Tips for photographing the Headless Horseman at Disney
We have received a number of requests for tips on photographing the Headless Horseman at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. The Headless Horseman has always been a difficult photo to capture, especially without the use of flash. In recent years it seems he is traveling along the parade route a little slower, which should make things easier, though it can still be a difficult shot to get.
We have asked a few other contributors to send in one of their Headless Horseman photos along with any tips they can provide. We thought this would be a unique way to offer photography tips for a particular shot as opposed to just one photographers point of view. It is great to see that each person had a different way of capturing the shot, which proves there is no one correct setting.
Let us know what you think of this concept and we may continue it with other photo subjects.
The headless horseman is such a fun beginning to Mickey’s Boo to You Parade. To photograph him, first choose your parade spot wisely. Try to find an area that is well illuminated. Some areas along the parade route are quite dark while other areas next to street lamps are much brighter. Also, know that the Headless Horseman starts from Frontierland just before the parade starts and reaches Main Street about 5 minutes later. The remainder of the parade will not reach the end of Main Street for at least 20-25 minutes after the Headless Horseman so if time is a premium and you want to minimize waiting, Frontierland may be a better choice.
You’ll want to use your fastest lens – for this photo, I used my Sigma 30mm 1.4. I put the camera in shutter speed priority, choosing 1/320, and set the ISO to 2000. (I’ve used shutter speeds as low as 1/80 and, at this speed, you’re not likely to completely stop the motion but that’s ok, if your goal is to communicate a sense of movement). I recommend choosing a focusing point where you think the horseman will be placed in your frame, in addition to using the AI Servo/AF Continuous mode of focusing. I’ve tried keeping all focal points active and using AI Servo but with the shallow depth of field at f/1.4, I’ve missed focus this way more often than not. Also, put the camera into burst mode and take as many photos as possible. The light inside the pumpkin head flickers on and off so you’ll want to take a number of photos to make sure you capture it when it is on. Good luck and happy shooting!
I shot the Headless Horseman three times this past trip, always using the panning method. I did this because I knew I had the luxury of photographing him three times (if you go to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, you’ll have two opportunities, so there is a safety net if your first try doesn’t work), as I’ve found panning to be a high risk proposition for situations such as this.
For settings, I chose aperture priority with auto ISO set to raise my ISO as high as necessary if my shutter otherwise would have needed to drop below 1/30th of a second. Because I wanted the scene to be dark (and I could recover some light in Photoshop without compromising shutter speed), I set my exposure compensation to -1.33. Luckily, on Main Street (the best place, by far, to photograph the Boo to You parade) there is a decent amount of light, so my camera only kicked the ISO up to 360. As the horseman approached, I did a slight pan, shooting in burst mode until my buffer filled. Using this method, I got a couple of usable shots, but nothing great, each time he passed.
Next time I think I might be a little more daring and use a shutter speed around 1/15th to 1/20th of a second. Even more risky, but I think the payoff will be better with more blurring in the background. Static shots of the Horseman on Main Street should be relatively easy by using autofocus that tracks and a shutter speed of around 1/150th of a second. Adjust ISO upwards accordingly.
Crystal & Bryan
We unfortunately didn’t get to the parade route early enough to get a front-row seat, which would have been preferable. For this shot I bumped up the ISO as high as usable on my 50D (3200) and shot a burst. The lens I used was the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens, although I went with f/1.8 for the aperture (I find shooting at f/1.4 a bit soft sometimes and tried to err on the side of caution). I still didn’t get as sharp an image as I’d have liked, although we did up the sharpness on the Horseman in Photoshop (and also put a little Gaussian blur on the background to further emphasize the Horseman). Definitely one of the trickiest subjects to shoot at Walt Disney World, and with little opportunity for practice!
I made sure to use my fastest lens, a 50mm f/1.2 to capture the Headless Horseman. I was set up in Frontierland right near a spotlight which I knew would provide adequate to good lighting for the shot. I made sure to set my aperture to f/1.2 to get the fastest shutter speed I could, and judging by the light I had, I figured ISO 1600 would work sufficiently. In the first two shots, I got a pretty crisp shot of him, even at the extremely wide aperture of f/1.2. That was thanks to the good light from the spotlight. Then as I followed him with my camera out of the good light from the spot I found, the shutter speed I was using became a little too slow, but I got lucky and caught a panning-esque shot of him, which I thought came out pretty neat.
I attended both parades the night I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, with the idea of getting an extra chance at photographing the headless horseman. The first parade I watched from Frontierland and the lighting was not that great. I also set my ISO too high (3200) with the initial idea of not wanting to miss him as he passed. It turned it he was moving a bit slower than the previous year, so it gave me a chance to adjust my settings for the second parade.
For the second parade I found a spot on Main Street and made sure I was near one of the lights that shine down from the buildings on Main Street. This time I shot in manual mode (f/1.8, 1/80, ISO 2000) and hoped for the best. I knew I would just hold down the shutter and take as many shots in burst mode as I could. Unfortunately, I started this when he was still too far down Main Street so by the time the headless horseman got closer my camera buffer had run out and I had to wait a second. I was still able to get a few shots off when he was directly in front of me, and luckily ended up with one I was really happy with.
Obviously the extra light helped, but I think it also added a cool effect to the photo by shining on the horse.
Hope you enjoyed this new feature, we think it offers a unique view on a photo subject and hope to offer it again in the future. Also, thank you to Tom, Katie, Crystal and Bryan for contributing to the article and sending in examples. They are all great friends of the blog and amazing photographers. Be sure to check out their work in the links above.