Monday, January 7, 2013

Secret Portrait Spot at a Small World

Every night at Disneyland, just when it gets dark, there is a countdown and then the facade of the Small World ride suddenly bursts with bright and colorful lights.

It's a great background for a photo but in all the years we've gone to Disneyland, I've never been able to capture it satisfactorily until now.

The shot above might look like a studio composite/overlay job but it's not.  Actually I did composite it, but only because I had to combine the best facial expressions.  It is otherwise captured in camera.  Here's how we did it.

In previous years, I've tried to get a shot of us in front of the Small World lights.  Here are a couple.  This one is from December 2009.

For this one I used a Nikon D80, and then used a bare off-camera SB-800 flash triggered with Nikon CLS Advanced Wireless Lighting in TTL mode.  I first set the exposure for the background, tried to get the subjects in a dark spot, then used the flash to bring up the subjects' exposure to normal.  Even though the shutter was dragged to 1/25, it's fairly sharp because the subjects are lit only by the flash, so the effective "shutter speed" for them is the flash duration.

This one is from December 2011:

Here I used the LX5.  This time, to illuminate the subjects, I used the Lastolite Brolly Grip handheld umbrella.  The light looks nicer thanks to the Brolly Grip, but there was a little too much ambient on them, which meant that I risked blur with the slow shutter speed (1/10) and indeed that's what happened.

Fast forward to 2013.  This time I looked around the Small World and found the perfect spot for a portrait.  In front of small world, there is a shop.  Behind the shop is a small veranda.  There was no one there and it provided a clear vantage point from which to see the Small World lights.  Not only that -- the shop's exterior wall is painted in a relatively neutral color.  I could easily bounce the flash from it.  Perfect!

From there all I had to do was frame the shot, set the exposure for the ambient, then let TTL take care of illuminating us.  I used a Nikon D600 (reviewed here) with the Nikon 28-105 3.5-4.5D (reviewed here) on a Dolica carbon fiber tripod (still reviewing).  I set the self-timer to fire 9 shots then just hoped for the best.

In post, I adjusted the color temperature of the light on us to make it look warmer and thus more similar to the actual lights.

We had time to take another portrait of just me and my wife.

There you have it.  Get your Small World portrait before this becomes common knowledge!  And you heard it here first. :)