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!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

judy May 20, 2011 at 3:07 am

The Roman centurion, or whatever he is, is my favorite audio animatronic character of all. Love his face! Great shots.
: )

Craig Hood May 20, 2011 at 6:14 am

Thanks Judy!

I heard we missed each other by 1 day again, we were there May 13 -15.

Craig

Jill May 28, 2011 at 6:10 am

Great shots of Spaceship Earth Craig! As soon as I saw the picture of the Romans I could smell the smoke! LOL

Craig Hood May 28, 2011 at 7:24 am

Thank Jill! I love that smokey smell! I would totally buy that incense for my house, haha!

Craig

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