5 Tips for Taking Better Photos at Walt Disney World
By Corey Martin
It’s a given fact that when you go on a Disney vacation you are going to take a ton of photos throughout your trip. For the casual visitor, strategies for taking photos is not a part of the planning process, especially with everything else you need to worry about before you leave home. I am going to give you my top 5 photo tips to keep in mind while you are on vacation. These tips are not geared towards the professional photographer, so if you are a pro I welcome you to read what I have to say and leave your tips below.
1) Prepare and learn about your camera
You need to have a basic understanding about your camera’s functions before you leave home. There is nothing worse than trying to troubleshoot blurry and dark photos while you are in the Magic Kingdom, especially during shows and parades. If you plan on using a smartphone for your vacation photos, there’s probably not a lot of practicing you need to do, but you need to understand the limitations a smartphone will have compared to something like a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). Are you thinking of using an iPad for your photos? Don’t do it! You will look silly and when you hold it above your head for parades and fireworks you will only annoy and inconvenience the people behind you. Play with the shutter-priority speed and aperture (f stop) with your camera. I’m not going to go into the details of these settings because there are a ton of resources online that can walk you through it, even video tutorials for your specific camera. It’s okay to read through your camera’s user manual and learn what the preset shooting modes do. You’ll be amazed at what your camera can accomplish once you get to know it. If you’re the one that always keeps your camera setting on that little green default icon (auto), please stop reading this blog and start reading your user manual, now! Practice at home by sitting on your couch and try to take pictures of your kids or dogs running. Things move fast at Disney and characters rarely stay still, so you need to learn how to take photos of things in motion. Try taking night shots at home. Night shots can be some of the most rewarding and frustrating photos you will ever take. Your camera battery will not last forever. I would definitely recommend having a backup battery. Portable chargers work great, but they are useless if your camera dies in the middle of an important moment.
- DP Review is a great website if you need information about particular camera models. They also have a great buying guide.
- For buying camera equipment and accessories, I use B&H Photo.
- Here’s a link to what’s in my camera bag on Pinterest.
2) Be aware of the light
Florida is not called the “Sunshine State” for nothing. It’s important to keep the sun behind you when you are taking photos. If you don’t, your foreground elements, like your kids faces, will be silhouetted. If you are stuck with bad lighting, try shooting from different directions and in different areas until you find a place where the lighting is acceptable. I know it’s impossible to position yourself in perfect lighting for every shot, so make sure you use a flash to fill the lighting when your subject is backlit. While we are talking about using a flash, here’s a tip… you can turn your flash off! The flash does not need be a part of every shot you take and I would only use it only when you truly need it. This also goes back to the first tip. Practice at home at night without a flash. It’ll require some stability but I’ve found that trash cans and railings work great on the fly. Your flash does nothing for fireworks, so turn it off! If you use a flash on a dark ride, like Pirates of the Caribbean, I will throw you overboard. It’s annoying, rude, and it ruins the experience for everyone around. The light is most interesting in the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset. It might sound strange, but use bad weather to your advantage, especially after it rains. It adds a cool look to your photo.
3) Don’t be ordinary
It’s extremely easy to take the cliché family photos at Disney, and I’m not saying don’t do it, but don’t let that be the majority of your vacation photos. Leave those for the PhotoPass photographers. The most interesting photos are candid. Nothing beats a true reaction or something in action. Try exploring different backdrops. I took my sister-in-law around the Magic Kingdom and Epcot to take her senior photos and we found endless ‘out of the ordinary’ photo spots for her to pose in front of. I need to practice this myself, but try to get in the photo by either taking a selfie or handing off your camera.
This is a photo of my son’s reaction on his first roller coaster (Barnstormer) before it drops.
4) Compose and frame your shots
I think this is the most basic tip I can possibly think of, but I’m amazed at my how many terrible composed shots I see. Take your time and be patient. I know that’s tough to do while you are speed walking to an attraction, but it’s ok to stop for a second to let people get out of your shot. Placing things in the foreground adds depth of field and makes your photos interesting, but not when it’s someone’s huge head. Try experimenting with different angles. The castle is the icon of Disney and most people take their shots head on, but some of the most interesting photos are captured from unexpected views and angles. Your camera zoom can accomplish a lot with composition, but so can your feet. Again, this goes back to knowing your camera’s limitations. Just because your camera can zoom doesn’t mean you should constantly rely on it. The more you use your zoom the steadier you need to hold your camera, and that gets pretty tough.
Things at Disney seem larger than life, so when you take photos of kids make sure you get on their level. Not only will you get more of the background in the frame, but it ends up producing a natural perspective of your kids.
5) Don’t forget to capture the details
If you’re ever in a Disney restaurant and you see a strange guy taking photos of food, that’s me. I know it seems weird, but this is one of the many details that Disney has to offer. It doesn’t have to be food, but it can be things such as windows, signage, and text. With that said, don’t get too consumed in the details where you miss the big picture.