#220. 5 reasons to photograph theme parks

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Apr 24

“But dad, you promised!”

“I know sweetie but my buddy Franck’s going to photograph that incredible ice cascade. It’s all white in a dark green setting and the water under the ice has that pale blue glow because of bacteria. It’s only frozen a few days a year and he’s invited me to go with him.”

“Honey, you’re always saying that. There’s always something special going on and a good reason to go out shooting. You promised your daughter.”

Tough one, eh? 😉

A fire explosion on a cinema set photographed with a Sony A7r & Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60/2.8

Fire & Water – Sony A7r & Leica Macro-Elmarit-R 60/2.8

Well, I don’t know what you promised your daughter, but if it’s a ride in a theme park, take heart. While Space Mountain might not entirely replace red ferns and golden eagles, there are still many reasons to rejoice, for us photographers. At least 5, in fact.

1) The Sets

Contrary to popular belief, moderate queues actually increase enjoyment of an attraction because they build anticipation. So, while Disney and other amusement parks do their best to camouflage horrendous waiting in cleverly hidden meandering alleys, they also make sure no attraction can be completed without at least 5 minutes of perambulation through often exquisite sets. And who’s never wanted to grab a portrait of C3PO on set or a sacred statuette and assorted rubies.

Photograph of C3PO on a set at Disney Paris

Oh my, we are made to suffer (c) Pascal Jappy

No accordion lineups will hinder your view and no one will tell you off for slowing down the family pace.

Conditions will often be dark and close up. A fast medium-wide-angle and high ISO (1600 – 3200) will ensure success. But you can use many of the railings as support to lower exposure speeds. Do not hesitate to let a few people past, no one will get angry at you for it. But don’t overdo it, remember it’s your daughter’s day 😉

2) The Lighting

If you’re David Hobby (founder of exc++ Strobist website) finessed lighting may not sound all that exotic to you. But for us mortals, there are few accessible areas in which studio lighting is a well thought out as on a high-budget cinema set other than amusement parks.

Alladin's cave at Disney Paris

Alladin’s cave (c) Pascal Jappy

For once, there will be no fighting against blown skies on overcast days or shadows darker than a politician’s soul on a sunny summer picnic. Everything is just perfectly balanced and all you have to do is click. Any camera made since the 1940s will expose that sort of scene easily and no advanced metering techniques will be required of you to create professional-looking imagery.

3) The Fireworks

Not all theme parks have them, but many do and do so lavishly. While a city might feel an obligation to wow at certain special dates, Disney et al. have it in their DNA to entertain in the most visually spectacular way imaginable. Their fireworks may not be as huge as Sidney’s on New Year’s tick, but the inventiveness goes far beyond what town halls feel obligated to.

Travel photograph of Cinderella's castle in Disney Paris

Cinderella on fire (c) Pascal Jappy

A tripod is of great help here, if local regulation and crowds permit. If not, stick your camera in crazy ISO mode and know that a spectacular grainy picture is better than no spectacular picture at all.

4) The Unexpected

For me, this is the best part. The most fun I’ve had without laughing, as the saying goes. Once on the rides, I never know what is going to appear, how bright or dark it will be and how adequate my reflexes will be. The keeper rate is rather low, but what good does come from this is sometimes very painterly and original.

A long exposure of a ghostly figure in Disney Paris

Ghost town (c) Pascal Jappy

Since most attractions are based on the intention to scare the poo out of you, you are likely to be traveling fast. And my recommendation is to go for the long exposure.

Embrace the blur!

A long exposure photograph in a mine train attraction at Disney Paris

Space warp in a train (c) Pascal Jappy

See how much more static the image looks at short exposures.

A short exposure freezes movement on  the mine train attraction in Disney Paris

Frozen time (c) Pascal Jappy

Other – more important – recommendation! Don’t be foolish. No photograph is worth your life or a limb. If you are being strapped in tightly, it’s for a reason.

5) The Politics

The Armageddon set explodes at Disney Paris

Armageddon (c) Pascal Jappy

Next time you want to join Franck on his quest for the ultimate shot, you can without starting Armageddon 🙂

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