Feature photo by Bethney Backhaus
There’s a reason people describe it as the most magical place on earth. For many of us, visiting a Disney theme park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll want your photos to reflect the magic you felt during your visit so you can relive the experience over and over. Whether capturing photos or videos or both, we’ve compiled the top 24 Disney photo tips from pro photographers and Disney experts.
Think about timing.
1. Disney is great any time of year.
Our trip was during peak crowd season (July) and we visited mostly in the middle of the day, when the parks were crowded. No matter when you visit, make the best of it. Sometimes, you just have to wait your turn or get lucky. Using a big camera may get people’s attention and they’ll tend to stay out of your way more than if you just use a smartphone camera. (Emily)
2. Arrive early.
One of my best Disney photo tips is to try to enter the park before it opens to regular guests. Not only will you be able to get shots with less people in the background, you will also have softer morning light. If entering early isn’t an option, be the first ones to enter when the rope drops for all guests and move quickly to the location where you want to shoot. (Bethney)
3. Don’t fight the crowds.
If you visit a theme park during peak season it’s a given that you’ll wind up with lots of strangers in your photos. Instead of stressing and searching desperately for an empty space to put your family, try embracing the crowds and using their presence as a storytelling element. (Jessica)
4. Keep your camera handy during down time.
Most photographers have their cameras out when they’re about to meet the characters or enjoy the parade, but typically those cameras get stashed away during the more low-key times. Some of my favorite pictures are taken during the wait for the good stuff. (Jessica)
Use Disney’s unique light.
5. Any light will work.
Shooting at Disney (or any theme park, really) is a constant battle to find great light. Often there’s too much light and just as often there is too little. But all you need for a great Disney photo is a little light, used well, and you’ve got yourself a keeper. (Jessica)
6. Shoot in the evening.
One theme park photography tip is to save the little kid attractions for evening when the crowds are lighter. Families with younger children have a tendency to visit Disney World’s Fantasyland first thing in the morning when little ones are fresh, but going during golden hour will yield great light and fewer crowds. (Emily)
Use angles to your advantage.
7. Use creative angles to minimize the crowd.
It may seem impossible to get Disney photos without people in the background, but with some creative angle hunting you can make it happen. For prime shots like Cinderella’s Castle, try to find a spot where people will not be able to enter the background of your image, like on a bridge or against a railing. (Bethney)
8. Use a wide-angle lens to tell the story of your Disney trip.
Most theme parks are very crowded. I recommend using a wide-angle lens so you don’t have to get too far away from your loved ones to capture your shots. Additionally, a wider lens allows you to capture the environment and more of the background, to tell the whole story of where you are. My very favorite lens to use at the Disney theme parks is my 15mm fisheye lens. I can even use it to get shots while on the rides, sitting right next to my subject (with my camera strap securely around my neck). The distortion of a very wide angle or fisheye lens adds a fun element to theme parks images. (Beth)
9. Look up and down.
Be thoughtful about your framing. Don’t be afraid to get into awkward positions to get the shot. My kids are short, so it’s easy to get over top of them and use the ground as my clean background. It’s also useful to look up. I’m constantly thinking about how things look from a child’s perspective. I stay curious and look in all directions. Looking up or down or using foreground are great ways to clean up your frame.
Take a lot of detail shots. I get very close to my subjects. This helps fill the frame with what’s important and isolate the subject from any distracting details. Know the minimum focusing distance of your lens. I recommend a zoom with macro capability (i.e. 12″ minimum focusing distance). (Emily)
10. Capture the Disney environment.
Photos of friends, family, and characters are important, but the scenery and the Disney environment will add to the story. Landscape shots of the rides and buildings can help establish the story and convey a fun mood. At Disney World, try taking images with Main Street, Cinderella’s Castle, shops, or rides as the subject. You might want to use a smaller aperture for these types of Disney photos, so the depth of field is deeper. (Beth)
Get creative with your Disney photos.
11. Experiment with different shutter speeds.
Most of the time, you will want to use a fast shutter speed to avoid blurry images and capture the action. But I like to experiment with slow shutter speeds occasionally to show movement. Tripods aren’t allowed at most theme parks, so you’ll need to support the camera on a fence or bench to avoid camera shake. You can also try panning: Use a slow shutter speed while following the subject, so the subject is in focus while the background is blurred. I’ve found a shutter speed of 1/15 to 1/50 of a second works best for panning images. Using high-speed burst and holding down the shutter button to capture many images is helpful, as well (I pick my favorite shots and delete the others). (Beth)
12. Don’t be afraid to carefully photograph on rides.
Rides produce the most genuine smiles and interaction. The resulting images always end up being my favorites. Just remember, always put safety first. Make sure your camera is completely secure before attempting to take any pictures. (Bethney)
Focus on what’s important.
13. Get in the frame.
As the photographer, we usually end up behind the camera. But don’t forget that you were there too. It’s important for your children and family to see you in photos sometimes. Try handing the camera to a trusted family member or friend to take a few shots (you can get the settings ready before handing the camera over). Or, for fun, you can try taking a few Disney selfies. Some cameras have an LCD screen that flips out, so you can turn the camera around and use live-view to see what you’re capturing. Using back button focus makes it nearly impossible to get a shot with the camera turned around, so you’ll want to make sure your camera is set to focus when the shutter button is pressed. If you’re going to try to take images while on a ride, you need to keep your gear safe. I wrap the camera strap tightly around my arm or neck, and grip tightly at all times. (Beth)
14. Focus on reactions.
It may be tempting to take a hundred pictures of the animatronics, but trust me, they’ll never be your favorites. There’s just not much life to them when you take away the music and the motion. It’s not the details of the attraction you’ll want to remember – it’s the experience! Focus on the reactions of your family instead. These Disney pictures will mean so much more to you in ten years than a photo of a statue or safari animal. (Jessica)
15. Put the camera down.
One of the most important Disney photo tips is to put the camera down and enjoy the time with your family. I really struggle with this one, but it’s so important. If you are at the parks for more than one day, you might want to consider leaving the fancy camera in the hotel for one of the days. Or take the shot and then put the camera in the bag. Try to remember why you’re there: to make memories and have fun with your loved ones. (Beth)
16. Remember your purpose.
Above all, remember why you’re shooting in the first place. Don’t exasperate your family for a shot. This is vacation time! If it feels more like a Disney photo shoot or video shoot than family fun time, you’re not going to get the authentic, happy emotions that you are aiming for. It’s better to have a short, great video or a few amazing images than a 5-minute film or a photo album of every detail if it exhausts you or your family. Keep it fun and enjoyable! (Emily)
Photograph the things that are uniquely Disney.
17. Photograph the whimsical Disney food.
Don’t forget to photograph the treats! One of the best things about visiting one of the parks is the snacks, so it’s only natural to include some shots of the kiddos enjoying them. It’s a great way to end a session and it also helps that it can be used as a bribe for those kiddos that might need one! (Bethney)
18. Capture those unique Disney silhouettes.
During every family trip to Disney, I always capture my children with their Mickey Mouse ears on. When my oldest was about two years old I started capturing my children in their Mickey ears by using silhouettes to highlight the ears and to showcase just how tiny my little ones were. To capture these type of shots, look for areas that have a bright background. The shops, attractions and hotels all have such different décor that the possibilities are endless. (Danielle)
Create a memorable Disney video for your family.
You can create beautiful, uncluttered videos of your Disney trip, even in extreme temperatures and with large crowds. I captured a video of our trip to Disneyland Paris despite crowds, record-breaking heat, heavy gear, two small children, and being 22 weeks pregnant. That sounds like a difficult situation to shoot in, but I’m happy to share several Disney video tips to make it easier.
19. Minimal gear is all it takes.
I brought nothing but a camera, a strap, and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. My husband carried a backpack with any stuff we might need. It takes some practice, but a strap is all you need to use several handheld stabilization techniques.
20. Be smart about camera settings.
When shooting video with your DSLR, focus is manual. That means nailing focus is difficult when your aperture is shallow. Using a low f-stop is one way to create a blurry background and pretty bokeh. Another way to create bokeh is to move super close to your subject, even at f/4 or f/8. A third way to create bokeh besides a shallow aperture and getting close is to put lots of distance between your subject and your background.
I suggest an aperture of f/4 to f/8 or higher outdoors. Doing so will help preserve highlights and color and help make manual focus more forgiving, since it’s hard enough as it is trying to see your LCD screen outdoors. A smaller aperture gives you a larger depth of field in which your subject may be in focus, so your chance of staying in focus as your subject moves is better.
21. Remember the rules of composition and lighting.
Video may be all about motion, but the photography rules of composition and lighting also apply. Remember to look for light and compose for the shot you want. Don’t forget to get in close to capture expressions and emotions!
22. Make the most of Disney’s available light.
No matter when you visit the parks, there will be light you can work with. Even in harsh light, you can find shade or go for dramatic lighting. When shooting video in midday, look for pretty sun flickers created from movement and shadows. I did not use any filters, but you certainly could use one to give yourself more dynamic range in broad daylight.
23. You can pull stills from your Disney video.
A quick but important tip for those of you shooting both photos and video. You can also pull stills from your videos, but keep in mind they will be the resolution of the video, which is usually 1080p (that is, 1920 x 1080 pixels). I’ve never had a problem printing up to 5×7 with this resolution. However, you will also need to trim the sides because a video has a 16:9 aspect ratio, whereas stills are usually 3:2.
24. Be ready!
One of my favorite Disney photo tips is to use a clear filter in lieu of a lens cap to be on the ready to film quickly while still protecting your lens.
Disney video & video tips by Emily Mitchell
Don’t limit your photos to Magic Kingdom.
Yes, Magic Kingdom is truly magical, but there are plenty of other photo-worthy spots on the Disney grounds. Here are a few of our favorites:
Disney’s BoardWalk, Walt Disney World
Disney Springs, Walt Disney World
Downtown Disney District, Disneyland
Outside the gates of Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World
Disney resorts and hotels
What are YOUR best Disney photo tips!
Do you have must-know Disney photo tips? We’d loooove to hear them! Post in the comments for a chance to have your Disney photo tip included in this post. Our readers are especially interested in hearing your solutions for carrying a heavy camera all day long, tips for managing your gear AND your kids at the same time, specific advice on what gear to pack (and in what bag), and any other awesome tips we’d never think of. If we feature your tip, we’ll link to your photography website in the credits. Give us your best Disney photo advice!
p.s. If you loved this post and want even more Disney photo tips, check out our advice on what to pack for Disney!
A note for professional photographers conducting paid sessions: Check the regulations and/or policies before conducting photo sessions in theme parks or on any private property. Disney Theme Parks in particular does enforce restrictions on professional photography within their grounds.