21 combined exposures to create 1 stunning Disney photo

By Samuel Justice on January 26th, 2011   |    Posted in:  Processing   |    5 Comments

Introduction – About Samuel Justice

Hello readers!  My name is Samuel Justice. I’m a photographer from across the pond in the UK, I’m based just outside of Brighton in the county of Sussex.  I’m based over at www.samueljustice.net or you can follow me at twitter.com/samueljustice, I started taking photography seriously about 5 years ago when I got my first DSLR. Before then I’d just played around with point and shoot cameras.

Walt Disney World was my main inspiration for diving into the world of photography. Everytime I used to visit as a younger lad I’d always see the bright colours and fantastic buildings and want to take them home with me.  Photography was the best way for me to do this as it offered a creative outlet as well.  Since then I’ve been building up my portfolio over here in the UK with landscape work as well as portraiture work (which is mainly musicians and local bands.)

I’ve followed disneyphotographyblog.com since it was born as it offered a wonderful insight into two things I’m passionate about (photography and Disney). I was lucky enough to have a recent holiday coincide with the WDW photography meetup and was able to join the guys from here.  I can tell you I’ve never met such a bunch of down to earth, easy going, nice guys who are more than happy to share tips and tricks about photography and the parks themselves (the plethora of knowledge they have on the parks is incredible).

Being a firm believer of knowledge earned is knowledge shared I am hoping to post on here as often as possible, but due to the distance between my base and Walt Disney World I will probably only be able to post about once or twice a month.

About the shot

For my first post I thought I’d share with you guys how I composed and processed the following image – “The Chinese Theatre – Disney’s Hollywood Studios”. Please note the image was processed using Adobe Photoshop CS5, so a lot of this post might seem like some weird alien language to someone who hasn’t played around with Photoshop before.

Mann's Chinese Theatre at Disney's Hollywood Studios

This photograph was created by combining 21 exposures!

Composing this shot was fairly simple, the building is such a large and interesting subject it would be hard to place it in a bad composition! The building lit up at night is just so much more interesting as well, so I decided to shoot it in the evening and picked a time when I knew the crowds were going to be incredibly thin (thank you touringplans.com!).

There are two main things that our brains are attracted to in an image, one is light and the other is colour. Using one of these to represent your subject in an image will attract your viewers attention to the areas of the image you want to be expressed. Thankfully not much work is needed on a subject such as this! As you can see it clearly stands out from its surroundings in both colour and light.

I always carry a trusty travel tripod with me, it fits nicely on my slingshot bag. I set up the tripod with only one set of legs extended (instead of the maximum of 3) and had to lie on the floor to be able to see through the viewfinder. I shot this with a very nice Nikkor 17-55 2.8 lens. I know the lenses “sweet spot” for sharpness is around f5.6 but I didn’t want any lack of depth of field, the entire image had to be sharp as a tack! So for this reason I shot at f8. Thanks to the tripod and a small remote I carry I did not have to worry about the shutter speed.

Why 21 exposures & some great tips

Overall the final image is made up of 21 exposures, this is due to it being an HDR image and a vertorama (the same as a panorama, but vertically!). The vertorama is made up of 7 HDR processed images, each HDR image is 3 exposures blended together. The reason for the 7 images for the vertorama is that I wanted to capture as much detail as possible.

One word of warning though – NEVER shoot a panoramic image in anything other than manual! You need the base exposure settings to be the exact same for every image taken so that they blend together consistently. Shooting on aperture priority mode means that one image could have a longer shutter speed than the other, making it brighter and inconsistent with the other. Find a nice exposure on manual and stick with it for all shots.

I shoot in raw mode as do most photographers (raw being lower case, some people call it RAW but raw is not actually a file type). You’ll find that 99% of DSLRs offer consumers the chance to shoot in raw these days.

The differences between shooting raw and JPEG are usually misunderstood, some people assume that shooting in raw provides you with an uncompressed image. This is true to some extent but it is only scratching the surface. Shooting raw is like having an original negative, the only thing the camera is storing is the brightness information for each colour channel, that is it. This means it does not matter about the white balance, colour space and other factors as these can all be set later in the digital darkroom. When shooting raw the 3 main things to think about are shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

A book I recently read put it best “shooting in JPEG is like taking your film to a high street photo lab, throwing away the negatives and then making scans from the prints”. Shooting JPEG means the camera is choosing the white balance, contrast and deciding the overall tones (highlights and blacks).

You may ask “Why shoot JPEG at all?” 2 main reasons spring to mind.

Firstly, file space. Raw files are usually 10mb (or more), whereas JPEGS can be likened to an mp3 (usually 3-5mb) therefore allowing you double the storage.

Secondly, all cameras have a buffer. A buffer is the amount of data the camera can store before it needs to be processed and placed onto the memory card. This means that if you’re shooting a sporting event, clicking your shutter rapidly, the camera will only be able to store a minor amount of raw files compared to JPEG. Once the buffer is full, it won’t allow you to shoot anything for a few seconds whilst it processes what you have taken. Those few seconds could be vital in a sporting match.


Anyway, continuing on. Once I was back home I brought these images into Adobe Bridge, highlighted them all and double clicked on them. This opened them all up in Camera Raw (Adobe’s Raw image processor). I then adjusted the white balance, sharpness and lens correction (I shot this at 17mm, the widest my lens can shoot. This causes the final image to distort slightly around the edges, giving a rounded look. Adjusting this in the lens correction section of Camera Raw gets rid of the distortion). These adjustments were made on one of the images and none of the other 20. It’s worth pointing out that the exposure, levels, curves and well pretty much anything can also be set at this stage.

Whilst I normally would set all settings in Camera Raw for a single exposure, I find it much harder to get a consistent look on an HDR or panoramic image once they are blended together in Photoshop after being adjusted in Camera Raw.

It is for this reason that I wait until the images are blended into the final vertoramic composition before I begin editing anything other than white balance, sharpness and lens correction.

I sharpen all my images in Camera Raw these days and nothing else, this is with good reason. Before the days of Camera Raw 6.0 (that comes with Adobe Photoshop CS5), previous versions of its sharpen features weren’t to great. Camera Raw would end up adding a lot of unwanted noise (small speckles) onto the image when sharpened. The team at Adobe realised this and completely reworked the sharpen tools in Camera Raw, and they’ve far surpassed what they built in Photoshop. Once I was happy with this I synchronised the settings so all the images had the same white balance, sharpness and lens correction adjustments applied from Camera Raw. I then started to work on the HDR processing. Since there were 7 images to build the vertorama the easiest way to manage this was to process one of the 7 images in Photoshop’s HDR Pro, then save the settings for that image as a preset and then apply that preset to the rest of the images to get a consistent look.

I decided to go for a natural feel when processing in HDR (even though the final has a lot of depth in the contrast, this was achieved at a later stage). The reason for this is that I am not fond of over the top, eye bleeding, nuclear looking HDR images that seem to be the (thankfully dying) fashion. The 7 final HDR edits were all saved as TIF files and then merged together using Photoshop’s Photomerge tool. It was at this stage, once Photoshop had blended them together and brought them into Photoshop, that I then adjusted the levels, basic contrast and colours. I do this all using Adjustment Layers, this allows you to apply an effect (such as a levels adjustment) as a layer instead of the image itself. Which means you can work in a non destructive way, adjusting changes as you see fit, instead of working in a “no turning back” fashion. I then did my final crop.

Once I was happy with this I ran the image through my favourite plugin ever made (at the moment), Nikor Color Efex Pro 3.0, the filters on this plugin are incredible. For this image I used the Tonal Contrast filter which gave the image the incredibly detailed feel I was after. I had to mask this filter as it also brought out detail in the floor and sky which I didn’t want as it was distracting the viewer from the building. This was then all flattened and saved into what you now see!

I hope you enjoyed reading into my thought process of how I created that image. I look forward to seeing your creations!


  1. Kevin   |   Jan 26, 2011

    Wow, tons of great info in this article. I will have to go back and read again later. Great job.

  2. Adam   |   Jan 26, 2011

    Welcome to the site Sam, glad to have you on board contributing. Excellent first post and the information about Raw vs. Jpeg should be read by everybody using a DSLR. Great job.

  3. Sam   |   Jan 26, 2011

    Thanks for the warm welcome! If anyone has any questions I’m more than happy to answer them at sam@samueljustice.net or on here!

  4. Photogineer (Doug)   |   Feb 16, 2011

    Great work Sam. I have been thinking of doing this type of shot for awhile but just have not remembered when out and taking shots. Looks like the tips you gave will have to get me out and shooting this type of shot. Of coarse now I have to go out and get off my computer desk. :-)



Kingdom Camera Rentals

Save space when packing your suitcase and let Kingdom Camera Rentals deliver a lens or camera gear directly to your hotel when you visit Walt Disney World Resort.

Be sure to let them know you came from Disney Photography Blog!