Disney articles


August 29, 2011
by Kathleen M. Reilly
DIS Contributing Columnist


You've finally made it! You're on your Disney vacation, and you're snapping pictures like crazy—you've taken pictures of the family in front of the castle, a shot with the kids and Donald Duck, and a couple dozen around your room at the Polynesian.

Then you get home, and as you're looking through your photos, you realize that while you have hundreds of pictures…you didn't quite capture the magic. After all, when the shutter snapped, you hadn't noticed that Goofy had a street lamp sprouting out of the top of his head. Or that you can barely make out your family in the beloved castle shot. And who is that strange little kid picking his nose in the foreground of your parade picture? You sure didn't notice him when you took it!

Here are some tips from the pros on how to really capture the magic—and not bring home a gigabyte of garbage.


Pro photographers take lots of pictures, and since you don't have to worry about wasting film, you can, too. But don't just snap away and hope for the best. "Having a digital camera lets you take a lot of pictures," says professional photographer Troy Freund. "But if you're more conscious of when you hit the shutter, you'll make better pictures." So follow the basic tenants of good photography:

  • Change your perspective. Everyone's got the same shot of the castle on Main Street. And you definitely want to include the castle in your vacation photos, of course. But once you grab that iconic picture, move around a little. Try taking the picture from the base of the castle, or walk around it and take it from another angle. Return to the castle later in the day, when the lighting is different, or even when clouds are rolling in.

    Kneel down, stand up on a curb or steps. Turn the camera to take a portrait picture instead of landscape. Changing the angle of your picture can make a dramatic difference in the result.

  • Get closer. "Sometimes, if your picture isn't good enough, you're not close enough," says Freund. "Move in close to your subject and whittle out the unnecessary tidbits." Don't be afraid to fill the frame with your family—even if the castle is only visible a little bit, it's okay. You can always take a separate picture of the entire castle and display the photos together. It's more interesting to see your family's face than have a tiny little family in front of the castle, with strangers walking around in between you.

  • Follow the rule of thirds. Imagine a little tic tac toe board on the camera's LCD screen, says professional photographer Melanie Votaw. "Don't put your human subjects in the center of the photo," she says. "Position the focal point in one of the spots where the lines intersect. It almost always makes for a more interesting picture."

  • Seek inspiration. "Make sure you wait for something that actually inspires you," says Freund. If you're just snapping like the paparazzi at every single thing you see, you're going to have a lot of photos—but not a lot of interest. If something makes you laugh, smile, or have any emotional response, that's the time to get that great photo.

Ever been cornered by someone with a stack of vacation photos, and had to sit through dozens of dull pics? Of course you have. The secret to taking pictures that other people want to see is to build a story from your snaps. At a place like Disney, it couldn't be easier. Try getting great pictures of these four main subjects:

  • Your peeps. Of course, the people you vacationed with will be the stars of the story. Try to get great action shots, showing what you experienced at Disney. Take pictures of your friends and family as they're getting on Expedition Everest, munching on those turkey legs, dripping and laughing from Summit Plummet, or pointing out the hippos on the Jungle Cruise. Or snap your exhausted kid when he's finally curled up in bed for the night. Use "photo line up" pictures—where everyone's arranged in a straight line, smiling at the camera—sparingly.

  • Setting. Set the stage of your story with pictures of your surroundings. When you're capturing attractions, resorts, or other scenes, take some time to stage your picture. "Try to have something interesting in the foreground, mid-ground, and background," says Freund. So, for example, you could grab a great picture with the balloon vendor close to you, the horse trolley in the mid-ground, and the castle as the backdrop.

  • Food. Ah, the food photography. Little appeals to folks back home more than Mickey waffles and artfully arranged edible temptations from Starring Rolls Cafe. (If only cameras came with scratch-and-sniff!) "If you can, try to take pictures of food in natural lighting," suggests Freund. "Then you don't get the glare and harsh lighting."

  • Details. Disney's all about the details. If it catches your attention, capture it on camera. Those Mickey heads on the manhole covers, the architecture details all through World Showcase—if someone in your party notices it, take the time to take a picture.

There's so much going on at any given time at Disney—sometimes it's hard to focus on taking a great snap. If you try to remember every little lesson from Photography 101, you'll drive yourself batty. Experts suggest keeping a few key concepts in mind to avoid any huge photo blunder:

  • Stay close! While you want to get some of the background in your picture, stay close to your subject. If you back up fifty paces to take that picture of your family in front of Mickey's sorcerer cap in Disney's Hollywood Studios, you'll have a flood of other guests wandering into your shot. Don't be afraid to move in. You'll still get that signature blue-and-stars color as a revealing backdrop.

  • Work your camera. You know all those extra little symbols and options on your camera? The ones you pretty much ignore? Take a little time to get to know them before you leave home—they could prevent some photo failures. For example, Freund suggests using the fill-in flash for sunny days. "We all hope for a great, sunny day to explore the parks," he says. "But that makes shadows on peoples' faces, especially if they're wearing ball caps. When you use the fill-in flash, it will bring some extra light from your angle, bringing details into the shadows." Try the sports or motion setting on fast-moving rides to avoid the blur, too.

  • Pay attention. "When you're looking through the camera, take a minute to look at all four edges of the picture area," suggests Freund. "That way, you'll be conscious of your real estate, and make sure you're using all the possible space in your picture frame wisely." You can also make sure that strange kid in the Goofy hat isn't part of your family's group photo (unless he's yours, of course!). "Take time to really look at what's going to be in your photo," says Votaw. "Does it look like something's growing out of the top of someone's head? Is there something hanging in the corner of the frame? If so, reframe your photo!"

Of course, Disney's filled with special photo ops, too. Here's how to handle some of those:

  • Posing with princesses. Ah, those character shots. Everyone has them—people lined up next to princesses or Mickey himself, with smiles pasted on their faces. Change things up a little to get really memorable shots, says Votaw. "See if you can get Susie to interact with the character rather than just pose," she says. "Or ask Donald to bend down and shake hands with Susie, creating action rather than a static, boring image." Consider different viewpoints, too, like standing behind Snow White and snapping a picture of your daughter as she first says hello.

  • Play candid camera. "This place is all about fun," says Votaw. "But there's nothing fun about people standing still with fake smiles on their faces." She suggests staying alert and snapping the shutter when family members spontaneously dance with the characters or dodge the splash fountains, for example, to capture moments that are the essence of Disney.

  • Prepare for parades. Arrive early to get a front row spot if you're going to be snapping pictures of parades. That way you won't just capture backs of heads rather than great action shots. Votaw suggests putting the sun behind you if possible. And don't forget to change perspective! "Parade photos are best taken from a crouched position a bit below the action. It will let you fill your background primarily with sky," she says.

  • Stay steady. Want a great fireworks shot? Either bring along a tripod, or find someplace stable to lean. You won't be able to hold the camera steady enough without support. And don't forget your "night" mode, if your camera has one. It's your best bet at capturing those elusive bursts of light.

Finally, don't forget to get out from behind the camera to enjoy your vacation! It's easy to get so wrapped up in grabbing "that perfect shot" that you end up with your face stuck to your camera the whole trip. If you can, practice ahead of time – go out to the park, or even around the neighborhood, and practice your techniques to turn your pictures from "blah" to "ta da!" Then when you're at Disney, you'll spend less time sweating the shot and more time enjoying the magic itself.

Kathleen M. Reilly is the author of WALT DISNEY WORLD EXTREME VACATION GUIDE FOR KIDS and is polkadotsuitcase on the DISboards.

Stands back from the kbeyoard in amazement! Thanks!

B Lamont
Thanks for the tips.

Karin Johnson
Thanks for the great tips! Any suggestions on a good camera (not a DSLR, but doesn't need to be compact either) to use for picture-taking of Disney World at Christmas time - including the Osborne lights & fireworks?

Karin Johnson
Thanks for the great tips! Any suggestions on a good camera (not a DSLR, but doesn't need to be compact either) to use for picture-taking of Disney World at Christmas time - including the Osborne lights & fireworks?

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