Scenes from Disney Parks: Tokyo Disneyland at Night
I’ll get to the Tokyo Disneyland night photos in a minute, but first I had some random thoughts one night while I was out shooting. I have no where better to put them than here, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Scroll down to the first photo if you don’t care about my philosophical photo geekery.
One of the greatest challenges in photography is confidence. It afflicts photographers good and bad, both in terms of self-doubt and over-confidence. I’ve been plagued by both at various times. (I realize I wrote as if this is IBS or some other medical condition…) Nothing is worse for a photographer’s growth than over-confidence, and it’s pretty easy for this to occur, especially in the social media era. Most people only share kind words on photo-sharing sites, and after you’ve read so many comments telling you how great you are, there’s a tendency to believe it.
There are a few problems with that. First, many people viewing photos are non-photographers, and they are confusing a scene they find beautiful (Cinderella Castle, for example) for a photo they find beautiful. Second, most photographers who can differentiate between a pretty scene and a well-done photo won’t. They are commenting to be nice and social. The end result of this constant stream of positive reinforcement is a sense of complacency. You achieve legendary status in your own mind, and lose the edge that drives self-improvement. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I’ve had this sense of over-confidence.
Other times, I have been stuck in a rut at least partially because I felt my photos were inferior to others’ work. I would look at great photos by others, and feel mine didn’t measure up. I’d second guess myself after the fact, wondering why I chose a certain lens, aperture, etc., or just otherwise (nit)picking a series of photos apart until I just abandoned a folder of images altogether. (I still have a couple folders of entirely untouched photos from weekend trips last year.) This, in turn, led me to feel less confident in the field, and so the cycle continued.
Most of the time, I’m at neither end of the spectrum. I don’t think I’m the best at anything I do, but I want to be the best at everything I do. Calling this the middle ground itself has a complacent connotation to it, so that’s not quite apt. Rather, it’s a competitive thirst that fuels improvement through both doubt and confidence (and probably a bunch of other stuff that psychologists will one day have to address). After a while stuck in a rut that led to me not even taking photos some days when we went to Disneyland, this is exactly where I am now, thanks largely to our trip to Tokyo. I’m eager to try new things, push the creative envelope, and just generally have a hunger to shoot.
I share the story of my own internal struggles because I know I’m not alone in this. I think it’s important for growing photographers not to be stuck at either end of the spectrum. The moment you are convinced of your own awesomeness is the moment you stop being awesome. Conversely, doubting yourself and feeling a sense of inferiority all but guarantees those feelings will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Okay, enough blabbering. On with the photos…
Shooting the photo above was when those thoughts were going through my head. Standing here in front of this Perla(?) design on the ground, I felt pretty satisfied in finding a perspective of Cinderella Castle I’d never seen photographed before. Sure, it’s not the most unique photo in the world, but I thought it offered a fresh take on an oft-photographed scene.
I have to credit this creative spark, in part at least, to not being able to use a tripod and being forced to find creative alternatives for places to rest my Green Pod for night photos. (By the way, I updated my Top 10 Disney Photography Accessories post with more info about the Green Pod–suffice to say, I love it.)
Much like my 35mm Day at Disneyland last year, forcing myself to work with constraints was an excellent shot in the arm. It also means a lot of photos that are from the perspective of a mouse, but hey, maybe I can spin them as the park through Mickey’s eyes. 😉
The Green Pod didn’t always help. To capture all of Kaa in the new Jungle Carnival area of Adventureland, I had to shoot handheld and crank the ISO. I masked the noise in the sky with a vignette.
Adding a new lens to the mix also helped. I love using my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for night parades, but I realized that the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 was a game-changer. More subject separation and a really crisp look to the photos (click the shot above–or any of these photos–to view it large).
I only had one camera body to use during Dreamlights, so I frequently changed lenses and tried to mix up different shooting styles to take advantage of our prime location. I thought this shot was interesting because the Toy Story float is blurred as it passes, but the Monsters, Inc. float is not (until you look closely). Same idea as objects passing quickly through a side window while driving, but not the windshield. I’m sure there’s a scientific term for this.
I only had 1 halfway decent sunset the entire time we were in Japan (and 0 good sunrises), which was a bummer, but I made up for that by focusing more on night photography. Tokyo Disneyland is often known for its heavy crowds, and while that can be true, what people mention less often is just how dead it is during the last hour of operation. People leave early to catch the train back into the city, so the back of the park is generally pretty peaceful after around 8 p.m.
In addition to the Nikon 85mm f/1.8, I also tried out the Sigma 20mm f/1.4. It’s a fun lens and has great potential even beyond dark rides, but I couldn’t see owning it in addition to the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. For me, personally, it just doesn’t bring enough to the table on its own.
I mentioned this on Instagram, but another thing I tried to do was incorporate people into my photos more. This set is a poor example of that since most are empty park photos, but I actually did take many people photos, as well. This might sound odd, but I find this significantly easier to do when in the international parks than in Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
In Asia, I feel like I’m just perceived as an enthusiastic tourist documenting everything I see. By contrast, here I feel more likely to be perceived as creepy for taking photos of strangers. I don’t think I’m actually being creepy, but I feel like that’s how random onlookers might view it. That, in turn, causes me to be self-conscious about it. I don’t know if this is all in my head, but it’s an obstacle to taking nice environmental candids.
I’ll end with this photo. It’s one of my favorites of the trip, and not for any reason that’s even remotely profound. I just think it looks pretty.
Want to learn more about photography to take great photos in the Disney theme parks and beyond? The best place to start is Tom’s Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide, which covers a variety of topics from links to tutorials, tips, and tricks to recommendations for point & shoots, DSLRs, lenses, and more!
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For other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
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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Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on confidence as a photographer? Have any thoughts of your own to share on that? Any opinions on this set of photos? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!
Very nice! Have you done an entry on photos of Tokyo at night?
Tokyo at night to me feels like being in a real world version of Blade Runner or Coruscant from Star Wars or some other sci-fi dream. I was wondering if a photo could capture that atmosphere and thought maybe you could capture it…
You have some of the best photography I’ve ever seen, be it theme park photography or not 🙂
Great photos…you really show off the beauty of this resort! Amazing. Now…enough with buildings and such….I want to see your collection of snack wrappers!! Maybe a vlog would be in order! I think you can get pretty crazy with this one!
My fave is the toontown blossom photo. I love the composition, especially the effect of the brightened night sky surrounded by blossoms and the crayola colors of the buildings and the water.
Keep up the good work. Your photos really illustrate why I love the parks so much.
You are right in the aspect of novices commenting on great pics but not knowing the difference between scene and pic. That’s essentially me. I love taking photos since I go to the parks by myself quite a bit but I only use a point and shoot with good low light qualities. I keep shooting because maybe I’ll capture that one cool shot. It doesn’t happen very often and it’s hard for me – like others – to get the differences in settings that make a difference in the shot. Not enough time in the world for me to learn and remember – so I’ll enjoy yours. Thanks!
Amazing photos as always! I focused my WDW trip last week on trying to get some good empty park photos. I was the last person out of the parks 3 of my 4 nights there. During the After Hours event I used the green pod quite a bit for the first half in between rides. I spent the entire ladder half, and quite a bit after the event ended, walking around the park with my tripod out. I still have to go through everything in light room but hopefully it results in some good shots to post over on the forums!
Awesome! I read your report of the event of the event the other day (sorry, haven’t had a chance to respond). Hope you get a chance to post the photos soon!
You have a good point about people in photos. As a case in point – your DLP shot with the child running through the arch with the Castle is one of your best photos ever, IMO. And it wouldn’t be the same without the person in the shot, even though it would still be pretty.
I agree, that photo immediately popped into my mind toowhen you mentioned capturing more people, I love that one
That’s one of my favorites, too. It was one of those serendipitous moments during which the stars just aligned perfectly.
I can’t wait to have a kid of my own so I can really take my photography to the next level. (That’s a good reason to have a kid, right?! 😉 )
Daaaaaadd! You made me run through the arch 15 times already!
For whatever it’s worth, I truly do admire your work. You are my favorite photographer, especially for Disney. And I’m not just trying to be nice, I promise!
Hahah, thanks! Just to clarify, I think a lot of praise is genuine. If you aren’t actively looking to critique photos, you’re less likely to find flaws. As for other photographers who might have a more critical eye, they just say things like “awesome photo!” even when a more useful thing would be to say, “I really like X about this photo and the way it accomplishes Y, but Z…” This occurs at least in part because people seem to need to be coddled, and can’t take any kind of constructive conversation. (It’s also partly difficult to gauge intent and tone online, so some constructive criticism can come off as without the ‘constructive’ element.)