Not sure if anyone loves this music as much as I do: "Switch on the sky and the stars glow for you. Go see the world ‘cause it’s all so brand new..." When I hear these lyrics, I know I'm either daydreaming about seeing a nighttime parade or actually standing on Main Street enjoying it!
As a preface to this post, I just have to say that some photographers are really into nighttime photography, but I am not one of them. I have shot many times at night, and in a variety of ways, but still it’s not my thing. So I know there are many other Disney photo enthusiasts that would be much better than I at explaining this section.
Everyone loves a nighttime parade, but they can be very difficult to photograph. Very few people end up with satisfying photos. Let's look at some relatively simple things you can do to get more effective, more satisfying photos of nighttime parades.
This section is all for those who use DSLR cameras to shoot. If you use a point and shoot camera (phones), you can still benefit from some of this info!
Let’s start with the obvious: the lighting! It is nighttime, so a question I get a lot is “can I/should I use flash?” Even though there’s no official Disney “rule” against using flash during parades, I’m just going to say NO. Using a flash illuminates parts of the floats and costumes that are not meant to be illuminated. And not only that, but photos taken with flash won’t properly capture the feel of the parades. The only lights should be those from the parade!
I generally use my nifty 50mm. I use it probably more than I should, but it allows in some great light. It is truly my go-to lens. Whatever lens your prefer, you’re going to want one that can get down to at least a f 1.4 - f/2.0.
Other than that, if you have a DSLR camera, you can capture some wonderful images! The most important thing is that you have your settings in the right place.
In terms of camera settings, I shoot in manual mode with a wide open aperture being f/1.4 - f/2.0. If you use a Canon DSLR like I do, use manual mode with a shutter speed of between 1/60th and 1/200th of a second. The lower your shutter speed is, the blurrier your images might be, but I usually take this chance, as I don’t like to use a high ISO. I usually also use exposure compensation of around -.7. This keeps my ISO lower and/or shutter speed faster. Plus, it’s easier to brighten shadows in post processing than it is to calm highlights.
If I absolutely have to though, I make an adjustment to my ISO. I have it anywhere from anywhere to 600-1200, but try not to go above that, as I don’t want pictures with noise (the little colored dots that begin to appear on your photos when it’s dark).
I also recommend shooting in raw! I always do! This gives you a lot of room when editing to make the adjustments you need.
Get in the front row. Everyone wants to be in the front row at parades but, if your goal is to get good pictures, you really really want to be in the front row.
If you’re planning on watching/shooting the parade on Main Street in either Disneyland or Magic Kingdom, you’ll need to get there at least an hour or so before (depending on crowd levels) to ensure a spot at the front.
If not the front row, get a good high ground. This can be hard to do. One of the main places that comes to mind is at Disneyland, near “It’s A Small World.” There’s a wide terrace that is right on the parade route. If you get a spot at the front, where the railing is, you’ll have a very clear view of all the floats that come by.
Even if you don't get front row, or a good vantage point, use your spot to your advantage anyway! Sometimes I love when images have some silhouettes of parade watchers in front of the floats. It adds a new perspective.
Enjoy yourself! Nighttime parades, in my opinion, are the most immersive and exciting parades that are seen at Disney Parks! I'm sure like me, you'll happily get the music stuck in your head, "Welcome to the rhythm of the night! There’s something in the air you can’t deny..."