Photographing Disney


I’ve just returned from a week long trip to Disney World and Seaworld in Orlando Florida.  This was our second trip in the past 5 years.  We had planned the trip for a very long time, and it was a highly anticipated break from the rat race (no pun intended) of our busy day to day lives.  Disney didn’t disappoint, we deeply enjoyed our experience.  The only regret is we could not extend our trip for two weeks.

From an amateur photographers standpoint several thoughts worked through my head throughout the week.  If anyone out there is planning a trip to Disney I hope this helps.

1. Leave the DSLR at home!

People have fallen in love with the DSLR camera.  Nearly every family I saw had at least one family member with a DSLR strapped around their neck, lugging a backpack, and carrying a soft drink.  Most were Canon T3i‘s or Nikon‘s equivalent, although I did see quite a few 60D‘s, 7D’s and even a 5D or two.  I, on the other hand, toted my  Canon G9 Power Shot.  It’s a point and shoot, but a very robust point and shoot.  And, it’s light and compact.  There were only two occasions where I missed features of my DSLR set up.  One was on the Animal Safari at Animal Kingdom where I could have used my Tamron 70-300 lens to zoom better on some wildlife.  And the other was during the Shamu show at Seaworld, where I could have used a quicker shutter than the G9 could produce (also missed the zoom there as well).  However 90% of the photos taken were of the family, the G9 handled that task very well. My advice, take a decent, compact, light camera with you, like the Canon Power Shot G series cameras.  The photo above was taken with the G9 and I couldn’t have taken a better one with my Canon 7D.

2. The Photopass is your best friend

Here is a link to perhaps the best photos you will have taken of the family during your vacation.  Basically, when you arrive at any park there will be a Disney employee with a camera who will offer to take your families photo.  They will then give you a card to carry with you for future photos around the park.  At the end of your vacation you can purchase the photos.  They will even throw in a bunch of stock images of the park and characters for your families scrapbook.  Plus it allows you, the photographer a chance to be IN a few photos.  Also, if you have a tablet or smartphone you can review the images throughout the day while you are waiting in lines.  This made for some fun interactions as we looked at the photos as a family while we were waiting in line for a ride or attraction.

3. Watch out for harsh sunlight and extreme backlighting in your images

The sun plays some nasty tricks on your camera the early morning and early evening hours.  Scout your scenery shots for a day or so before attempting to take the photo you plan to keep and share.  An example is our resort was themed after the movie “Finding Nemo“.  The exteriors of the building at the resort were a re-creation of the characters and scenes from the movie.  However, a trip out with my camera early one morning produced horribly backlight scenes.  I needed to wait until the afternoon sun to illuminate the scenery.  Also, at the Magic Kingdom, we found photos later in the day with the castle in the background produced better photos than photos taken before noon-time when the sun was very harsh.  Early in the day the blue sky was washed out, producing some very blah images. But that same image in the late afternoon light up the castle, and the bright blue Florida sky above.

4. Don’t try to get too Artsy

Nobody really wants to see your artistic HDR rendering of Ariels Grotto.  They want to see images of your kids visiting Ariel at the Grotto.  Take a more photo journalistic approach and document your trip in a way that tells a story.  Suggestions would be if you go to a dinner show, take photos as you arrive, during the meal, and of the show.  Include photos of the venue, your group, and the performers. I’d also suggest you take the number of shots you need, but don’t try to re-capture every detail.  Focus on reactions of the people in your group, and look for candid shots as well as posed portraits.

5. Purge on the go

You’ll be spending a lot of time in line.  Go ahead and use the time to purge the blurry and poorly composed shots. I was dumping my SD card each evening onto my tablet, and while I had plenty of storage space it was not infinite.  With over 600 of my own images to work through, eliminating 75 or so before I even got home made the task a little more manageable.  Note that I only deleted blurry images and images that were so poorly composed they would never be used.  I would caution you to keep images that are only minorly over/under exposed.  As I said above, viewers of these photos care more about who’s in them than how well they’re taken.  If you need to adjust the exposure in Lightroom when you get home, while you won’t win any photo contests, you will share an image your mom wants to see.

6. Look for fun snapshots

The Disney folks are masterful at creating scenes where all of the signage and details in the scenery fit the attraction.  Below is an example found in line prior to boarding the Animal Safari.  All of the details in the sign are valid instructions to the riders, but they are presented in a way which fits the decor and feel of the attraction.  In this particular example these are photography tips and instructions for the ride. These type photos add personalization to the albums you create when you get home.  Just remember, no one really wants to see these on Facebook.  They want to see your kids in front of this sign.  But when you are putting together a slide show or Creative Memories scrapbook, these images added to the family shots provide more details to the story.


In closing, I hope this helps if you are considering a trip to see the mouse anytime soon.  I saw a lot of people taking a lot of photos over the past week, and while I can’t speak for them I am happy with about 90% of the shots I took.  None will be considered my best work, but I’d proudly share any of them with my photography peers.

Ok–  Now back to reality…






2 thoughts on “Photographing Disney

  1. Nels… terrific advice! Well written and entertaining. I’m heading more and more in the direction of smaller and smaller for photography! Now I just have to learn how to use my newest toy… an Olympus OM-D EM-5. And of course, my iPhone 4s is ALWAYS with me. 🙂


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