Matthew Cooper Photography

Disney Photography & Beyond

Land of Fantasy & Wishes

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I didn't have any real plans for shooting Wishes this night but I knew I wasn't gonna bother shooting from in front of Cinderella Castle. I was in Fantasyland about 30 minutes before the show and originally was hoping to try and shoot from the balcony of the Pinocchio Haus but it was roped off. That was disappointing but not a deal breaker as I just went slightly around the corner and found this spot shooting into old Fantasyland (I can call it that right?) that I felt had a lot of good elements from front to back and would frame the fireworks shot from Cinderella Castle nicely.

I chose to shoot without an ND filter this time for a couple reasons. One there aren't many fireworks shot in this area so my exposures were going to be relatively short. Additionally using an ND would have killed all the light in Fantasyland. I did adjust my f-stop throughout the show and most of my frames turned out very well. My general rule was to try to keep it under 10 seconds to avoid blowing out the fireworks.  This shot was at F16 for 8.8 seconds with the Nikon 14-24 2.8

Goofy Bokeh

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

When these little statues were in the hub, like the Goofy one here, I used to love trying out different angles shooting them to try and get interesting backgrounds. I especially love shooting them from a bit of a distance with the Nikon 70-200 2.8 as you can get a really shallow depth of field and create some really interesting bokeh behind them. Of course there's only so many different ways you can shoot them and so the past few trips I had kinda laid off shooting them. Now that the statues have been moved due to the hub expansion its like shooting them all for the first time again. For this shot you have Main Street USA behind you so you get a lot of yellow lighting which I think is a good compliment to the statue. You've also got a bit of orange from the Mickey pumpkins they had up for fall decorations. Now shooting everything straight on can be kinda boring and not very creative but for the Goofy statue I thought it actually worked well because it accentuates how tall he is.

Now often I use live-view focusing when I'm working on a tripod, and especially when I'm working with a shallow depth of field. The reason being focusing in liveview is much more accurate than focusing through the viewfinder. Additionally you can focus on any point in the frame as opposed to just the points in the viewfinder. I was having a bit of a problem focusing on the statue properly still due to the light but fortunately I always carry a flashlight with me. By shining the flashlight on the statue I was able to set focus and lock it down for the shot. Enjoy.

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The Wonders of Life & the Death of a Pavilion

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

It really is unfortunate what this pavilion has become from what it once was. Perhaps one day this pavilion (along with some others) will get the much needed makeover they need to help revitalize Epcot once again.

Still, I'm thankful for the opportunity to photograph the pavilion all lit up during the Food & Wine Festival. Given the time and lack of anything to do in the pavilion at this time of day it was an easy shot to get with no waiting on people. It was however very very dark in the water feature calling for a 60 second exposure to really light it up. Unfortunately the planters were spinning so I had to pull those from a slower exposure to get one with minimal motion but still lit well enough for the scene I was trying to convey. I spent quite a bit of additional time on blending work for this photo as I wanted the motion of the clouds but the single point non trailed stars. I spent probably triple my usual time on this photo but I think the end result is worth it.

Trip to the Lunching Pad

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I've been shooting Walt Disney World for a couple years now to the point I feel I've covered a lot of the common angles for the various go to shots. One thing I tried to do this trip was mix in some off angle shots to try and switch things up a bit. In this case shooting straight on as I've done before can actually be a negative as the trees in front of the Lunching Pad end up obstructing some of the cool details.

I was looking for a cool angle off to the side and what drew me to shoot it from this spot was actually the lines on the floor. I felt the lines on the left hand side made a really cool swoop into the frame leading up to the Lunching Pad. Additionally this spot gave me an unobstructed view of the neon 'The Lunching Pad' sign that I really love.

Once again this was a 5 shot bracket using the Nikon 14-24 2.8. In this case I actually used Photomatix to blend as I preferred the results I was getting versus manual blending with luminosity masks. I've actually found with areas that are very brightly lit but then have some difficult highlights to control, in this case the Lunching Pad neon sign itself, I get better results using Photomatix instead of manual blending. This of course may just be a knowledge/experience issue on my part and I'll continue to experiment and work on getting better results with manual blending as its still my overall preferred method.

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Seabase Alpha

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

This is a shot I've actually wanted to get the past few trips and for one reason or another it just never worked out. On the trip previous to this one, on the day I planned to get it and unbeknownst to me, the Seas closed early for a private party. This time I just arrived about 10 minutes before park close and the pavilion was already pretty empty. Still with everyone moving around it took til about 10 minutes after the official park close for me to get this shot.

It was a pretty basic setup for this shot. I shot with the tripod fully collapsed to get a really low view looking upwards. I believe this helps add to the grandeur of the space. It was shot with the Nikon 14-24 2.8 (of course) and bracketed 5 shots. I blended 3 of these using luminosity masks to get my base image before post processing. Enjoy.

The Country Bears Bear Band Now in High Definition

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I don't know what the overall public barometer on the Country Bear Jamboree is but I will admit I absolutely love it. I love the old school charm and the songs are catchy and humorous. It has a great nostalgic feel and I love that you can hear the animatronics when they move, adding to that classic attraction feel. I do have to take off points for the latest abbreviated version Disney put out however. The bits they took out to make the show shorter is quite the downgrade in my opinion and I really hope they will restore the full length show at some point.

As for shooting the show I've always enjoyed it though it isn't particularly challenging. Over the years however, not just because of better gear but because I've improved my technique my shots have gotten better and better and I felt my latest attempt was enough improvement over my previous showing to share again. Funny enough I contribute part of it not even to gear or technique per say. I've always had very shaky hands and had to increase shutter speed and ISO often to compensate for my shaky hands even while using proper camera holding technique. Well since my last Disney trip I completely eliminated caffeine from my life, switching entirely to water and my hands are much much steadier now. Throughout the trip I was able to shoot at slower shutter speeds than I ever have been able to before due to my shaky hands and overall I have many more sharp shots from my slower shutter hand held shots. This was shot with the Nikon 70-200 2.8 at 70mm, F2.8, 1/100sec and ISO 1250.

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Prints & Lightroom Presets Sale

Site NewsMatthew CooperComment

I am running a sell from now until the end of November 29th on prints and my Lightroom Presets. You can save 20% off prints by using the code 'BlackFriday'. You will save 40% off my Lightroom Preset pack using the code 'MCPresets'. Additionally I have added a custom print option where you can choose from many of my different shots to have printed in addition to the featured options. Just click on shop or the image above to get started

Let's All Make a Wish

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I have to admit I'm a sucker for the classic Wishes shot in front of Partners. I'm not a big fan of the 2.5 hour wait to pull it off however. When I arrived this area already had people sitting at almost every spot around Partners. I was just able to get a spot, though I wasn't able to sit down to wait however as the family sitting next to the open spot decided their gift bag needed a spot more than an actual person. In fact they seemed quite bothered I setup near them at all, but I figured they'd get over. Funny enough a nice family from the UK showed up a bit later and long story short they moved their bag and moved a bit further down. I have to give props to them as well as the people to my right as they could have easily opted to stand in a way that would have blocked my shot but they were nice enough to give me the little spot I had zoned off.

I especially wanted to shoot here now that I had an ND filter for the Nikon 14-24 2.8. I've shot from here with that lens before but I'm really not a huge fan of the results I got sans ND. I shot this using a Progrey 7 stop ND which allowed me to shoot this extra long exposure, which was 114 seconds. Since I had such a strong filter I shot at f4.5 to have a brighter exposure on the foreground and crowd. Shooting so wide (14mm) this isn't really a problem either as everything is still pretty sharp and in focus. Ultimately I'm really happy with the Nikon 14-24 2.8 and Progrey ND filter combo. I got several shots from Wishes I was happy with and several from Illuminations earlier in the week. I'll be sharing them over the next few weeks so stay tuned.

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The Blue Monorail Sails Through an Epcot Sunset

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

After chasing the light to Future World from in front of Spaceship Earth for the shot I posted previously I then proceeded to the walkway entering the World Showcase to shoot across the lake and get a shot with the monorail in it. I wasn't sure if the timing would work out but the monorail actually arrived just as I was setup for the shot so it worked out really well.

I shot this scene using the Nikon 14-24 2.8 and the Pro Grey 7 stop ND filter. The ND filter gives me better control of the light and also allows me to shoot a little bit longer exposure. This is useful shooting into the sun as it helps smooth the water out a bit. For the monorail I took the ND off and shot at 1/250 to freeze the motion and pushed the ISO a bit to 320. I also prefocused where the monorail would be and then set the focus to manual so I would be certain to capture it just as I wanted. Then of course I blended it all together in post. You may wonder why I was concerned about timing if I just combined multiple shots. Well the main reason is because to make a realistic blend you want the light to be as similar as possible. At this time of day the light was quickly changing it wouldn't have looked right if the monorail didn't have the gorgeous gold light reflecting along its edge. Enjoy.

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A Partner in Mickey Mouse

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

If you are a Disney photographer it's pretty much a given you have tons of shots of Partners. I'm definitely no exception but I keep coming back for more. For this shot I thought I focused primarily on Mickey but included just enough to show him holding Walt's hand. Its a composition I hadn't tried before but I really like it the more I've looked at it.

This was shot with the Nikon 70-200 2.8 at 200MM F2.8. I shot at 200MM to create maximum compression and bring the castle and lights close to Mickey and at 2.8 so it would blur out and create some nice bokeh. Enjoy.

Reflections of Mouse Gear

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I often hear people complaining when it rains at Disney World or hoping it won't rain during their vacation. Perhaps I am the only one who goes to Disney World and actually hopes for rain. I had been watching the forecast the week preceding my visit and knew it was a pretty good chance it was going to happen but you still just never know. Will it rain when I need it to? Will it rain enough to puddle up and create some epic reflections? These are the things I think and wonder about for my trips.

As I mentioned in a previous post this day was mostly a bust during the day thanks to cloud cover and rain but it really hadn't put down enough rain for anything too special as Illuminations was starting. Fortunately an epic down pour during the second half of Illuminations provided just what I was hoping for. As everyone quickly left the park due to the rain I was grinning ear to ear as I knew I was in for some really good times thanks to the rain. Even more fortunately by the time I was packed up from Illuminations and ready to start shooting the rain was mostly an off and on again drizzle, just fine for shooting. Still though I did have a few shots with rain spots on the lens that will need fixing but I was constantly wiping my lens, not just from the bit of drizzle but because of the humidity. All and all it worked out great though.

The lighting here at Mouse Gear worked just wonderfully with all the water reflections. I especially like how I was able to use the neon lights to create a line that leads your eye from Mouse Gear and over to Spaceship Earth. I had never really noticed it much before but the double leading line from reflection really grabbed me when I was setting up for this shot. Speaking of which, the people who were still in the park while I was shooting this night, often laying the camera and myself in the puddles to get these shots gave me some really great looks. Maybe I should have photographed some of those as well.... Enjoy.


Lights, Camera, Action Part II

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

The very first night of my trip was extended magic for Hollywood Studios which meant that would be the park I'd be closing out that night. This worked out really well as I was itching to get shots of the Chinese Theater anyway.

The first day, at least for me and my wife, is always the most tiring however and she decided to head back to the hotel around 8 to charge up for the rest of the trip. I of course used this as an opportunity to wander around for 2 1/2 hours BEFORE the park had even closed shooting. The problem this presents however is all the people still in the park can limit the shots you can get if you want relatively people free shots. Not to be deterred I decided to utilize the Nikon 70-200 2.8 which allowed me to try out some more creative compositions throughout the park using various angles to get interesting shots people free even with the park quite crowded. This was actually one of the very first ones I tried and perhaps my favorite of the night. Enjoy.

Be Our Guest's Wishes of a Magic Kingdom

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

Today's shot isn't necessarily anything that hasn't been done before but I felt the need to try something different for Wishes that wasn't from in front of Cinderella Castle but wasn't so crazy that it would be foolish to try. Seeing also as I had Be Our Guest dinner reservations roughly an hour and a half before Wishes it made choosing this location easy. I did find it funny after both my wife and I had setup to shoot the fireworks here a lady (clearly a Walt Disney World first timer) approached me and asked what we were waiting for. When I told her fireworks, she was shocked we'd be able to see them behind the restaurant until I explained the fireworks were actually launched behind here. She, like many people I assume, don't realize just how far back the fireworks are being launched when you view them from Main Street. She quickly ran and grabbed her family who were wandering off to wait and watch the fireworks here. Not really important, I just found it mildly amusing...

My fireworks shots are something that has definitely evolved over the years from shooting without ND filters, with ND filters, with or without ND filters and bracketing shots for blending before and after. All have their ups and downs and the way I do it now is kind of a blend. For this shot I used the Nikon 14-24 2.8 along with a 7 stop ProGrey ND filter and then bracketed a series of shots at the end as well. Instead of using the bracket and just blending the fireworks into that however I lean more towards using the single fireworks shots and blending in bits and pieces from shots in the bracket. There are a couple of reasons for this. One being that when you blend the fireworks into the bracketed shot it tends to not look quite as realistic because you don't get the reflections from the fireworks on the objects in the foreground. The second is when you shoot an area like this with a 7 stop ND even super long exposures leaves some areas dreadfully underexposes. Having the bracket allows me to fix a lot of darker areas and also then finally map in the stars over the top.

One last thing I did, which I have done for a while now is color correct Beast's Castle. Generally the color is just an awful blue when photographed at night, however I've found you can fix it pretty easily using a warming color filter along with some quick curves adjustments. Its an extra step that does take a little bit of time to get just right but I think its worth the effort. Hopefully you do too. Enjoy.

Classic MGM Studios

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I shot just one night at Hollywood Studios this trip and even that seemed almost excessive. As more and more has been shuttered what remains is a bunch of stuff I've already photographed so many different ways it just feels stale.

Well, that is of course except for the return of the classic unobstructed view of the Chinese Theater. I still shot other stuff throughout Hollywood Studios but honestly my main focus was different shots of the Chinese Theater. I'm very happy to have shots of it now and with all the upcoming construction at Hollywood Studios I feel like I'm mostly done shooting the studios until all the new stuff opens. I just can't see my self staying to close out the park again until something new and fresh is there.

Now for this shot I had already seen a few people shoot it wide so I wanted to do something different so I shot it with my Nikon 70-200 to create some compression down Hollywood Boulevard. I think I actually prefer it this was as it really makes the Chinese Theater feel closer and larger instead of appearing miles away. Either way you can't go wrong with this classic view that made me think back to the days when I was kid visiting MGM Studios in full form. Enjoy.

Spaceship Burst

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

This was taken towards the very beginning of my chasing light journey at Epcot which had me going all around the park trying to get as many shots as I could in the time just before, during and immediately after the golden hour. I figured the best way to do it was to start at the front of the park where I could shoot into the sun still just over the trees for some cool sunbursts before making my way into Futureworld and then onto the World Showcase.

There's not really a lot to this one. I didn't want to just shoot a bunch of leveled shots (though I have some of those too) so while there was still enough light to comfortably shoot what I wanted handheld I wandered around Spaceship Earth looking for some cool ways to photograph it using angles. In my opinion it's really not all that hard as the structure actually lends itself nicely to some creative angles. Here I'm using the struts holding Spaceship Earth up to lead from the corner into the frame.

This was a 3 shot handheld bracket but I only used 2 for my blend. One was perfect for everything but the very bright light in the corner from the sun so I used a luminosity mask to blend in from the underexposure to expand the range and get rid of the blown out areas. Enjoy.

Compass of the Dreamers

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

No trip to Walt Disney World is complete without Cinderella Castle photos. Unfortunately with construction on the ramps and bridges as well as the Castle Couture this made photographing the Castle in a way that was still appealing a bit of a challenge. Through most of the Cinderella Castle pics I post from this trip there's no doubt you'll still be able to see bits of the construction here and there but I've shot these photos in such a way that I believe it minimizes and in some case completely hides the fact there was construction underway.

Take this shot as an example. I've done this shot before as a wide landscape shot but doing that this time would have really shown off the construction of the ramps and distracted from the compass on the ground as well as Cinderella Castle. Using a vertical composition instead I was able to hide almost all of the construction with only a little bit of the construction walls showing. The way they look in fact you may not even notice they are construction walls if I had not mentioned it. In addition, shooting low to the ground made sure the focus is on the compass up to the castle and that you could not see any of the construction mess behind the relatively low walls they had up around the ramps. Shooting at full height would have no doubt shown off these issues.

Finally as I often do with a shot like this I used focus stacking in addition to bracketing. For those unfamiliar this involves taking a series of shots with different focus points at varying distances from the camera. In this case I took one series of shots with the focus point towards the front of the tip of the compass and then another series focused around mid way up Cinderella castle both at F8.

Why not just shoot at an aperture with a larger depth of field such as F16 or even F22 you may ask? Well typically the sharpest results your lens will produce (and I have confirmed for my lenses) is around F8. Furthermore as you continue to stop down to F16 and beyond you begin to introduce diffraction which actually decreases the sharpness of the resulting image! Therefore in instances where I can take the time the ideal way to create a shot that is tack sharp from front to back is to take the multiple shots with different focus points and then stack and blend them in post. It does take a bit of extra time both in shooting and processing but the end result is well worth it, especially when viewing at higher resolutions. Enjoy.

Tomorrow Starts Now

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

Tomorrow Starts Now

On the first morning at Disney I had Be Our Guest reservations at 8:20 and the park had early magic hours from 8:00-9:00. As this was the week prior to time change the sunrise time wasn't much after the park opening. In fact arriving on the bus there was some magnificent colors but they were fading as I made my way through security. Clouds were starting to roll in as well but I was still hoping I'd be able to get a couple shots once I got in the park with some of the morning light.

With the construction going on with the castle I didn't even bother going for a more typical sunrise photo but did quickly get a shot in the hub before noticing some gorgeous light starting to appear from the clouds behind the Tomorrowland entrance. The light did not last very long but it lasted just long enough for me to get what I needed and still make it in time for my breakfast reservation.

This is one of those shots I felt really good about from the moment I took it. What I love about it is how the hints of the lights from Tomorrowland's various signs and neon are still showing as the golden light begins to blanket the area. The combination of the lights of the night and the light of the new day combine to create something extra magical. I love too the almost cold, sterile, metal filled future the picture potrays as opposed to the brightly lit neon future Tomorrowland normally elicits. Enjoy.

Wenchin' Ain't Easy

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

Pirates of the Caribbean has always been pretty easy to shoot as far as dark rides go but often very challenging to edit properly thanks to the lighting and the awful orange color casts that came with it. Fortunately all that appears to be a thing of the past.

I knew the lighting had received a major upgrade in the latest refurbishment but you never know how that's going to translate into the camera. First I have to say the new lighting in person is absolutely gorgeous. On top of the improved animatronics that now appear more life like the lighting is a dramatic improvement that really makes the scenes come to life and feel more real.

Fortunately this carries over very well into the photos. Going through my Pirates of the Caribbean shots from this trip I can say already that they are best looking shots I now have of this ride. First of all, everything is lit just right so that areas that should be dark are dark, and areas that should be lit are lit. I was able to get really great exposures that needed minimal adjustment compared to in the past. Additionally the color was much more accurate and needed less correction than in the past. Ultimately this made for an image much closer to what I saw in person and a much cleaner final result. This will certainly be a fun ride to photograph for years to come with these changes making it feel fresh again.

Japan Illuminations Ultra Wide 172 Seconds

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

I have shot from this location many times as I know many other photographers have. It's kinda the go to location for great Illuminations shots. I've never shot it with my Nikon 14-24 however as I usually prefer to shoot with an ND filter and I've never had one for that lens until this trip.

As I mentioned previously this day had been a major bust for photography outside and so around 7:30, just to be safe, and because I was tired anyway I went ahead and headed to Teppan Edo to setup for the shot. Fortunately there was no one there and I was able to setup and relax for a bit and just take in the atmosphere here... as well as watch the radar in hopes of an epic down pour for shooting later that night.

What I really liked about using the 14-24 here is the ability to include the Pagoda on the far right. In the past I've shot my Nikon 24-70 from here and featured the Torii gate alone. I really think this wider view is the best of all the ones I've done as there's something interesting to look at across virtually the entire frame.

A quick bit of technical info. As mentioned this was with the 14-24 2.8 and I used the Pro Grey filter system to attach an ND to the 14-24. I used a 7 stop ND for this show. The exposure was 172 seconds at F8. Enjoy, happy fireworks Friday and have a great weekend everyone!

Futureworld Sunset

PhotographyMatthew CooperComment

After a great sunset in Magic Kingdom the day before I was hoping for similar results my next day in Epcot. I decided to start shooting from in from of Spaceship Earth as the sun was still bursting above the trees and then made my way over to Future World West and along the International Gateway chasing light the whole way.

I had met back up with my wife to sample some more of the foods from the Food & Wine Festival after what I thought was the end of the show. Suddenly as we were walking around there was a wonderful burst of color on the horizon and I quickly looked for something interesting to take advantage.

I've seen plenty of wide shots across the lagoon of the World Showcase and while they can be nice, most are ultimately just pictures of a nice sky and water with little context to where it's taken. With that in mind I opted for the Nikon 70-200 to bring Imagination and the Land of Future World West up close to star in the shot. I usually check all my shots after taking them, and I don't always know if I'm going to like a shot til I get it into post but this was one of those shots even as I was taking it, and especially after previewing it on the back of the camera, I knew I was going to love it. I hope you do too. Enjoy.