by Matt Birchfield

Photography is a great way to take a little bit of the Disney magic home with us. But a number of my favorite Walt Disney World subjects are among the most difficult photographs to capture well. I have several Walt Disney World trips under my belt, and it’s only in the last few years tht I’ve really tried to pursue photography while I’m in the World. I primarily use a Canon Rebel XS dSLR and either a 50mm prime lens (meaning a fixed-length lens) or a 75mm-250mm telephoto lens. Each has advantages, depending on what you’re trying to capture.

Challenging subject #1: Cinderella’s Castle
OK, everyone’s posed for a picture in front of Cinderella’s Castle. It’s probably one of the most photographed subjects in the world (and not just Walt Disney World). But have you ever tried to capture the castle with colored lighting? Or one level more difficult – capturing a photo of your Disney Daughter in front of the castle while the castle is bathed in her favorite color. For Epic level, try to shoot the projection show on the castle. The constant motion and varying light levels make for quite the challenge.

Challenging subject #2: Pirates of the Caribbean
First, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER TAKE A FLASH PHOTOGRAPH ON A DARK RIDE LIKE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN OR HAUNTED MANSION! It can ruin the experience for other riders [and ought to be grounds for immediate ejection from the Park. – Ed.] Pirates is an incredibly complex ride, with a huge number of Audio-Animatronic figures, low light, lighting effects, splashing water, and the constant motion of the boat to contend with. My dream shot is to get a GOOD picture of the skeleton helmsman at the beginning of the ride, with the lightening in the background. So far, I have not had much luck, but like someone said, “just keep swimming.” Other areas that are good and present unique challenges are the Auction scene, with it’s odd hued light; and the jail scene, with the prisoners trying to get the keys from the dog. I recommend shooting in RAW mode, which allows the photographer to change the white balance in post-processing. Check yoru camera’s manual to learn more about RAW mode. (Warning – each photo will take up much more space on your memory card in RAW mode, so be prepared with a larger card or a spare).

Challenging subject #3: Haunted Mansion
Haunted Mansion is the Holy Grail of dark ride photography. The extremely low light levels are beyond most camera/lens combination’s ability to compensate. The Seance Room is one of the most difficult shots, with the black light musical instruments and the bright light from Madam Leota. The graveyard near the end is also a major challenge, partially because of how difficult it is to frame and quickly focus a shot with a standard lens, due to the close proximity to the show scenes. Your best chance to capture such shots would be with a fast wide-angle lens. A prime lens like the 50mm tends to be nice and fast, but for dark rides (and especially for Haunted Mansion) a shorter focal length is better. The lens most frequently suggested for dark rides is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens, which is available for both Canon and Nikon cameras for under $500.

None of these are easy photos to shoot well, but the fun is in the challenge of trying to capture them. Do you have a shot of one of these challenges that you’re particularly proud of? Share it with us! Just Email the image to Happy shooting!

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