Photography Tips

Photographer Donna Bertrand offers these tips
for picture-taking at Walt Disney World.

1. Don't buy a fancy new camera, unless you really want one. Great, memory-filled shots can be made with a simple point and shoot camera or with a very inexpensive disposable camera. Really bad shots can be made with an expensive complex 35mm camera. Its all a matter of what you, the photographer, puts into it.

2. Practice. Get the camera out before you go and shoot a roll of film. Have it developed. Read the instruction manual. Make sure you know what your camera can and can't do and how it works. Make sure you know how to load the film. It sounds simple, but time and time again people tell me how they missed out on some great event because they didn't put the film in correctly (or didn't have film in the camera at all).

3. Take more film than you think you will use. Professional photographers shoot many, many shots to get just one. If you want to get truly memorable results, up the odds and give yourself a selection of shots to choose from. Compared to memories, film is cheap. Do you really want to save a few dollars and chance missing that shot of your child's face lighting up on his first glimpse of Mickey? If you think a photo op is coming up, start shooting.

4. Make sure you have fresh film and batteries. Old film can do some strange things, from not taking an exposure at all, to coming out with some funky color shifts. Check the expiration date. Some "bargain-type" stores will sell expired film at reduced prices. It may look like a bargain, but the real cost could be your priceless photos. If it's old, don't risk it. Also take extra batteries.

5. Use good film. There really is a difference. For rich colors and sharp prints, I like Kodak Royal Gold. For the ultimate in color and tack sharpness, try slide film. My favorite film is Kodak E100VS (it also comes in ISO 200). You may need to go to a pro camera store to get it. The film is a bit more expensive, but the processing costs less. However, be aware that slides are not as convenient to show. Fuji makes some fine films as well.

6. Buy film before you go. Like most everything else in WDW, the film is sold at inflated prices. But, if you do run out, don't let the cost stop you. Sure its expensive, but what would you rather have in your pocket, a few more dollars or irreplaceable photos of your family having the time of their lives?

7. A camera with a zoom feature will help bring variety to your shots and help define your subject. If your camera doesn't have zoom, just get in close. Find out how close you can be and still have things in focus. It varies from camera to camera, but it's usually about four feet. Try to avoid unnecessary clutter (tree branches, people, trashcans, etc.) in the shot.

8. Use the flash, even outdoors. Fill flash will help bring out details in underlit scenes. Of course if your subject is fully lit from the front, you don't need to add light. But, if the sun is coming from behind the subject or if the subject is in shade (or maybe wearing a hat), flash will fill in and help the camera see details.

Don't bother using the flash for anything more than about 15 feet away. It will not do any good. Believe me, your flash is not going to help light up Sorcerer Mickey at the end of Fantasmic! You're just wasting battery power and distracting those sitting around you.

9. DO NOT use flash on attractions that prohibit flash photography (Spaceship Earth, Haunted Mansion, etc.). Not only will it annoy those around you; your photos may not be what you expect. On many attractions what you see is illusory, created by stage effects that will be destroyed by light.

10. Set a theme. This could go in a variety of directions. Take shots of family in friends in front their favorite attractions, enjoying their favorite snacks or with their favorite character. Maybe shots trying on all the crazy (or not so crazy) hats you can find in each park (classic mouse ears in MK, Indiana Jones hats in MGM, Mexican sombreros in EPCOT, Safari hats in AK). How about getting a collection of shots of the family on all types of WDW transportation (monorail, bus, main street horse car, etc.)? Or one day, four parks. The sky's the limit here. On a recent trip, someone I know took a picture every half-hour, on the half-hour. If you don't want to use that much film, maybe take shots each hour, or every other hour or at some other significant time.

11. Start a tradition. Take the same shot on each visit. I have a friend who takes a picture of his son each year, on his birthday, wearing the same football jersey. When he started the jersey was comically huge. Now it fits. Soon it will be too small. He has a nice keepsake that documents his son growing up, year by year.

12. Don't forget about the photographer. Be in some of the shots. That could mean allowing another member of your group to shoot some of the action, or asking a cast member or other passerby to shoot your whole group. By all means, ask. I have always found cast members and other guests more than happy to help. And please return the favor. Offer to take shots for others. Even if you don't speak the same language. A smile and gesture will go far.

13. Some of the best shots are simple ones: faces (especially first-timers) of folks (children and adults) emerging from under the train station and getting their first glimpse of the MK, family and friends watching parades and interacting with performers, anyone trying to pull out the "Sword in the Stone," a child (or child at heart) eating a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar. Take lots of these candid shots. You'll probably like them better than the posed ones.

14. Even if you are an experienced photographer and want to spend some time playing with your fancy equipment, take a lightweight point and shoot camera with you. Trust me on this one. You will get tired of carrying all the stuff (it gets heavier and heavier). Leave the good stuff safely secured somewhere, take the point and shoot and enjoy yourself. You'll still get shots of the fun, but won't feel like a pack mule.

15. Get your subjects involved in the shot. Don't just line them up like they're awaiting execution. Smelling the flowers on Main Street. Petting one of the animals at Rafiki's Planet Watch. Playing in a fountain in EPCOT. Dancing at the Wildhorse Saloon.

16. Look out for sunglasses and hats. They obscure faces. In at least some shots, have wearers take off these disguises, or it will look like you went on vacation with a bunch of mob informants.

17. If you are having a problem with your camera of film or just have question, stop in any of the camera shops. The folks there are knowledgeable and friendly.

18. Have fun. This is your vacation, too. Don't get so wrapped up in documenting the fun being had by everyone else that you forget to get in on it too.

19. Keep things in perspective. If photography isn't your thing and you just can't shoot one picture that doesn't cut off someone's head, so what? There's no rule that says your photos have to be Pulitzer Prize worthy. If they bring back fun memories of your trip, then they're successful.

20. There are no rules. Experiment. Fool around. I remember hearing, "Never shoot into the sun. Always have the sun at the photographer's back." But now I know that by having the sun behind your subject and using flash to make up for the strong sun influence, you can achieve a halo effect called backlighting, which can be beautiful. Go see the HISTA preshow for inspiration. Pick up a camera – and see what develops!



I am an avid photographer and was surprised to see that it is not mentioned to use the Kodak picture spots located thru-out the park's they have the best vantage point for fabulous shot's, well thought out and the best angles great for first timers with not great equipment. Keep up the great site. George

We attended several character meals. At first, we would only take pictures of our children with the characters after they had signed the autograph books and were posing with them. But after the second meal we started snapping away as soon as the characters approached our table. We are so glad we did this because we captured a very funny sequence of events while at the Villain's Dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian. These candid shots tell a funny story, showing the playful interaction between my sons and the characters. After that, we started snapping away at all of the character meals, and now that we're back, we see that the candid shots usually gave us better pictures than the posed ones! Of course you want the posed pictures, but the candid ones just might end up being your favorite memories of the meals! 🙂 Theresa Brown

A Cast Member wrote: Guests should use self-adhesive return address labels to identify cameras, especially disposable cameras, and film canisters. Take some extras along so you can tag film and cameras you buy in the Parks, too. With a name, Disney Lost & Found will be able to track you down at your Disney resort and return the film and camera to you. Even if you're staying off-property, it's a lot easier to find the right camera or film at Lost & Found if it's got your name on it!" (Zazu)

I take photos of the Attraction name. I have a great one of the Little Mermaid sign outside the ride and since flash photography is prohibited, there are no other photos of this attraction to include in my scrapbook. Every year, my daughter poses with the Adventureland Sign in the Magic Kingdom and it's easy to get this photo without other people in it. One of the best spots for a photo is on the starspeeder outside of the Star Tours ride. It is set against greenery so the photo comes out very bright and without bystanders in it. We always take a photo of the kids outside our resort room with the room number included in the photo. We also take photos at the airport after we've just left Disney, to see how tired and unhappy we are at leaving. (Cheryl Prior)

My daughter loves to take pictures and inevitably we end up fighting because she's always trying to take the camera and take TONS of pictures (she's 8). Now we buy disposable cameras at Sam's ($9.99 for two) all year long and give her a stack at the beginning of our vacation. She can take all the pictures she wants and we all are happy. She feels in control of the situation and we don't have to deal with the whining. (Chrisie)

We have found that if you really want to get one of those inside shots where a flash is not allowed, get a film with a 800 or 1000 speed. You don't need a flash with this fast film. We have some great photos of things like the Hall of Presidents, and other really great places. (Warmfuzz)

I witnessed a heartbreaking "missed photo op" at Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. A very little girl, and all dressed up for her favorite character, met Cinderella. Cinderella very graciously got down on the floor to greet this tot. I was behind Cinderella, and could see the awe and happiness on the child's face, but her parents were behind *her* and could only see Cinderella. I highly recommend that parents of toddlers get behind the characters, especially if they get down to the child's level. So many character encounters result in pictures of everyone facing the camera and smiling politely — if the opportunity presents itself to catch your child's expression over someone's shoulder, *take it*. You can always get the usual, formal, face-front-and-smile-at-the-camera shot later. I've found filler flash to be absolutely necessary at Cinderella's Royal Table. (Bay Loftis)