I took my 6 year old son and my mom on a short trip to Disney World last week, and came home with a notebook full of tips and tricks I wrote down on the flight back. Mostly, I wanted to remind myself of these things because I definitely want to go back soon, but also because I wanted to share them with y’all.
I’m breaking it up into a series of posts, starting with one of my favorite topics- photography. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you get the best pictures you can while visiting. (Most of these pics were taken at the Magic Kingdom, but these tips can be applied throughout the parks.)
Getting The Perfect Castle Shot
(Or Epcot Ball, or any other kind of popular landmark)
Unless you get to the park super early before most of the crowd gets there (like Extra Magic Hours), there are going to be a lot of people on Main Street. At Magic Kingdom (MK), there are photographers lined up and down Main Street, taking pictures with their cameras and yours if you ask. Don’t wait in a long line for the first photographer you see. Walk a little further and you’ll find more.
The problem with these pics is you’re going to end up with a lot of random people in the background. And then you get to choose if you want the man’s crotch behind your smiling kid, or the girl in the short shorts.
You can head to the right of the castle and you’ll find another photographer set up. There’s a garden immediately behind this spot, so there won’t be any random people right behind you. You’ll see the crowds in the background, though. Again, this photographer will take a picture with your camera if you ask them.
Now that is worlds better than the Main Street pic, if you ask me, but I found my favorite spot was just a little farther past that one in the Rose Garden.
There are no official photographers set up here (or there weren’t when I was there, and they aren’t marked as such on the map), so you need to have your own camera. As you can see, though, you are far enough from the castle to easily fit your subject in the foreground and the castle in the background with no random people behind you. Bonus points for pretty flowers.
Keep this same line of thinking in mind for other landmarks/attractions. Oftentimes the most popular, iconic spot to take the picture is going to be the hardest place to get the shot you want. Try to find quiet spots far enough away, but with a clear view of it.
Remove Random People From Your Photos
Say you happen to get the almost perfect shot with the exception of those few people you don’t know in the background.
Because I opened a professional photography account with them, I got a credit for one free retouch, but even if I had to pay the $10 regular fee for this, that would have been well worth it! Anyone can utilize their services, pro or not.
Beyond “Smile for the camera!”
Kendall quickly grew tired of standing still for pics and smiling. His energy levels were off the charts. There were things to do!
You probably saw in the pictures above that he’s posing gleefully with a $12 bubble gun we bought (cash only) from a street cart at MK. It was the best $12 we spent.
I got some of my favorite shots of him while he thought he was simply playing around. Plus, BUBBLES! They make for fun pictures.
When I wanted a picture of him and me, I asked him to hold up his Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards (these are free and part of a fun game!).
A giant lollipop can also make a great prop. What kid isn’t smiling with this thing in their hands?
Keep Your Equipment Simple
The following few tips won’t really pertain to those of you working with a point & shoot or camera phone, but be sure to check out my review of the park photogs and Memory Maker at the bottom of the post.
Those of you planning to bring your SLRs, the first bit of advice I’d offer is to not feel like you need to lug your very best (and heaviest and most expensive) lenses with you around the park. I got all of these shots with only my 40mm pancake lens on my Canon 6D. You can read more about my love for my pancake lens here. Maybe consider bringing wide-angle, fisheye, and macro lenses for your phone (like these) to get a few fun shots.
Custom White Balance or Kelvin Makes a Big Difference
I’ve been teaching myself Kelvin white balance lately, and it’s amazing how great the colors are in my pictures SOOC when I get it right. When you’re in a place where the lighting won’t change much, try to set a custom WB (using a grey card) or set it according to Kelvin.
Simplify Your Settings
One of my favorite ways to shoot in manual when I know the lighting conditions won’t change too drastically, especially when outside, is to set my ISO and a good aperture for the number of people I plan on shooting (200 and 3.2 for the picture below), then just use my shutter wheel to achieve proper exposure (1/200). Just be mindful not to drop your shutter speed too low. I rarely go below 1/160. If you find you need to go lower for proper exposure, up your ISO.
This way I’m not missing out on the action by switching my settings too much.
Also, don’t be afraid to utilize this technique in low light settings by bumping your ISO way up and opening your aperture up if you need to, and if your camera/lens can handle it.
About Memory Maker and The Park Photogs
Before our trip, I paid $150 for an advance purchase of Memory Maker. It allows me to have access to a hi-res digital file of every pic the park photographers took of us, including park rides. After watching the sales video, I was under the impression there would be many roaming photographers throughout the park who we could stop and have take our picture in addition to those stationed at the usual places. I also thought they’d be at the character dinner we booked.
It’s very possible I did not read all the fine print and my assumptions were just that- assumptions and not fact. That said, I was pretty disappointed that we didn’t run across any roaming photographers, there was no official photographer accompanying the characters at our dinner at the Crystal Palace, and there were only a few rides that offered ride photos (Thunder Mountain- Kendall’s first roller coaster- being one that doesn’t).
As a photographer myself, and having my own camera with me at the time, the photos I did get through them weren’t anything better than what I could have got myself, or had the photographers take with my camera.
And since we were only there for 2 days, and digital downloads are $15 each, I barely justified the cost because there were barely 10 pictures that were good enough to save and print.
I do still think it can be a good thing to have, and I’ll likely buy it again if/when we visit for a week or more. At that point, I think we’ll at least have 10 ride photos we’d want to download, and it will be nice as a backup in case I decide I don’t want to or suddenly can’t bring my fancy camera to a park.
The cool thing about the digital downloads versus buying the physical prints is if you have a little photo-editing knowledge, you can enhance them so you highlight the people you actually know riding the rides and sharpen them up a bit.
That was all mostly achieved with burn and dodge brushes in Lightroom, some sharpening, some clarity, a little contrast, and some vignetting.
Remember To Experience It Without A Lens
Maybe one of the best things to happen to me that day was my iPhone died. I wasn’t able to take a billion iPhone pics and stop to Instagram them. I was mindful about when I took pics with my DSLR and put it away when Kendall became visibly irritated.
There will be so many moments you’ll want to burn into your memory forever that you’ll never be able to capture them all with a camera. Come to terms with that before you even get there. Have a priority list of a few things you definitely want to highlight, and be on the lookout for fun moments (like the bubble gun in the rose garden!) that you can easily capture without stopping the fun.
Then put it away. Enjoy. Take it in with your eyes, not your lens.
Stay tuned for more Disney tips, coming soon!