World of Color is a fountain-based nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventure (Disneyland Resort). Since the show debuted in 2010, the best World of Color viewing spots has been a hot topic online. This is understandable, as the show remains incredibly popular and dining packages, FastPass, and frequently changing seating “zones” make it difficult to comprehend just how World of Color seating works.
A lot has been previously written about the various seating zones for World of Color, and even though some of this information is now obsolete, I recommend reading this guide put together by posters on the MiceChat forums. It provides a nice frame of reference if you’re unfamiliar with World of Color, and covers ground with regard to the main Paradise Park seating area that I won’t cover in this article. Just keep in mind that the seating areas have changed since that guide was written, so disregard the color designations on the map. With the advice in this article, you won’t need to worry about those designations, anyway.
This article is best read with the World of Color soundtrack playing, so fire it up and let’s get started!
Within Paradise Park, not all spots are created equal. I’m not going to spend a ton of time dissecting all of the spots within Paradise Park, because I have a clear favorite and I think once you’ve seen the show from that spot, it’s tough to watch it anywhere else in Paradise Park. Plus, after that spot, I think the differences between other locations isn’t all that significant.
My favorite spot in Paradise Park is the front row. More specifically, at the edge of the zone that extends farther out into Paradise Bay (if you can’t visualize that, it’s where R6 and Y5 meet on this map). Unfortunately, this area is typically part of the VIP/reserved seating, and even then, it can be difficult to get this spot. Since this became my go-to spot, I’ve been able to snag it almost every time I watch World of Color. To get it, you need to get a FastPass, preferably for the last showing of World of Color (if that’s not what’s being distributed, ask a Cast Member for a later FastPass). This is important because the last show is significantly less crowded than the first one, so it will be easier to get a spot here.
We usually return to view the show about 20 minutes before it starts, walking right up to the FastPass return. From there, just wander until you get to the front boardwalk. There are ropes up all over the place, making this a veritable maze, so if you encounter these ropes or a Cast Member who won’t let you proceed, turn around and try going the other direction. Eventually, you should be able to make your way down to the front without issue. At present, I don’t know if this area is open to the general public or is supposed to be just VIP/reserved, but for the last show, it is typically pretty empty up front, so it’s unlikely Cast Members will care if you go up there.
This area is the best spot to view World of Color because it puts you right in the middle of the action, almost immersing you in the show. There aren’t heads in the way, and you are right up within spitting distance of the fountains. The first time we watched World of Color, it was from much further back, and I thought the show was only so-so. After watching it from the front the second time, I gained a much greater appreciation for the show, and now it’s a must-see. (I really can’t wait to see the new ‘Winter Dreams’ version of World of Color this Christmas!) World of Color is much more about the visuals than it is about storytelling, so having the best view of these visuals is the key to enjoying it. One note: you will get wet in this spot. Depending upon the direction of the wind, you may get soaked. I always put a camera poncho on my DSLR when I photograph the show from here, and usually wear a poncho, too.
If for some reason you can’t get this spot or don’t want it because you don’t want to get wet, I recommend trying for a spot as close to front and to the middle of Paradise Park as possible, towards the Golden Zephyr side rather than the bridge side. Within each section, go for a front row spot so no one is in front of you, and keep an eye out for obstructions. There are a lot of poles, lattice, etc. in Paradise Park (see the photo below to get an idea of all the clutter with which you’ll have to contend), so you’re pretty much guaranteed something in your view, but try to keep these obstructions towards the edge of your viewfinder when composing your shots. That will be easier said than done. At least the Content Aware tool in Photoshop removes this junk well!
The further back you go, the less immersed in the show you’ll feel. However, on the plus side, you will be able to see the projections better. In fact, I think the optimal view of the projections is actually all the way back outside of Paradise Park, with your back almost against the Little Mermaid dark ride building. We watched from this location once, and I was surprised at just how much more clear the projections looked. I’m of the opinion that the water and other effects matter more than the projections, but if you care more about them, you might want to consider a spot in Paradise Park near the back. Had “Glow with the Show” caught on, I might feel differently about the view further back, but unfortunately, it didn’t.
Assuming you forget to get a FastPass or don’t want to view from Paradise Park, there are a few other options. The first of these is becoming more and more popular, and that’s the bridge to the boardwalk side of Paradise Pier. It seems like you used to be able to grab these spots at the last minute, but now this spot requires a little advance planning. We recommend getting here about 30 minutes in advance if this is the spot you want. I like this spot for photography because you get a great view of the fountains without any obstructions, and also can include the crowd watching World of Color from Paradise Park as a bit of a human element. The only real downside to this spot is that you’re viewing the projections from the side, so they don’t look as good.
Continuing further towards the boardwalk, the best place in the park to actually sit and watch World of Color is Cove Bar. This one requires even more advance planning, as there are only a few tables at the edge of the water view, and they’re popular. The last time we viewed World of Color from here, we arrived about an hour and a half in advance. The biggest strength of this spot is that you can eat Lobster Nachos and have a beer while enjoying World of Color. Although medical professionals were initially concerned that people might OD on awesomeness if they simultaneously consumed Lobster Nachos and watched World of Color, scientists have since confirmed that it is safe to do both at the same time. So you can rest easier. In terms of the view, its strengths and weaknesses are similar to the bridge location above. The view of the projections is slightly worse from here, though.
Paradise Pier’s Boardwalk on the benches in front of California Screamin’ is another option. We don’t really care for this location, but if you want a peaceful spot and all you care about is the fountains, this area is solid. You won’t be able to make out many of the projections, and the audio is not as good back here. As far as photography goes, I think this spot isn’t good because you lose Mickey’s Fun Wheel as an anchor to the photos (the best you can get is the side of it…and then you can see its infrastructure, as above). Again, we don’t recommend this spot, but if you really hate crowds, it might have appeal.
One final wild-card location is the viewing deck from Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. This spot is only for guests of the hotel and requires a room key to access (it used to be only for guests staying on Disney Vacation Club points, but on our last non-DVC stay, our room keys worked for access). I know this location is not going to be an option for most of you, but even many hotel guests don’t know about this location, so it’s worth including as a “reminder” of sorts on the off-chance that you’re staying there. Last time we were up here, we were literally the only ones on this deck. The view isn’t perfect, but it’s unique and there are no crowds!
Like Fantasmic, World of Color has multiple elements that call for different approaches to photography. In my Fantasmic Photography Guide, I indicated just how difficult it is to photograph Fantasmic. Fortunately, unlike Fantasmic, it’s generally fairly easy to get halfway decent photos of World of Color. Still, to get the quality of photos in this post, you do need good equipment and technical knowledge of manual settings.
For point and shoot users or DSLR owners without that technical knowledge, my best recommendation is to put your camera in “landscape” or “night landscape” mode (the names may vary based on the camera you’re using, but they should sound something like those). Night landscape mode is the better option, but you need to hold your camera as steady as possible if using this mode. If, after a few shots, you find that you’re getting a lot of blurry photos, switch to landscape mode.
The following assumes a working technical knowledge of camera settings and the elements of exposure. I highly recommend reading Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson (and other photography books) and coming back if the paragraphs that follow don’t make sense to you.
For DSLR users, the first question is going to be whether or not to use your tripod and remote shutter release. A lot of photographers do not use a tripod for World of Color, and I think that’s a mistake. The reasoning behind not using one is that the projections are moving, so you need a fast shutter speed to freeze them, and with a fast shutter speed, slight camera shake isn’t an issue. This assumes that you’re most concerned with the projections, and I don’t think that’s the right emphasis. Countless Disney shows have projections–they’re old news. World of Color’s strength is its huge fountains and dancing water. You’ll notice that almost none of the photos in this article highlight the projections, and that’s because I think the best photos of World of Color focus on the vibrant fountains of water. The projections can make for good photos, but more often, they distract from the fountains. Plus, with a tripod you can experiment with longer exposures like the photo below (my long exposure experiments with World of Color have been largely unsuccessful).
You’ll want to use a wide angle lens or possibly even a fisheye lens if you’re in my recommended spot. If you’re farther away, you might consider a mid-range zoom, but chances are a wide angle will still work. I usually use my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or my fisheye lens from the front of the house. I’ve toyed with using a mid-range zoom before for abstract close-ups of the water fountains, but I’ve never been satisfied with the results. If this is your first time photographing World of Color, you’ll definitely want to go for the wide angle shots.
As for what mode to use, I again advocate the “aperture priority/auto ISO” method from the Fantasmic Guide. In this case, you have more wiggle room, though. Another alternative here that works just as well as going into manual mode, setting your aperture and shutter speed, and then using auto ISO. I do this fairly often, as I’m usually not concerned about increasing my shutter speed when possible.
This is because using a slower shutter speed for these fountains doesn’t negatively affect the photos. Sure, you won’t ‘freeze’ the water, but who cares? The benefit to slowing the shutter speed down a bit is that it allows you to stop down your aperture a bit and also decrease your ISO. Since World of Color is a nighttime show, it is dark during the show, so without a slow shutter speed, your ISO will definitely be in “noisy” territory.
As for specific shutter speed, I recommend somewhere between 1/50th of a second and 1 second for your “minimum” if using the aperture priority/auto ISO method. At the faster end of these speeds, you will be able to freeze the projections, but your ISO will be over ISO 1600. At the slower end of these speeds, the projections won’t be crisp, but you won’t have noise, and the fountains will still look great. My most common shutter speed when photographing World of Color is around one-quarter of a second. I think this is the sweet spot–maybe slightly faster.
For aperture, I like to stop down just a bit. If you’re using a wide angle lens, this isn’t necessary from a depth of field perspective, but it does help make your images sharper. My Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens is sharp wide open (I still stop it down a bit), but my fisheye doesn’t hit its sharpest until about f/8.
This should keep your aperture below ISO 800 for most of the show, which is good. For metering, I go center-weighted with an exposure compensation of around -1. It’s easier to bring out shadows than it is to recover highlights, which is my reasoning for this. Beyond that, I prefer a dark sky in my World of Color photos (it’s one of the few situations where I don’t try to bring out the blues in the nighttime sky when post processing), because I think that looks better and better emphasizes the color in the fountains. I’ve seen many photos where the photographer tried to have a deep blue night sky in their World of Color shots, and to me, the photos have looked fake and over-processed. Just a personal preference there, though.
The final tip with regard to photography is the most important, and it can almost nullify the whole first section. The absolute best time to photograph World of Color is during its “post-show.” This lasts almost three minutes, and if you watched World of Color in Paradise Park, you should rush down to the front for this show. Everyone else will be leaving, so you will pretty much have the place to yourself (note the lack of people in the above photo!). You might be wondering why, given the relatively small fountain streams for most of the show. The reasons are the great mix of color in the fountains during this post-show, the high ‘bursts,’ and the light illuminating the boardwalk of Paradise Pier.
I highly recommend watching this video (it doesn’t spoil the show like a full video would) before photographing World of Color to memorize the music cues that occur just before the jets ‘burst’ up. The photo below was taken at one of these moments. These moments make for the absolute best photos of the show. If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be this tip. It’s that important!
Hopefully that all doesn’t seem too complicated. Really, shooting World of Color is quite easy once you get the hang of it. Sarah can easily capture good photos of it with her iPhone, and if an iPhone camera is capable equipment for this, any real camera is, too! If for some reason you aren’t able to capture your own, you can always borrow one of our World of Color Facebook Cover Photos!
If you’re interested in improving your Disney photography, check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Photography Buying Guide: Everything from Underwater Cameras to Software
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel
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Any World of Color tips you have to add? Will you be photographing World of Color sometime in the future? Do these tips seem helpful to you? Hearing from you is half the fun of these articles, so share your thoughts and any other tips you might have in the comments!