If you are fortunate enough to work as a photographer at Walt Disney World Resort (totally awesome), but find yourself spending way too much time working at your desk lately (not nearly so awesome), what do you do when you inevitably go stir crazy and need to get out of the office to stretch your legs? Obviously you grab a disco ball, throw the department’s fog machine in the back of a van and head to Magic Kingdom Park at 4 o’clock in the morning. It’s a no-brainer.
Finding myself somewhat desk-bound recently, I took advantage of having the coolest job in the world and made myself at home in the planter around the Partners statue in the middle of the night. After locating the camera position I wanted, I hung the disco ball from a light stand behind Mickey, hid a light right behind Mickey’s head and aimed it at the ball, then wafted some wispy fog through the beams of light bouncing off of it. A tilt-shift lens let me play with the focus so Mickey’s eyes would stay sharp but the rest of him would go soft.
With the amazing access I enjoy at Walt Disney World Resort because of my job, it’s worth losing a few hours of sleep every now and then to indulge a creative whim, make a fun picture and remember just how lucky I am.
I snapped this quick shot of the Imagination! Pavilion at Epcot the other day while checking out the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. I chose this location rather than any of the festival’s gorgeous flower beds and topiaries since the process eliminates all color anyway. Also, by shooting here I wasn’t going to end up with my backside in the middle of hundreds of guests’ pictures (definitely not my best side, by the way). As you can see, the original color photo makes for a fairly average snapshot.
Once a #87 infrared filter – which blocks all visible light – is added, things change dramatically. The exposure time plummets from 1/8000 of a second to a full 30 seconds at f/2.8 at 400 ISO (for you photo types, that’s a drop of 18 stops), allowing the moving clouds and fountains to blur. The resulting colors also change dramatically and everything becomes a monochromatic pink. Different cameras’ sensitivities to near infrared light will yield different looks and exposures, however. These false colors, like seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, do have a surreal beauty to them.
Once you’ve got a color infrared image, it’s a fairly simple process to put it into a computer and remove the color information using any of a number of image editing applications. I love the resulting contrast of the sky and clouds coupled with the ethereal look of the foliage. The black-and-white also helps give it a classic landscape feel.
It’s a fun way of looking at the world and is strangely addictive, and I seem to have a tendency to get carried away with it. I need to make a mental note to stop before all of my colleagues show up with tissues and duct tape to stage an intervention.
It’s a rare and satisfying experience when you look at an image as it pops up on your camera’s LCD screen and go, “Oooooo!” However, as satisfying as it may be, I realized that day that it’s probably best to smile and say it quietly to yourself rather than standing on a bridge, grinning like a goof and making sounds like a lovesick moose.
One of the things I’ve discovered in my near infrared photo travels through the parks at Walt Disney World is that I really love the drama of direct sunlight in this style of photography. I tried shooting a few things one morning when it was overcast and found the results flat and lifeless. This was partly because of the lack of contrast in the scene and partly because the shots didn’t have the dramatic, near-black tones that come from a nice, blue sky.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has proven the most challenging to photograph because a lot of what I love in the look of near infrared photography is the drama of the surreal tones rendered in foliage. And unlike Magic Kingdom and Epcot, my first two locations, the greenery at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a bit more subtle.
Shooting down Hollywood Boulevard toward the Sorcerer Mickey Icon was kind of a no-brainer, though I was surprised at how the 122-foot tall hat almost looks like part of a miniature set. Some of that may be due to the fact that the photo was shot about 30 seconds before the park opened and the streets were still eerily empty.
After I had that angle covered off, however, I found myself walking in ever-widening circles around the icon to find another point of view, and that’s when I saw Gertie, who looms above Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction on Echo Lake (I didn’t know the lake had a name). Gertie was the main character in Winsor McCay’s 1914 silent film, “Gertie the Dinosaur,” which was originally created to be used as part of his vaudeville routine.
Okay, that’s it for today. I’m off to get some ice cream.
The second installment of my near infrared photographic jaunt through the parks of Walt Disney World finds me at Epcot. For those who missed last week’s look at Magic Kingdom, these images, shot using a special filter, look at familiar Disney landmarks photographed beyond the spectrum of visible light.
As I play with this technique a little more, I’m slowly figuring out how to anticipate what the final shot might look like in black-and-white, which has led to compositions I would not have considered for a traditional color photograph. The shot from Japan is a prime example. I like the way the light tone of the leaves frame and set off the dark tones of the pagoda. In color it could have been a pretty shot, but also pretty unremarkable.
(By the way, did you know the five stories of the pagoda symbolize earth, water, fire, wind and sky? No? Neither did I.)
(I would like to preface this post with an advance apology for its mildly technical content. Those with an intense physical aversion to science may elect to skip today’s text entirely and go straight to the pretty pictures. No offense taken.)
Just beyond the spectrum of light visible to the human eye lies near infrared light. And though we can’t see it, the silicon-based sensors of many modern digital cameras can. By using a filter which blocks all visible light, you can get pictures that offer a wonderfully surreal view of the world. Foliage and clouds, which reflect infrared light, look ghostly and white, while sky and objects that don’t, go very dark. This is different than far infrared (thermal) photography, which registers heat.
Okay, science is over. Thanks for hanging in there.
Have you ever watched a gifted artist apply the finishing brushstrokes to a beautiful painting and seen a masterpiece come to life before your eyes? I experienced the maritime equivalent this month as I spent two weeks living on the Disney Dream in Bremerhaven, Germany, just before it began crossing the Atlantic on the way to its new home in Florida.
From the moment Disney Cruise Line officially took delivery of the Disney Dream on December 9th, the changes throughout the ship were rapid and astonishing. Every morning I’d walk the decks and see breathtaking new details that weren’t there the day before. The level of energy and focus by everyone on board is amazing. Crew, Imagineers, craftsmen and tradesmen of all sorts are working like crazy to bring the ship to life.
I shot some of these details as they caught my eye. I hope they’ll tide you over until the ship reaches Port Canaveral on January 4th. When it gets there I, and a lot of others, will be waiting anxiously to see it pull in.
With any luck the airlines will have found my luggage by then.
Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Florida any more…
So how cold IS it in Bremerhaven, Germany? Pretty darn cold as it turns out. I woke up aboard the Disney Dream recently to the strange sight of crew members clearing snow off the deck of a Disney Cruise Line ship.
Now you may not believe this, but I don’t get a chance to play in the snow very often in Orlando, Florida, so I wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity. I rolled, patted and smoothed my frozen masterpiece, but when I got the snowball head put on I couldn’t help feeling something was missing.
I’m very lucky to have made five trips in the last two years to help document the construction of the Disney Dream – watching it go from the first plate of raw steel in 2009 to a magnificent, nearly finished ship as Disney Cruise Line officially takes delivery of this gem during a ceremony today in Germany.
And every time I come back to the ship, even if it’s only been a week since my last trip (or two weeks in this case), I’m amazed by how much has changed.
Recently, just for kicks, I brought a fun little gadget with me, a low-tech camera lens that can skew the plane of focus and give photos an almost toy-camera quality. I played around as I walked the ship and used it to shoot some of the fun new details that caught my eye.
This little slideshow definitely isn’t a comprehensive look at the Disney Dream, it’s more like a teaser of what’s to come.
I love walking around the Magic Kingdom each Halloween season, especially during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. This year, as my kids broke the sound barrier making a beeline from trick-or-treat station to trick-or-treat station, a few things caught my eye and I couldn’t help but slow down and snap off a quick shot or two.
Of all the Halloween character statues that decorate the planters in the “Hub” in front of Cinderella Castle, Donald’s really jumped out at me. The last sunlight on that gorgeous evening was just about to disappear behind the trees and I got off one last shot before the park began its transformation to nighttime spook-tacular.
Later, as I waited in front of the castle for Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade, I noticed a jack-o-lantern perched atop one of the food carts selling Mickey Bars and other frozen treats. I had a LOT more time to make this photo because it was a warm night and business was good. That pumpkin must have stayed put for the better part of 15 minutes.
Our family had a wonderful night. My four-year-old rode Haunted Mansion for the first time and declared it officially “awesome.” Everybody went on all the rides they wanted, watched fireworks and the parade, and ingested enough candy to render me utterly speechless.
They’ve already made me swear to take them again next year.