Digital Photography for Disney

Disneyland Partners Infrared Picture
Light exists that the human eye can’t see. I could elaborate further (well, not me, since I don’t understand science, but someone who knows things could), but this is the only basic premise you need to understand (near) infrared photography.
So if our eyes can’t see it, and our cameras typically can’t see it, how the heck do we photograph infrared light? Well, the camera actually can see it. The camera’s sensor is actually quite sensitive to infrared light, but camera manufacturers place a filter called a “Hot Mirror” to block this light from reaching the sensor, meaning that only the “regular” light (or visible light as it’s properly known) reaches the sensor. However, this filter only blocks the vast majority of infrared light, but not all of it.
Thus, by using a filter (the Hoya R72 is a popular choice) on top of the lens that blocks out all visible light,  we can use standard cameras to capture infrared photos. Unfortunately, because the camera’s Hot Mirror blocks out almost all infrared light, and the filter on top of the lens is blocking out all visible light, really long exposures are required to achieve properly exposed infrared photos. I’m talking 60 seconds or more in broad daylight. The exposure times are typically longer with newer cameras, as the camera manufacturers continue to improve upon the sensors, making them less sensitive to infrared light. So, with this method, you can use your camera mounted to a tripod for 60 plus second exposures in broad daylight. That’s how long it was taking me to capture infrared photos with my Nikon D7000 when I first purchased an infrared filter.
Disney Infrared Photography Tom Bricker
Being lazy and impatient, I bought a DSLR that had its Hot Mirror removed so that it shoots only in infrared, allowing me to capture infrared shots with exposure times roughly equivalent to those used with a normal camera. The downside here is that most of these cameras are going to be older models, such as the Nikon D50, D70, or D100. If you haven’t used any of these bad boys in a few years, and you purchase one of these cameras, you’re going to be in for a surprise: the LCD review screen is significantly smaller and the dynamic range is significantly worse, among other things. That said, I still think this is the far superior of the two options.
Disney Animal Kingdom Infrared Asia
With the gear in hand to properly capture an infrared photo, your best bet is to go out and find some greenery. Infrared light tries to hide from us humans in trees ‘n’ stuff, making foliage and flora shots the best bet for infrared photos. Unsurprisingly, the Disney theme parks are rife with photo opportunities. Animal Kingdom is a great park for infrared photography (the only time I enjoy photographing the place!), as are the untrodden paths around Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot makes for great infrared photography, as do topiaries around property, in general. Even the Studios, with its many palms lining Commissary Lane and Sunset Boulevard, has some great spots for infrared photos.
Out west at Disneyland, the hub makes an excellent place to shoot, as does Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland and Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country. Across the Esplanade at Disney California Adventure, the forests of the Golden State and palms of Paradise Pier make excellent options.

Once you’ve taken pictures, the next step is processing the photos. When you dump the photos onto your computer, you’ll find that most of them are a red hot mess. This is easily corrected by performing a red/blue channel swap in Photoshop. Using the channel mixer, set the red channel to 0% red and 100% blue, and the blue channel to 100% red and 0% blue. Your mileage may vary on this, and you may find somewhere less extreme (say, 3% and 97%, 97% and 3%)  is best. I haven’t found that to be the case yet, and actually now use a Photoshop Action because I got sick of doing this manually.
At this point, you’ll have blues where there were once reds, and the image will look a lot more realistic (well, relatively speaking, since trees and grass don’t “realistically” appear white), but it will likely be a bit flat. You’ll want to do a curves adjustment, picking black and white points. I usually use an adjustment layer to do this, and then I use another adjustment layer to add brightness, masking out the areas that would otherwise be blown out if I brighten them. It may sound difficult, but I’ve found infrared images are some of the easiest-to-process images!
Alternatively, if you prefer the classic black and white look to your infrared photos, you can simply convert them to black and white. I usually do this by opening the channels palette, but there are a number of methods you can use to do this–there’s really no wrong or right way. From there, you’ll want to make curves adjustments, as the image will likely be a bit flat.
Disney Haunted Mansion Black and White Infrared
So there you have it, my “simple” guide to Infrared Disney Photography! All you have to do is purchase a new camera, take a trip to Disney, and then process the images. That’s all!
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