Sunday, April 21, 2013

Photographing your (Disney) vacation - A lens discussion

(Edited to add exif data for photos.  Please note that all photos have had some post processing.)

I see this subject pop up quite frequently so I thought I would attack it again now that I have the experience of three Disney trips.  A year ago, I recommended some lenses (you can read that here) and last month, I talked about vacationing with your camera (that can be found here.)   This is written from the perspective of a DSLR user but if you're interested in photography and not a DSLR user, you should still find this to be useful and/or interesting.

For these vacations, I've found that there are three different subjects to photograph:
  • Your family
  • Landscapes/architecture
  • Rides/attractions
Your ideal lens or lenses will mainly be a function of what you want to photograph.  Unfortunately, I haven't found an awesome all-in-one lens so carrying around multiple lenses may be necessary to fulfill your needs.  Personally, I don't like to carry around more than two lenses - one on my camera and one in my bag.  Other factors, such as budget and personal preferences, will help in your decision making process.  For example, I prefer prime lenses because they seem to produce a sharper image.

I know - it sounds so complicated but it's really not.  Well, it is.  But it's not.


The most important subjects, of course!

Forget about vacation for a moment.  What's your "walking around" or "everyday" lens?  What lens is on your camera most often when you're photographing your kids?  For me, that's my Nikon 35mm, f/1.8 that I've wanted to semi-retire for over a year now but can't decide upon a replacement.  It continuously back focuses when I attempt to shoot wider than 3.5 so I don't shoot wider which makes the point of having a f/1.8 pointless.  But, anyway, that's my walking around lens and I found that focal length perfectly acceptable for the following vacation photos.

(ISO 200, f/4.0, SS 1/250)

(ISO 400, f/3.5, SS 1/250)

(ISO 200, f/4.5, SS 1/1000)

(ISO 320, f/4.0, SS 1/250)

I ran into a problem trying to use my 35mm lens to take pictures of the girls with characters though.  When you use a prime lens, you have to zoom in and out with your feet and often times I didn't have any room to back up.  Examples:

(ISO 320, f/5.0, SS 1/125)

(ISO 2000, f/3.5, SS 1/50)

I resorted to using my wide angle lens in order to fit everyone in the shot.  The photos below were taken with my Tokina 11-16mm, f/2.8 (focal length noted.)

(ISO 200, f/4.5, SS 1/50)

(ISO 500, f/4.5, SS 1/160)

My point in this - you need a wider angle lens (wider than a 35mm, that is) for pictures of people with characters.  While I would love, love, love a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, I don't love, love, love the price tag.  Using my wide angle for character photos worked out okay for the most part but a zoom would have been ideal.


I prefer to use a wide angle lens for these types of shots.  Here are some examples with the lens length noted.  (Keep in mind that I use a crop sensor - I'm sure most of you reading this do as well.)  

(ISO 1600, f/4.0, SS 1/8) Not a typo, really 1/8sept21a

(ISO 200, f/8.0, SS 1/640)

(ISO 200, f/7.1, SS 1/500)

All of the above were taken with my Tokina 11-16mm, f/2.8 lens. I think the wide angle gives an interesting perspective to landscape photos.  Here's one taken with my 35mm lens for comparison.

(ISO 200, f/8.0, SS 1/640)


This part of photographing Disney holds the least appeal to me.  Photographing the rides really doesn't hold my interest at all.  Neither does looking at other photographers' photos of the rides.  I have photographed some of the attractions though.

Inside Be Our Guest restaurant.  This one was taken with my wide angle lens at 13mm.

(ISO 2500, f/2.8, SS 1/5)

Here's what that same shot looks like (I was standing in the same spot) with my 35mm lens.

(ISO 2500, f/3.5, SS 1/6)

Outside the restaurant, all taken with 35mm.

(ISO 200, f/5.0, SS 1/200)

(ISO 200, f/7.1, SS 1/80)

Electrical Parade, 35mm

(ISO 1600, f/3.5, SS 1/80)

If you want to photograph the rides (and by the "rides" I mean the inside of them, while you are riding them), I think a fast, zoom lens is your best bet.  This means that you want a lens with a fixed aperture, not one that changes as you zoom out.  And obviously, you'll want a zoom lens as you won't be able to zoom with your feet if you are contained in a ride.  Please keep in mind that flash photography is not allowed during rides or shows.

Things to think about

  • What are your photography goals for your vacation?  There are some folks who plan their vacations to revolve around photography.  There are others, like me, who simply want to photograph their vacations.  What are you interested in photographing?
  • What equipment do you currently have? Are you satisfied with it?  What are your needs? Personally, I wouldn't purchase a lens just to use on vacation. 
  • What is your budget?  We can dream about $2,000 lenses all we want but if it's not in the budget, it's not in the budget.  Determine how much you can/want to spend before you begin to research/shop.    
  • For a wide angle lens, I suggest the Tokina 11-16mm, f/2.8 lens.  I own this and you can see the results in this post.
  • If a new lens isn't in the budget, check your kit lens.  The widest end of it may not be considered "wide angle" but it's free and a good substitute, especially if you are shooting outdoors.
  • For a zoom lens consider the Tamron 28-75mm, f/2.8 lens.  I've been hesitant to order this because I prefer prime lenses and I'm not sure how much I would use this outside of vacation.  There is also a Tamron 17-50mm, f/2.8 lens but it doesn't seem to be as popular as the 28-75mm. 
  • If you are satisfied with the focal length of your current lens or lenses but they are slow for indoor photography (aperture), consider purchasing a Speedlight for your camera. (See my post here for what a Speedlight can do for you and your photos.)  This would be for photos of your family with characters as flash photography is not allowed on rides.     
  • To enjoy your vacation.
  • Don't stress over "the perfect photo."
  • As a photographer, even a hobbyist, you will sometimes be challenged to make do with the equipment that you have on hand.  It may be frustrating but it will make you a better photographer.


Sara said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Sarah. It's nice to see pictures that you took with the different lenses to compare.

I am a college student and the lens that came with my Nikon D60 in 2008 is broken. I'm needing a new lens that can be good for all around, and I'm not sure what direction to go. I also don't have a ton a money to spend, but I'm willing to save up a little if it means I can get a better lens. Any suggestions?

Sarah said...

You're welcome, Sara.

I would suggest the Nikon 50mm, f/1.8. Note that your camera body doesn't have an autofocus motor built in to it so you'll need the newer AF-S version of the lens. It's listed on Amazon for $215.

Christie said...

Thanks for this! We leave in two weeks, and this is constantly on my mind. I think I settled on my Tamron 28-75 for walking around and my 50 for the rides. Or maybe 35. No, 50. ;-) I have a FF camera, so I'm not too worried about using my 50 inside. And for fun, I'm going to take my Lens Baby Spark. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know your settings off the light parade photo. I use my Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 for our Disney trips and am overall very pleased with its performance. And the pricetag is a lot better than the Nikon version!

Sarah said...

It's good to hear from 2 readers who have that Tamron and like it.

Have fun, Christie!!

The settings for the light parade photo are:

ISO 1600
SS 1/80
f stop 3.5

hand held, no tripod.

Debbie said...

I would love it very much if you could please put all the info on your pics. Thank you if you can do this. And thank you for taking the time for this post.

Sarah said...

Debbie - I need to shut down for the night. Emily is sick :( I'll add the exif data for all the photos tomorrow.

Debbie said...

Thank you, Sarah. I hope that she feels better. Please don't rush on my part. I'm not going any where...well, not until we leave for Disney this summer. lol.
And again, thanks.

Wendy said...

The Tamron is on my want list. It's nice to put the exif data on the pictures, but readers need to remember that you will not get the same outcome as the original, necessarily- your personal settings need to be adjusted to the light you have available. Another photog's settings can be a place to start but you'll still need to fine tune your own settings according the the light you have available.

Christi said...

I think I need to check out the 35mm for my Canon. I have the 50mm f/1.4 and it's great - light, fast, super sharp but it's just too close to the subjects for me. Darn these crop factors. LOL

I end up using a 28-75mm as my everyday lens but mostly shoot between 28-40 with it.

Debbie said...

Question, Sarah. We have the same camera, Nikon 7000 and we have the same 35mm lens. I have had the lens, but I am still getting used to the camera. It kinda intimidates me. Anyway, I love the picture of the Electric Light parade. How was that captured? Could you tell me your settings because I really hate it when I resort to using my flash which I know in my heart is NOT RIGHT. lol.

Sarah said...

Hi Debbie - I finally had time to add the exif data for all the pictures. Hope it helps as a guide. I didn't have a tripod so that one was handheld. I didn't want the shutter speed to drop too low or the photos would have been blurry because there was movement.

Debbie said...

Hi Sarah,
Thank you for being so kind...I really appreciate this. I am trying so hard to improve my photography skills, and sometimes it seems to be going one step forward and two steps back. I will "study" this post and hopefully it will all begin to make sense. Ha.
Again, thank you for taking the time to do this for me. I sincerely appreciate you taking time from your family to help me.

Heather said...

Hey, Sarah! I've been meaning to leave you a comment on this since I read it last week. . . . Have you tried microcalibrating your lens to your D7000? I did that with my D7000 and all of my lenses and it was an AMAZING difference. Now I won't use a lens I haven't microcalibrated. Here's the tutorial I used:

Sarah said...

Debbie - no problem. It didn't take long to do - I just had to find the time to open the computer and do it :)

Thanks for the link, Heather. I've calibrated that lens a few times already. It will work fine for a while and then start back focusing again for no reason. It's quite maddening.

Brie said...

Thanks for all of your information. I know this post is over a year old but I am wondering how you carry your gear in the parks? If you don't use a bag what do you do while you are on water rides like splash or Kali? Thanks :)

Sarah said...

Hi Brie - I use a camera backpack. And I don't go on big water rides. If I did, I would leave it with Grammy, because there's no way she would be going on those rides.

BreezieGirl said...

I knew I had to come back and read your lens/camera discussions as I prepare for my vacation next week. I only have prime lenses and while they work for me pretty well at Disneyland (usually just me or a small group), there are 8 of us going to Disney World and I don't want to constantly be switching out lenses and I need something wider. I had a crop sensor and I was debating between the Tokina 11-20 and the newer Tamron 15-30 and after looking at your shots at 11, I'm thinking I'll need the wider. I'm planning on renting lenses (for the first time!) to help the budget, but also to "get to know" the lenses before I make a purchase to own one of my own.

So grateful for all of your write ups! :)