the Monorail photographed in an empty Epcot
– For this week’s featured image of the week I want to revisit an older shot of mine that’s still one of my favorites from my many visits to Walt Disney World Resort. I call this shot the Monorail in Epcot and it has a lot of elements in it including the famous Disney World Monorail and the Epcot icon, Spaceship Earth. But the thing that makes it special is the fact that I was able to capture the shot with absolutely nobody in the final shot from a place that would normally be impossible to get a shot like this. In this article I’ll talk about how I was able to get the shot, the settings I used and even share a shot of what it normally looks like when you take a picture from this exact same place.
The image I’m featuring this week was captured in September of 2016 when I was in Walt Disney World Resort on a week long vacation. Normally Epcot is an especially busy park filled with tens of thousands of visitors (with some estimates on maximum capacity being over 100,000). This doesn’t mean you can’t get great shots in the theme park that aren’t filled with people. Tilting your camera up a little, for example, can usually remove lots of people quickly and easily. For a gigantic ride like Spaceship Earth (the large ball that is most associated with Epcot) you can get a great shot with very few people by aiming your camera so it captures just above other visitors heads. Here’s an example of a shot I took during a really busy time of day by aiming just over other peoples heads:
In Disney theme parks the trick of angling your camera up works great to lessen (or completely eliminate) additional people from your shots. What you won’t get in your shots are the ground and anything that would be visible if you were there in person and looking forward. Later in this article I’ll share my trick for getting shots with less people in the picture while still pointing your camera forward.
The Magic Kingdom to Epcot Monorail
In 1971, when Disney World first opened, there were two monorail lines. The first was an express loop that brought visitors from the Ticket and Transportation Center (near the parking lots) directly to the entrance area of the Magic Kingdom and back. The second loop is the resort loop that connects the Polynesian Resort Hotel and the Contemporary Resort Hotel and the Magic Kingdom (the Grand Floridian Resort Hotel stop was added in 1988). Here’s a shot of the Express monorail captured just outside the Magic Kingdom:
In 1981 a third monorail line was added to connect the Magic Kingdom (and it’s resorts) to the new theme park, Epcot Center. Unlike the existing Magic Kingdom monorail lines, the Epcot monorail line takes riders inside Epcot before stopping to give visitors a preview of what the park they’d be exploring. Having a monorail visible from inside the theme park is something you experience in Disneyland and, personally, I love seeing a monorail while I’m walking around Epcot’s Future World.
The Epcot Monorail enters the theme park to the east of Spaceship Earth (on your left if you’re standing just inside the park entrance looking towards the park) and it circles Future World giving incredible views of the park. Getting to see the park from this altitude is one of my favorite things about riding the Epcot monorail (compared to taking a bus or driving). After circling through the park the monorail passes Spaceship Earth, this time to the west of the attraction, and stops at the Epcot monorail station. Here’s a shot I took from the monorail as it was making it’s way through Epcot:
Thanks to upgraded security procedures Monorail riders now bypass the security bag check area and enter the theme park much quicker than before. It’s the same when traveling from Epcot back to the Magic Kingdom area.
Because the monorail circles inside Epcot it’s possible to get shots of Epcot attractions that include the monorail or the monorail all by itself. Here’s a few examples:
The Epcot monorail line is pretty long so it’s not always visible, but that just means it’s special when it does make it’s way through the park and, if you’re patient, it can be an awesome addition to your Disney World pictures.
Getting Pictures in an Empty Park
Epcot is a gigantic theme park with a huge maximum capacity. That means getting a shot without someone else walking into your picture nearly impossible. If you look at the picture I’m featuring in this article you can see that I’m in the middle of a big walkway near the monorail track between Future World and the World Showcase. What you can’t see in the picture is that I’m actually down on a knee to get Spaceship Earth completely in the shot. On a typical day there’s no way I could stop in this walkway and drop to a knee without someone walking right into me. Here’s a look at a normal day in Epcot near where my featured image was captured:
This shot was captured on a Monday afternoon so it’s not as busy as I normally see this walking path. In the morning just after park opening, in the evening as the park is closing and on any festival weekend there are easily ten times as many people walking through this spot. Being down on a knee is not only dangerous, it guarantees you’ll have pictures with even more of the other visitors in the shot.
Luckily there is a way to greatly reduce the number of people in your picture. If you can book an early breakfast at one of the Epcot restaurants that offer breakfasts you can actually enter the park before it opens to the public. Usually they’ll let you in about an hour before your reservation and that leaves you plenty of time to do a little exploring. Here’s a shot I took to show just how empty the park was the last time I had an early breakfast reservation:
The restaurant we chose for our breakfast at was the Garden Grill (in “the Land” area of Future World). It’s a character breakfast with “all you care to enjoy” food in a rotating restaurant and it’s always been one of our favorite places to dine.
Getting an early dining reservation is a “secret tip” that has been around for years and every Disney World theme park has some kind of early dining opportunity. The Magic Kingdom, for example, has early dining at Be Our Guest and the Crystal Palace but the popularity of those breakfasts (along with the many behind-the-scenes tours at that hour) make getting shots without people considerably more difficult.
Getting the Shot
Once I was inside the park and I knew what I wanted to capture so I made my way to my chosen spot and, before the monorail arrived, I dialed in my camera by taking some test shots. I used my Sony a6000 camera and I attached one of my favorite Sony e-mount lenses, the 35mm f1.8, to get the field of view I wanted. My camera was set to aperture priority mode and I used f8 for maximum sharpness and lots of depth of field. My ISO was set to 100 because it was super bright out and the low ISO would give me a picture without noise. The internal meter decided on 1/250th of a second for shutter speed, but in aperture priority mode it could be different for you depending on how bright it is.
Finally, there is a setting I used to make sure I’d get the monorail in exactly the right position. I chose a shooting mode called “continuous high speed” shooting (also known as “burst” shooting). This mode captures images for as long as your shutter button is pressed. In the case of my camera it’s capturing as many as 11 shots every second. When I captured my shot I pressed the button down just as the monorail entered my view and I held the shutter button down for 2-3 seconds. Here’s a look at my image editing software showing 20 of the shots I took in just a few seconds:
You can see that I chose the seventh shot to edit and share as today’s featured image. Here’s another look at the final shot:
The image of the monorail in Epcot with the trees and monorail track framing Spaceship Earth and the fountains is one of my favorite shots I’ve ever captured in Epcot and now it’s one of my favorite framed prints on display in my home.
Equipment I used:
- the Sony a6000 camera is available at B&H Photo here
- the Sony 35mm f1.8 e-mount lens is available at B&H Photo here
- the black rapid curve strap is available at B&H Photo here
- the Think Tank Photo Pro Speed Belt System is available at B&H Photo here
- Aperture Priority mode
- ISO 100
- Hi-Speed Continuous shooting mode
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