Photographing a Disney Monorail at Night

When I shared my Best Disney Photos of 2011 last November, I promised I would be telling you how I was able to light up the monorail.  Today is the day!  Enjoy!

I have seen other photographers sharing photos of Walt Disney World Monorails at night in Epcot using a single flash unit to illuminate the moving vehicle.  Without a flash, one could only get a blurred monorail late at night.  You know me by now, I had to see if I could light up a monorail using my trusty Nikon SB-600 Speedlight flash unit.

I set up a tripod near the Universe of Energy so I could use Spaceship Earth for a backdrop when a monorail came by. Another reason for this location is the monorails slow down when they enter Epcot allowing me to use slower shutter speeds. The Universe of Energy being closed at night even if Epcot has an EMH (Extra Magic Hours) night makes it quiet enough to hear as a monorail approached. When a monorail appeared I tried to wait for it to get to the T in the track (see photos).  I got better with each monorail.

I set my camera to use Rear-sync flash (sometimes called second curtain) where the flash is fired at the end of the exposure.  This freezes most everything being photographed even if it is moving. Bright lights, like a monorail’s headlight, will still show a streak. The flash’s power was set to full power (+/- 0).

I put my camera in Manual mode and set the aperture to f/5 and ISO to 3200. I adjusted the  Nikon 28-300mm VR zoom lens for the scene until I found 82mm gave me a good composition.  Used auto-focus to set focus and turned it off.  By doing so, the focus will not change unless I moved the camera or hit the tripod. I used a remote shutter release to eliminate touching the camera. The Nikon SB-600 flash was in the hot shoe on the camera.

The first monorail was orange and I took it at 1/30th of a second.  I was a little quick on the shutter and the flash did not cover as much of the monorail as I had hoped.  I liked how Spaceship Earth looked.

Monorail Orange passing Spaceship Earth at night.

Monorail Orange passing Spaceship Earth at night. Nikon D300/28-300VR, 1/30s, f/5, ISO 3200, EV 0, 82mm focal length, rear-sync flash at full power, tripod.

Monorail Green was the second one to enter Epcot.  I changed the shutter speed to 1/15th of a second. Notice how the headlight has become elongated in this photo.  Spaceship Earth is better exposed and more of the monorail has been lighted.  I hit my mark, too.

Monorail Green passing Spaceship Earth at night.

Monorail Green passing Spaceship Earth at night. Nikon D300/28-300VR, 1/15s, f/5, ISO 3200, EV 0, 82mm focal length, rear-sync flash at full power, tripod.

Monorail Blue was the next one and has an even longer headlight streak from the longer exposure at 1/4th of a second.  The monorail is well lighted and Spaceship Earth looks great behind it.  The mark is a bit late but I liked it better. I cropped it to a 4×5 (8×10) ratio.

Monorail Blue passing Spaceship Earth at night.

Monorail Blue passing Spaceship Earth at night. Nikon D300/28-300VR, 1/4s, f/5, ISO 3200, EV 0, 82mm focal length, rear-sync flash, tripod at full power, cropped.

I now know it can be done.  I will try it again with a whole monorail as it crosses the World Showcase walkway from Future World. Others have done it with off-camera flash.  Something I want to try at Walt Disney World in the future.

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7 Responses to Photographing a Disney Monorail at Night

  1. Phil Thach says:

    Looks great! I like the 1/30s exposure the best.

    Like

  2. wdwfigment says:

    Nice. I also prefer the 1/30th second shot.

    Like

  3. Gerry says:

    Sudden insight: in this as in many endeavors, the key to inspiration is preparation. You know the terrain at your beloved Disney World. You know where to go find the shot you want, you know how to ambush it, you know how to lay devious plans in advance. Then pounce! You could lead guided tours for photographers at Disney. For all I know you do.

    Like

  4. Nye says:

    Scott, I like the Monorail Orange the best. You do have a lot of patience, I couldn’t get my family to wait with me for the second monorail.

    Like

  5. Sybil says:

    I like the first one best. It’s most dramatic and beautiful.

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  6. John says:

    Great read Scott, I think I might give this a whirl next summer! I like the first one best as well!

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  7. Great article Scott! I’ve heard about rear-sync flash but didn’t understand what it would be used for. I like the effect it has on the monorail’s headlight. For me the second picture (monorail green) is the best. Thanks for sharing your techniques, gives me something to look forward to trying on my next visit.

    Like

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