The Pirates of the Caribbean


Who wants to take a ride with me on Walt Disney World’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’? Well c’mon Ye landlubbers and let’s our make way up the gangplank.

The Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) ride at WDW has always been one of my favorite rides. I can still vividly remember riding this as a kid for the first time in 1974 and this ride spurring many dreams of wanting to sail the Seven Seas. Since then the Disney Animators have upgraded this ride to have scenes from the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean movies starring Johnny Depp.

One of the best things about ANY Disney ride is the queue, and the POTC is done exceptionally well. One of the all-time favorite scenes in this queue is the ‘Chess playing skeletons’.


PHOTO TIP: To see this scene you must look through the jail bars. It is quite dark and the yellow lighting really is tough to overcome. The nice thing here is you can rest your camera against the bars to help hand hold it steadier to get a good shot. 


Once on board we begin our journey into the dark mysterious and dangerous waters. Our first encounter is with Davey Jones warning us and telling us to turn around. We float right through the fog and his ghost, and we can almost touch him as we pass through…


PHOTO TIP:  To capture this scene the best I have found sitting on the right side of the boat works best for composition. Metering on the brightest part of the scene allows for a faster shutter speed which will control the highlights better, and gives really cool silhouettes if you can get someone to raise their hands.

Our next scene is a beach scene where some desperate pirates have tried to save their treasure, but have failed. The details in this scene are amazing. This scene was also updated this year to include a mermaid skeleton in the ship, a VERY COOL addition.


This was always one of my favorite pieces of the beach scene because of the pirate flag.


PHOTO TIP: This scene is VERY dark and the boat rocks a bit. I try to keep my elbow on the side of the boat to give me a make-shift tripod. I have found if you shoot this scene as the boat is moving towards the scene you will get sharper images.

Next there is a bit of a canon battle and a warning…”Dead men tell no tales” as we are swept down a waterfall. Once we are down we round the bend and what comes into view is one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring scenes in this ride, Balboa on his ship.


The details are fantastic here and because we are sitting down in the water the ship seems enormous! If you can pry yourself aware from any fear you can really see the amount of work the Disney Imagineers put into this area.


A even closer view below.


PHOTO TIP: As soon as you exit the waterfall, lean out and start peeking around the side of your boat up ahead of you. Start to try to get focus lock as soon as you can. If you use a single point AF and move it to the light (any light you can find) it will help assist your camera. Also I keep my AF on CONTINUOUS, and in the settings I turn off the “must acquire focus before shutter can release”. Then shoot away!

Our next scene is one of the pirates dunking ‘prisoners’ to get them to talk (I’m assuming). It is a fun scenes as the one who is being dunked spits out water when he comes up.

ImageHere are two detailed shot from this scene below.



Once we pass this scene we bank to the left and in the shadows on the right we get our first glimpse of Jack Sparrow hiding in the shadows.

ImagePHOTO TIP: Jack turns his head in this scene, so depending on where you are on your boat will determine if you get a clean shot of his face.

As we pass this scene we are treated to some drunk pirates sitting along the steps waiting for who knows what.

ImageThey do seem to be a merry bunch don’t they?

This scene leads us to the famous ‘Take a Wench for a Bride’ scene.

ImageThere are SO many wonderful little details that just shooting this wide really doesn’t do it justice.



PHOTO TIP: This area (and most of the ride for that matter) has some incredibly harsh red light. I shoot in RAW so I can capture as much information as to make my post work as easy as possible once I get home. Using selective color saturation helps a lot with removing the yellow and red color casts from the lighting in here.

Once we pass through this area we get our next peek at Jack Sparrow hiding, this time he is in a barrel trying to get the key to the vault.


Here is a more detailed shot of Jack and the other pirate.

ImageThis area also has another great scene in the shadows on the right side of the boat.

ImageWe are treated next to some singing as the town is burning.


And now the town burning.


PHOTO TIP: This scene has a lot of depth to it, so if you are shooting wide open not everything will be sharp even if you’re in focus.

As we pass this scene on the left, if you look to the right you will see in the shadows this scene.

ImageAbove this is this scene, another bridge to go under, only this time it looks like the drunk pirate might fall into our boat.


And here is a detail shot of this pirate.


We next round the bend to probably the most famous of all scenes in this ride, the jail cell scenes. The first one is nice, but it is this scene which steals the show.


Let’s have closer look at the actors in this scene shall we *wink*…


…and now the star…


PHOTO TIP: I usually don’t worry about the first jail scene, so I start to get focus lock on this scene as quickly as I can. Sitting on the right side of the boat will put you front and center so you won’t get any unwanted heads popping into your view.

Now we sail on to see if Jack got his treasure, and of course he did.


This is a wide shot of this scene, which shows some wonderful details in the shadows. Here is a detailed shot of Jack inside the vault.


Thanks for riding this with me. Be sure to Fastpass with me on our next ride which will be coming soon.


When I first started shooting on the Dark Rides I used a Nikon D700, which offered me up to ISO 6400 for decent images, and I could push ISO 8000 if needed. I have since upgraded to a Nikon D3S which allows me to get good workable images at an ISO of 12,800. I can easily push it to ISO 16000 to ISO 25000 for workable images. So yes, your camera sensor does matter on these rides to be able to pull out of them what I have.

Today’s newer cameras, even the crop sensor ones, have GREAT sensors that can shoot upwards of ISO 8000. So no you do not need a Nikon D3S to get good pictures on these dark rides.

One thing that also matters a ton is your cameras AF capabilities. Both of the Nikon’s I shot with had 51 points for AF, but the D3S’ newer AF system is a ton better than the D700. So you need to learn what your cameras AF system can do in low light. Another option to focus is to manually focus your lens. I don’t do that because…well I don’t have to. LOL. Seriously, it is because I wear glasses and looking through the viewfinder in the dark is very hard. So again, I know for a fact that if you understand your cameras short falls, you can work around them.

Let’s talk about lenses since that is equally, if not more important than how sensitive your cameras sensor is. I have shot with 2.8 zooms, f4 zooms with VR (IS to you Canon people), and primes on these rides. I have NO favorites as they ALL offer something of value. Here is my opinion of each:

Zooms overall; I love the flexibility to be able to zoom in or out on a scene and crop through the lens (TTL) versus cropping in post. The problem with them is they are usually BIG and heavy, though my new Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 VR is very light and is about the same speed as my old 24-120 f4 VR.

The Nikon 24-70 f/2.8; GREAT lens! Super sharp and the AF-S works amazingly well on the dark rides. F/2.8 is fast for a zoom, but it is not THAT fast on these rides. It is also VERY heavy which makes  hand holding it on longer exposures more difficult.

The Nikon 24-120 f/4 VR; Superb lens! It is not as sharp in the corners as the 24-70, but in the center it is VERY darn close. What I love about this lens is the zoom range and the VR. I shot the heck out of the Dark Rides with this lens and came away with some WONDERFUL shots, even though this is an f/4. The downside of this lens is that it is a f/4, a whole stop slower than the 2.8, which would make it NOT seem like a good choice for shooting on the Dark Rides. BUT, the VR works amazingly well, so well that it almost makes up for the one stop difference and then some.

Primes overall; These type of lenses are amazing for shooting in low light. They are small and light, and ultra fast with f-stops opening to 1.4 on some of them. I have used older Nikon primes including:  Nikon 24mm 2.8 D, Nikon 35mm f/2 D, and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 D, and the newest Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G af-s on these rides. The one thing I have found out is that they all don’t focus quickly. I will go into more details below.

Nikon 24mm f/2.8 D; Don’t even bother with this slug of a lens. The AF is super slow, which really surprised me because of the focal length.

Nikon 35mm f/2 D; GREAT lens!! The focus is super fast and snappy and the focal range is almost perfect for ANY Dark Ride. The only problem with this lens is that in certain backlight situations it gives some weird contrast, other than that this is a GREAT lens and cheap.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 D; The fastest lens I owned. Super sharp, super light, and super slow focusing. I was shocked by how many shots I missed because this lens would take forever to get focus. The ability to be 2 stops faster than my 24-70 f/2.8 doesn’t matter when you cannot lock focus.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G af-s; I thought that by having AF-S built into the lens that it would focus faster than my older 50mm, NOT! This lens is SO wonderful in so many areas. It is sharper than my 50mm f/1.4, lighter, a real pleasure to have on the camera, but I was disappointed by the af speed.

So there it is, my first hand knowledge of some nice Nikon glass. My suggestion to you would be to try out your lenses in low light and see how fast they zoom. See how well they balance on your camera because as I said, having a nice balanced camera is very important when shooting in low light while moving.

I have sold all of the lenses I listed above, except for the 24-70 f/2.8, and the 50mm f/1.8 G because those are terrific lenses that I use ALL the time. If you would like to know what I plan to shoot with next on the Dark Rides here it is…I bought a Nikon 28mm f/1.8 af-s and a Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 af-s VR. These lenses I bought for other shooting needs, but they also fit in well with how I like to shoot on the Dark Rides. The 28mm is RAZOR sharp corner to corner, it is my star shooting lens. The 24-85 is ultra light and compact, I use it ALL the time when I go hiking. We’ll see how well they do in June when I finally get to tackle Disneyland.

One last thing about shooting on these Dark Rides, and shooting in general…PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE!! Learn your camera in your house before you take it anywhere! Why? Because once you are out shooting what you love then you will just fall back on what is habit to you. To learn your camera best, which includes where all the controls are, and especially how it handles in certain light you need to be focused and not letting your emotions take over. So I always shoot really boring things around the house, like lamps, stuff on our counters in the kitchen, ect. That way I can focus on what I am trying to focus on instead of trying to get a great shot.

Thanks for reading!


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