Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Zoolights at Point Defiance

Every year I try to make a point to take the family to Zoolights at the Point Defiance Zoo. It's just an amazing show of lights! They really go all out in their decorations, and the effort shows.

Two years ago I enjoyed my first visit to Zoolights, and the highlight was easily the replica of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, with both Mt. Rainier and a rainbow behind it (see the photo on their web site). The bridge had extra lights below the deck, which really brought attention to it. The old and new bridges are well represented, and include red twinkling lights on the deck of one, and white tinkling lights on the other (headlights and taillights!).

This year the bridge was much darker and harder to see. But Mt. Rainier and the rainbow were much more prominent. I also think the administrative building was done up much better as it was certainly a centerpiece for many of my compositions.

There are also many animal light displays, including orcas, penguins, reindeer, etc. Lots to see!

I recommend arriving early to avoid the crowds, for parking as well as viewing the lights. The gate usually opens at 5:00, and punctuality is good. I've also discovered that viewing the lights after the holidays lessons the crowds substantially, though it is a short window.

As for photography, it's not as difficult as you might think with people wandering all around. Your exposures will likely be 3-5 seconds or more, depending on your aperature. So you can get away with some people movement in your compositions, just so it is in the distance and not obscuring a light display. I've found that rarely do I have to wait longer than 4-5 minutes for a composition to become available less people, and often the time is less. Even the busiest displays can become "people free" with an extended wait. So if you see a composition you really like, patience should win out.

I would plan on spending at least a couple of hours at Zoolights. If photographing, probably even more. There is just so much to see and so many compositions available. Grab some food and a hot cocoa at the concession stand when you feel you need a break, and then go view some more!

After Zoolights, we checked out another light display that I just learned about in Spanaway - Fantasy Lights. Fantasy Lights is very different than Zoolights in that you drive through them. They are also much more spread out, and offer a lot of motion in their displays. It was a lot of fun driving down a driveway with our lights off while reindeer jumped over us, canons shot presents over us, etc. Oh, I'm giving too much away!

The Fantasy Light drive is 2.5 miles long, at 5 miles per hour. You can stop any time, but you're not allowed to get out of your vehicle. It's very entertaining for the family, but somewhat challenging for photography. In fact, this was simply a scouting mission for me - my camera never came out of its bag.

Next year I have marked my calendar to do the walk through Fantasy Lights. That's right! A week before they open the display to the public, they have a special night when people can walk the 2.5 miles, photographing at will and leisure. Care to join me?

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