Disney Photography With Tim Devine by Kelly Symons

This month I had the privilege and honor to interview my friend and fellow Disney fanatic, Tim Devine. Not only is Tim a Disney fanatic and amazing photographer but he is also a Police Officer in NJ. I got to meet Tim back in 2008, and have been a huge fan of his work ever since. I thought it would be interesting for all of our readers to hear what Tim has to say about how he got into photography as well as advice on how to take some great pictures at “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Tree of Life

1) For our readers who might not be familiar with your work, fill us in on The Magic in Pixels.

The Magic in Pixels was founded in 2006 as an outlet for me to share my Disney vacation photos with the Internet. I had been running a Disney Photo Blog but wanted more freedom and flexibility and decided to turn it into a full-fledged website.

The Magic in Pixels has great content articles, photo essays, photography tips and tutorials, a photo gallery with over 16,500 photos (with nearly 12 MILLION views), a discussion forum, and even more. There is really something for everyone!

The Magic in Pixels is also the presenting community for Pixelmania!, an annual get-together for Disney fan photographers and members of The Magic in Pixels to spend time together and have fun learning from each other.

2) How did you get into photography and what is your background?

I had always been a hobbyist or tinkerer but never anything really serious until I had gotten my first digital camera, aMansion Sony CyberShot S75 back in 2002. I upgraded that to a Sony CyberShot V1 in early 2004 and took that to Riviera Maya, Mexico on our honeymoon. When we got back from our honeymoon, I showed some of our photos to the gentlemen who own the photography studio that shot our wedding (Tom Angello Sr. and Jr. from Olympic Studio) and they offered me a try-out on the spot at an upcoming wedding! I have been working for them, part-time on and off, ever since.

I learned pretty much everything I know about the art of photography and how to carry myself professionally when doing a job for a client from the Angello’s and a few other local photographers that I know. The rest I learned from reading and researching and not being afraid to ask questions and experiment.

Style-wise I consider myself a traditionalist. I am not a huge fan of the trendy fish-eye and HDR photos that seem to be appearing everywhere, although I agree that there is a time and place for those types of photos. I post-process to make things look realistic and try to stay away from that “CGI” or “Pixar” look.

3) What type(s) of camera(s), lenses(s) and other equipment do you use? And how you do get your pictures to look so perfect, without looking fake?

My main camera is a Canon 1Dx, which is Canon’s top of the line digital SLR body. I have upgraded incrementally from a Digital Rebel and up the line over several years and now I am using the 1D series, the pro-line. I love the Tom Sawyerbuild quality, image quality, focusing speed, and pretty much everything the camera offers (except for maybe the price… haha).

Lens-wise I mostly use the Canon 24-105 f/4L, the Sigma 50-500 OS (aka the SigMonster). I also have the Canon 17-40 f/4L for wide-angle, and the 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm fast primes for dark rides. 

Last year I got a Sony NEX-6 mirror less camera with a few lenses to try carrying something that had a lot less weight but would still provide good image quality. I used it quite a bit in the parks over our last two trips; I won’t make me forget my 1Dx even a little bit but it takes amazing black and whites and HDR shots (that I set to look realistic). Focus speed and accuracy are not the best, but during the day or at night off a tripod the pictures come out very nice. 

While processing my images I use Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 4.4. While they are not the latest versions, I am comfortable with using them and they serve me needs adequately. I have a workflow that I stick with and that helps me make edits quickly and consistently.

Like I mentioned before, I process to try to enhance what is already there rather than going for the over the top look. It is much easier to “get it right in camera” then use the computer to enhance what already looks nice than use Photoshop as a band-aid. I cringe when I hear someone say, “ahhh… just fix it in Photoshop!”.  

4) What made you decide that Disney World would become the main focus of your work?

I had become a fan of Disney Park photography from several other websites that I used to frequent and began sharing some pictures on those sites before I started my blog. As I began to get more and more positive feedback, I keep doing what I already had been doing – but always trying to do it better. I keep that mindset to this day. When I am asked why I need “another Castle picture” my answer is “because this one might be better than anything I had ever gotten before”. To me, that is the key to improving and increasing my skill set- always keep trying to get better.

We have visited other places but the majority of my photos have come from Walt Disney World or Disneyland so that’s what I keep sharing.

5) No other place can put on a fireworks display the way Disney can, and fireworks also seem to be difficult to capture in pictures. What advice can you offer to our readers who want to capture some easy and/or amazing shots of Disney fireworks?

Shooting pictures of fireworks can be an exhilarating and frustrating challenge and the same time. It can be frustrating because there is a finite amount of time and shutter snaps during a particular show so you don’t have the luxury of standing there and taking a picture, reviewing it, making adjustments, and doing it again. Also, the show is always changing; it is fluid. No two bursts are the same, so the timing changes, the duration of the photo changes, and possibly even where you are pointing the camera changes. In the case of IllumiNations, the show starts off wide and near ground level, focuses in on the globe, moves up higher up in the sky, and ends up back up focusing on the torch. 

Preparation is the key and you need to have a game plan! For starters, you need to have your camera on a tripod because you will be going for LONG exposures (10 seconds or more). I like to pre-focus my camera on something in the foreground that will not be moving, such as the top of Cinderella Castle, one of the barges in the middle of World Showcase Lagoon, etc. because I know that one of those objects will not be moving… a “constant” in a series of variables. I then switch my camera from auto-focus to manual, which keeps me locked in, and ready. Being pre-focused requires the camera to have one less setting that needs to be tended to. If I have to adjust the focal length (zoom in or out) I just repeat the process.

I have also started using an ND filter on my lens while shooting fireworks. ND filters are like sunglasses for your lens and they serve to reduce the amount of light coming through the lens and into the camera. They come in varying strengths. While this may sound counter-intuitive, it allows you to have longer shutter speeds which lead to bigger fireworks bursts with longer trails with better color and detail.

6) Taking pictures while on rides like the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and It’s a Small World (for example) are popular yet difficult because the ride vehicles are in motion. How do we go about getting some great shots withoutCastle night them coming out so blurry?

You need to have your camera’s shutter speed fast enough to overpower the movement of the ride vehicle. For rides like it’s a small world and most parts of the PeopleMover (during the day), the vehicle is not moving so fast that it is impossible to get a decent picture without super-fancy equipment. A shutter speed of 1/160 second or so should be fast enough to get the job done but whether or not you can achieve that will depend on your equipment.

For DARK rides, I use my aforementioned prime lenses (non-zooming lenses with very fast apertures) in conjunction with my camera’s ability to shoot at higher ISO without a ton of noise to get to the shutter speed I am seeking. I set my camera to shutter priority (S, Sp, or TV depending on what you have) so that I can specify the shutter speed that I want and let the camera set the aperture (f/stop) to make it happen.

Is it important to remember that most people don’t get to see all of the photos that I don’t use, which could be up to 33-40% of what I shoot in a trip. They are not all keepers.

7) What are your top 5 must take shots while in Disney World?

Instead of 5 specific photos, because everyone’s tastes are different, let’s talk about 5 must take genres. You need to have photos of icons, people, food, animals, and nature. ICONS cover the obvious, postcard-type pictures of the parks, such as Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth, the Sorcerer Mickey hat, or the Tree of Life. Everyone takes pictures of them in their own style. PEOPLE photos cover your friends and family, performers, characters, and Cast Members. FOOD covers all of the delicious offerings from the parks and restaurants; it doesn’t need to only be from Victoria and Albert’s. Quick service and even snack stands have interesting and colorful creations that are worthy of a picture. ANIMALS could be all of the inhabitants from Animal Kingdom but also birds, squirrels, and any of the other locals that you might find in the parks from time to time. NATURE encompasses flowers, plants, trees, landscaping and all of the natural beauty found in the parks and around the resort hotels.

8) To the other end of the spectrum what are your top 5 “off the beaten path” or most overlooked spots for pictures in Disney World? And Why?

Wow, what a tough question! There are so many wonderful spots to choose from that it is almost impossible to narrow it down to just five. I love shooting in the Victoria Gardens or Temple of Heaven in Epcot, the shot of Expedition Everest from the Flame Tree Barbeque in Animal Kingdom, DiVine in Animal Kingdom, the Streets of America at night in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and pretty much anything once it gets dark in Animal Kingdom, especially the paths around the Tree of Life. 

9) If you could do a photo shoot of any character in the parks who would it be and why?

Lights Motor CarsAnother great question! The easy answer would be Mickey Mouse since his good natured and optimistic personality would always bring smiles to the faces of guests. I also think it would be great fun to work with characters who have personality like Tinker Bell whose spunky yet moody personality would be a lot of fun and ever Captain Jack Sparrow because I think the dialog and byplay with guests would be hilarious. A few years ago I got to work a set at Swan and Dolphin featuring Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and their favorite elf, Kandy Kane. It was hilarious and the time flew by.

10) Which park is your favorite to take photos in? 

It’s a coin toss between Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Epcot has all of those wonderful cultural components around World Showcase and Animal Kingdom is, in my opinion, such a beautifully designed park with the plants and animals, plus you never know what you are going to see. That’s not to say that I dislike any of the other parks. Magic Kingdom has so many different genres and themes and Disney’s Hollywood Studios has beautiful lighting at night so really it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.  

11) Has your wife, Karen or either one of your sons expressed any interest in learning photography or do the boys want to follow in your footsteps? 

Karen is happy using her iPhone to take pictures and doesn’t have a huge interest in using a larger camera. But she is in “mommy-mode” most of the time so her iPhone suits her needs just fine. Both of my boys enjoy taking pictures and Billy (8) has really developed “an eye” for taking pictures and is quite good at it. Ryan (almost 5) likes taking pictures also but he is more in “spray and pray” mode since he is only 4. He likes pointing the camera and pressing the button but doesn’t really look to see what he shoots; Billy is just like me. He shoots, reviews, tries to figure out how to do it better, asks a bunch of questions, and tries again. He took a picture of me holding our daughter on the couch when she was a newborn that blows my mind how good it was. From time to time both Billy and Ryan say that they want to be photographers when they get older. 

12) Is there any other advice you can give our readers on taking pictures in the “Happiest Place on Earth?” Do you offer classes or seminars? 

Don’t get frustrated, practice at home, and KEEP IT SIMPLE! I see so many people that get frustrated because they are trying to re-invent the wheel or make things too complicated. You are in Walt Disney World to have fun and enjoy yourself and unless you are being paid to do a job for the company, you don’t need to be overly technical and drive yourself nuts. The first thing you need to learn is how to compose a shot THEN learn about exposure and all of the other stuff. A poorly composed but brilliantly exposed photo is still a poorly composed photo. 

I always invite people to join my forums and ask questions; asking questions is how I learn and I try to pay that forward to others. I pride myself in being accessible and if people want to post a question or email me I always try to get back to them.  

Also Pixelmania (October 16-19, 2014) is a great place to learn, not only from me but also from some of the very talented members of my site. My biggest rule, both on my forums and at Pixelmania, is to share the knowledge with others in a friend and non-intimidating manner. None of us invented the art of photography so therefore we shouldMain Street all be able to learn from each other in a place we all enjoy so much.

As far as classes or seminars, I have been a presenter at various fan gatherings over the years, including MouseFest, MagicMeets, and of course Pixelmania. If someone wants to spend some time with me learning about photography, then can always contact me and we can try to arrange something. I have been hired for lessons in the past and really enjoy the challenge of teaching others.  

13) Lastly, is your work available for sale and what is the price range?

I do have prints available in my web-store ranging from $19.95 for a mounted 8×10 and up, depending on the size, options, and finished desired. I try to honor requests for people with some exceptions (i.e. no characters or performers).  

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