Walt Disney World at f/2.8

Photographic Innoventions by Scott Thomas

Fast lenses for digital SLR cameras have a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or bigger. Except for the Nifty-Fifty which are 50mm prime lenses at f/1.8, fast lenses are expensive. Most of the lenses in this class are considered some of the best ever made. Over the last three years, I have purchased two f/2.8 lenses which I have enjoyed using at Walt Disney World. The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 DX Ultra Wide Angle and the Nikon 70-200mm VR f/2.8. The following photographs were taken with these lenses at their wide open aperture of f/2.8.

The Tokina has gotten a large following among Disney photographers. For the price of around $650 in either Canon or Nikon versions, this is one of the better bargins in f/2.8 lenses. At it’s widest setting of 11mm, there is some distortion of things near the edge of the frame. To cut down on the distortion, I try to make sure to keep the camera level and perpendicular to what I am photographing.

I found a post to lean against at my favorite counter service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Columbia Harbour House, to take this photo of the ordering area. The lens was able to capture the windowed ceiling, the tall ship paraphernalia on the walls and the cast members and guests ordering their food. I’ll take the fish and chips with a bowl of New England clam chowder, please!

Ordering area for the Columbia Harbour House counter service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Ordering area for the Columbia Harbour House counter service restaurant.
Nikon D70/Tokina 11-16, 1/30s, f/2.8, ISO 720, EV +0.3, 11mm focal length

Night photography at Walt Disney World is very popular as the parks have a whole different look after the Sun goes down. This is one of my favorite views of Spaceship Earth when walking towards the park’s entrance. The colored lights on the palm trees were not as bright as I have photographed them in the past making the geodesic structure the star of the photo. At f/2.8, I was able to hand hold the camera at 1/15th of a second using a reasonable ISO of 900.

Spaceship Earth in Epcot's Future World, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Spaceship Earth in Epcot’s Future World.
Nikon D70/Tokina 11-16, 1/15s, f/2.8, ISO 900, EV -0.3, 11mm focal length

For those who have vacationed at Walt Disney World in December, you know it can get cold at night. Returning back to my room in the All Star Sports resort late one night, I took this image of the steam rising off of the main pool area. I thought the sign made a good foreground subject for the story I wanted to tell.

No Lifeguard on Duty as steam rises from the Main Pool at the All Star Sports resort, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
No Lifeguard on Duty as steam rises from the Main Pool at the All Star Sports resort.
Nikon D70/Tokina 11-16, 1/15s, f/2.8, ISO 900, EV +0.7, 11mm focal length

The Nikon 70-200 VR, VR is for Vibration Reduction which is what Nikon calls their Image Stabilization system, has long been considered one of Nikon’s all time best lenses. Nikon recently updated this lens with the new VR II version going for around $2,400. I picked up my VR I version used for less than half of that so deals can be found on eBay and other used lens websites.

Fast lenses have one more trait I should mention: they are heavy. The Nikon 70-200VR weighs in at a little over three pounds. While I have no trouble using it without a tripod, in low light situations like Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I used my tripod like a monopod (the tripod legs were folded in) to help steady this image of Mickey Mouse welding his fire sword to oust the dragon from his dream. Just a note, this is one lens where you leave the VR on when used on a tripod or monopod.

Mickey Mouse welding his Fire Sword during Fantasmic! in Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Mickey Mouse welding his Fire Sword during Fantasmic!
Nikon D70/70-200VR, 1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, EV 0, 140mm focal length

The Festival of the Lion King does allow the use of flash photography during the show but, by using the lens at f/2.8 and zooming in, I had more than enough light to take this photo during the Can You Feel the Love Tonight duet scene. This shows the nice bokeh the Nikon 70-200VR creates when used wide open.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight duet during the Festival of the Lion King show in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Can You Feel the Love Tonight duet during the Festival of the Lion King show.
Nikon D70/70-200VR, 1/50s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, EV 0, 200mm focal length

I have tried for years to take a good photo of the fire dancer during the heina scene of the Festival of the Lion King show. By focusing on the performer’s face, I picked up this photograph of some lingering fire on his tongue. The brightness of the fire gave me the fast shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second.

Fire dancer performing during the Festival of the Lion King show in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Fire dancer performing during the Festival of the Lion King show.
Nikon D70/70-200VR, 1/1600s, f/2.8, ISO 800, EV 0, 180mm focal length

These two lenses allowed me to get photos of higher quality than I have been able to in the past. Yes, they are expensive but you can rent them for a fraction of their costs.

Scott's "Photographic Innoventions" blog focuses on intermediate to advanced photography concepts and techniques relevant for Point and Shoot and Digital SLR cameras.

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5 Replies to “Walt Disney World at f/2.8”

  1. Hello Scott! The autofocus was pretty spotty in the dark rides with the 50 1.4. I basically had to use manual focus most of the time. It could have been because I was using an older version (not the G lens) or most likely my inexperience with it! Also, hand held shots were really hard to get. You don’t realize how much the movement of the cars can ruin a shot with the slow shutter speeds, which are necessary to allow for a correct exposure for some of the darker scenes. My monopod was my best friend on those rides. Do you think that the 30 1.4 would work better?

    I would have tried to use the 70-200VR at American Idol, but we were in the first row. Maybe next time 🙂

    Scott replies; Ray, a lot of the flickr Disney guys say to use manual focus on the dark rides. They focus for x number of feet and hope come out. When it works you get great ones. No cost in trying! Do you have some of your shots posted?

  2. Hello, Scott! This is exactly the kind of photography that I love. Ofcourse, it’s also more difficult to master! On my trip in March 2009, I rented the Nikon 50mm 1.4 and the Nikon 70-200mm 2.8. Both are fantastic lenses. My main interest with the 50mm was getting photos on the dark rides and I was moderately successful. The 70-200mm was for the indoor shows and it really did an excellent job. It’s heavy but completely worth it! The only thing to keep in mind when you are using apertures less then 2.8 is a limited depth of field. I got some great pictures with the 50mm 1.4 at the American Idol Experience but when shooting at f1.8 unless everyone was standing right next to each other, people slightly in front or slightly behind would be out of focus. The same on the dark rides if you want a whole group of objects in focus.

    Scott replies: Good points, Ray. Especially on the 50mm f/1.4 lens. The depth of field is very slim at f/1.4 so focus needs to be dead on on the subject. How did the auto focus work on the dark rides?

    I used the 70-200VR at American Idol but choose not to use one for this article. It really shined during the individual performances, photographing the judges and at the end when all the contestants are together on stage.

  3. I love your photos! I could look at them all day one after another. AWESOME!

    Scott replies: Barrie, Lisa and I thank you very much! We enjoy bringing the photos to all of you.

  4. Thank you for your hard work in putting together all this info for us! It is great, because I am in process of buying the Nikon 17-55mm 2.8 lens which I am looking forward to!

    Your pix are all fantastic…but especially the ‘fire’ one at the Lion King show…very impressive!
    Thanks,
    Becky*

    Scott replies: Thanks, Becky. I used the 17-55 f/2.8 for a wedding. Very nice lens. Sharp and I got excellent colors. The bride was very happy.