Photo Tips #3: Low Light

by Frank Anzalone, staff writer

Sharing vacation photos with friends and family are always special moments and in this session, my photo tips are aimed at taking pictures of the parks after the sun goes down. I love the parks, especially in the evening light—the magic seems to come alive even more.

The first installment of photo tips, we looked at some basic vacation picture ideas (link) when we walk through the ticket turnstiles and head into the Happiest Place on Earth. In the second edition, we concentrated on the people at the park (link) when visiting with family and friends. This edition features Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure in the evening, inside attractions and nighttime fireworks shows.

My first and biggest photo tip is, “Take lots of pictures!” Have you ever looked back at your vacation photographs and just wished there were more to look at? The price of film is worth every penny when you walk away with those great shots. Every special photo memory is priceless. And if you have a digital camera, there's really no excuse about wasting film anymore.

So grab your camera and let's get clicking.

The one common theme throughout all these photo tips is to use the available light for the given moment:

No flash photography!

Of all the possible pictures you may shoot at the parks, these will be the most difficult and the results may not be as consistent as if you were taking pictures in the mid-day light. If you have a digital camera, use the speed or sensitivity setting on the highest level you can set. If you have a disposable camera, put your finger over the flash to block that light, but be aware that the results will probably be poor because these cameras are designed for outdoor and daytime photography. If you really want a picture of the inside of an attraction, the best bet would be to save your film, look for the nearest kiosk next to the attraction and buy a postcard. Disney has taken the time to properly light the scenes for these images, and we can't beat that.

Photographing inside an attraction

We would love to take the memory of the inside of an attraction home with us for our photo albums, but most of the attractions at the parks are just too dark to really get a decent picture. Inside a dark ride, you need more light or a longer shutter speed to capture the image. If you are moving through the ride on a Doom Buggy in the Haunted Mansion or a boat through the Pirates of the Caribbean, your movement will blur the photo before the camera completely takes the picture. My photo tip here is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. But if you want to try, here are a few examples:

The Space Mountain queue. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Here at Space Mountain, the queue line has some great colors and sights to record and is still light enough to do this. Place your camera on the hand railing to steady your shot. Try to frame your picture to get a view of the excitement before you board for your excursion into space.

The new Turtle Talk with Crush attraction in Disney's California Adventure. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

This attraction is designed as a theater setting. The typical picture would be to shoot the character on the screen—and you might not capture what the attraction is all about. By framing your picture with the silhouette of the children on the floor watching the activity on the screen, you will get more of the feel of what is going on and capture the fun of this attraction.

Tom Morrow and Sony's ASIMO, two mechanical personalities at Disneyland's Innoventions. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Remember, your camera shutter is open longer when you take a picture in a dark place. Watch for the “peak of the action” when taking a picture. This is the time when your subject will be moving the least and give you a better chance of a clear picture. If you watch the audio animatronics, you will see a few places where the action comes to a pause. At this moment is the best time to trip your shutter. Think of an Olympic diver. When they jump off the diving board, they go up, and then just before they head down into the pool, the action has a paused moment—at the top of the diving position. This is a great time to capture an image.

Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters attraction in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The Buzz Lightyear attraction, Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin and most other “black light” dark rides usually have enough vivid colors among the blackness that can help you capture some pictures. When on these rides, you will have a better chance of getting a good picture if you wait for your attraction car to make a turn as opposed to panning by the scene as you move through it.

Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters attraction photo by the Walt Disney Company.

Even though you want to record everything you can for your vacation, you can miss the fun because if it. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride, not like this tourist as he was trying to take pictures inside this adventure. (The tourist was me!)

Photographing the parks in the evening

Disney parks really sparkle in the evening light. I have found that the best time for pictures is just as the sun sets, while the sky still has enough light to help your pictures (and the warmth of the light makes for wonderful images).

The entrance to Disney's California Adventure park. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The dusk light helps your camera's exposure so you can capture the 'evening feel' of the parks. Make sure to hold as steady as you can before you shoot. I like to lean against a tree or a pole to help me steady the shot.

Main Street, U.S.A. at dusk. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Place your camera on top of a trashcan or steady yourself on a lamppost to shoot evening pictures. The lights of the buildings will be sharp and the crowd will blur, giving the feeling of movement and activity.

Ariel's Grotto restaurant overlooking the water area of Paradise Pier in DCA. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Reflections, a part of the color palette at the parks. Disney Imagineers use water as an extensive part of the décor. Look not only at the attractions—look at the big picture.

DCA's Paradise Pier at dusk. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Remember photography's “rule of thirds” for composition. Divide the sky, the landscape and the water into one-third proportions for a nice photograph.

The Orange Stinger (left) and the Sun Wheel. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

When taking pictures of attractions, notice as the lights on the attraction change. On the Sun Wheel, the lights on the framework change all the time. At certain times they all light up at the same time—this would be the best time to shoot a picture. For the Orange Stinger attraction, steady yourself on the railing as the riders fly by your camera.

The Golden Zephyr at DCA. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

A clear, sharp picture does not always tell the story you are trying to show with your photograph. Leaning against a lamppost, I took this picture to show the movement and fun of this attraction. Notice how the center post of the Golden Zephyr ride is clear and sharp, as the attraction cars and light trails give the feeling of movement.

The Disneyland Monorail travels past the Matterhorn (left), and the Astro Orbiter spins in the dark. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Part of the fun of photography is to look for special memories that are only for here for a brief moment. One evening at Disneyland, my friends knew when I disappeared for a moment that I was chasing the moon. I placed myself so the moon was just over the Matterhorn, and then waited for (as long as it took) for the Monorail to roll by.

Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Inside Sleeping Beauty Castle forecourt, the colors used to light the castle present a unique perspective of this Disney icon.

A Downtown Disney cast member sells Disney balloons. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Downtown Disney is full of lights, action and excitement. This castmember selling balloons was standing still as the guests walked by, a contrast of movement. Use the lighting from the stores to add and accent the picture.

The Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

As the light of the evening changes, Disney will also change the lighting on the exterior of the attractions. At dusk, just before the fireworks show, the castle outline is clearly visible against the sky.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at night. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

After the fireworks show (about an hour after the previous picture), the castle is lit more intensely and your camera may not pick up all the details of the structure outline (yet still a pretty picture).

Photographing a fireworks show

When you watch a fireworks show, you are engulfed in the experience. You see the rockets launch upward and explode—from a small flash of light, growing to full bloom and then fading into the night. Capturing this with a still camera is a challenge. My main tip here is to shoot lots of pictures. You will get a few awesome shots for the bunch that you try (and this is true for me as well—you never know what final image you will get). Steady the camera on a trashcan or against a pole. If you can, use a monopod (a “one legged” tripod) to hold the camera steady as you shoot the show.

Fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The quintessential fireworks picture is of the full castle with a fiery burst. Anticipate the peak of the burst—start taking the picture just before the firework explodes. This gives the camera a little more time to capture the castle light and then at the end of the shutter exposure, it will catch the burst of the fireworks (all in less than a second.).

Fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Move in on the castle a little to capture the fullest light you can with your camera as the fireworks are going on.

Fireworks explode over an illuminated Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

There are parts of the show that the fireworks bursts are not really high in the sky. This makes a good opportunity for photographing to capture the castle and the action together. Frame your shot in tight to get that picture.

Fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Getting in close to the castle, not trying to capture every little bit of the castle or the firework burst, can make an interesting image. This “cropping in close” cuts out much of the dark sky and helps your camera's exposure. [and that is Tinker Bell to the left side of the castle.]

Fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

By cropping tight to the castle, more of your picture frame is full of light. You do not need to capture the full roundness of the firework burst to tell the story.

Text. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

This was my first time watching the show, “Remember… Dreams Do Come True.” I did not know what surprise was coming next for the show story. You have to take a bunch of pictures to get those few you keep, and sometimes, you just never know when Mickey will show up and help tell the story.

Next time

That completes our third edition of Frank's Photo Tips. The next edition's topic will concentrate on taking pictures of the Parks; it's landscape and design (visiting both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort), and the “familiar sights and attractions of Disney parks.” Although I receive comments about my photos, one important thing you need to know is that it's all in the eye of the photographer. For that reason, all of the photos you saw in my first photo tip series (link) were shot completely with a Kodak disposable box camera. You do not need to use the most expensive camera on the market to get a good image. You can get a great picture if you take a moment to use a few simple and easy techniques. These “tips” are just suggestions and ideas to use when you are the cameraperson. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad picture… some are just better!

MousePlanet readers try out some new photo techniques. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Here are a couple of pictures I received from MousePlanet readers that tried my photo tips. Milva and Anne from San Jose, California (left) and Gabriela and Georgios from Germany (right) used the information from photo tip session two. They got in close to the people yet captured the Disney icons in the background to tell the story. Nice job!

I hope this might inspire you to want to take more and more pictures, and capture those special Disney memories and moments. So plan that trip to the Park, pick up your camera, take lots of pictures and see what develops.

In future editions of this series, we will explore various other aspects of taking good vacation pictures which will include images of the park landscapes and characters (both at Disneyland and Walt Disney World), and putting together your images to make a nice vacation photo album. These future editions will be more specific for capturing unique Disney park images and memories that make great photo keepsakes.

If you have any specific questions or ideas of what you would like to see regarding photo tips at while visiting Disney, please e–mail me!