An (@f/1.4) Day at Disneyland


The spirit, the charm, the beauty of Disneyland is not found in its rides. Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion are all nothing in isolation. The magic of Disneyland is found in its quiet moments, its meticulous details layered on over the course of some 60 years, its people who work hard to make it a special place for guests. The attractions may be construed as the meat of the experience, but if so, it takes brilliant chefs, careful seasoning, and delicious side dishes to turn that raw meat into a wonderful meal. Perhaps that’s a flowery metaphor, but I think it fits.

In a day spent at Disneyland, it’s so easy to breeze past what truly evokes a sense of magic about the place as we race from attraction to attraction. Yesterday, I headed to the park with a goal of slowing down, and breaking out of a photographic-funk I’ve been in. Over the past couple of months or so, I felt like I had lost a bit of my fire, simply going through the motions when I did take out my camera. Wanting to regain my intensity and creative spark, I set out with just my Nikon D600 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens (no other lenses; no tripod–nothing else) and gave myself an assignment to capture something creative and interesting, with the ‘threat’ hanging over my head that I’d be doing a blog post today with 10 photos no matter what…so I had better come back with at least 10 shots that didn’t suck.

Going in, I had no idea what I was going to shoot, but after a couple of shots I decided to up the ante by focusing on those little details rather than E-Tickets, and also leaving my aperture at f/1.4 the entire time. I think the end result is a photo essay that differs in tone, style, and substance from my normal photography. Its a set of photos with which I’m pretty happy, if only because I think it ultimately did break me from that funk, and has me eager to head back and try some other new ideas.

With that, I’ll shut up and let the photos speak for themselves from my f/1.4 ‘Day at Disneyland’ yesterday… (more…)

The Ultimate Guide to the Goats of Disneyland


Disneyland’s best attraction. Instagram’s top photo spot in the world. A trending topic on Twitter for a record 37,945 days. The sole subject of an upcoming edition of the Guinness Book of Records. Yes, of course I’m talking about The Goats of Disneyland. Officially, it’s known as The Goats of Disneyland Park® at the Disneyland Resort® in Disney Big Thunder Ranch® Presented by Brawny®, aka Goat Galaxy. What more can be said about the Goats of Disneyland that hasn’t already been said? Welp, hopefully something, as I have a ton of photos of them to share and need to surround them with some words.

To start, yes, there are actually goats in Disneyland, and not just the Audio Animatronics ones on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The live goats are located in Big Thunder Ranch, along with a slew of other animals, including cows and those cocky sheep. The goat portion of this attraction is informally known as “Goat Galaxy” by its many fans and anyone who is even remotely cool. If you’ve missed them on your past visits to Disneyland (shame on you) don’t feel too bad, as most guests overlook this hidden gem of an area.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, “gee, Tom, why would I take time out of my limited vacation schedule to go see goats, when I can see them literally just about anywhere?” You can also play Wii carnival games at home and get pineapple ice cream all over the place, but that doesn’t stop you from waiting in long lines for Toy Story Midway Mania or Dole Whips, does it? As with those things, there’s something to be said for the Disney experience of interacting with goats. If that’s not enough to sell you on seeing the goats…uhh…they are magical goats that poop pixie dust?

Honestly, this isn’t so much an “Ultimate Guide” as it is a bunch of photos of Goat Galaxy with me making attempts at humor that will probably fall flat. You’re probably wasting your time by reading the rest of this article… (more…)

Scenes from Disney Parks: “Sea of Dreams”

It’s been a while since my last ‘Scenes from the Disney Parks’ post, but one of my favorite songs started playing in iTunes the other day while I was editing photos, and this idea just struck me. The result is this set of photos and another advertisement post begging you all trying to convince you to visit Tokyo DisneySea. Before we get to the photos, I implore you: please watch this video:

That is the commercial for Tokyo DisneySea’s 5th Anniversary, along with the anniversary theme song that I referenced above (here’s a higher quality, Japanese version of the commercial). For me, this commercial fully encapsulates the spirit of Tokyo DisneySea, and why it’s such a special place. I think this commercial will resonate with old school fans of Walt Disney World, especially EPCOT Center, and you’ll probably see why Tokyo DisneySea reminds me a lot of EPCOT Center, despite being very different thematically. If this commercial doesn’t make your eyes water a bit or make you want to visit Tokyo DisneySea, there’s really nothing I can write or show you that will convince you otherwise. (YOU ARE SIMPLY SOULLESS! ;) )

My goal with this set of photos was to capture the romanticism of Tokyo DisneySea in a similar manner as what’s conveyed so eloquently in that commercial. I know that my normal vibrant style of photography doesn’t smack of ‘romanticism’, but hopefully the photos offer scenes you feel you could step inside with a loved one, feeling the glow of the sun or the warmth of the lights during an evening in the park.

All photos in this post were captured with my Nikon D810 DSLR–check out my full Nikon D810 Review for more details about the camera. I also have more sample photos from the D810 here. You can click on each photo to view it in high resolution and a larger size in my gallery (please do that–WordPress compresses photos and they really lose some of their impact) and to see EXIF data on it.

If you’re a casual reader not interested in photo jargon, hopefully you still enjoy this new set of photos from Tokyo DisneySea! (more…)

Luigi’s Flying Tires Closing at Disney California Adventure

As Disney announced today that Luigi’s Flying Tires will close on February 16, 2015 to make way for a new attraction opening in 2016, we thought it would be fun to look back at this Cars Land attraction that hasn’t exactly been the most popular with guests, but is an attraction that we’ve loved. We’ll start with some new commentary on the current attraction and some thoughts about the future, with our opening weekend photos below that.

Luigi’s Flying Tires is a ride in Cars Land that opened in June 2012 as part of Disney California Adventure 2.0 at Disneyland Resort. Even prior to the attraction opening, it was reportedly plagued with issues, from the last minute removal of a spin control to the last minute addition of beach balls to spice things up (later removed to reduce load/unload times) to additional guest instructions by Cast Members to explain how to operate the tires by shifting weight and leaning slightly to get the tire to change directions while still hovering. Despite all of these modifications, many guests have still had a difficult time getting their tires to hover, and have spent much of the attraction sitting in place.

We honed our strategy for Luigi’s Flying Tires early-on, and there was about a 1 minute learning curve on figuring out just how much to lean to achieve the best movement. We’ve had a blast with the attraction as a result, and have done it dozens of times over the last couple of years. This has been particularly true more recently, as waits have been non-existent because of other guests having a more difficult time operating tires and the attraction garnering poor word of mouth. (more…)

My 10 Favorite Disney Photos of 2014

Continuing the tradition of my year-end top 10 photos post, I wanted to share 10 of my favorite* Disney Parks photos from 2014. Normally, I share some thoughts about my growth and failings as a photographer in this year-end recap, but I already shared my thoughts at length on My 10 Favorite Non-Disney Photos of 2014 post.

Rather than re-write a variation of that, you can head over to that post and read my rambling, if you really care. Since most of you are probably here just for the photos, not my words, and because I need to wrap this post up quickly and get some things done before tonight, I’ll cut to the chase here.

Click any photo to view it large via SmugMug… (more…)

Scenes from Disney Parks: Reflections of Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve! Hopefully you’re done with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, present wrapping, making cookies, and are snuggled up at home by the fire watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. My plan for a quiet Christmas Eve calls for a traditional viewing of that (plus A Muppet Family Christmas, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Bishop’s Wife, Christmas Vacation, Elf, and It’s a Wonderful Life, for all of you keeping score at home…), but first I wanted to share a quick post with you. Last Christmas Eve, I shared a post about Country Bear Christmas, something with a lot of personal meaning to me. I thought I’d continue the tradition this year with something else I love: rain.

I’ve spent a decent part of the last month or so in the pouring rain, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Really. When it starts raining in the Disney Parks, other guests start heading towards the exits, leaving those who are willing to “brave” the precipitation the parks at their prettiest (save for perhaps when the parks are snow-covered, which I have yet to see) and least crowded. This is especially true at Christmas-time, when the reflections of the lights form long streaks of light on the ground.

If you only focus on the soggy feet or soaked shirt, it probably doesn’t seem worth it to stick around once the rain starts falling. However, if instead of heading for the exits, you take a moment to pause and soak up not just the rain drops but the serene scenes of the park, you’ll notice there’s beauty all around you. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like a ton of fun to get soaked in a Disney theme park, but trust me: it’s worth it for the beauty…or for the shorter lines, in the event that you don’t care about the “extra” beauty and would rather just enjoy the beauty when it’s nice out!

You can click on each photo to view it larger (and with high resolution) in my gallery and to see the camera settings I used. All photos in this post were captured with my Nikon D750 DSLR and Nikon D810 DSLR.

Hope you enjoy the photos. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your families! (more…)