While we have incredibly talented photographers here on the ZADD Crew Blog who constantly amaze and inspire us with their artistic visions of Walt Disney World, it is highly unlikely that you will have such talent following you around during your days at the parks unless you are some sort of social media impresario or a wealthy, narcissistic weirdo. So how can you produce similar results even if your knowledge of photography amounts to little more than pressing the shutter button on your phone?
Weapon of Choice
Let’s start with the most important factor for getting a good photo if you’re a novice: your camera. (Many photographers will say that the photographer is the most important factor, but you’re here because you probably stink at photography. So, it’s the camera.) For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to assume that you are using a phone or a decent point-and-shoot camera and that you are capturing jpeg images — meaning you probably are not planning on editing them outside of your phone, if at all. (If you don’t know what a jpeg image is, then this blog is definitely for you. Welcome!) Most modern phones take pictures that would rival professional cameras from just ten years ago, but there are some that perform better in the whirlwind environments of the parks. For quality and ease of use, there is simply no beating the iPhone — especially the
iPhone 6s and newer. The camera’s native software is amazing at masking your lack of skill regardless of the picture’s exposure, and for most people, it is also one of the easiest phone cameras to use. However, if you are more of an android user, the Google Pixel 2 can take even better photos than the iPhone, and the Samsung Galaxy 9 is not far behind. If you’d rather have a dedicated point-and-shoot camera, there really isn’t any beating Sony. No company packs more features into their affordable cameras, and the Sony range is pretty diverse. If your casual vacation photography grows into more of a hobby, you’ll be covered by at least one of their more advanced models. Another type of camera that I highly recommend — though they are slightly more complicated to use — is a GoPro. They are nearly indestructible, waterproof, and produce stunning images from a tiny package. As an added bonus, if you’re still rocking that Motorola RAZR from 2003 because you don’t want to pay for a smartphone, you’ll find that most point-and-shoot cameras (as well as GoPros) are far cheaper than the smartphones listed above.
Take Lots of Pictures. (Like, a LOT)
Any photographer will tell you that the amazing, magical, and seemingly perfectly staged shot you are looking at is the result of more than a thousand derp face photos with crisscrossing shadows and/or clueless tourists meandering through the background. Triple that amount if the shot involves young children. There is simply no way in an environment like Disney to rip off a keeper on the first try. Doing so is akin to winning the family photo lottery. By snapping a few pictures from slightly different angles, you can improve your chances of snagging a choice picture in which most family members look reasonably unconstipated and there are no strollers passing between you and your subjects. One handy trick that you can use on most phones (I’m using the iPhone for reference here) is to briefly hold down the shutter button which results in a burst capture — firing a few shots in rapid succession. This can also be useful for freezing motion, but remember that freezing motion requires decent light. Also, this “shoot all the photos!” tip doesn’t just apply to that family photo you’re trying to snag in front of the castle at noon on Christmas break. It applies to every single time you pull your phone or camera out to take a photo. Every snap is a new opportunity, a chance for that magical “OMG how did you get such a beautiful picture?!” moment to be captured forever. That’s the whole reason you’re taking the picture in the first place, right? Don’t limit your chances by taking just one photo. Make every opportunity into five to ten opportunities and your chances of striking gold triple — er, I mean quintuple to decuple. Or something.
The Light is Your Friend…or Your Worst Enemy
There are many reasons that waking up early and getting to the parks for rope drop is amazing, and photography is no exception. The Disney parks look simply stunning in the early morning (or early evening light), and beating the crowds there for the morning light results in well lit shots with minimal herds of people in the background. If you’re on the dining plan, you can often book a breakfast reservation before the park actually opens, and while you can’t ride any of the attractions, you can snag amazing photos of your children in many areas of the parks that are completely deserted. (They’ve since restricted this practice a bit more than they used to, but it’s still worth it in my opinion.) When the light is glorious in the morning or evening, face your family towards it and let it give your shots a wonderful golden glow. But what
about midday when the light is awful and harsh? Make friends with the shade. There’s a reason that most of the Disney Instagram walls are in the shade: the light is always good, and they are evenly lit. Avoid shooting into the sun as well. Your camera will likely darken everything in the foreground (e.g., your family) in order to compensate, resulting in a clumsy silhouette shot with what appears to be a comet impacting Cinderella’s Castle. Probably not what you intended. Also, avoid shooting in dappled light during midday, such as under trees or under small trees or under anything resembling trees. This will result in your family looking as though they are partaking in some sort of Disney camouflage challenge — or that you’ve all come down with leprosy. Consistent, soft light is best, and during most of your days in the parks, you’ll find it in the shade.
Framing: Shoot Up for Drama and Shoot Down for Skinny
While the rule of thirds isn’t exactly mystical knowledge only obtainable to those who study ancient texts in great detail, I’m going to keep things brutally simple here for the sake of, um, simplicity. You generally don’t want your subject to be dead center in the photo, so offsetting him or her a bit is a good idea. Also, with some simple tilting of the camera, you
can achieve cool perspectives with minimal work. Tilting the camera up gives an impression of strength or power. Many of Disney’s most famous landmarks, including Cinderella’s Castle, use a technique called “forced perspective” to replicate this feeling, which is why they look amazing in so many pictures. However, you can use this with your children as well, either by getting down low or positioning them a little higher (on an incline or stairs). It makes them seem larger than life right along with the background, a composition that can make for some winning Disney shots. Also, a quick glance at the background can be helpful to make sure there aren’t any straight edges or tree branches seemingly coming out of your family members’ heads. Try to position them in an empty space rather than directly in front of a distracting background. (There are many lines and angles on Cinderella’s Castle, which can make for muddled pictures if your children are right in front of them.) In contrast to shooting up for grandeur, shooting down makes your subjects appear smaller, which is why the quintessential Instagram selfie is normally shot at a downward angle. Those abs need work? Downward angle! Just gorged yourself on the buffet at Crystal Palace? Downward angle! Have a few more chins than you originally intended? Downward angle! The downward angle is the Industrial Light and Magic of Instagram and Snapchat, so use its power if you’re really wanting to get that selfie shot but it’s January 3rd and your New Year’s resolution has already failed. Downward angle!
The Real Magic is in the Candids
While staged photos of the family on Main Street are fun, that’s what the PhotoPass photographers are for. (Quick timeout: I’m a fair photographer, but we get Memory Maker every time we visit the parks. It’s worth every penny no matter how good you are at photography, and it allows you to focus on the candid moments rather than the obvious tourist photos. Plus, their cameras are likely way better than yours.) Try focusing on candid shots on your next trip. Your child looking off into the distance at a character or ride he or she is excited for or your child hugging you close the first time he or she rides Big Thunder Mountain. Those pictures will mean far more to you in the future than the time consuming poses you are trying to organize in the middle of crowded areas, which result more in irritation and frustration than they do in epic family memories. Keep your phone or camera at the ready during character meets as well, and look for those moments when your children are interacting with the characters — not posing stiffly and awkwardly because they don’t know what to do with their hands. A child looking up at one of the princesses in awe and adoration is far cuter than a child half-smiling at the wrong camera with one eye partially closed and a shimmer of drool on her chin. One of those options is a keeper and one of them is a future embarrassment that gets trotted out when her prom date shows up in another fifteen years. I never would have captured this legendary memory of Rad Hallie had I not had my point and shoot out to take pictures of the girls meeting Alice. The White Rabbit was not there when it was our turn, but during the girls talking to Alice he snuck up behind Rad Hallie (who is two and a half in this picture) and tapped her on the shoulder. She was displeased, to put it mildly, and she refused to be in any picture involving him. Though he kindly stood off to the side, she proceeded to stare daggers at him the entire time and never once smiled at the camera. I don’t know about you, but I think this picture is far better than it would have been had she looked at the camera. It’s a treasured memory that we’ll never forget.
Hopefully, some of these basics will help you to grab a few more keeper pics than you would have otherwise. Because, while any picture of your time at Disney probably reflects a cherished memory, the memory will mean far more if it’s a well-lit Instagram banger and not a shadowy mess with blobs that vaguely resemble your children — if they were extras from The Conjuring.
Rad Dad, out.