There is one thing I can guarantee 99.99% of people who visit Walt Disney World return home with: photos. You will have some blurry ones, some dark ones, some good ones and some priceless ones. Here are a few tips to help you capture every magical moment of your Disney Vacation:
1. Get People in Your Photos
Unless you are a total Disney history geek like me, you probably won’t be looking for photos of just the park 10 years down the road. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful scenes in Walt Disney World, and I’m not saying that you don’t want to take some photos of just the “landscape.” But, your most treasured photos are going to be the ones with your children, family, or friends in them. As often as you can add a person in the shot and you will cherish it even more years down the road.
2. Take Candid Shots
As much as we all want multiple shots posed in front of the Castle or with a favorite character, candid shots can tell so much more of the story. Try to capture those moments as they approach their favorite character, or as they are walking down Main Street awe-struck by the seeing the Castle. Get those goofy moments when the Mickey bar is melting down their face, the anxious moment before they board Tower of Terror for the first time, or the exhilarated moment after the Test Track car finishes its speed test. These are my favorite vacation photos because they tell the story of our trip.
3. Get Closer to Your Subject
This is a typical photography tip, but it is a good one. After you take that long range shot of the Castle with your family in front, walk up or zoom in (or both) to get more details of your family. At a character meet & greet zoom in so that the character and the person fill the frame—most of the time the backdrops aren’t that impressive anyway. With digital photography you will usually have a high enough resolution that you can crop it in later, but I like to start with a close shot.
4. Frame Your Shot
This is harder with those candid shots that are spur of the moment, but if you are posing a photo try to remember a few things. First, check what else is in the shot. If you are dining at a character meal try to make the area in the foreground as clean as possible—dirty dishes and cups can detract from the focus of the shot. If you are out in the parks look to see if you can shoot from a slightly different angle to lessen the impact of things around you like other people, trashcans (although I love Disney trashcans and have used in them intentionally in past photos), etc. You can also use this tactic to include more interest in your photos. Disney has so many details around the park you could be aiming to take a photo of the Castle, but be able to include another element like a statue.
Another good rule of thumb is the rule of thirds. This rule means imagining what you see in your lens as divided into 9 equal portions with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical dividing lines and lining up the subject along an intersection of 2 of those lines, or along one of the lines to create visual interest and pull your eyes across the image.
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5. Watch Your Lighting and Shadows
This is important to keep in mind inside and outside. Central Florida sun can be brutal and can create some wicked shadows. Look around to see if there is a better angle, or maybe use your flash to fill in any shadows on your subject’s face. Inside take a couple of test shots (especially at character meals) to see if you need the flash, or if you can choose a camera setting that will allow enough light in to catch the moments you want without blur, but still give a nice natural lighting. I have a DSLR and when I am trying to capture a photo I know I want to work out I try to squeeze out a couple of shots with the flash then close it and take a couple more without. Also try to take advantage of the most beautiful natural light earlier in the morning or around sunset—the golden hours—for outside shots.
6. Find a “Spot”
We have several “spots” as a family. And what I mean by this is a place in the parks where you take a photo every trip. This is a great way to mark your child’s growth and to have a series of photos to compare for year to year. It is also a fun tradition to seek out that photo each time. Your spot could be anywhere—we have a couple of signs that we use, a couple of landmarks (like the Snowman in Hollywood Studios), you could use one of the signs where you measure your height for a ride, a statue, just about anything. Try to find something that fits your family’s personality.
7. Take a LOT of photos
In our world of digital photography there is no need to be stingy with the number of photos you take. You can delete the ones that don’t work out, and you certainly don’t have to print them all out. I can remember trips pre-digital where I would have 4 or 5 rolls of film to take to the local developer—and I am sure there are shots I didn’t take, missed or that didn’t turn out because I might run out of film or the expense of printing them before I knew how they looked. Now there is no reason not to shoot away. Put your camera on sport mode and hold down the shutter to catch your family on an outside roller coaster like Barnstormer or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Take multiple angles at a character meet and greet (don’t forget to turn the camera and take photos with a portrait/vertical and landscape/horizontal orientation). Take a couple of memory cards and fill them up!
8. Learn Your Camera
Before you leave on vacation make sure you know how to operate your camera. Not just the basics, but read the manual and figure out everything it can do for you. You might be surprised at some of the pre-set modes that can work perfectly for your park shots. You should also experiment a little before you leave home, that way you know what you want to do when the time comes on your vacation—no second guessing the setting, and you can capture that fleeting moment before it is gone.
9. Print Them Out!
When you get home don’t let your photos live on your camera—upload them to your computer. Then don’t leave them there, do something with them. My favorite thing is to create a photo book so you can tell the story of your trip. They print nicely and are compact to store on a bookshelf. If you are a scrapbooker there are many Disney kits both for paper scrapbooking and digital to help you put together a customized look. At the very least you can get a photo album (while you are at Disney or when you get home), print your photos and put them in the book. Even though we live in a digital age it is always nice to sit down with the photo album/photobook/scrapbook and go through your past trips and all of the sweet memories.
What are your favorite tips for capturing memorable moments on your Walt Disney World vacation?