Walt Disney World in Focus – Spaceship Earth

by Craig Hood on May 19, 2011

This article is by Craig Hood, easyWDW’s resident chief of photography.  You can find more of his handiwork in the Photography section.

“The most exciting and by far the most important part of our Florida Project…in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World…will be our Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow!  We call it EPCOT.”  – Walt Disney

Spaceship Earth – the crown jewel of Epcot and probably the most photographed icon on Disney property, second only to Cinderella Castle.  Standing 180 feet tall and covered with over 11,000 aluminum facets, Spaceship Earth is one of Disney World’s most classic attractions.  Inside Spaceship Earth, guests board “time machines” for a dark, slow, ascending ride through time.   Your journey, now narrated by Judi Dench, takes you through audio animatronic scenes from the early origins of man into the 21st century, with each scene depicting advancements of human communication throughout history.  The ride culminates at the very top of the geodesic sphere with a view of Earth from “outer space.”  Then, it descends backwards while you answer questions on a touch screen that leads to an interactive experience upon disembarkation.  I won’t give away any more about that for those of you who haven’t ridden yet, after all part of the fun is being surprised, right?

Now, on to what I‘m here for – the photography.  The great thing about Spaceship Earth is that there are photo opportunities both inside and out.  As for the exterior, to be such a simple object you really can get some interesting and beautiful pictures by simply taking your shot from different locations throughout Epcot.  Even night shots of Spaceship Earth can turn out pretty darn good for you because it’s very well lit at night.  You’ll just need to find some way to stabilize your camera, either with a tripod, trash can, or any other object to hold your camera perfectly still – or as still as possible.

Taking your pictures of Spaceship Earth from across World Showcase Lagoon with a zoom lens can give some interesting effects due to the change in depth perception.  Notice in the next picture how Spaceship Earth seems to loom unusually close to the gift shop in the foreground. It kind of looks as though it’s about to roll right over the buildings and into the lagoon.  I took this photo from the opposite side of the lagoon with a 70-300 zoom lens at full 300mm.

Taken at 48mm zoom

Now,  for the inside shots – those are a little more difficult.

Remember I mentioned this is a dark ride?  Well, it’s a really dark ride, which is going to present quite a challenge to get useable photographs. Now, I know we all observe the “no flash” rule on dark rides, so I won’t go into that again.

Here is where equipment is going to be important when you can‘t use flash.  I like to keep our photography chats light and fun, but I have to talk technical just a bit to explain getting decent shots in low light.  Trust me, it’s not complicated at all.  You’re going to need a camera with a manual setting, high ISO capability, and a lens with a large aperture – the larger the better. I use a Sigma 30mm 1.4 for low light photos and it works very well for me.  I typically set the camera ISO to the highest setting, open the lens aperture all the way up, and set the camera shutter speed to 1/30.  1/30 shutter speed is about as slow as you can get with a hand held shot and still get reasonably sharp photos.  I set my shutter release to “continuous” and fire off 3 to 5 shots in a row. I usually get at least 1 useable photo this way.  Also, I try to brace my arms on the side of the time machine to get the camera as stable as possible for a shutter speed this slow, every little bit helps.

Here’s a few shots for example-

The last four photos above were taken with my Sigma 30mm lens set at f 1.4, camera ISO set to 3200, and camera shutter speed set to 1/30.  ISO 3200 is somewhat low to get good pictures in the lighting conditions of Spaceship Earth, but that’s the highest setting my camera has.  Ideally, a camera (like this one) with ISO capabilities of 6,400 or higher performs much better for the really low light shots.  But, those cameras aren’t cheap so I’ll continue to use my old outdated D80 for now, bummer.

To get the photos above to the mediocre quality you see, I did have to do some software editing to get the noise (also referred to as grainy) down to an acceptable level and use a modest amount of sharpening due to the slow shutter speed.

Keep in mind, these 4 photos were the “keepers” out of 20 to 25 shots. Remember how I mentioned earlier that you should set your camera’s shutter release to “continuous” and fire off a burst to get at least 1 useable photo?  Even then you may not get one that’s good enough to keep.  Just hop back on and try again!

Have a Magical day!


Craig Hood is back from a brief hiatus with a look at the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort.  See the rest of his handiwork over in the Photography section.  I think you’ll agree that it was worth the wait.  These are the best photos I’ve ever seen of the Port Orleans French Quarter.

Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland…the blessing of size. There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.” – Walt Disney

Of all the things I enjoy while in Disney World, I think simply experiencing the resorts is at the top of my list of favorites.  The time we have at the resort is when I really feel like I’m somewhere far away from the real world, and sometimes, where there is no one else there but me and my family.  These are the times I really lose myself in the Disney experience.  I sometimes get out of the room early in the morning to enjoy the quiet sunrise and photo opportunities before the peace and tranquility give way to the chatter of excited families – this is my time.

Click on any image for the full size version

Welcome Home…

My family and I have stayed in all of the moderate resorts and our favorite by far is Port Orleans French Quarter in the Downtown Disney Resort area.  Opened in 1991 as Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, it is a relatively small  property by comparison.  Situated on the banks of the Sassagoula River, French Quarter is comprised of 7 buildings of 144 guest rooms each, for a grand total of 1008 guest rooms.  All of these rooms were refurbished throughout early 2011 and you’ll now find two queen-size beds, all new furnishings, and flat-screen televisions.  The theming is just as the name implies and reflects the “French Quarter” district of New Orleans with lots of wrought iron, cobblestone, and Mardis Gras references.  The small size of French Quarter is one of the  most appealing attributes to me.  The internal pathways are laid out in squares with “streets” and sidewalks that are very easy to navigate.  All of the pathways are straight with left and right turns and direct routes to the main building, no winding pathways here.

We’ve found that buildings 1 and 7 tend to be the most peaceful and quiet.  They are each on the outskirts of the property and the furthest from the main building, but still not so far away that you need a canteen and sack lunch to walk to the food court, gift shop or the pool.  Also, staying in building 7 puts you in very close proximity to the Riverside Resort.

All amenities between French Quarter and Riverside are shared, so feel free to pool hop without persecution!

The only dining option at French Quarter is counter service at the Sassagoula Float Works and Food Factory.  Libations are available at Scat Cats Lounge right next door.  If you want table service, you can head over to Riverside and enjoy Boatwrights.

Main lobby facing main entrance- check-in to your left, food and drinks to your right.

You’ll swear you’re in the “Big Easy.”  All the touches that make Disney, Disney.

Looking towards the swimming pool from the lobby.  Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory is to the left with Jackson Square Gifts and Desires to the right.

A few of the local characters around French Quarter’s only swimming pool.  You can enjoy a cold drink of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety from Mardis Grogs pool bar from 11:30am to 9:45pm.

A mostly unique amenity to the French Quarter is the boat transportation to and from Downtown Disney – so much nicer than a bus.  Saratoga Springs and Old Key West also offer boat service to Downtown Disney, but rooms at either of those Villa-level resort would cost much more.  For us, the boat ride is like an attraction in itself.  You can enjoy a very relaxing 20 minute, 2.5 mile ride to Downtown Disney via the Sassagoula River aboard a ferry boat.  You will most likely see an abundance of water fowl and an occasional river otter as you pass by the Tree House Villas and Saratoga Springs Resort.  The Downtown Disney ferry also services the Port Orleans Riverside Resort.  Boat service starts around 10 AM, with boats arriving approximately every 20 minutes until late afternoon and then about every 10 minutes until 11:30 PM.

No boats yet, still too early.

A very lonely check-in queue…

The bus stops are very easy to figure out – there’s one.  It’s to the left of the front entrance to the lobby.

The gardens and courtyards of Port Orleans are beautiful.

We’ll finish up with a look at the refurbished rooms. We found the new décor to be quite an upgrade, especially the queen size beds.  Also, the air conditioner has been outfitted with a decorative cabinet enclosure that is actually very useful as a window seat or a place to stack whatever you need to stack.  The addition of a “real” vanity in the bath area is also a welcome change.

Not very creative photographically, but an idea of what to expect in the new and improved rooms, right?

If you’re on the fence about a moderate resort, you won’t be disappointed in French Quarter or Riverside for that matter.  I just feel that French Quarter has more of a cozy, warm, and fuzzy feeling due to it’s smaller size and ease of navigation.  But don’t go by me, I get that warm fuzzy feeling just driving under the “Walt Disney World” sign.

Have a Magical Day!


This is the seventh in a series of articles by our resident photographer, Craig Hood.  See his other work in the Photography section.

When we consider a project, we really study it–not just the surface idea, but everything about it. And when we go into that new project, we believe in it all the way. We have confidence in our ability to do it right. And we work hard to do the best possible job.”

- Walt Disney

Some of you looking out of your window right now may disagree, but Spring is right around the corner and that means the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival (F&G Festival) will soon be in full swing – or Spring.  The 2011 Flower and Garden Festival begins March 2nd and continues through May 15th.  2011 marks the 18th year of the festival, which will be sponsored by HGTV for the first time.  Along with the HGTV sponsorship comes appearances each weekend by some of their top on-air talent.  And of course, back this year is the Flower Power Concert series featuring music acts from the 60’s and 70’s.  Check out the full Flower and Garden Guide here.

We have somehow managed to be in Disney World many times during the F&G Festival not on purpose, but by chance and we’ve always enjoyed it.  If you’re worried about crowd levels, don’t be.  With the exceptions of Spring break and Easter, the times we’ve been in Epcot during the F&G Festival never “felt” more or less crowded than any other non-festival time.  But, keep in mind the whole HGTV thing may have some effect on crowd levels this year on weekends, but don’t go by me – that’s Josh’s area of expertise.

Oh, and a word about the weather.  While Spring in most other areas of the country means cool comfortable temperatures, this isn’t always the case for central Florida.  Be prepared for some hot sticky afternoons, especially towards the latter end of the festival.

Now, on to the pictures -

We were in Disney World over the Valentines Day week and Disney Horticulture/Imagineering was in full swing getting Epcot decked out for the festival.  The first 3 photo’s are from Feb 13th and 14th 2011.  The remaining pictures are from Festivals Past.

Bambi’s Butterfly House, I think.

This construction was going on near the Mouse Gear store in Future World, which was the location of the butterfly house in years past.  This year,  Bambi’s Butterfly House will be over twice as large. I overheard a cast members tell another guest that this area was being prepped for the “new butterfly house”.  Probably no coincidence that the Blu Ray Diamond Edition of Bambi is about to be released as well.

Vending booths already set up.

Looks like the same playground equipment from last year.  Those black arches in the center of the picture are a jungle gym type play structure.

If topiaries are your thing, prepare for sensory overload.

A dominating theme of the festival over the last couple of years has been Tinker Bell and the fairies.  I’m sure this will continue as the fairy meet and greet has been relocated to Epcot with the closure of Toon Town in the Magic Kingdom.

The nice thing about the Epcot festivals for someone who enjoys photography is that it gives something you may have already photographed a new perspective.  During the F&G Festival, there is a lot of additional theming throughout the park that you won’t see during any other time of year.

Some Flower and Garden Streetmosphere.  I don’t remember her name, but she was funny.

More topiaries around World Showcase

The Flower and Garden Festival is even more reason to take your camera along to Disney this Spring.  This is one photo safari where a point and shoot will work perfectly fine because all of your subjects are outside, usually in full sun.  If you’re on the fence about whether or not to visit Epcot for the festival, you won’t be disappointed.  It’s a totally different experience without the massive crowds to deal with.

Let The Memories Begin!

Josh’s note: Make sure to take a look at Disney’s Festival page over at:  You’ll find a lot more information about the event and find out a little more about some of the unique experiences that go on during the Festival.


This is the sixth in a series of articles by our resident photographer, Craig Hood. See his other works in the Photography section.

“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it is a renewed sense of kinship with the earth and all its inhabitants.

- Walt Disney

In keeping with our last Focus topic, Animal Kingdom Lodge, I thought I would continue our “safari” overview into what I think is the most unique park on Disney property, Animal Kingdom.  Opened on April 22nd 1998, Animal Kingdom was the fourth theme park addition to the vacation kingdom.  Animal Kingdom is made up of 7 themed lands; Oasis, Discovery Island, Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia and Dinoland USA.  Walt always wanted to have live animals inside a Disney Park and with animals having such a strong influence on his creative style, it just seems natural for Disney to have an Animal Kingdom.  If you’ve never been to Animal Kingdom and are wondering if it’s “just another zoo”, actually it‘s Nahtazu.  I’ll let you think about that one.  It’s so much more than a zoo.  At more than 500 acres, it is the largest single Disney theme park in the world; and believe me, your feet will attest to this after a day of touring Animal Kingdom.  It is a massive space with what seems to be miles of meandering pathways that can be quite confusing. Unless you’re a seasoned Disney Park commando, I highly recommend choosing one of Josh’s Touring Plans for Animal Kingdom.

From a photography standpoint, Animal Kingdom is a shutter bug paradise.  If you have a zoom lens in your bag, this is where you will enjoy using it. A zoom lens is especially useful on Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of the top attractions in the park.  The size of this attraction alone is immense. To give you some perspective, the Magic Kingdom would fit inside Kilimanjaro Safaris with room to spare.  I have been on the safari more times than I can count and while there are always plenty of animals to photograph, they may not  be as close as you would like them to be. They are “free roaming” for the most part, no Animatronics here…well almost.  Also, this is a very bumpy and sometimes fast moving ride. You will need a fairly fast shutter speed to keep your photos reasonably sharp. For you point and shoot users out there, just set your camera to “Sports” mode and you should be okay.

Here’s a good example of making use of that zoom lens on Kilimanjaro Safari.  You won’t get this close to these guys. They like to hang out in the shade of the trees far from the ride vehicle.  This was taken with a 70/300 VR Zoom lens at full 300mm of zoom.

I thought these guys were cute, they look like they’re talking. Again with a zoom at 185mm.

As fun as it is to use zoom in Animal Kingdom, there are some opportunities for some fairly wide angle shots.  This shot of Expedition Everest was taken from what I think is the best vantage point to view Everest.  It’s the dining area for Flame Tree Barbecue.  Go all the way down to the seating area on the shore of Discovery Lake and you will have an unobstructed view of this…

As opposed to this…

Here’s a shot from the same Flame Tree dining area vantage point zoomed to 70mm.

Another wide-ish angle shot.  This is at 30mm from the bridge connecting Discovery Island and Africa.

You’ll find these guys in Camp Minnie-Mickey.  You won’t see a lot of this type of theming in Animal Kingdom, it’s all about nature and the animals here.

The interesting thing about the theming in Animal Kingdom is how the Imagineers invoked the “circle of life” into practically every aspect of the park.  The design of Animal Kingdom is meant to be a living, growing, constantly evolving  entity.  Take notice of how there are no buildings towering over the tree tops. Even the structures that do happen to be above the tree line are recreations of natural things.  When you are approaching Animal Kingdom from the parking lot, what do you see?  The architecture is completely subservient to the natural environment, and that wasn’t by chance.

One particular thing of interest about the architecture in Animal Kingdom is that each building tells a story or has a very specific theme, even the gift shops. A great companion to explore and explain those stories with is “The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom“.  It’s one of a series of pocket books to the four parks.  Each book is loaded with in depth information and facts from an Imagineering standpoint about how each park was conceived and came to be.  I have each of these books and highly recommend them. I like to use them to find interesting tidbits to photograph.  The animals are not just applied to the surfaces as decoration, they become a part of the buildings design.

Here is Creature Comforts gift shop on Discovery Island.

Look at how the animals’ bodies on the roof and awnings become a part of the structure,and the ladybugs’ bodies serve as the lamp domes on the lamp post. I love this stuff!

If you have the opportunity, it really is worthwhile to experience Animal Kingdom at night.  This usually means enduring the crowds during evening Extra Magic hours, but to me it just becomes a completely different atmosphere after dark.

I could go on and on about Animal Kingdom and I know this is a very small sampling of what AK has to offer, but I have a Disney trip to get ready for.  I think Animal Kingdom is the often over looked and underrated gem on Disney property simply because it lacks an abundance of rides.  For me, it definitely offers the most photo ops, but also is a great Disney experience to boot.  You may even learn something along the way.  Hakuna Matata!

Josh’s Note: Animal Kingdom is actually my favorite of the four theme parks.  I am perfectly aware that I am in the minority opinion in that respect.  Hour for hour, I don’t think you could do any better at one of the other theme parks.  Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, and Festival of the Lion King are all amazing experiences and rate among the best theme park attractions in the world.  While I would concede that there needs to be more, including a nighttime “spectacular” of one variety or another, I have always enjoyed my time spent at the Animal Kingdom and recommend it highly to anyone who lends an ear.


Walt Disney World In Focus – Animal Kingdom Lodge

by Craig Hood on January 26, 2011

This is the fifth in a series of articles by our resident photographer, Craig Hood.  See his other works in the Photography section.

Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”  – Walt Disney

As somewhat of a change in direction from my previous articles, I thought I would start to focus more on specific areas of Disney.  In other words, instead of trying to cover such a wide array of subjects geographically in one article, I will keep the focus on one subject and cover it as well as I can without getting too long and drawn out.  Be it a ride, a show, a restaurant, a resort or even a restroom, pretty much anything on Disney property is likely to be covered.  Hence the title of this series of articles, “Walt Disney World In Focus – insert subject here”.   I’ll show what I think are unique aspects, or maybe not so unique.  I’ll tell a little about the photo technically or just  give some general overview.  I’ll try to show you more than you might see on other WDW websites.  At heart, I think we all just want to enjoy good Disney photos while dreaming about the next trip.

I think one of the most unique and beautiful resorts on Disney property is the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Animal Kingdom Lodge opened in April 2001 as the latest addition to Disney’s line of “Deluxe” accommodations.  In May 2009, it expanded to include Kidani Village, the “Vacation Club” side of Animal Kingdom Lodge.  With the opening of Kidani Village, the main lodge building was renamed “Jambo House.“  For this article, we’re going to focus on Jambo House property.  I always look forward to wandering this resort inside and out with my camera.  Also not to be overlooked is the expansive collection of African art and architecture of the main buildings.

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Walking into the main building of Jambo House is always inspiring.  Such a grand space!

The Jambo House suspension bridge – but not so obvious.  Different angle, different perspective.

There are so many items worth a look in the main Jambo House lobby that you’ll just have to explore them for yourself.  There are side rooms and quiet spots scattered throughout the space that are filled with African art work and artifacts.  You could literally fill a book using just the lobby as a subject.

Jambo House has one of the coolest Gift shops on Disney property, Zawadi Marketplace.  The décor is heavily themed in African/Disney style.  They also have items specific to Animal Kingdom that are not available at other resort gift shops.  Lot’s of neat things here to photograph.

Sometimes the lighting can be a challenge even in a gift shop.  This is one of those with very low lighting that required wide open aperture + high ISO to maintain a usable shutter speed for a handheld shot. In a space this big with a shot this wide, on-camera flash is ineffective and won‘t produce good results, in my opinion. The natural lighting is much more pleasing to the eye.

The grounds of Animal Kingdom Lodge are quite possibly the most beautiful on Disney property.  Every single plant and tree looks as if it has always been there.  Nothing looks out of place or freshly planted.  It’s obvious Disney’s intent was for Animal Kingdom Lodge grounds to look as authentically rustic and natural as any lodge would on the real African Savanna.  There are just as many photo opportunities outside the building as inside and there is so much of it to explore.

If wildlife photography is your thing, there is an abundance on Animal Kingdom Lodge property, even mice.  Look closely…

Framing your subject with something in the foreground can give your shot more depth and interest.

Where else on Disney property can you have a view like this right outside your room?  This is facing the main building of Kidani Village.  I took this shot from our balcony at night, obviously. This was a 20 second exposure at F7.1, tripod mounted. The 3 Elands were good sports and remained perfectly still for the entire 20 seconds.

I didn’t know water was so plentiful on the African Savanna, but it does make a beautiful subject.  Must be the rainy season.

So there’s a very small sampling of the megapixel delights that await you at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  If you’re staying on Disney property, or can take a day to visit, it’s definitely worth a photographic “safari.”

Josh’s Note: As most of us are aware, Animal Kingdom (the theme park) regularly closes at 5pm, 6pm, or 7pm.  One of my favorite things to do is to stay right up until Animal Kingdom closes and then ride the resort bus from the Animal Kingdom over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Crowds thin significantly in the final hour of Park operation and it’s a great time to return to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and whatever you may have have skipped over during the day.  At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you’ll find great table service restaurants in the form of Jiko – The Cooking Place (signature restaurant), Boma (Africa/India inspired buffet), and Sanaa (Africa/India inspired table service restaurant).  Even Mara, the Lodge’s quick service, serves excellent food that is different from what you might find at your own resort.   There are also public savanna “overlooks” throughout the resort where anyone visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge can enjoy the animals on the savannas.  The Arusha Rock Overlook is not to be missed.  If you’re looking to save money and forgo the Park Hopper upgrade, but still want to have fun after the Animal Kingdom closes, then a visit to the Animal Kingdom Lodge might be just the ticket.

Jiko is my personal favorite “date night” restaurant on Disney property.  Its understated elegance, extensive wine selection, and quiet atmosphere combine to make a memorable night that is as far away as you’ll get from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks (without returning home, that is).


Capturing The Magic of Walt’s Disney World

by Craig Hood on January 15, 2011

This is the fourth in a series of photography articles by Craig Hood.  If you haven’t yet, check out the photography section for more of his work.

I think some of my absolute favorite things to photograph in Disney World are simply the classic attractions and architecture that Walt actually had a hand in creating.  I’m talking about THE original Magic Kingdom attractions.  I can’t explain my fascination or the feeling I get from these rides.  I guess those are the attractions that I can remember from my first visit as a kid in the early 70’s, so I have some kind of sentimental attachment to them.  But mostly it’s the thought of experiencing something that is so closely connected to Walt himself.  Now I know Walt was gone long before The Magic Kingdom in Orlando opened, but many of the rides in the Magic Kingdom were inspired by the originals in Disneyland, so I like to believe when I ride It’s A Small World that I’m seeing what Walt envisioned in his own mind.  I’m seeing exactly what he intended for us to see.

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I remember being so disappointed finding out that Mr. Toads Wild Ride was being retired.  I’m a big fan of Pooh, but couldn’t they have made room?

One of my favorite rides on property, The Haunted Mansion.  This is a great ride to practice your low light (or no light) photography on.

It took a LOT of trips through the Mansion to get a decent shot of this guy – the infamous “Hitchhiking Ghost”.

These old attractions make great photo subjects, not to mention a challenge to photograph on the inside because of the darkness.  Everything on these rides is “old-school.”  Hand made, hand painted figures and backgrounds with electric motors and servo’s providing all the movement.

Black lights, strobes and colored lighting supply all of the “special effects.”  No billion dollar computer controlled ride vehicles, surround sound, 3D glasses or projection screens the size of a cruise ship. They are as they always were, quite simple by today’s standards, but so purely classic Disney imagination. I think these rides are one of the strongest draws to the Magic Kingdom.

An interesting shooting option is to switch your camera to black and white mode.  I think it gives the photos a retro 50’s 60’s feel like the picture was taken by Walt himself with his box camera.

The Monorail is another one of those places that when you step inside the doors you know you’re in Disney World.

The many shops in Magic Kingdom are also a great source of classic Disney subjects.  One of my favorites is Sir Mickey’s.

So take a moment the next time you’re snapping away in the vacation kingdom and remember…

“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” – Walt Disney


This is the third article written by Craig Hood as part of his series on photographing Disney World.  See his article on dSLR vs. Point and Shoot Cameras here and his HDR photography tutorial here.

Now that the holidays are behind us, we’re all looking forward to this year’s upcoming Disney Trips and inevitably thinking about photography opportunities.   We’ve all heard of writer’s block, right? How about photographer’s block?  Do you sometimes pass under the big “Walt Disney World” welcome sign full of excitement and anticipation thinking about all the awesome photos you’re going to get?  A few hours later, you find yourself standing in the middle of Magic Kingdom saying, “I have no idea what I want to photograph!”  You’ve spent the days leading up to your vacation imagining all of the opportunities awaiting you.  You try to think of something interesting, something different, something other than the obligatory castle, tree, hat or sphere photos.  You try to become inspired by some aspect of Disney that you have never given thought to photographing.  So you ask yourself, “What have I never photographed before?  Nada, nothing, zip.  You wonder why you even brought the stupid camera.  There’s just nothing else to take pictures of that’s interesting, I’ve done it all.  After making 40 plus trips to Disney World,  I’ve said that.

I think we all get in ruts like that from time to time, no matter what we photograph.  The complex creatures that we are, we can become bored fairly easily.  The wonderful thing about Disney World is that there are so many unique things to use as subjects, you won‘t live long enough to capture them all.  You have to look beyond the obvious.  That’s one of the most magical aspects of Disney to me.   Things that you normally wouldn’t spend 2 seconds looking at, much less take the time to actually photograph, can be very photo-worthy.  That’s what makes Disney, well…Disney.  Nothing is ordinary; seemingly every mundane object has some feature that is uniquely Disney.

I got in the habit of looking at everything except the obvious.  That’s where the treasures are, everywhere other than right in front of your face.  It almost seems as if the Imagineers want it that way.  They want you to make a conscious effort to find Disney details.  Ever hear of “Hidden Mickeys?” Would “Obvious Mickeys” be half as much fun?  I think you could spend your entire life simply looking for and photographing Hidden Mickey’s and never get all of them.  There’s actually a website devoted to that.

The most interesting subjects to me are the ones no one else notices.  I like for someone to look at a picture I’ve taken in Disney and ask, “Where is this?”  I’ve actually photographed trash cans, yes really, trash cans.  Even something as insignificant as a trash can has its own unique Disney flair.

Here’s one right here…

Take the time to study the details on an attraction, especially the outdoor attractions.   Take Aladdin’s Carpets for example.  Instead of trying to capture the entire structure, pick a portion of it and make that your subject.  The picture below is just the very top of the ride.  I think this makes for an interesting photo.  We know that’s it Aladdin’s Carpets, but it’s not “in your face” obvious, I think. I  especially like how the clouds behind the lamp spout look almost like smoke coming from the lamp itself.

Another favorite subject of mine is all of the wonderful architecture of Disney.  This in itself can fill an entire vacation with photo opportunities.  Disney architecture is, after all, one of it’s most notable features.  There is so much amazing architecture on Disney property it always makes its way into my lens.  Here’s a shot of the steeple on top of Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway Pavilion of Epcot.  Again, here I didn’t try to get the entire building in the frame, but instead focused on the details of the steeple.

Here’s another architecture shot.  You’re probably thinking, “this guy looks up a lot”.  Yeah, I do. That’s where I find a lot of stuff that normally gets overlooked.  I liked the way the moon and tree branch played into this Asian themed shot.

Okay, so this guy is in a very obvious location in the lobby of Port Orleans French Quarter, but I liked him.  Take a look at these next couple and guess what resorts they were taken in…

Did you guess Animal Kingdom Lodge and The Contemporary?  The Animal Kingdom Lodge is loaded with very unique things to photograph; you just have to take the time to look for them.

Here are a few more that fit into the “Disney Details” category;

Port Orleans French Quarter

The Lamp posts of Paris

Lantern in Japan – Gift to Roy E Disney from the Emperor.

So there you have it, a few of my detailed observations in Disney.  We truly never will run out of things to photograph – we just have to remember where to look.


This is the second photography article written by our resident photography guru, Craig Hood.  See his HDR photography tutorial, here.

A question I’m often asked is, “What kind of camera do you use?”  It’s usually a question from someone who is looking at a picture I’ve taken in Disney World.

Like this one…

(Click any image for full resolution)

Or this one.

I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you.  I’m a Nikon guy, and I use a Nikon D80.  I don’t particularly think Nikon is better than any other brand, it’s just what I like.  I’m also not implying that my photos are worthy of display in the Smithsonian, but I like them and the camera helps me achieve some pretty decent stuff.  Consumer grade dSLR’s (digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras) have exploded onto the market within the last five years.  They are becoming more and more affordable and are no longer targeted to “pros only;” Nikon and Ashton Kutcher are making that a priority. Just take notice of how many dSLR’s you see the next time you’re in Disney.  With that said, do you have to have a $500.00+  dSLR to take great pictures in Disney World?  No.  Are there shots that you shouldn’t expect to get with a point and shoot?  Yes.  It all depends on what YOU want to do and what your expectations are.

Point and shoot cameras have come a long way and are capable of producing images of pretty darn good quality.  I think practically everyone who owns a dSLR started with a point and shoot, but soon their desire or ability to take better pictures surpassed the abilities of a point and shoot.  You have to ask yourself what you want to do and where you want to go with photography.  Are you happy with 4×6 snapshots for scrap booking or sharing online, or do you want to expand your creativity and capture really high quality photos in many different lighting conditions?  Do you want to try portraiture that rivals studio portraits?  Do you think weddings would be your niche, sporting events, wildlife, dark rides at Disney, night photography?  There are all sorts of venues for photography that a point and shoot may or may not suffice for.

One thing to consider, the higher image quality of dSLR’s allows for much higher quality enlargements, if that’s what you’re into. I have photos on my wall that were enlarged to 13×19 that are tack sharp and could go even larger.  I also have 8×10’s that were enlarged from point and shoots that look fine, though you would probably be pushing the limits of most point and shoots going much larger than 8×10.  However, there are some point and shoots out there boasting enlargements up to 14 x 19, like this one.

All that said, if you’re happy with the results your point and shoot provides you with, you can certainly take great pictures in Disney World as long as you understand the limitations of a point and shoot.  Point and shoot cameras are engineered and marketed to be a “do-it-all” camera.  Sorry,  there is no such camera. There is no “all in one package” camera that can accomplish everything in all conditions and do it well.  That’s why dSLR’s have removable lenses.

There are only two considerations that I can come up with for a point and shoot, simplicity and size.  They are designed to be compact and incredibly easy to use with little to no input from the user.  Practically any point and shoots will fit inside your pocket and you don’t even realize it’s there.  The dSLR on the other hand definitely will not.  They’re big, they’re bulky and they’re heavy.  The weight and bulk can increase dramatically depending on the lens you choose to carry and if you add an auxiliary battery grip.  And don’t forget, you’ll want to carry those extra lenses around with you, which is more weight and more bulk.  Walking five to seven miles a day in Disney World in the Summer is definitely something to consider.  If you’re one who likes to be minimally burdened when touring the parks, you may get tired of a dSLR very quickly.  I have to admit there are times when I opt to leave the dSLR in the room at least once during the trip.

One of my biggest pet peeves with a point and shoot camera is the lag time between pressing the shutter release button and the photo being captured.  You know what I’m talking about. You frame your shot, press the button and there’s a two to three second delay before it actually captures the image.  If you’ve been on Kilimanjaro Safaris, you know how bumpy the ride is and how quickly the scenery changes.  This is when point and shoots drove me crazy.  They just aren’t fast enough to do what I wanted them to do.  A dSLR is much, much faster. When you press the button the photo capture is instant.  Also, the dSLR sports the “burst” mode or “continuous” mode.  This is where the camera continues to shoot as long as you hold the button down and it does it very quickly.  For my old outdated D80, that’s about three frames per second, which is on the slow side compared to some of the newer cameras.  This is a great feature to use on rides that have a lot of movement, like Kilimanjaro Safaris.  It gives you the opportunity to get at least one good picture, because as we all know the vehicle can not stop for you to take a picture…please sit down, sir.

My favorite feature of the dSLR is the multitude of lenses that are available.  This in itself can take your photography to a whole new level.  You will be able to capture images that a point and shoot simply does not have the capability to do.  Probably the most widely used lens on a dSLR is the zoom lens. The zoom lens lets you get really good pictures from a distance.

This one was taken from across World Showcase Lagoon with a 300 mm zoom lens at 135mm.  At full zoom I would have been able to see what those people sitting on the bench were eating. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.

Here’s Primeval Whirl at 300mm of zoom. Not exactly tack sharp, but not too bad for a hand-held shot of a moving object at 300mm.

Here’s a 75mm zoom on Kilimanjaro Safari

(Click any image for full resolution)

I especially like to have a zoom lens in Animal Kingdom and Epcot due to the size of the parks. There are lots of photo opportunities that you can’t get especially close to; Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life, Expedition Everest to name a few.  It’s also fun to have when you’re looking for all of those architectural details that make Disney so unique.  Yes, there are point and shoots with varying strengths of optical zoom, but typically it’s a digital zoom. The digital zoom simply expands the captured pixels, then the camera “brain” fills the spaces in between with additional pixels that it “thinks” look correct. It never does, it’s terribly pixelated and just looks bad.  A true optical zoom lens uses glass lenses in the same way binoculars or a telescope would to enlarge what you see.  In other words, all of the pixels are already there. There just isn’t enough room in a point and shoot camera to fit that much glass.

Okay, concerning flash and dark rides, I have to say this – Please, please don’t use flash on dark rides.  It’s against the rules and it really spoils the experience for other guests.  It drives me crazy to see someone snapping away with a flash on Pirates of the Caribbean, blinding everyone and getting bad shots to boot.  The rides are dark for a reason, to convey mood and atmosphere.  It also hides things that the Imagineers did not intend for you to see.  Believe me guys, using a flash on dark rides will produce nothing more than washed out garish photos that will not resemble what you remember about the ride.  Try setting your camera to “night shot”, turn your flash off and just see what happens. You may be surprised.

Pirates of the Caribbean, no flash.

Pirates of the Caribbean.  No flash.

If you’ve been in Pixie Hollow, you know how dim the lighting is in there.  Taken without flash, the end result is warm even skin tones with no harsh shadows or pasty white faces.

As for a point and shoots on dark rides, its pretty much useless.  There are a few point and shoots that tout low-light capability, Canon SD4000IS and Nikon Coolpix P7000, for examples, but I would guess that the image quality is going to be lacking.  They simply don’t have the components needed to gather enough light (without flash) to get a good quality image.  So, if dark ride photos interest you, then you may need to talk to the big guy in the red suit about a dSLR.

After everything I’ve said, I hope you don’t think the intent here was to bash point and shoot cameras, because it wasn’t.  I used a point and shoot for years and enjoyed it.  I’m simply offering you, in my opinion, the foremost pros and cons to each. There just happens to be many more pros to a dSLR. T here really are some great point and shoot cameras out there and the technology is constantly advancing.  Again, it’s a personal preference.  Think about what YOU want to accomplish and what makes you happy, then buy the camera that most closely fits.

Now get out there and capture the Magic!


Josh’s Note: I have invited my good friend Craig Hood to write a series of articles on photography.  You may be aware that Disney World’s theme for 2011 is, “Let the Memories Begin.”  A big part of the campaign is capturing special moments on film.  Craig’s  articles will focus on making great photography accessible for those of us who don’t necessarily want to invest thousands of dollars on equipment (though that never hurts).  Photography has long been an interest of mine and I’ve always wanted to learn how to achieve some of those effects that seem too complex at first glance.  With Craig’s help, we’ll be able to improve our skills and catch those pesky memories with our cameras, nets, or whatever else he tells us we need.

Without further delay, let me turn you over to Craig:

For my very first photography article for easyWDW, Josh asked me to give a how-to for a particular aspect of photography he was interested in, so that’s what I’ll try to do.  Let me start by saying that I’m not a professional photographer, so for any “pro’s” who may be reading this, take it easy.  I’m just a guy with a little knowledge and a passion for photography and Disney.  I know, dangerous combination.  I’ve been somewhat interested in photography pretty much since I was a kid.  Remember the old Kodak Instamatics? I’ve only been what I guess you would call a serious hobbyist for the last 3 years.  I’ve decided that taking up anything as a serious hobby means spending a lot of money on equipment, because I have.  Not that you have to, but I’m weak.  As anyone who owns a dSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera knows, you absolutely can not have just one lens, oh no.  For example, there’s that lens that you need  because you absolutely can’t get the picture you want of that grave digger and his freakishly skinny dog in the Haunted Mansion, with that crappy kit lens that came with your camera.  That’s what I told my wife.  There’s always some little gadget, lens or better camera that will make your pictures infinitely better or allow you to take pictures that you could have never taken before, but that’s a different article.  So, here we go.

One of the most talked about topics on photography forums today is HDR imaging, or High Dynamic Range imaging.  You absolutely can do HDR and you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment, we’ll talk about what you need later.  However, you do need a basic understanding of exposure which consists of shutter speed, aperture and ISO, as well as a little experience with photo editing software.  So, if the terms “shutter speed”, “aperture” and “ISO” just made you say “what?”  I recommend getting a book on dSLR’s or do some Google-ing before you read any further.  I started with a book, Digital SLR Cameras & Photography for Dummies by David D. Busch and did a LOT of Google searches.  You can learn this stuff on your own and get results that you’ll be happy with, it just takes time and a little effort.  I did it, and if I can do it, anyone can do it.  I found that I learned the most simply by reading the owners manual that came with my camera, taking  pictures and just playing around with the settings on the camera.  Go ahead and push those buttons, change all those settings and see what you get.  Remember, it’s digital.  It doesn’t cost a dime to press that shutter release.  If you don’t like what you see, “delete” and try again.

Most everyone remotely interested in photography has seen an incredibly vivid, tack sharp image and said, “Wow! How did they do that?” I said it too.  It’s a picture that seems to jump off the paper.  You think to yourself “nothing I have taken has ever looked even remotely as spectacular“.  E very part of the image is properly exposed, every detail is visible and clear. No blown out (completely white) areas, no dark or black areas that should be visible.  The image looks almost as it would have if you had seen it with your own eyes, right?  There you go, that’s the connection between an HDR image and what your eye sees.  When you look at something with your naked eye, anything at all, your eye has the ability to properly “expose” every part of the image because your eye has a much higher dynamic range than a camera.  From the brightest areas to the darkest areas and everything in between, even in weird lighting conditions, your eye sees a completely perfect image. Cameras aren’t that smart…yet.

Without getting too technical, via a lot of electronic technology, a camera takes in all the available light and tries to properly expose an image for all of those lighting conditions by adjusting the shutter speed, aperture and ISO automatically.  The camera hopes to achieve a kind of happy medium.  This is what all point and shoot cameras do, as well as dSLR’s when set to an “auto” mode.  This is where cameras can struggle to take a properly exposed image when there are different levels of light sources and high contrast.  Sometimes it gets it right, sometimes it doesn’t.  Your main subject may look good, but other things in the image may be too light or too dark.  Like the sky in the background that was a very vivid blue, gray, purple or whatever when you looked through the viewfinder, is now almost completely white in your image.  Or the sky looks right and everything else in the image is too dark and barely discernible.  This is where HDR comes in.

Now, here’s how it works.   The most popular true HDR method is multiple image merging. This being a combination of multiple images at different exposures (in this case different shutter speeds) of the same subject that have been merged into one image via HDR software.  It’s not just a mega-expensive camera taking those spectacular photo’s.  It’s any camera with a “manual” setting, a tripod (or some way to keep the camera perfectly still) and image merging software.  So, you will need a dSLR or a point and shoot camera with “manual“ mode, so that you can change the shutter speed manually.  We’ll talk about the software in a bit.  If you choose not to use a tripod and hand-hold your camera you may not be thrilled with the results.  All HDR software aligns the images as part of the merge, but if you moved too much while snapping your pictures, well, the software can only do so much.  I prefer the tripod method because it works, but that’s just me.  Have you noticed that HDR photo’s are of objects that are not moving?  Buildings, landscapes stuff like that.  People and animals usually don’t work well as HDR subjects – we tend to move around a lot.

First, find your subject.  Maybe that big castle at the end of Main Street that all of those people are staring up at -  yeah, that one.  Oh, a caveat, if there are people in the frame, your merged picture is going to look really weird.  Those people are gonna be a bunch of blurry blobs.  Remember the part about everything in your frame being still and how people like to move around?  Anyway, mount your camera on your tripod or however you plan to keep it perfectly still and in the exact same position for each shot.  You can release the shutter simply by pressing the shutter release button, or using your timer, but ideally it’s better to have a wired or wireless remote release.  The less the camera moves the better your results. Now, you’ll want to take at least 3 images with each image having a different level of exposure.  This is called “bracketing“.  Three images is about the minimum.  You can certainly take more and you may actually need to depending on the complexity of light in the subject you are trying to capture.  More images = higher dynamic range; this is a good thing.  If you do choose to take more exposures, just continue to increase your stops of under/over exposure with each shot.   This is where you have to have some understanding of exposure and what a “stop” is.  I could fill another article just on exposure, but here’s a quick explanation of a “stop”; if you’re shooting at a shutter speed of 1/50”, one full stop of under exposure would give you a shutter speed of 1/100”, two full stops would be 1/200” and so on.  One full stop of over exposure would give you a shutter speed of 1/25”, two full stops would be 1/13” and so on.  A “stop” is simply doubling the shutter speed for under exposure (less light), or cutting it in half for over exposure (more light).

OK, lets start shooting.  You’ve got your camera on a tripod, or something stable and you’re ready to take your first shot.

1.  Set for correct exposure of the main subject, take the picture, “click”.

2.  Change your shutter speed by two full stops of over-exposure, take the picture, “click”.

3.  Change your shutter speed again to two full stops of under-exposure, “click”.

That’s it, you’re done with the camera part of it, unless you choose to take more pictures.  What you now have are 3 pictures – one that is exposed correctly, one that is underexposed, and one that is over exposed. By the way, changing each shot by 2 stops of exposure (shutter speed) is not a hard fast rule, it’s just what I usually do and it works for me.  If you take more shots, you can certainly decrease each stop level.  You can try more or less and see how it works. A lot of dSLR cameras have an auto-bracketing feature.  This simply allows you to set your level of exposure and number of shots you want to take, in-camera.  That way each time you press the shutter release, the  camera makes the exposure change on each shot automatically.  This keeps you from having to change settings manually between each shot.  These are the 3 images I’ve just taken.

This photo is at 2 stops of under exposure (Click for full resolution)

This next photo is at correct exposure (Click for full resolution)

This last photo is at 2 stops of over exposure (Click for full resolution)

Now, you’ll need to have some type of photo editing software to merge those images into one after you upload them to your computer.  Most photo editing bundles that you buy will have some type of HDR merging software.  I personally use Corel Paintshop Pro X2 for photo editing, which they have recently upgraded to Paintshop Photo Pro X3.  I haven’t bought the upgrade simply because the version I have does what I want it to do…for now. My version (X2) has a basic HDR merge function, that works okay for me.  You simply drag and drop your bracketed exposures, the software does the merging and voila!  If you don’t want to invest in software, most all photo editors have a free trial that you can download.  There is also an HDR stand alone software out there called Photomatix.  It’s designed specifically for HDR and has all sorts of bells and whistles.  I’ve never used it so I can’t comment on it, but it seems to be the most popular.  It’s not free, but there is a free trial version on their website.  Even after merging the images, you still may want to play around with it to get the end result you want.  Again, this is done through photo editing software.

Those spectacular photos almost never come straight out of the camera looking that way.  They are always “enhanced” through the use of software.  Just be careful with the “enhancing”.  If you read much at all about HDR and look at a lot of HDR pictures, you’ll start seeing the word “cartoon-ish”.  This is the word that’s used to describe HDR images that have a LOT of software enhancement.  The images are so incredibly over the top with the saturation of colors that the crazy high contrasts take on a strange un-real look, kind of like…well, a cartoon.  I personally don’t care for it, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Here is the final product. The three images above are merged into one with some minor editing.  Notice how the areas that were dark are now much more visible and detailed, as well as the areas that were completely white and devoid of color.

The Final Image (Click for full resolution)

So there you have it.  Not saying it’s the end all be all right way, or the only way. It’s simply the way I do HDR and it works for me.  Now get out there and capture the Magic!