Saturday, April 24, 2010

Disney World, Florida - Had a Blast - Part 2

For part two I’m going to begin with a must have resource for planning your trip to Disney World, “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World - 2010”, by Bob Sehlinger with Len Testa. This is more than your ordinary travel book. This is a resource that goes into great depth on everything you need to know about Disney including many things that you would have never thought you needed to know. With this book you can plan a leisurely casual day at the parks or a full military style strategic plan to see everything in the most efficient way possible.

We only had a little bit of time on Tuesday afternoon after checking in, so we had planned to head to the Animal Kingdom and enjoy some of the attractions before it closed at 6:00 pm. Wednesday we spent at Epcot; Thursday was a full day the Magic Kingdom which was open until 11:00 pm; and finally Friday was Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Planning our days beforehand took some time and this is where the “Unofficial Guide” was a huge help.

Anyway, here’s a list of some our favourites from the week:

Animal Kingdom:

Kilimanjaro Safari – A ride through an African wildlife reservation. We got some extra time on this as we were stopped a couple times due to some animals blocking the trucks. When this happens, all the trucks stop until the animal clears the road. During one of these stops we got up close and personal with a rhino and an ostrich.

Dinosour – We were thoroughly scrambled after this one. This ride shakes you up quite a bit as you’re sent back to the past in order to bring back a living dinosaur. Last I saw the dino was heading towards Downtown Disney.


Test Track – This was our first stop. We liked it so much we got a FASTPASS to come back later to do it again. The ride seemed quite docile at first as you’re put through a series of benign road tests. However that all changes when you’re catapulted into the speed section that takes you up to 60 mph and then throws you into a 50 degree bank turn; hold onto your hat here, literally!

Soarin’ – This was very cool flight simulation ride that makes you feel like your hang gliding over California. However, you really need to get a FASTPASS. The wait time was no less than 60-70 minutes most of the day.

Kim Possible Adventure – This was surprisingly fun. You need to sign up at a “recruitment station” and then head to a designated Kim Possible post to get your assignment. You are given a “Kimunicator” with your mission instructions that take you through the different pavilions to uncover clues to prevent the destruction of the world. Trust me; you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy this.

Living with the Land – The “Unofficial Guide” said this was surprisingly good and they were right. It had much more than we expected.

Illuminations – This is Epcot’s nightly fireworks and laser light show. Be sure not to miss it, but be prepared for the mass exodus of people as the park closes right after. Choose you viewing spot wisely and then make a break for the exit as soon as the show is over.

The Magic Kingdom:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – This, I think, was our favourite. We rode it 3 times; the last time at night. This is a different experience when it’s dark as it seems to go faster. The guy in the car in front of me thought the same thing.

Space Mountain – Disney’s classic roller coaster in the dark. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of roller coasters, and I have not ridden many, but Big Thunder Mountain was so much fun I thought that I should at least try this classic. Also, my wife loves roller coasters and I didn’t want her to miss out on the things that she likes. It was dark, it was fast, it had tight turns, and I was scrambled at the end, man that was fun!

Mickey’s Philharmagic – A fantastic 3D movie that makes its way through a lot of the Disney characters as a result of Donald Duck getting himself in a little bit of trouble.

Liberty Tree Tavern – Plain looking old-time tavern or Inn style common room dining. They serve dinner family style and it’s a lot of comfort food. This was the best meal we had all week. Roast beef, turkey, pork loin, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese and a warm apple crisp and ice cream for dessert. Did I mention the food was totally amazing? Put this tavern on your list as a “must do” when you’re there.

Glass Tile Mosaic at Cinderella’s Castle – The attention to detail is amazing and it’s everywhere in all the parks and resorts at Disney. The glass mosaic mural is one piece that you can’t miss. This mural evidently took 6 artists 2 years to complete.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

Toy Story Mania – 3D shooting gallery at its best. However, unless you want to wait 60 minutes or longer get a FASTPASS. We grabbed a FASTPASS first thing when we got there at around 10:30 am and it was for a 4:00 pm return. We waited over 40 minutes for our first time around. Came back at 4:00 pm with the FASTPASS and we were on the ride in less than 4 minutes

Tower of Terror – 13 story drop; you’re freaking kidding me right? I was not too sure on this one, but again this was one of wife’s favourites. I managed to stay in line without running away and once I was strapped in there was no turning back. It’s called the Tower of Terror for a reason. This was terrifying, but at the same time exhilarating. I screamed just like the little 6 year old girl beside me. I might do it again… depends on what I have for lunch, though.

Photo Stuff as Promised:

I promised some photo advice so here goes. I own a Nikon D300 and a cache of lenses. I was very tempted to take it along with me because that’s what I’ve done every other time I have traveled. However, I decided against it and picked up a little Canon 780IS. All of the photos in this post and the last one were taken with that little camera. I wasn’t looking to make the best photos I could, it was about my wife and I capturing memories of a really fun vacation.

Now, I saw quite a few people walking around with their DSLRs around their necks; some with large zooms and other with small zooms, and either a backpack or shoulder bag. I could relate to their desire to bring their best camera along. However, I have to question the practicality. Having carried my D300 around for days on end I know how much of a hindrance it can be. The trouble is what do you do with your DSLR when you want to go on a ride? A lot of the faster rides have small tight compartments so it’s not that easy to keep it around your neck. There’s also no way I would trust my gear to the “personal items” pouch that’s provided on most ride cars. Space Mountain, for instance, takes some really sharp and fast turns; I’m okay to ride it, but I’m not sure I want to subject my gear to that.

If you decide to head to Disney World my best advice is to leave to your DSLR at home and take your best compact point & shoot. You will feel so much lighter and free to enjoy the park without worrying about your gear.

Last pieces of advice… put your little snappy in “full auto” mode, put yourself in “full vacation” mode then go out and have some fun and create some memories.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Disney World, Florida – Had a Blast – Part 1

Took some time off last week and my wife and I went down to spend a few days at Disney World in Florida. We stayed in the park at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and had a little more than 3 days to enjoy all of the parks and attractions; however, it was not nearly enough time to do everything. To say that we had an absolute blast is a total understatement.

First view of the Grand Floridian when you enter the grounds:

We have been to Disneyland and the California Adventure Park in Anaheim a few times over the past few years with our nephew and it’s always been fun. When we look back to going to Disney World as kids we realized that it really is a “magical” place.  Now, we don’t have kids ourselves, so this was a chance for us to become kids again, for just a little while; besides, we weren’t the only childless adults there.

Below is part one of a review and some suggestions if you’re planning on heading there yourself. Now, since this is a photo blog I’ll also provide some photography advice.

Getting There:

Getting there obviously depends on where you’re coming from. We live in Southern Ontario, but decided to fly out of Buffalo since it was infinitely cheaper than flying out of Toronto, and immigration at the border by car is infinitely easier than the lengthy lines at the Toronto airport.

Once you arrive in Orlando you have to make your way to the Disney Reception area to board the Magical Express which will take you to your resort hotel. This is your first encounter with Disney's "Cast Members" (they don't call them employees). You'll notice a big difference in their attitude towards guests. Disney's "guest experience" is their number one priority, and it shows.

Next, you will line up and wait to board the Magical Express bus designated for your resort. This took some time as there were approximately 350 - 500 guests there already waiting. Disney World is a busy place and you’re going to wait for things so bring some patience with you.

You have the option of having Disney collecting your luggage for you and having it magically appear in your room after you arrive. If you have ever been on a cruise it’s pretty much the same thing. However, many reviews have indicated that it could take up to 3 hours after you check in to receive your luggage. So, if you choose this option and need a change of clothes or something else right away, be sure to pack it in your carry-on bag. We opted to pick up our luggage from the baggage claim and take it ourselves. This way we were sure that our luggage 1) arrived, and 2) made it to our room with us. There were a few others who were doing the same thing, too.

The ride to the resorts from the airport was approximately 35-40 minutes; however, we were treated to an entertaining welcome video and our driver was quite friendly and interactive. Our bus was making stops at a few resorts and the Grand Floridian was the second stop.

View from the poolside:

Checking in at the Grand Floridian was probably the fastest check-in we have ever done, anywhere! One tip though, complete the online check-in prior to arrival as this is what saved us a lot of time. From the time we stepped off the bus to the time were had our room keys was less than 5 minutes; 10 minutes after that we were in our room and getting changed and then heading out to grab some lunch.

View from our balcony:

We were finally there and looking forward to spending some time at the parks.

Drop back here later for a review of the parks which is where I’ll also have some photo advice.


Friday, April 9, 2010

My Take On RAW vs. JPEG

I have been asked recently whether I shoot RAW or jpeg, and why? As I was explaining it I thought it would make a good blog post so I took some mental notes, which turned into written notes, and then ended up here.

This is a topic that generates varying opinions from many photographers, not unlike the Canon vs. Nikon or Mac vs. PC debates. Up front, I shoot RAW. Why? Simplest answer is when it comes to my photos I'm a total control freak. The secondary answer is, like many photographers, I don’t always get things right in camera and can use all of the help I can get. RAW affords me that latitude.

Disclaimer Time: This post is not about me telling you to use one over the other; I’m definitely not a “RAW guru”. I'm only going to explain some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, as I know them. It’s really up to you to decide what you want use and why.

Let's first look at the differences:

RAW Advantages:
  • RAW captures the maximum amount of data possible on the sensor
  • No file compression so there’s no loss of data
  • No compression also means higher image quality
  • Puts you in complete creative control of your image
  • Easier to correct colour and white balance – this is huge since auto white balance, although quite good, does not always get it right
  • 4 stops of exposure control: -2 to +2
  • RAW files allow for a 16 bit image after conversion. This means that you have over 65,000 levels of brightness to work with allowing you more latitude with shadows and highlights
  • Availability of RAW converters that can greatly speed up your workflow (i.e., Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, Aperture, Capture One, Bibble Labs, Nikon’s NX2 and Canon’s DPP… just to name a few) 
RAW Disadvantages:
  • RAW files are completely unprocessed - no saturation, contrast, white balance or sharpness - you need to process it yourself and this can take time; think of RAW as a film negative
  • Proprietary file formats for each camera brand that can only be read by a RAW converter program - (see list of converters above)
  • Larger file size; therefore, you need more storage space
  • Frames per second can be slower - since files are larger it can take longer to clear the camera’s buffer. In addition your burst rate can stall (I discovered this one the hard way and missed a some of the action in a few shoots)
JPEG Advantages:
  • Smaller file size – less storage space required
  • Easy to shoot – the camera takes charge of the processing so you don’t have to think; however, you do have some control over saturation, contrast, sharpness, by setting the parameters in the camera yourself
  • The processing in the newer cameras produce much better jpegs now which means less post processing required
  • Faster frames per second – since the file is smaller the buffer clears faster. There's also less chance of your burst rate stalling
JPEG Disadvantages:
  • Files are compressed which means some data is lost
  • White balance is literally baked into the file and not as easy to correct in post
  • Much more limited ability to correct exposure problems
  • Jpegs max out at 8 bits with only 256 levels of brightness – say goodbye to shadows and highlights if you're not careful
  • Camera is in charge of the processing. Although, you have some control over saturation, contrast, sharpness, by setting parameters in the camera yourself, letting the camera choose how to process the image means you give up some personal creative control
So here are my top reasons for shooting RAW:

Using RAW I know that I'm getting a complete unprocessed file out of my camera that I have total control over (did I mention that I’m a bit of a control freak?).

Mistakes in capture, such as exposure or white balance, can be fixed much more easily with the RAW file; we all make mistakes with exposure sometimes, well at least I do, and RAW allows me more flexibility just in case. For example, I might forget to check my metering mode and settings when I move from inside to outside, which might wreak havoc with my exposure. However, shooting RAW gives me a better chance at fixing my mistakes.

Batch processing – this definitely speeds up my workflow. I have been using Adobe's Lightroom since 2007 and I'm pretty used to its workflow. Lightroom is a formidable program for working with RAW files. I still make the trek over to Photoshop regularly, but 95% of what I do can, and is, done in Lightroom.

I prefer to have as much data to work with as I can. As much as I try, I don't always get it right in camera (are you sensing a pattern here?) this is where RAW is my best friend.

If you shoot RAW is there any reason to switch back to jpeg?

Most definitely! Sometimes your situation dictates what file format is required. For example, I shot in jpeg mode for the Bat Mitzvah shoot that I posted back in early February. Why? We needed to make some prints immediately after the shoot. I was 3000 miles from home, without my computer and without access to Lightroom, so jpeg was a no brainer. I was quite pleased with the output, but still would have preferred to shoot RAW.

Another reason may be shooting sports, birds in flight, or any other fast moving action. You need to ensure that you're getting the maximum frames per second, where jpeg can be faster than RAW, and you will get more jpeg files on one memory card than RAW files. 

Final exposure:

There's nothing magical about shooting RAW; there's advantages and disadvantages, and I prefer the control that RAW affords me. RAW is not going fix a bad photo and it's not going to all of the sudden make you a better photographer. This is one of those areas where if your interested in RAW then you need to do some research, shoot in RAW, develop in RAW, and make your own decision whether you think it's right for you.



Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blue Evening

I had a little bit of time the other night so I grabbed my camera and decided to head down to the water. It was already a little past sunset and I thought since it was getting dark out I could try some longer exposures. While I was driving there, I noticed that the sky has a little bit of drama from the sunset; however, that drama faded quickly by the time I got to my location. No big deal, I was there so I decided to work with what I was given. The light was quickly slipping away and the dramatic sky already made a quick exit,  but there was nice cool feeling to what remained and this is what I captured.

I kept the blue tone as I thought it created a nice moody feeling along with the smooth water and I think the shoreline does a good job of leading you into the photo towards the lighthouse. Specs... taken with a Nikon D300 and 10-24 lens at 24mm @ f14 for 30 seconds.