Disney Photography Blog

Disney Photography Tips: Boo to You Parade

By Adam Hansen on October 9th, 2013   |    Posted in:  Disney Photo Tips   |    6 Comments

We are back with another installment of Disney Photography Tips and this time we are each sharing our approach to photographing the Boo to You parade from Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. We will be photographing this parade as a large group during Photo Magic and have already received many requests for setting suggestions and the gear that should be used. What you will probably notice when reading this entry is that none of us feel we are any good when it comes to shooting this parade! Granted we have all walked away with good shots in the past, but you will see that it can be a very difficult parade to photograph and you need to get the settings just right if you want that perfect shot!

Hopefully by starting the discussion here, others will start to share their settings in the comments and by the time Photo Magic comes around (in just two weeks!!!), we will all be ready with our cameras to capture those Grim Grinning Ghosts as they make their way down Main Street, U.S.A.

Be sure to let us know your thoughts and approach in the comments, we are dying to hear them!

Cory Disbrow

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I’ve had pretty bad luck shooting this parade in the past, and hope to change that soon. In terms of gear, you’ll probably want to use your fastest lens for this application. The above shot was taken with a Canon 50mm f/1.2 Lens, which is just ridiculous. With the light levels constantly changing, Auto-ISO might be helpful if your camera’s Auto-ISO function works well. If not, I’d dial in my settings in Manual Mode and adjust the ISO from there. Another thing I would do here is go into spot metering. That way, the camera will meter for what you’re focusing on, which is normally the brightest part of the frame.

As far as locations go, the obvious answer is to go to Main Street USA to get that grand view with the castle in the background. If Main Street is too crowded though, Frontierland is a pretty solid second bet. The lighting there has been a little more consistent in my attempts to photograph this parade, so you might walk away with a few more keepers, even if they don’t include the castle in the background.

Lastly, and I think this is a very valuable tip for this parade, is to just shoot a ton. In the digital age, we have the luxury to be able to take a ton of photos and then go back and delete the bad ones. Especially in funky lighting conditions like the Boo to You parade, you’ll have a much higher probability of getting a nice and sharp shot if you take ten photos instead of just one or two.

Ryan Pastorino

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I agree with Cory on a few points.  First of all I will say I have only shot this parade maybe twice and I struggled both times.  It really is one of the most difficult to shoot due to low light and constantly changing lighting effects.  But if I am going to attempt to shoot it, I’m going to stick to my normal nighttime parade shooting techniques.

First of all, location is important.  My preference would be Main Street or somewhere in the hub where the castle can be used as a backdrop.  Main Street is especially good for catching the Headless Horseman as he rushes down the street towards you.

I have always said that the trickier the shooting conditions, the easier manual mode will make things.  I know manual mode scares a lot of people, but hopefully what I have to say makes it less intimidating. The first reason I prefer manual mode is consistency.  Once you dial in settings, you don’t need to worry about what the camera is doing and all you have to concentrate on is nailing focus and composition.  By using a semi-automatic mode such as Aperture or Shutter Priority, the camera will be calculating exposure between each frame based on metering settings, where your lens is pointed, and whats going on with the lighting at that second.  You could hold your exposure lock button to lock in settings, or you can use manual mode…

Another reason I use manual mode is because I try to minimize the workload on the camera.  If I want to maintain a certain shutter speed to freeze the action, why use shutter priority to let the camera choose aperture when I know it’s dark enough that I’ll need my lens opened up all the way anyway?  In fact, chances are your camera will just select the widest aperture in that environment.  So take the load off the camera and just switch to manual and dial in your widest available aperture and leave it.

Shutter speed is important because you want to freeze the action.  With the camera in manual and the widest aperture set, now you can focus on a shutter speed that will stop the action.  This is probably over 1/200s, at least.  Some action in these parades require up to 1/400s to adequately freeze the action. That’s extremely fast in such a dark environment, so to fill in the rest of the exposure triangle, a high ISO setting is required.  Some cameras handle high ISOs better than others, but I will just say that my personal definition of a keeper is a sharp, well-exposed photo.  A soft or blurry photo goes straight to the trash bin.  There are trade-offs in photography. I prefer a sharp photo that might be noisy over a squeaky-clean but blurry photo.  Most modern cameras, including entry-level, are capable of producing good results at higher ISOs.  Noise reduction has greatly improved in editing software as well.

In addition to dialing in exposure, choosing the right focusing mode is important as well.  Single shot mode is great if you have time to focus and compose without any change in distance from the subject.  That’s kind of rare with a parade, so servo mode might be best as the camera will constantly adjust focus as the subject moves.  At wide apertures, the focus plane is extremely thin so nailing focus is crucial.  If your lens has image stabilization, use it.  But remember image stabilization is designed to help against camera shake.  It won’t do anything to help freeze the action from the performers so again shutter speed is important.

Finally, I will echo what Cory said above.  Shoot a lot.  Use burst mode and fire off a few bursts which will help you not only catch a sharp keeper, but also increases the likelihood of catching that perfect moment with the perfect expression on the performer’s face.  Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the parade!  I’m looking forward to getting another opportunity to shoot this parade!

Alan Rappaport

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Boo To You is my favorite parade on Disney soil. I never get tired of seeing the hitchhiking ghosts float down down Main Street with a legion of ghoulish grave-diggers in tow. With that said, you’d think I’d have a portfolio of quality Boo To You shots, or an encyclopedia of tips on how to capture the parade. The truth is I have neither. Boo To You continues to challenge the limits of both my ability and my gear each time I shoot it.

Numerous trial and error attempts at taking on the parade have have led me to rely on manual mode for the most versatility. I’ve found that direct control over my shutter speed and aperture is the best combo for dealing with the varying lighting effects of the floats as well as the fast motion of the performers.

I’ll start by setting my shutter speed to what I think will be appropriate – say 1/60 or 1/80 with a 50mm lens equivalent. Then I’ll speed it up a couple of stops due to my tendency to grossly underestimate the speed of the floats & performers. I’ll try to keep my aperture a few stops short of its max opening in order to up my chances of capturing sharp images – but I’ll go fully wide if I need the extra light. The last part of the equation, ISO, I let fly on auto though I’m careful to limit its max setting to keep from completely obliterating any highlights.

As the parade comes into range I’ll begin juggling my settings trying to keep up with the scenes and conditions of the parade. I’ll quickly chimp an image or two to see how I’m doing, as well as keep an eye on my exposure compensation guide to make sure I’m not underexposing my shots too much.

I’m always one to champion making the best use out of the gear you’ve got, but Boo To You, like dark rides, is much more cooperative with a fast lens and good ISO performance. If neither of those are at your disposal hope is not lost. There are numerous spots around the parade route that are respectably illuminated and allow for great photos even when you are limited to a point & shoot.

Like I said, Boo To You is a challenging parade to shoot, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t nail it on your first shot (or second, third, fourth, fifth and so on in my case). Have fun, enjoy the music and energy and just keep trying.

I’m Looking forward to shooting Boo To You along with everyone in just a few days during PhotoMagic. Good luck and don’t worry, it’s really not so scary.

Adam Hansen

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I don’t always photograph a parade at Disney, but when I do, I prefer the Boo to You parade.

Photographing the parade has always been a challenge for me, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. I have been happy with a good amount of shots I have captured over the years, but I still don’t feel like I have ever gotten that one shot I am after.

When it comes to my approach to photographing Boo to You, I wish I had one trick or setting that I could share with you, but unfortunately I don’t. Just as Cory, Ryan and Alan mentioned in their sections of the article, it is much easier to struggle with shooting this parade than be good at it.

The first time I attended the party, I had my Nikon D90 and the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens. I thought I just needed to set the ISO a bit higher than normal (like a dark ride) and put the camera in aperture priority with it set at f/1.8 and I would be all set. I quickly realized that was not true and I had to use manual mode to set the shutter speed myself, which at the time was brand new to me. Too many of the shots were coming out blurry when I had it in aperture priority, between the different performers, constantly changing lights and the overall darkness of the parade, the camera could not get the correct shutter speed set in time for a clean shot. I had to quickly figure out the best shutter speed to use by trial and error, and I ended up getting a few keepers from the second parade thanks to that.

I had the opportunity to photograph the parade just a few weeks ago and used my Olympus OM-D E-M5 for the first time when shooting it. I picked my fastest lens, the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, and had my camera in manual mode. I took a bit of time before the parade started to find (what I thought) were the ideal settings that would allow me to walk away with every shot perfectly exposed and sharp, or so I thought.

I ended up shooting in manual mode and set the aperture to f/1.4 and moved the shutter speed between 1/60 and 1/125 depending on the scene in the parade. The ISO was set at 5,000 the entire time, though I think during Photo Magic I will try lowering that because I noticed a number of shots came out too noisy. Based on Ryan’s comments above, I am going to try setting the shutter speed to around 1/200 to start with and see how that works, though I will be ready to adjust as needed.

I still have trouble looking at a scene and knowing the shutter speed, aperture and ISO that needs to be set in manual to freeze the action. So what I would do is use the time before the parade to test out my settings, either on cast members walking down Main Street or the performers in the dance party that gets shown before the parade. I will then adjust the shutter speed during the parade based on what I am shooting at the time. I tried going with a slower shutter speed during the gravediggers segment so that I could capture the sparks on the street, but it ended up being too slow and I came away with nothing. That is one scene in particular that I plan on working on during Photo Magic.

For the most part I have been happy with the results I have gotten during the Boo to You parade. I still don’t feel I have captured the perfect shot from any scene, but just like a dark ride, it makes me want to keep trying. To be honest, I am looking forward to getting together as a group to find out what others plan to use for their settings and hopefully coming away with a few of the shots I have always been after.

If you are able to come away with a few good photos, it can even be worth having that song stuck in your head for a few weeks! Plus, who doesn’t love a parade that ends with free lollypops!

What do you think?

We have each shared our thoughts on photographing the Boo to You parade, now we want to hear what you think! Let us know in the comments what settings you normally use for the parade, if you have had any luck in the past or if you have any questions that we can answer for you.

6 Comments

  1. Rachael   |   Oct 9, 2013

    I loved reading this article because I have never had ANY luck photographing this parade and was pleasantly surprised to read that you all feel the same way. I guess I just figured that whenever you decided to point your camera at something in Disney World, the photo just automatically turned out incredible. I guess you all are human! ;-)

    Seriously though, the tips you did share make so much sense now that I am reading them. I only wish I had a trip planned for this year so I could try them out. I never thought about shooting manual (I have a Nikon D7000), but your reasoning makes me realize that it is needed.

    Thanks so much!

    • Alan Rappaport   |   Oct 9, 2013

      Thanks for your comment Rachael, I know exactly how you feel. When the topic of this post came up I was feeling vastly unqualified to contribute to it.

      I was a relieved to read through the final post though and see that I was not alone in my struggles with Boo To You. It’s a tough beast to tame with your camera, but after reading the advice above from Cory, Ryan & Adam I’m looking forward to giving it another shot.

      Hope you get the chance to do the same soon, and good luck!

  2. Tom Bricker   |   Oct 9, 2013

    I almost always walk away from the Boo to You Parade with my tail between my legs. Finally, this year I had some success during the second parade. I still missed the Gravediggers (perhaps my biggest white whale in Disney photography) because my buffer filled as the sparks started flying.

    I normally do *not* use manual mode (except doing landscapes on a tripod), especially for action shots, but I think it’s a good suggestion in this case. In fact, I think everyone has some good advice here.

    Even with the best advice in the world and “perfect” settings, this is very difficult parade to photograph. 90%+ shots will be garbage…so I’d follow Cory’s advice and play the percentages by taking as many shots as possible.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned: don’t use flash. It will make things easier, but it kills the ambiance of the parade, both in person and in the photos. Flash-less photos will be better, and more rewarding.

    • Alan Rappaport   |   Oct 9, 2013

      Ha! I almost posted about using a flash during the parade. I’ll admit, I’ve done it a few times – using a slow shutter and second curtain sync in an effort to add some motion to the shot and I agree, it does have a somewhat adverse effect on the overall energy of the parade.

      I don’t know if it killed the ambiance necessarily, but it did sort of dismantle the cohesiveness of it it in my photos. Meaning the shots I got from using a flash took the subjects out of the context of the parade, losing all the grandeur and wonder of it. This doesn’t even take into account the effect my flash had on the other guests around me.

      As for those gravediggers… ugh… they are the stuff of nightmares…

  3. DonnaMac   |   Oct 9, 2013

    Have you tried it position yourself on Main Street so when you take the shot they have come to a more lt position. If you notice Main Street has light and dark places, look up and you will see the light and figure out where they are shinning. You want to take the shot when they come into a more well lit area. It is easier said than done but does increase you light and your chance of a better shot. Now to get those darn grave diggers to stop there. Awesome tips as usual keep up the great work.

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