Mailbag: New Camera For Disney Under $500?

I often try to write posts that indirectly answer frequently asked questions we receive via email, but for a new weekend series (hopefully…depending upon how many emails we get!), I wanted to do posts that directly answer your reader questions with quick-hit blog posts. I posted about this Friday on Facebook, and thought we’d get started right away with our answer to a reader question. If you have a question you’d like us to answer in a blog post, please send it

Reader Nancy L. asks:

“…I have a point and shoot camera, but it’s several years old and I don’t like the quality and I wasn’t happy with my photos on our last trip…I’m going to WDW this summer and want a better camera before then. I am willing to spend $500 but don’t know what I should buy…”

One thing not mentioned in your question is how serious you are about photography. I ask because, while the equipment you use is important, it’s more important to know how to use whatever equipment you own. Your current point and shoot may be able to do everything you’re looking for in a camera, it may just be a matter of learning more about it and photography and unlocking its potential. To that end, I highly recommend reading the manual if you haven’t already, and grabbing a couple of books on photography. My top recommendation is Understanding Exposure, which is an absolute must-read. Beyond that, I have a list of recommended photography books that will help. Your local library should have most of these, so you might not have to spend any money to capture better photos.

With that said, you might already know all there is to know about your camera and a good amount about photography, and may still be unsatisfied with your camera. Or, you may not want to learn about photography, and just want a camera that does better in auto mode. There’s nothing wrong with that, and while every camera will perform better with the photographer choosing the settings, it’s also true that nicer cameras in auto mode will produce better results than in auto mode than lesser cameras.

Since you’re using your camera for travel, size might be a consideration, so I’m going to provide a couple of different options with that in mind. Essentially, you’re going to be making a trade-off of either smaller size or better quality. Regardless, either solution can capture great photos (I shot all of the photos in this post with an entry level DSLR or point & shoot). As far as budget goes, $500 may seem like a lot, but in the world of photography, it won’t get you too far. In fact, for my two main suggestions, you’re going to be just on the cusp of needing to spend a tad more to accomplish what you need.

Let’s take a look… (more…)

Disney HDR Photography

HDR Photography is becoming increasingly popular, as are Disney HDR photos. The Disney theme parks lend themselves to the whimsical and vibrant post-processing style often associated with HDR photography, making this no surprise. While faux HDR is easier than ever thanks to iPhone apps and other programs, true HDR is still a challenge for many photographers. In this post I share some of my HDR photos, along with a basic look at my post processing workflow, and how HDR can fit into that. I’ll conclude with a look at Photomatix 5, including how it makes HDR easy for everyone.

I receive a lot of questions about photography (mostly people asking about my equipment recommendations) and while I’ve covered a lot of topics and offered a lot of tips in blog posts here, I haven’t really delved into post processing. People often assume my Disney photos are HDR, and that’s typically not the case.

A single blog post on my editing work flow would be impossible since what I do varies on a case by case basis. Generally, I start by opening photos in Adobe Camera Raw (many people use Lightroom–the two programs use the same processing engine, Lightroom is just a bit more robust) and applying a preset based on the type of photo. These presets vary, but the focus of each is recovering highlights, opening shadows, increasing contrast/blacks, and increasing vibrance. I’d say about 95% of my editing comes in Adobe Camera Raw, usually via minor tweaks on the presets I have saved (this phase of the editing usually takes only a minute or two!) (more…)

Using Telephoto Lenses at Disney

Telephoto lenses are usually treated as options for sports, wildlife, or other distant action. Many professional photographers even recommend doing without telephoto lenses, because you should instead “zoom with your feet.” With regard to photography in the Disney theme parks, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard people advise others to only take their telephoto lenses to Animal Kingdom, as that’s the only park where they’ll “need the zoom.” This advice concerning telephoto lenses and the limited idea of what they can do is flat out wrong.

Certainly, telephoto lenses are great options for sports and wildlife photography, but they have far more uses beyond situations where you need more reach. In fact, it’s downright puzzling that serious photographers (especially professionals) wouldn’t understand this. Every lens has separate practical and creative applications. Wide angle lenses give a wider field of view, but they also allow for introducing intentional distortion into scenes, suggesting expanses of space, and clever interplay with lines. 35mm or 50mm prime lenses fairly replicate the human eyes’ field of view, but they also allow for isolating elements of a frame with shallow depth of field. There are examples for every lens, and while the practical uses often define the lens, it’s the ability to harness the creative uses that define the photographer. If every lens has both practical and creative uses, why would a telephoto lens be any different?

It’s not. The difference with a telephoto lens, I think, is that it is much more difficult to use in creative ways, and the practical uses are so apparent that it’s very easy to just be content with using a telephoto lens for ‘zoom.’ I’m not chastising anyone for doing this, as I have done it myself. Telephoto lenses are a challenge to use creatively, and their size often makes it easier to just leave them back in the hotel when you know you won’t need them for their practical purpose. The purpose of this article is to take a look at some of the creative uses, and try to stimulate creativity so you use them for more than just sports, wildlife, and other action. While the examples here will be pulled from the Disney theme parks, the ideas are universally applicable.

Most of these photos are shot with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens (and in some cases, the Nikon 1.7 II Teleconverter). However, the great thing about the types of shots discussed here is that you don’t need a fancy f/2.8 telephoto lens to achieve these results. This is not to say f/2.8 telephoto lenses aren’t great (they are), but for the shots here, a significantly cheaper Sigma 70-300mmTamron 70-300mm VC, or Nikon 55-300mm VR lenses will do the trick, and only cost around $150-400 each. Of course, image and build quality won’t be the same, but they will get the job done.

Let’s take a look at what–besides zoom–telephoto lenses can do! (more…)

Photography Reviews

Looking for the best camera (point and shoot or DSLR), lens, or other photography gear and equipment to buy? This photography buying guide offers helpful “real world” ratings and reviews on photography equipment from an experienced photographer (take a look at my photo galleries to see my work). Although my specialty is landscape and travel photography, the gear reviewed can be used in a whole range of photographic scenarios. If you’re not interested in learning about photography, but just want to find Disney photos to download or print, click here.

Before considering any camera and photography equipment upgrades, it is a great idea to learn about photography. Use online resources (Google can find a tutorial on anything!), but if you want to learn the basics or read something more thorough, we recommend books (read our book reviews). The book we always recommend starting with is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Seriously, get it. All of the expensive equipment in the world won’t help you if you haven’t learned the basics, and that book is the best way to learn the basics. A book is a lot cheaper than a new lens, and if you’re a beginner, that book will improve your photography more than a new lens.

No camera “takes good pictures.” Some cameras can help an adept photographer more than others, but if the person taking the photos doesn’t do things right, photos taken with a $2,000 camera can look worse than photos taken with a camera phone. Likewise, many experienced photographers can take better photos with an iPhone than inexperienced photographers can with expensive DSLRs on Auto Mode.

The point being, it’s important to learn the fundamentals of photography in addition to buying shiny, new toys. This guide will start by providing resources for learning more about photography (the most important step) and then reviews and information concerning buying more tools to improve your photography. (more…)

What’s In My Camera Bag?

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I have a not-so-shocking confession: I love cameras and photography gear. When I open up a box with a new photography toy, I’m like a child on Christmas morning; when I finally visited the B&H Supercenter in New York recently, I was like a kid in a candy shop (although, oddly enough, the thing I found most captivating was the inventory conveyor system-thing). I have tested out a lot of photography toys, and I’ve reviewed a number of them here. Still, a pretty common question is regarding what gear I use when I go to the parks.

Obviously, I don’t regularly use (or even own) all of these things. I do have way too much camera gear scattered around our house (or so I’m told!), but not everything comes with on a trip. There are only a few items typically in my camera bag, and these items are more or less the same on each trip I take, unless I’m borrowing a new toy, trying to travel light, or just looking to do something different. The photo above shows my camera bag (Lowepro Flipside 300) with all of my regular gear in it.

I thought it would be worthwhile to do a post on what’s in my camera bag, in case the more comprehensive photography reviews page we have is overwhelming. Plus, so long as I keep this updated, now I can just email a link to people rather writing up a list each time people ask!

Here’s what I generally carry in my camera bag… (more…)