Disneyland Resort in California is a special place year-round, but during the Christmas season (November 14th, 2011 through January 8th, 2012) it really embodies that "magic" in which the Walt Disney Company seems to specialize.
This is readily apparent as soon as guests enter Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom. Their eyes are drawn immediately to the giant 60-foot tall Christmas tree, their ears are enveloped in holiday music, and they breathe in the aroma of Christmas cookies baking at the Blue Ribbon Bakery. (This last sensory experience segues into "taste" as most guests surely cannot resist these tempting smells and quickly find themselves in line to purchase these treats!) Quite simply, Disney and Christmas go together about as much as America and Apple Pie. Heck, the two go together about as much as Disney and America!
As Disneyland has evolved over the years, its Christmas offerings have been refined. Long gone is the giant red bow around the Monsanto House of the Future (and the house itself, for that matter), also gone are many decorations, including the iconic white trees that seemed to float in the moat around Sleeping Beauty Castle for years.
However, for everything that has come and gone, it seems Disney has added countless replacements. Guests are now treated to a holiday incarnation of the classic "it's a small world" attraction that boasts a holiday-themed soundtrack, decorations, and thousands of Christmas lights on its facade. Similarly, the Haunted Mansion attraction receives a make-over that brilliantly combines Halloween and Christmas, as two holidays collide in the Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired Haunted Mansion Holiday. Disneyland also features live reindeer, nightly Christmas fireworks known as "Believe... In Holiday Magic," and the long-running "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" to round out its festive entertainment during the Christmas season.
When photographing these offerings, especially the parade and the indoor holiday attractions at Disneyland, you will need to use a high ISO, a shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second to prevent motion blur (as either you or the scenery will be moving), and a wide open aperture of around f/1.4 to f/2.8. Often, this can be equipment-prohibitive. If you're using a point and shoot camera, your lens may not be capable of this wide of an aperture and your high ISO may be too grainy. For the parade, you may consider using a flash if presented with this problem. Remember, though, that a flash will often wash out the Christmas lights found on the floats, rendering your shots unimpressive.
Conversely, when photographing static shots of the lights around Disneyland at night, you won't have to contend with moving objects, so use a tripod or other form of stabilizing device for your camera -- even a trash can works. In these situations, longer exposures are better because they will cause people moving through your shots to disappear from the final photo. Similarly, a higher number aperture of around f/14-16 is best, not only because it will give you greater depth of field, but also because it will give the lights in your photo somewhat of a restrained starburst look. Keep your ISO as low as you can to avoid grainy shots, too. Finally, use a remote or self-timer so you don't cause camera blur when you depress the shutter release!
Christmas-time at Disneyland Resort is truly a special time of year, and is sure to melt the heart of even the most cynical guests, who envision Disneyland as a mere "kiddie park" that they only visit because they feel obligated to take their children. Viewing Disneyland vicariously through the eyes of a child, or even taking a moment to stop and examine Disneyland's many clever details, should dispel that cynicism pretty quickly.
It may be cliche, but during the holiday season, there truly is magic in the air at Disneyland. Hopefully with these photo tips, you can capture your own slices of the magic to bring home as personal souvenirs!
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