s fantastic.

There are no fireworks in Rivers of Light, which is necessitated by all of the animals in such close proximity to the performance area. But do not let the fact that this isn’t a Disney Nighttime Spectacular (TM) steer you away from Rivers of Light, it is still well worth viewing. The folks over at Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, and I imagine also Walt Disney Imagineering, have perfected projection technology on water. Moreover, they’ve been able to project on multiple mediums of water; there are heavy-mist “screens” in the back of the performance area, smaller spheres of mist that move around during the show, and finally greater areas of fog that are used to show moving images.

Floating lotuses and gigantic, illuminated animal floats join two boats, a “warm” red boat, and a “cold” blue one dance a beautifully choreographed dance around the Discovery River, supplemented by beautiful music and four live performers, two on each boats. One of each of those performers is designated the Teacher, and they help tell the story of Rivers of Light along with spirits of tigers, owls, elephants, and turtles, supplemented by projections and dancing jets of water that seem as if someone said “Have you seen the show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas? We’d like to do that, but we want the foundations for the show to float on top of a lake and move autonomously.” It’s a remarkable thing, to be sure.

I quite enjoyed the show and the message behind it. It is a show that, photographically, rewards wide shots and tight shots, but not too much in between. Discovery River is gigantic, and the floats and boats use every inch of water that they can. As a result, things are very wide left-to-right, but not so much top-to-bottom. Be prepared to crop your shots if there’s a boring sky. Telephoto lenses will not suffer from this so much, but they’ll miss the scale and breadth of everything together. That isn’t a bad thing, however, as the floats and performers are so incredibly detailed that to not capture them close-up would be a crime.

Overall, I really enjoyed Rivers of Light. I did not take a lot of pictures during this soft open show as I truly wanted to experience the show fully, and I find I cannot do that with my eye up to a viewfinder. In doing so, I learned that this is a show I will keep coming back to, even without my camera, because there is so much going on that one truly cannot see it all during a single viewing. Thankfully, with a rumored three shows an evening during summer operating hours, 15,000 people a night will be enjoying Rivers of Light. It appears roughly half of those seats are reserved for FastPass+, so there are lots of opportunities to watch. I hope you take advantage of them, because it’s a show unlike any other on property. The soundtrack is amazing without being an earworm that sticks with you for months (I’m looking at you, Boo To You) and the technology and details are incredible.

Editor’s Note: Thanks Ben for going to the preview and giving us a taste of what the show looks like.  Extra special thanks for no spoilers. I can’t wait until the next time I can go to WDW to see the new show.  

Dark Ride Photography – The Musical

Cory posted an excellent article on Dark Ride Photography a couple of weeks ago.  I wanted to follow up on that with a different kind of Dark Ride Photography……taking pictures at the Animal Kingdom shows – Finding Nemo the Musical and Festival of the Lion King.  Really its the same thing, you are just applying the tips and skills to a stage show instead of a moving ride vehicle.  My family and I love all of the stage shows and when we swing by Animal Kingdom, stopping in to see both of these shows are a must do.  When I look at my photo library I’ve got lots of bad shots of the shows as I try to get better.

Tip number one, which goes without saying…..turn that flash off.  It isn’t going to help and its going to be a major distraction for the performers and possibly even dangerous.  Think about it, you’re one of the performers on stilts at Festival of the Lion King and some knucklehead is firing a flash at you.  Would you like it?

Second tip is to get stable.  Unlike the dark rides where the vehicle and the scenes are moving, only the performers are moving in the musicals which will make things a bit easier.  You can’t practically set up a tripod at the shows, but you can use a monopod.  My MeFoto Roadtrip Tripod converts into a monopod and I use my time before the show converting it.   A monopod doesn’t give you as much stability as a tripod, but it can give you a little bit of an advantage over hand holding the shot.

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This is from the Hong Kong Disneyland version of Festival of the Lion King.   I took this with my nifty-fifty, 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Third tip….use the fastest glass you’ve got.  As with any Dark Ride Photography shot you need to get the fastest lens you can on the camera.  The fastest piece of glass that I have in my bag is the nifty-fifty, aka the Canon 50mm f/1.8.  At under $100, it is by far the best piece of glass you can get for your money.  You can really do well in low-light with the f/1.8 aperture.  With that being said though, if you can afford to hold off and get the Canon 50mm f/1.4, do it.  It’s 3.5x the price of the f/1.8 but the one time I got to borrow this lens from a friend it was totally worth it.  My best Festival of the Lion King shot was taken with the 1.4 the one time I got to borrow it. If memory serves correctly, Cory had the 50mm f/1.2 back when he shot Canon but that’s over a 10x jump in price.   The image at the top of the post was taken with the Canon 70mm f/2.8 IS II, a lens that I had rented for my last trip.  Someday I’ll have a lens that good in my bag, but not yet.

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This is my favorite shot from Festival of the Lion King, taken with a borrowed 50mm f/1.4

My fourth tip is timing….it really is the key to getting a good shot.  You probably wouldn’t believe all the shots I have that are in focus, but the performer’s eyes are closed.  Or ones where I was focused on one performer but I didn’t notice a second performer coming into frame and ruining the composition of the shot.  Or the ones where I completely blew the focus all together.

Let me digress for a second.  My daughter started dancing years ago, but last year was her first year on a competition team.  At the first competition, there was a “professional” photographer at the event and the parents were prohibited from taking pictures.  I wouldn’t have minded it if the photographer was any good.   She used her expensive gear – she was shooting with a Canon 1Dx and a 70-200 f/2.8 IS II, gear I’ll only have if I hit the lotto.  The thing sounded like a Gatling gun when she was shooting.  Spray and pray was what ruled her day.  The photographer had a team with her and the photos from every routine were up on a computer outside the venue where you could order prints.  After my daughter’s routine I went to check out the photos.  Now, granted, nobody was culling the photographs or doing any kind of editing of them so I wouldn’t expect all the photos to be winners.  But I kid you not, every single photograph taken in the 2 1/2 minute routine was out of focus, or the dancer that was in focus was not the dancer that should have been the subject of the shot.  Confused, I went back and looked at the routines from the other girls at the same studio.  Nearly all of the photos were useless garbage, there were a couple of really great ones out of the thousands I was paging through but I guess one would expect random chance to make a good photo if you click the shutter often enough.  I couldn’t believe the parents that were plopping down $10 for each photo (or $99 for the entire routine).

The next competition we went to, there was a professional photographer there too, but at this event parents were allowed to shoot if they wanted.  Notice I dropped the scare quotes when I described the photographer at this event.  This young kid was shooting a Canon 5D Mark II and the same 70-200 f/2.8 IS II.  He was up on a tripod; where as the first photographer was hand-holding everything which does make a difference.  But what struck me the most was the camera wasn’t rocking and rolling.  The shutter was firing on beat with the music.  When I checked out his photos on the computer later, 90% of them were in focus and 90% of them had meaningful action in the shot.  I ended up talking to him during the break.  He was 20 years old, but he had been a dancer for years but a photographer for only about 18 months.  Even though he had never seen any of the routines he was shooting, he just followed the music and pressed the shutter on the beat – knowing that good choreography would have the girls landing a move in step with the music.  I was happy to pay for the photos that day.

The point of the story though is to feel the flow of the two shows while you are photographing them.  The performers are going to hit poses and land moves on beat with the music.  It will make your shots turn out a whole lot better.

So, do you have any tips for shooting at Finding Nemo the Musical or Festival of the Lion King?  If so hit the Read More button and leave a comment.

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CALL FOR ARTICLES

We are always looking for additional voices here at the blog, so if you are a reader here…..drop Ryan, Cory, or I a note (my email is KeithMKolmos at yahoo dot com – just put DISNEY PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG ARTICLE in the subject line so I’ll make sure to see it).  I’m always looking for ways to get better and we can ALL share something, no matter what your skill level is.  Don’t worry about the writing part, we can help you edit the piece once you have it together.

UPDATED

A special thank you to Bob and Mark who reached out last night with a couple of article ideas.  We’ll be seeing their articles here on the blog soon!  If you have an idea, don’t hesitate to send your note on in!!!