With all due respect to Tom Bricker and his beyond magnificent, Wonka-esque photographs of the Disney parks (seriously, his pictures are so gloriously clean and candy-colored I want to crawl inside and lick them), most of the time when I read photo tip blog posts my eyes glaze over. Sure, if I had all the time and money in the world, and the shoulder strength of a 23-year-old swim champion, I’d be able to take perfect pictures too.
But in my actual life, I’m a 40-something mom of three constantly moving and maddeningly opinionated children who need supervision and their orthodontic bills paid on time. Meticulously composed/lit/focused/processed photos are simply not going to happen during my family vacation. But that doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. Here are some practical photo tips for real world families who want to capture their vacation memories.
- Take the obligatory posed-in-front-of-the-icon photos. A photo of your family standing in front of Cinderella Castle is not interesting or imaginative. Take that picture anyway. Someday, when your child tells you that you never did anything for him, and you’re sure he’s spending more time with his therapist than he is with you, you can console yourself by looking at that Castle picture and remembering that there is evidence that you tried your darnedest and really did bring him to the happiest place on earth. Besides, what else are you going to put on the mantle?
- When you’re traveling with kids, leave the DSLR at home. I own a super spectacular Canon D50 and half a dozen precision lenses and some flashes and other indispensable accessories. When my kids were small, I took all that to the parks with me. This means that I was carrying 20 pounds of photo gear, 20 pounds of diaper bag, and 30 pounds of preschooler back and forth across Fantasyland. My physical therapist could buy a Ferrari with the money I’ve spent to get my back back in working order. If you’re not carrying anything else but your camera, go ahead and take that SLR to the parks. If you’re toting kids and their gear, invest in a good pocket model instead. (My Canon S95 is fantastic.) You’ll make up the expense in savings on Advil in just one trip.
- Photograph different combinations of your family members. I have twins. There are approximately 57 zillion photos of them together. There are approximately 6 pictures of either of them with other family members. Mix it up. You’ll never know when you’ll want to prove that little sis really did have a happy moment with big bro. Or someday little sis may decide she wishes she had a photo of just her and big sis (awww), without annoying big brother in the frame (grrr). Capture all the options.
- Take photos of individual family members. When your child is older, she can frame the picture of herself with Mickey next to a photo of her own daughter with Mickey at the same age. See, you’re crying already. This won’t be possible if the only picture of her with Mickey has the annoying brother in it. (What’s with him, anyway?)
- Take photos of the adults. Yes, we all need to lose 10 pounds. Our hair is a fright from the Florida humidity. Those shorts do nothing to conceal the cellulite. Trust me, I know. But I assure you, your children don’t see this. They think you’re beautiful and will someday cherish that photo of mom hugging them in front of a giant golf ball, cellulite and all.
- Messy and cranky kid photos are a must. They’ll come in handy for blackmail later in life.
- Give your kids their own cameras, preferably waterproof. A semi-decent waterproof Olympus digital is $85 on Amazon. Now you don’t have to brainstorm a birthday present. That 85 bucks will entertain your kiddo in the pool for hours, allowing you to enjoy a fruity beverage and another chapter of 50 Shades of Grey on the Kindle. And who knows, Junior might even get a decent shot or two. You’re welcome.
- Take a billion photos. Perhaps even two billion, really. It’s hard to get good photos, someone’s always blinking or looking the wrong way or pinching their little sister. The more photos you take, the more likely it is that somehow an actual quality image will sneak in there among the mayhem. In fact, I absolutely forbid you from taking any fewer than a dozen shots any time your child is standing next to Mickey.
- It’s OK not to photograph/video some things. Here’s the contradictory corollary to the item above. If something truly amazing and wonderous happens, try to be in the moment rather than reaching for the camera. When my oldest daughter was six, she was pulled on stage at the Biergarten in Epcot to chat with the bandleader. My husband and I both remember this as a star-making moment where she showed intelligence, diplomacy, wit and charm, dazzling her way into the hearts of thousands. I’m sure if we had a video of this, we’d see that instead of being the next Emma Stone, Princess Kate, and Hillary Clinton all rolled into one, as we remembered, she was really just a stammering little kid. I LOVE my version of it. I’m glad there’s no video to prove me wrong.
- Spend the money on the ride photo. It’s absolutely ridiculous to spend $25 on one picture. Do it anyway. You will never look more vulnerable and happy and frightened and silly and human than you do when you’re dropping into the abyss at Splash Mountain. That’s what fun looks like. Enjoy.
- Kids with animals are cute, always. Go to Conservation Station. Your child will hug a goat. Take a picture. ADORABLE!
- Kids photographed from behind are cute, always. And as an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about closed eyes or weird facial expressions.
- Pictures of little kids next to absurdly big things are cute, always. The juxtaposition of a toddler with Goofy, the Toy Story toys, a plus-size turkey leg, or the jumbo Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground ant brings a smile every time.
- Nothing good can come of photographing your kids naked. Junior rips off his diaper to run free at the Epcot fountain. It’s hysterical, yes, but resist the urge to capture the moment in JPEG. Someday he’ll be president, or at the very least have a mother-in-law. No commander-in-chief or hubby-to-be wants prying eyes on his tiny tot schmeckle.
- No one looks good in bright sunlight. Move to the shade. It will look like you’ve been to the spa and gotten 8 hours of sleep in comparison to a shot in the sun.
- A photo of a thing is sometimes as good as purchasing a thing. When your child is beggggging you for a souvenir, suggest that you take a photo of it. Sometimes that alone is enough to avert a meltdown.
- Don’t bother photographing the scenery. Your picture of the Castle will be horrible compared to a real photographer’s. Buy some postcards or stalk Tom’s Flickr stream if you want to see a landscape. Spend your time photographing your family.
- You can never have enough batteries. If you need an extra memory card, you can buy it at the parks. But the odds of them having your exact model of battery fully charged is zero. Go on Amazon, buy six extra batteries for your camera. Do it now, I’ll wait. When they arrive, charge them all and put them in your Disney backpack. No more vacation camera power worries.
- Your camera has a better memory than you do. Take advantage of your camera’s, well, photographic memory. Snap shots of your room number, your rental car, your parking space, your admission ticket bar code, your PhotoPass code, and anything else that’s mission critical, but not part of your daily routine. When you inevitably lose or forget these items, your camera will have your back.
- Label your camera. Put your name and cell phone number somewhere on the camera. When you inevitably lose the camera, a good samaritan will return it to you. Similarly, use a Sharpie and write your cell number on all your memory cards.
- Ask adults’ permission before posting/tagging their image on social media outlets. It’s only polite.
- Ask a helpful cast member if you can take a photo with them. This will not only help you remember a great moment, but also the great people behind the moment. And you never know, you may run into that cast member cast on your next trip and be able to forge a long-standing relationship.
- Make sure you set the date stamp on your camera. When you’re old and doddering, you won’t remember exactly when your photos were taken. An accurate date stamp will give you the happy illusion that your mind is still in great shape.
- BACK UP your photo files early and often. Someday you’ll have time to make your photos sing. Someday you’ll de-red the redeye, balance the white balance, correct the colors and Photoshop a smile onto your crabby-pants cousin Al. But that day is not today. In the meantime, make sure you don’t lose your photos. Take an hour to send them to the cloud, burn a back up DVD, and turn on your Time Machine. When you’re an empty nester you’ll be able to make beautiful photo gifts for your children, but if you lose the images, that will never happen.
OK fellow shutterbugs, what are your favorite real world photo tips? What’s your Disney photo strategy? Let us know in the comments below.