When Time is of the Essence

By Tom Bricker on January 27th, 2011   |    Posted in:  Disney Photo Tips   |    7 Comments

During our December trip, we had the opportunity to tour the Cinderella Castle Suite. As the Suite is regularly not seen by park guests, I knew this would be a twice in a lifetime opportunity. (The second time being when Disney is trying to coax me into playing Jack Sparrow’s ruggedly handsome son in Pirates 7.) As we all know, the Suite is gorgeous, so my goal going into the experience would be finding a way to capture its elegance through photos.

Then I was thrown a curveball: we would only have 15 minutes up in the Suite. In photography terms, 15 minutes is nothing. Heck, I’ve spent 15 minutes setting up for a single shot before. The difficulty-meter was cranked up to 11 when I found out that we would be touring the Suite with 8 people besides Sarah and myself. If you’re familiar with the Suite, it’s very small.

I began strategizing in my head how I would tackle the Suite. I am a frequent lens-changer, but I knew this shoot would likely only allow for one lens. Given the small space, it was easily narrowed to two lenses: the 70-200mm f/2.8 or the 400mm. When I decided those might not be such good options, I opted for the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. I chose it because it was a f/2.8 lens and the Suite was dark, and because it was a wide angle. It edged out the Rokinon 8mm fisheye because I wanted the shots to have an elegant and stately look to them, rather than the gimmicky rounded edges of the fish. After all, I was shooting Royal (Guest) Chambers.

Cinderella Castle Suite at Magic KingdomI dialed in my settings ahead of time, choosing Aperture-Priority mode and Auto-ISO with a ceiling of 1600 and a minimum shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. I also decided to bracket everything, not for the purposes of HDR (these are all single frames), but just in case the settings weren’t correct with the 0 shot. With such time constraints, I wasn’t overly concerned with the art of skillfully choosing the right settings for the situation. This allowed me to focus on composition without touching the settings during the shoot.

With the Tokina equipped on my camera and the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 in Sarah’s hands to capture details shots and photos of us in the Suite, we began the tour. Right from the beginning, things looked grim. There were several other guests with cameras even before we took the elevator up, and they were flashing away at everything. I feared they would get in the way of my shots, but knew I had to be polite, as I wasn’t taking a personal photo tour. To make matters worse, our tour started a few minutes late.

Once we got up there, I made the brilliant tactical decision of heading into the bathroom while the rest of the tour listened to the tour guide discuss the bedroom. I could still hear him, and everything he was saying I had heard many times on various travel specials (thanks, Samantha Brown!). Going into the tour, shots of the bathtub were the only ones I visualized. However, as soon as I began shooting it, I realized 11mm was not wide enough. Rather than photographing the entire Suite only to be unsatisfied with the results, I made the quick judgment call to switch lenses to the Rokinon 8mm fisheye. I might have lost a little time, but it’s better to get one good shot than 100 mediocre ones. By making the switch, I believe I accomplished just that. I guess that is the big lesson here: even in a time sensitive situation, it’s better to do what enables you to come away with the shot you want, rather than compromising to get a higher quantity of shots that you don’t want.

Cinderella Castle Suite at the Magic KingdomAfter making the switch, I grabbed another shot of the tub before moving on to the living quarters (where the couch is located). I quickly grabbed a couple shots of this before this area was invaded by others. At this point, there were no clean shots, so I opted to set the camera down and spend the remainder of the tour–or so I thought–taking in everything around me. With a unique experience like this, it was pretty important that I didn’t just experience the entire thing through the viewfinder.

Cinderella Castle SuiteWhen the tour ended, I noticed the sleeping area was empty. If you’ve ever been in the parks with me at night, you know my motto is pushing things to the limit, saying basically, “just one more shot” over and over again for twenty minutes after it has been made abundantly clear that it’s time to go home. As the elevator arrived, I stepped back into this area and grabbed a quick series of shots. I never manage any symmetry in my fisheye shots, yet somehow, this quick grab was fairly symmetrical.

I saw that the elevator was still loading, and all of the sudden an idea hit me. I knew I was really pushing it trying to sneak in one more shot, but I could resist. I headed back over to the tub, and got the shot. I was in such a rush that as I took the third shot, I actually leaned over into the frame to pick up the camera (I didn’t need this frame, luckily).

As the elevator waited for me, I quickly boarded it. It might have been a little rude of my to make the rest of the group wait 10 seconds or so for me (that’s really all it was) to close up this shot, but it was totally worth it.

All in all, it was a wonderful time, even if it was only 12 minutes or so. After all of her longing gazes at the Castle and comments that, “do you think we will still win a stay there tonight” as we closed out the parks during the Year of a Million Dreams, I was surprised they didn’t have to pry Sarah off one of the beds, dragging her kicking and screaming from the room. I was proud of her for behaving. It was a great tour of one of the coolest places in Walt Disney World, combined with a fun photography challenge that ended up being a learning experience–two things that make for an epic time in my book!


  1. Paul Gowder   |   Jan 27, 2011

    Great shots! I’m so jealous that you got to go to the Suite!

  2. Scott Smith   |   Jan 27, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this. I’d love to get the chance to see that suite one day.

  3. Randy   |   Jan 27, 2011

    Thank you Tom for sharing photos of an area the majority of us will never get to see in person. That is what makes this such a great blog is that each contributor is able to bring something unique to their articles.

  4. Jason   |   Jan 27, 2011

    Wow Tom, I really enjoy your photos on Flickr but reading everything that goes on when you capture them is a real treat. Will have to start reading you over at Touring Plans also, didn’t realize you posted there. Great job!

  5. Bob Desmond   |   Jan 27, 2011

    These look GREAT Tom! Good job under pressure. How were you able to tour this suite?

  6. Joanie Eddis-Koch   |   Jan 28, 2011

    Quote: “Given the small space, it was easily narrowed to two lenses: the 70-200mm f/2.8 or the 400mm.”

    Here I thought you’d lost your mind, but then I realized that that probably happened some time ago. Think of the poor folks on the next elevator up to do a 11 minute tour of the Suite, frantically dialing in their 35x optical zooms so that they can replicate these shots.

    Heartless I say, HEARTLESS!



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