the Tree of Life | Featured Image of the Week


Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life in HDR

The Tree of Life

- After my appearance on the Resort Loop podcast I listened to the show and one thing I said really stood out to me. Bob Coller Asked me how many pictures I take on a typical Disney World visit and I answered by saying: “Between 3,000 and 4,000 pictures“. Even though I know how I arrived at those numbers I realized I must have sounded crazy to anyone listening to the show. Since I have both photographers and non-photographers who follow me on this blog I thought today’s Featured Image of the Week would be a good chance to explain how and why I take as many vacation/travel pictures. This HDR image of the Tree of Life (at Disney’s Animal Kingdom) is a great way to explain what happens to some of the many pictures I take whenever I’m traveling.

Special Camera Settings

Let me start by doing the math on 3,000 – 4,000 pictures. For this article I’ll go with the higher number of 4,000. With my typical Disney vacation being 7 days that means I must take 571 pictures each day. If I spend 10 hours in a Disney theme park per day that means I’m taking almost 60 pictures each hour. That means I take a picture almost every minute I’m in a park. It sure sounds like I don’t have much time to enjoy myself if every minute I’m using my camera…

But the truth is I’m getting lots of pictures while still enjoying myself. It turns out there are two special modes on my camera that allow me to capture lots of pictures every time I press my shutter release button. The first mode is called burst mode and with my camera that means with a single push of the shutter button my camera will capture 11 frames each second the button is held down. This mode is great for those times where there is a lot of action and you want to capture 20-30 shots in a row. Once you have all those pictures you can find the best shot of the group and that’s the one you share.

High speed burst shooting is great for Disney parades, for example, to let you really grab that single moment you want. As an example I took between 20 and 30 super fast shots of Mickey and Minnie’s float in the Festival of Fantasy Parade. You can see a bunch of them in this screen capture of my Lightroom Library:

Of the 20-30 shots I took this one was my favorite:

In the shots before and after this image Minnie Mouse wasn’t looking at my camera. But this single frame made it worth my time to capture so many consecutive pictures. I’ll talk more about burst shooting in a future article.

Exposure Bracketing

The other mode I use almost all the time is called: Exposure Bracketing. This is a special mode in cameras that capture three, five, seven and even nine pictures in a row with a single press of your shutter button. The cool thing about this mode is each picture will be exposed differently. One picture will be properly exposed and the rest of the shots will be either over exposed or under exposed. This means you’ll have one “normal” picture and darker versions and lighter versions of the same picture. Having these different looks means you can choose the best looking shot of the bunch later and that will be the shot you share.

I like to use an exposure bracketing mode that gives me three shots with one properly exposed, one under exposed and one over exposed (-2ev, 0, +2ev). Here’s a look at three shots I took in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at night with just one press of my shutter release button:

under exposed image

under exposed image

In this first shot the picture is under exposed so it is extremely dark. But what is nice about this shot is the center of the tree which is properly exposed and extremely colorful. Most people wouldn’t like how dark this shot is, but with some photo editing you can actually bring back some of the darker areas without hurting the look of the tree.

normal exposure image

normal exposure image

This would be considered a “normal” exposure. That means the camera looked at the entire shot and determined this was the best setting for shutter speed to capture the image with the least amount of overly dark areas and overly bright areas. Almost anyone standing where I was standing to take a picture will get a shot that looks almost identical to this.

over exposed image

And finally this shot is over exposed. You can see the maximum amount detail in the sky and surrounding trees, but the Tree of Life is what we call “blown out”. While some people may like this version the best, I don’t care for the tree being all white or the fact that it no longer looks like it was shot at night.

All three shots have something that is great and all three have some negatives. What’s important to me is to have all three shots available to let me choose my favorite later. And the best part is I only need to push the camera button once to get all three versions (and it takes less than a second to get all three shots).

Exposure bracketing is something I do all the time and I’ll be writing more articles about this camera setting in the future.

HDR Photography

There’s one final reason I might capture three different exposures of a single image and it’s called High Dynamic Range photography or HDR. This kind of photography is a bit complicated and involves special software and additional time editing but the results are often unlike anything you can capture with a camera.

Here’s how it works. You capture three (or more) images of the same subject at different exposures. The special software combines all of those shots into a single gigantic file, called a 32 bit HDR file, and it has considerably more dynamic range than any single capture has. This means a single shot has real detail in the brightest parts of the image (this would just be pure white in a normal shot) as well as real detail in the darkest parts of the image (those parts would be pure black). With this single gigantic HDR file you can now go in and do some editing to make a single image that has more detail, or dynamic range, than a normal picture. This can often result in a very unnatural look when done incorrectly but if done right it can be an awesome interpretation of a scene. Here’s another look at my Tree of Life shot which was made from the three separate images I shared above:

The Tree of Life

You can see that this HDR shot has lots of detail in the sky and the surrounding trees, a very colorful and detailed Tree of Life and it still looks like it was captured at night.

If HDR photography is something you’d like to learn more about here on my blog then be sure to contact me and I’ll be happy to write more articles about this unique way to capture and edit your shots.

One of my good friends, RC Concepcion, wrote a great book about this kind of photography called “the HDR Book” and you can buy it on Amazon here.

3,000 to 4,000 Pictures on a Disney Vacation

To conclude this article I want to go back to my statement on the Resort Loop podcast. I said I took between 3,000 and 4,000 total pictures on my trip and only shared 10 or so of them on social media. It turns out that number was pretty accurate because I went back and checked my Lightroom catalog and it said I took exactly 3,451 total pictures. While that number sounds crazy you can quickly divide that number by three if I’m capturing bracketed exposures or divide it by 20 if I’m capturing bursts of shots. And I should also mention that I like to get at least two captures of the same subject (in case something is out of focus, for example) so the number drops further. This means I really took a few hundred unique pictures but made sure I had the maximum amount of choice by getting several different versions of each of those shots.

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