Monday, March 31, 2014

Skies on Fire

If you read regularly, then you know I've posted this sort of shot before. But since I seem to have the worst luck being at the Disneyland Resort on the day of a grand sunset, I have no hesitation in milking those few times where I have captured spectacular sunsets as much as I can! So here's a version zoomed in a little more.  The skies are breathtaking, and though they look superimposed, I assure you that on this particular day, they really were that vibrant!  It's not something you see too often in California, but when it happens, I certainly appreciate it!

Another shot of Paradise Pier with the skies ablaze in the evening.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Soarin' to the Future

If rumors are to be believed, Soarin' Over California will be receiving a facelift in the not-too-distant future.  New footage was recently shot over the Disneyland Resort, and there have been whisperings of updated scenes and high definition projection.  Whether these are true, or what parts are true, I can't really say. But I will say that I'm excited by the prospect of the updates. 

Soarin' was a huge step forward in the motion simulator experience when it opened with Disney California simply because it was so huge. But in that time, high definition has evolved leaps and bounds, and the central premise of the ride--a visual spectacular across this great state--has grown a bit technologically stale.  It's still a great ride, but with televisions now being offered in the 4k range, it doesn't wow as much compared to before.  I have good faith that the upcoming improvements will change that, though, whenever they come!

Soarin' Over California on a sunny summer day.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Golden Afternoon

This lovely magic hour shot was taken in the middle of last year from Tarzan's Treehouse.  There are lots of little details all throughout Disneyland, and they change in character from different points of view.  From the ground, this second story deck might not even be that noticeable, save as a facade piece. But from above, and slightly closer, it's transformed into a lovely sitting area and a great perch from which to take in the park, read a book, or enjoy a relaxing afternoon beverage.  Such warmth and hometown qualities are what really draw me to the Happiest Place on Earth!

An upper level porch above the River Belle Terrace.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Rumbling Mine Train

It's really nice to have Big Thunder Mountain Railroad back. That whole area of the park was much too quiet during the year plus that the ride was under refurbishment. But now that that things are up and running again, the familiar screams of excitement echo throughout this nook of Frontierland. 

The refurbishment has also brought a beautiful fresh new coat of paint on the theming, and the mining town of Big Thunder has been rebuilt and re-christened as Rainbow Ridge, in honor of the attraction that occupied this area decades ago, before Big Thunder Mountain came along.  Everything is quite lovely, and the return of the attraction also means guests get to return back to the exciting times of the Wild West, when railroad was king, and harrowing adventure lurked around every corner!

A mine train rolls into the station after the wildest ride in the wilderness!

Prospective riders wait for a train as the beautiful buttes of Big Thunder stand in the background.

Train #7 rolls through the charming town of Rainbow Ridge.

Making that final turn back to the station.

Rocketing down a helix comes engine #3!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Carthay Dining: Return of the Fourth

It's been a while since I've done a blog post featuring food from the Carthay Circle Restaurant. If you missed my three previous editions, click these links.  But in this installment, I actually got to have dinner inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant for the first time ever.  My two previous times were for lunch.  In addition, we were seated in the main dining room, a gorgeous, soaring space with a lot of motifs devoted to Snow White.  On top of it all, the whole meal was a spur of the moment event--I was meeting up with some friends, who were meeting up with their friend, who had originally planned on dining solo. But we insisted on joining her, and the restaurant was able to accomodate, and the next thing we knew, we were devouring delicious delicious food!

The main dining room has a large, open, and opulent interior.

Rich mahogany, soft fabrics, and warm "candlelight" accent a beautiful space.

Sauteed Squash Raviolis: Forest Mushrooms, Savoy Cabbage and Imported Truffle Butter

Thick Cut Pork Chop: Thyme Roasted Pears, Brussels Sprouts and Brandy Thyme Jus

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Sinister Spy

Last year, when I got my Nikon D600, I made a mental list of scenes I've shot in the past with my old D300 that I wanted to shoot again, taking advantage of the newer and more powerful sensor and full frame capabilities of my new camera.  They didn't necessarily have to be the exact same shots, but they typically were the same subjects.  One of them was the Evil Queen of Snow White fame, who peeks behind the curtains every half minute or so to scowl upon the people in Fantasyland below.

Over the weekend, I finally remembered this task, so set myself over to Fantasyland after the park had closed to try to get a zoomed in view of Disney's first villain.  The resulting photo below actually has a more complicated set-up than might first appear.  My first few shots were unsatisfactory, because getting castle walls and tile roofs to be properly exposed meant that the queen was blown out in highlights.  All that would appear through the curtains was a white orb of light.  Although I could have addressed this by taking two exposures--one longer exposure to get the architecture and one shorter one to capture the queen, I decided to challenge myself by trying to get a balanced shot in one try. 

To do so, I mentally timed how long the queen peeped through the curtains, compared to how long she was hidden behind, then took several shots that overlapped the two timeframes.  Knowing that Queen Grimhilde was a source of very bright illumination compared to the rest of the scene, I timed it so that she occupied a small segment of the exposure time.  So even though the majority of the shot has the curtains closed at her position, the brief second and a half (out of ten) when she appeared was more than enough to imprint the image onto the sensor.  And with that, I was able to get in one shot what might used to take two!

The Evil Queen watches over all at night.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Pyrotechnic Wonderland (part 1)

So this past Sunday evening, I stopped by Disneyland to meet up with a group of photographers with a similar passion for Disney parks and photography.  This was a departure from my usual habits, for though I'll go shooting with a friend every once in a while, I'm usually on my own when I'm photographing around the park.

What sparked my interest about this event, though, was its focus on taking fireworks.  I'd like to think that my photography is generally good (though there are many photographers much better than I), but for some reason or another, I've never been able to consistently take good fireworks photos.  It's just something I've never bothered to figure out.  But on this night, though, I would have the opportunity to pick the brains of other photographers, including some esteemed photogs--like Michael Greening and Gregg Cooper--whose names I'd always heard of but never really met or interacted with.  Plus, it would be a cool chance to meet new friends with similar interests!

Well, I definitely got some decent pointers, and coupled with a wonderful location next to the Partners Statue (from which I had never watched the fireworks before), did manage to churn out some shots that I'm actually happy with.  Of course, I have a long ways to go before I reach the talent of the Disney park fireworks masters out there, but it's a nice goal to strive toward and a fun subject to work on.  And it's nice to have found a community full of other passionate photographer who can push me to improve.

Anyway, here are the first few shots I've processed. I hope you like them!

A not-so-hidden Mickey reveals itself in the nighttime sky at the start of Remember... Dreams Come True.
One trick I learned was to put the camera in bulb mode, trigger the shutter to open the camera up for exposure, then wait for a pyro stream to reach its full extent before closing the shutter.
When coupled with an ISO of 100 and an aperture of f/8, it provided some nice balance.
Of course, some shots were still over-exposed.  It takes a while to get the hang of.
But the benefit of the baseline ISO shooting at a not-so-wide aperture was that I wouldn't have to worry about the ambient scene being over exposed and could simply let the fireworks paint the scene for me.
Effectively, this became an exercise in light painting, except that I wasn't manipulating the brush!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Pirate's Parrot

Every once in a while, I'm actually able to get a low light shot on a dark ride to a satisfactory sharpness.  This shot of the parrot at the front of Pirates of the Carribean is one example. 

It helps to have a fast telephoto zoom less.  Photography is all a function of how much light is being transferred onto the camera sensor (or film strip).  Either the shutter can be open longer to allow light to be captured for a longer period of time, or the aperture opens more widely (indicated by a smaller number in the denominator of the f/stop) for the same purpose.  However, unless both the camera and the subject are perfectly still, a longer exposure time can result in some sort of blur.  Thus, wide apertures become key to capturing low light images. 

Photographers will often refer to a lens with a wide aperture as being a "fast lens."  This is because the wider aperture will allow for a quicker shutter speed for the same exposure.  Understanding the inverse relationship between shutter speed and aperture is the key for a beginning photographer to make the transition away from simple "automatic" shooting and into more focused and intentional photography.  Then one can start to move on to how ISO factors into the equation, the effects that different apertures can provide on different photos, and issues like white balance and exposure bracketing.  I suppose I'll muse about those items in a future post...

A close-up of the parrot at Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Route 66-Degrees

Cars Land at night is a magical place, but also challenging to shoot. The huge contrast between the bright and multi-colored neon and the darker sky and rockwork makes for both difficult white balance and proper exposure, at least in one shot.  But shooting in RAW format does help a lot, especially with my full-frame Nikon D600, which records a lot of information onto the digital file. 

In the processing below, a lot of suppression of highlights has been plugged in, along with an increase in shadows to bring out the darker spots, and some digital selective neutral density filtering to alter the exposure across a gradient to more evenly balance the light levels in the composition. 

Ultimately, there are still some shortcomings--the neon is still technically over exposed, and the glows over the Cadillac Range are slightly unnatural.  But I was able to process this shot in just a few minutes, as opposed to the half hour or more a similar shot might have taken me a couple of years ago via HDR.  That has really cemented my turn away from high dynamic range photography over the past year--it all boils down to my laziness!  (And so the secret is spilled.)

An angled view down the main drag at Radiator Springs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Buena Vista View

Coming back toward the entrance to Disney California Adventure one evening with a friend, I spied a nice angle of the Carthay Circle Restaurant and Buena Vista Street beyond.  In the quiet nighttime, with no one else around, it was a most serene and beautiful sight.  My friend had already stopped to take his angle, and I followed suit.  All in all, it was a "good view" indeed!

A peek of Buena Vista Street from the far side of the park.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Main Street Signage

Main Street U.S.A. is full of lovely little details that harken to a nostalgic, turn-of-the-century (the 20th century, that is) smalltown feel.  Among those are the signs that mark multiple shops and facades, some for real stores and some for imaginary venues.  They add a rich texture to this street environment and really provide a warmth that is the heart of the appeal of Main Street!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Moonlit Thunder Mountain

This is the longest exposure I have ever taken--a whopping ten minute two second exposure that had to be that long because I intentionally dropped my aperture down low to attain a very extended depth of field and maintain as much sharpness as I could.  The resulting photo showcases the sky almost as though it was daytime, with shimmering blue and violet hues not visible to the human eye during this time of the night.  The moon trying to peak over that outcropping of rock creates a luminous glow, adding to the surreal scene, and the subtle purples of the lighting near the water are emphasized in this extra-extended opening of the shutter.

An ultra-long exposure of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad exposes vibrant color.
I originally was trying to capture a scene long enough to actually capture some star trails.  In the full resolution version of this photo that I have, at 100%, those trails can actually be seen... faintly. But alas, with all the light pollution in Southern California, those few stars that were visible were simply not bright enough to produce any significant lines of light on camera.  Oh well--it would have been a really cool shot, but I'm thinking I won't ever really be able to get such a shot unless all of Orange County suffered a blackout midway through my shot--and I was somehow still allowed to remain inside Disneyland Park!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Quick Pit Stop

Remember when gas was cheap?  Well, just how cheap depends on how old you are.  I am old enough to recall when gas was under a dollar, and leaded gasoline was still sold at gas stations.  Of course, the generation above mine can boast of gas costing half of that in their time.  But I imagine that very few can recall gas being as cheap as the price in the photo below. 

Nowadays, we are firmly entrenched in the three or four dollar per gallon range, with little likelihood of ever returning to the olden days.  But I suppose that's what makes elements like this little gas pump in Condor Flats nostalgic.  Like its older neighbor, Disney California Adventure is a celebration of our treasured past as much as it is a heightened sense of fantasy.  The play upon warm feelings and wistful recollection is what Disney parks do best!

There are many gas pumps at DCA, but this was the original!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mechanical Kingdoms

Recently, the Disney Gallery updated its exhibits with a feature on Disney re-imagined in Steampunk.  Now, the company might be a little late with its embrace of this style, since it seems to have been a sort of trend in counter-culture for many years, now, but the artwork is by no means any less creative.  Disney characters have been reimagined in Steampunk form.  In addition, Disney park concepts that relate to mechanized visions have been put on display.  The result is another fun gallery of novel tapestries of art.

Here are a few of the works on display.

The entry foyer showcases a large amount of artwork for this Mechanical Kingdoms exhibit.

This room is mainly devoted to Disney characters reinvented in Steampunk settings.

Donald and Daisy in a Steampunk submarine.

Scrooge McSteampunk and his nephews, perhaps?

I thought this Steampunk iteration of Pirates of the Caribbean was quite interesting.

In the adjacent gallery space, next to the Disneyland Opera House, park-related props and artwork was set up.

This and the previous photo showcase vehicles utilized in Tokyo DisneySea.

An interesting contraption here, to say the least!

A theme park concept DisneySea's Discover Bay never quite realized.

Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland has a Jules Vernean twist on the future, which relates to the theme.

More conceptual art that never materialized in real theme park form, but is still intriguing!

More concepts from Tokyo DisneySea.

An underwater fantasy mixed into science fiction.
More Jules Vernean imagery to fancy the imagination.

And a western flavor with the concept of industrialized machination.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Little Ol' Mining Town

Well, it's official.  Today, after fourteen months of refurbishment, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as reopened to the general public.  It's a wonderful St. Patrick's Day surprise--though this attraction obviously has no relationship with anything Irish.  On the other hand, both the ride and the holiday are focused around gold, so maybe there's commonality after all!

The prolonged wait may have had some questioning what exactly was taking so long, but those who have been able to ride agree that the restored attraction--with some new enhancements--has made the wait worth it.  After all, everyone loves the wildest ride in the wilderness!

A mine train returns to the quaint mining town of Rainbow Ridge.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leaving Paradise Pier

If I'm at the Disneyland Resort late at night, I'm usually closing out Disneyland Park. It's rare when I find myself in such circumstances at Disney California Adventure, but every once in a while, it happens. 

In this photo, the aim is the capture the tranquility of Paradise Pier. Typically a bastion of activity and excitement during the day, it's a remarkable contrast to see everything still at night. And it's quite relaxing.  Everything is still bright and luminous, but calmer. Much calmer.  It's just... pleasant.

Leaving Paradise Pier, late at night.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lamp at the Shipping Office

In an old recording of the ambient radio transmission broadcast through the queue at the Jungle Cruise, there's a brief call between a Sir Reginald and an outpost colonel, where Sir Reginald complains that supplies are being "delayed by a full month, due to problems with that jungle shipping company."  He seems intent on receiving his shipment, and can't really understand why it hasn't arrived.

This might not be something most people are aware of, unless they're like me and collect Disney park music or have actually heard this part of the recording while waiting in line at the Jungle Cruise dock, but that loop was running through my head when I was snapping this photo.  It's just a little detail, from somewhere next to the jungle, and it sort of conjures up a certain spirit of adventure.  I suppose that means it's right at home in Adventureland!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Signs Aglow

Shooting neon is not exactly simple.  The brightness of the neon lets itself to an underexposure to read clearly in photographic form, but at night, everything else is in darkness and should be overexposed.  The key is finding the right balance, and in the shot below, I would not have been able to recover sufficient ambient lighting on the brick walls and the rocks of Ornament Valley beyond, if I hadn't shot in RAW.  With much more depth and graphical information retained compare to a simple JPEG, RAW photos allow more manipulation and uncovering of photographic data not initially seen.  But this helps bring about a more realistic composition that matches the lighting of real life.  I like how this turned out, and I hope you do too!

Cars Land is aglow with lovely neon signage at night!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Different Bay Bridge

The bridge from Paradise Pier into Pacific Wharf isn't anything spectacular, but it's a nice, pure exercise in structure, and I find a certain beauty to this. Maybe it's my background in architecture, but I often like strolling over this trussed span and admiring the bolted connections, the tension rods, the sleek steel, and the crisp shadows that they create when interplayed with light.  I just like the look of exposed structure!

Come to think of it, it's definitely because of my background in architecture!

Afternoon sunlight creates shadowed patterns on the bridge walkway.

An oblique look at the bridge structure.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Thunderous Return

Last Thursday, I made a post about Big Thunder Mountain, because I hadn't had the opportunity to do so in over a year, and mentioned that it was bound to return soon. Well, it seems that no sooner did that post go public than Disney announced officially that the iconic attraction would be reopening to the general public on Monday, March 17th.

Yes, the work walls are finally down after fourteen long months.  Over the weekend, official Cast Member previews commenced, and this upcoming weekend, Annual Passholders will have their chance to ride this revamped runaway mine train!  Over the past year, the roller coaster track has been entirely replaced, resulting in a buttery smooth ride.  All the scenes and sets have been refurbished, with new paint and spiffied up animatronics.  And most excitingly, a new scene has been installed towards the end of the ride with fantastic new special effects.  So welcome back, Big Thunder Mountain!  It's sure great to have you back!

Nightfall on the final turnaround on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

A closeup of the waterfalls and the turn into the cave.

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