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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.


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.


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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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.


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!!!

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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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


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.


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.


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.


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.