Monday, September 26, 2011

Mentoring Mondays - DebSilhan - Focused On The Magic

Today I am thrilled to have Deb Silhan of Focused On The Magic here for Mentoring Mondays.  Deb is a FABULOUS photographer, and she is here to share some tips for all of us to improve our photography.  She is the host of The Disney Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop, and with the tips here today you have no excuse-you are going to have to join along.

Website: Focused on the
Facebook: Debs Dis
Twitter: debsdistwit
Flickr: debsdispics   
DISBoard & Discussion Groups: DebºoºS

Hi Deb!  I am so happy to have you here. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your blog, Focused On The Magic.

Hi Donna! First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me here today for Mentoring Mondays. It’s truly an honor and privilege. I always look forward to reading your posts and have learned quite a bit as a result.

Let’s see, I’m a Boomer Mom to two wonderful young men and a wife to my best friend for 35 years. In my last life (pre-kids) I was a photographer of celebrities and high end  real estate in The Hamptons, on Long Island in NY. My hobbies include cooking, gardening, photography and Disney. My blog is a natural extension of all of those interests. On Focused on the Magic I share my travel experiences, pictures, recipes, dining reviews and news that interests me as a Disney fan.

Photography has really exploded in the last few years, there are so many digital cameras on the market. Please share your tips for choosing the right camera.

Whether you decide on a high end digital single lens reflex (DSLR) or a "point and shoot" there are a few things I think might help in choosing the right camera.

I would suggest to anyone starting out that they start reading newsgroups, boards and discussion groups. Read reviews on Dpreview or Nikonians (if you’re a Nikon person). Look at photos on Flickr and find a group that you think you may enjoy participating in. Don't be reluctant to ask questions. The DISBoards is very helpful and they’re Disney folks tooJ
Read magazines on photography and books. I have a list of books on my resource page that lists books I think everyone should read - from beginner to advanced (photographer, not reader!).

Before deciding on a camera you need to actually hold it. Will it be too heavy to carry around the parks with a long lens attached? Are the buttons placed comfortably for your fingers? Does it feel balanced? Ask the salesperson to show you how to change out a lens on a DSLR, how to put the memory card in and how to change the batteries.

When it’s time to shop, wait for a sale in a reputable store either brick & mortar or online. Don’t buy an “offshore” discounted camera; you may not get a valid U.S. warranty. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is, so don’t do it!

Remember that old adage "You get what you pay for." Name brands are important when it comes to cameras. Personally, I've always preferred Nikon. I have quite a few, going back many years, and my experience has been that they are very reliable. Their service department in Melville NY is excellent and a phone call away if you should need them.

What items should you always have in your camera bag?

I always carry lots and lots of memory, especially in WDW! You can never have enough. I also carry an extra battery or two and a flash.

Please share your best tips for someone starting out with their first DSLR?

Shoot a lot at home before your trip! Memory is cheap and you can always erase the clunkers. When you make mistakes - and you will, as I did - try to figure out what you did wrong. Network with other DSLR owners on discussion boards. Join a local club. Get a copy of PhotoBert Cheat Sheets for your camera model. It’s laminated and slips right in your bag. I had a gentlemen ask me about it at The Lion King Show. He was fascinated at how much detail is crammed into the little cheat sheet. And don’t be afraid to switch out of Program (Auto) mode. Some of your best shots will be made using settings that you choose, rather than letting a camera program choose them. Experiment!

What are some common mistakes new photographers make, and what is the best way to avoid them?

They don’t read the manual cover to cover. I’m frequently approached in WDW and asked to fix someone's camera. It’s usually a simple adjustment and I certainly don’t mind helping but if they’d just read the manual they could’ve avoided their dilemma. It’s tough though, because people often get their cameras right before a trip and there’s no time to learn all the different functions. In those cases I suggest they stay in Auto/Program mode until they are comfortable.

There are a lot of blogs out there that have similar pictures, what is your best advice for making your pictures stand out?

There are a lot of great Disney fan photographers that are very creative and talented, so to be honest a bit of luck helps.   Maybe a child is showing a unique facial expression; maybe the sun goes behind a thin cloud and throws off a halo of light. When a visually interesting moment like that happens, I concentrate and try to capture the moment the best way I can, through the right composition, depth of field, shutter speed, filter and so on. I’m not always successful because sometimes the moment is too fleeting but I can usually recognize special moments and quickly try to take advantage of them. Keep an eye out for the unusual, whether it's based on human behavior or natural events, because those moments can produce pictures that stand out.

Do you write posts around photos you have already taken or do you have a photography gameplan when you visit theme parks or attractions?

I write posts on topics that I find interesting such as Disney news or recipes and on topics that might be helpful to someone planning their own trip, such as dining reviews or tips. Once I have a topic in mind then I match it up with a picture or two. I’ve traveled quite a bit to WDW and I’ve accumulated a lot of pictures. Even though they reflect my own personal travel experiences they convey the blog topic. I wish I could go with a gameplan but in reality I’m sometimes holding up the whole family to get a shot so for those pictures I don't have the luxury of much time or forethought.

How do you organize your photo files to make them easy to find?

Organizing my photos is a constant work in progress. They go from the memory card to a file on my external hard drive breaking down each trip by date and day. I usually burn a disc at the same time. When I’m blogging I’ll go through and pull a few as needed to a file on my computer organized by park, resort, dining and "mousecellaneous."

What is the first thing you do when you visit Walt Disney World?
LOL, I take a picture of our room! Sometimes I have to hold everyone back because they’re tired after a long trip and that’s the last thing they want but I do it quicklyJ Then it’s hop the monorail or boat and head to The Magic Kingdom. Our first ride is always POTC; it's become a family tradition.

Any Disney Vacation tips?

Have a touring plan but don’t always stick with it. Sometimes it’s fun to just go off plan…unless you have an ADR at LeCellier or a CRT. Be spontaneous and adventurous!  I blogged about one spontaneous adventure in The Bahamas when DH and I went snorkeling and sailing while we were in port on The Wonder cruise. And there was another time when we decided to rent the speedboat at the Boardwalk lagoon on a whim to drop us off at what was then MGM after zooming around for a while. Everyone waiting for the ferry at MGM saw us pull up and get out of this fabulous boat and could be seen wondering "Who ARE those guys??" They thought we must be famous.  It was a fun moment.   
Don’t be afraid to give your camera over to a Photopass photographer (they are insured) to have your picture taken with your camera. It’s a great savings and a lasting souvenir.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’d like to thank you Donna, for having me here today for Mentoring Mondays and to invite you and your readers to visit my blog, Focused on the Magic sometime (
There’s always something going on for Disney fans.

Silent Sunday ~ a day to link up and share your *silent* Disney photo posts.
Magical Memories Monday ~ A day that always warms my heart with happy memories sprinkled with pixie dust and gets me craving my next trip even more.

Tiggerific Tip Tuesday ~ Park tips, photography tips, touring and money saving tips.

The Disney Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop ~ where you can link your Almost or Wordless Disney picture posts and hop around the world.

Foodie Fare ~ I share Disney recipes, dining reviews and foodie tips.

Flashback Friday ~ join me as I enter the wayback machine and unearth Disney memories, ephemera and photos from past trips.

Saturday Shorts ~ Vintage Disney cartoons, Disney news clips and videos.

Focused on the
Facebook: Debs Dis
Twitter: debsdistwit
Flickr: debsdispics
DISBoard & Discussion Groups: DebºoºS

What fabulous tips and advice! Thanks so much for taking the time to share them with us Deb!  Be sure to stop by Focused on the Magic and see all the beautiful photographs there.  I am sure you will be in awe of Deb's talent!!

Have a Magical Day!!
Donna Kay


  1. I have to tell you, mouth dropped open a few times while reading this. As long as I've known you, I never realized just how much we really have in common in regards to photography and Walt Disney World. I truly hope that fate will place us there at the same time some day.

    Moms Panel training in December would be my first choice. ;o)

  2. Great photography tips. Thanks, Deb!

  3. Thanks for stopping by everyone!!

    Deb, thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!!

    Lucinda, I have my fingers crossed that BOTH of you make it on the Mom's Panel!

    Heidi, fantastic tips!!

  4. Wow Deb- what a great piece. How nice that your family members are your new celebrities! Your photos are always remarkable, and now I know why. Thank you for the tips. I'll try to use them next week!
    Thank you Donna!!!!

  5. Deb knows I am a huge fan of her photos! I am still working on perfecting my camera skills, but she certainly inspires me to experiment with my camera! Thanks for all the great tips, Deb! :-)

  6. Great info, Debs! My hubby is a hobby photographer, but he never wants to carry that thing around the Parks, so I have very few quality shots of WDW. We always load up the smaller camera, though.

  7. Thanks so much everyone for all your kinds words!
    Lucinda, wouldn't it be grand to finally get together after all these years and have it be in Dec!!
    Jodi, The camera gear does feel very heavy, especially in the heat. Fortunately I have a sherpa...err.. I meant dear son to help out occasionally;P

    Thanks so much Donna for inviting me to participate in Mentoring Mondays. I'm thrilled and honored!

  8. Thanks everyone for your support of Mentoring Mondays!! Thanks again Deb for your fabulous interview.

  9. Thanks for the great tips Deb, Week after week your picture have been great. I have appreciated your tips for taken better pics too and thanks for hosting the hops. That is very cool the first thing you do is taken pics of the room..

  10. You're Welcome Diane & Hugs to Donna ♥.
    I'm very fortunate that my family tolerates my resort picture taking...or any picture taking;P

    I really enjoy the hops. I love seeing and reading about everyone's Disney pictures. It eases my Disneyitis between trips:)

    Debs @ Focused on the Magic

  11. Another AWESOME interview! I love the camera cheat sheet tips...I am going to visit the site now. I also love your tip about switching out of auto mode...I will play around with my camera more so that I can get the best picture. Thanks for your help!

  12. Great camera tips. And I didn't realize that Photopass photographers would take your picture with your own camera. That's a terrific idea!

  13. Kelly & Snow, Thanks so much for your kind words and for stopping by:D

    Deb @ Focused on the Magic


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