As most of us do in this digital age, I have many photographs of my family. These were mostly taken by me, my friends, or the occasional PhotoPass photographer. They’re all fine, good even, but they’re not knock-your-socks-off fabulous. For many years I had wanted something more substantial, and more fabulous: my own dedicated photo shoot with a professional photographer (something I hadn’t had since my wedding 20 years ago). Unfortunately the rest of the family thought my idea was silly and shot me down every time I raised the issue. “That sounds boring.” “We have enough pictures, why do we need more?”
But when my oldest daughter started to look at colleges (sniff), I could tell that the zeitgeist was changing. So this year I asked for only one thing for Christmas, everyone’s willing participation in a professional photo shoot. They readily acquiesced.
Several of my friends on the Walt Disney Parks Moms Panel have had positive experiences with the Disney Event Photography Group. And after seeing some of their portraits, I was hooked.
The Event Photography group, also known as Disney Fine Art Photography & Video, offers two standard levels of portraiture: a “mini” session and an “enhanced” session. Before I get into the difference, you should know that either of these products are available to anyone. The portrait sessions are primarily done for families, but they can work with individuals (a teen’s senior portrait, for example) on up to medium sized groups (a sorority sister reunion for 25 people, for example).
The rates for the enhanced and mini sessions are based on the amount of time you have with the photographer. The mini session, which currently lists for $150, gives you a dedicated photographer for 20 minutes. During that time, he or she will take as many pictures of your group as possible, in whatever configuration you like. Your final product is a flash drive containing JPEGs of all the unretouched photos, which you receive a few moments after your shoot. You can even preview some of the photos with the photographer on his iPad. With the mini session, you can choose from three locations: the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, or the Beach Club.
The enhanced session, at $350, gives you both a photographer and an assistant for one hour. Again, they will take as many photos as you like during that time period. In addition to more manpower and more time with the photographer, the enhanced session includes lighting equipment, photo retouching, a personal website which you can use to view/order prints and share with extended family, and a custom 6″ x 6″ book of your photos.
With the enhanced session, you also have more options on where to conduct the shoot. Depending on the time of year and other events going on at Walt Disney World, the location options may vary, but in addition to the resorts listed above, you can generally select from any of the other resorts and the Epcot World Showcase as well. What’s not included are the JPEGs of the images. These are available on CD for an additional $100 fee.
My friends had said wonderful things about the mini sessions, but since this was a first-time-in-20-years event, I wanted to go all out. A primary factor in my choice was that I wanted to have both formal and informal shots taken and knew that this would not be possible in just 20 minutes. Initially, I had wanted the shoot at Epcot, but due to the holiday crowds during our Christmas trip, this was not an option. Instead we opted for the Wilderness Lodge, which is our home Disney Vacation Club resort.
I made our reservation about three months in advance by calling 407-934-4004. I found the staff on the phone to be quite helpful answering my questions about the timing of the shoot and some technicalities with the website/CD/book which arose because I don’t use the same last name as the rest of my family. The Disney cast were more than willing to work with us on these issues. We paid a $25 deposit by credit card and were all set with the reservation.
Our session was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to take advantage of the “magic hour” of pre-sunset light. Portrait sessions are often scheduled for the early in the morning or late in the afternoon to get the best possible outdoor lighting situation.
On the day of the shoot we met our photographer, Chris, and his assistant, Jen, at the appointed spot in front of the large fireplace in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge. We had a brief chat about our family’s vision for the shoot. Despite the wonderful Christmas decorations at the Lodge, we decided to conduct the entire shoot outdoors, but this was a joint decision with the photographer. He certainly would have done whatever we wanted on this front.
I had come prepared with a long list of shots that I wanted to be sure to include: the whole family, just the girls, each daughter separately, and so on. This was helpful so that nothing fell through the cracks, but Chris and my daughters suggested additional poses during the shoot that added to the basics. There was a plan, but we did substantial modification on the fly.
Outside, we worked through my “required” poses quite quickly. Chris was pleasant and efficient. He had a wonderful manner both when directing Jen to move standing reflectors (to better control the lighting) and when giving my family instructions about how to tilt our heads to avoid the dreaded double chin (well, maybe that was just me he was talking to).
We achieved my primary goal of formal portraiture in about the first 20 minutes. We then moved onto “silly” formal shots for the next ten minutes. I had brought some photobooth props with us, to add a unique twist to some of the pictures. This was new for the photographer, but he was happy to play along and seemed to be having as much fun as we were. And really, this was quite fun. I think the main reason my family had been reluctant to participate in a photo shoot was that they thought it would be be tedious. This session moved so quickly and Chris was so engaging that we had a wonderful time throughout.
At the halfway point in our hour, we sprinted into the restrooms off the Wilderness Lodge lobby and changed from our formal dress into jeans. The photographer used this time to move his equipment to a different location on the grounds so that we would have a variety of backgrounds. Again, we cycled through my “required” poses quickly, added some suggested by my daughter, and even added some more unplanned silly shots.
In just over an hour of photography, we ended up with 82 professional pictures. Almost all quite different.
As we bid Chris and Jen goodbye, they told us that we would hear from Disney Fine Art Photography in 4 to 6 weeks when our website was ready. My instant-gratification children were floored by this and I too was impatient at having to wait. But there was some retouching that needed to be done. For example, one of my girls woke up with a small blemish that day, but you don’t see it in the pictures.
A bit less than a month later, we got an email saying our password protected website was ready. This gave us the ability to see the photos and the opportunity to order prints. After doing some research, I decided to buy the CD rather than get prints directly from Disney. I felt that the overall printing price would be less this way, and I also wanted to have the original JPEGs myself. The CD arrived less than a week after the website was up. It took another two weeks for our printed photo book to arrive. This was all within the promised timeline.
I am THRILLED with the pictures. They are everything I had wanted them to be and more. Truly, these images are something that I will cherish always. But even better than that, my family had a great time being rock stars with our own paparazzi. They have said that this is something that they’d be happy to do again in a few years. Yay!
A few bits of housekeeping:
- The one hour photo shoot worked well for us, in part, because my family is out of the “little kid” stage. The photographer told us that the enhanced sessions can sometimes be challenging with smaller children. Be realistic about your family’s attention span.
- Some shoot locations may be impacted by weather situations. While there are indoor photo options, you may want to keep an eye on forecasts and reschedule if necessary.
- The photographer will have suggestions about poses, but he or she is really there for you. If you’re a goofy family, bring goofy hats or glasses; make goofy faces. Make the photos reflect your personality.
- Think about what you want to wear. The Disney Fine Art Photography website has suggestions about things that typically work well, but again, use those ideas as a guideline. While I am happy with the blue button downs my family wore in our casual shots, if I had to do it over, I’d chose green shirts to better coordinate with the Wilderness Lodge location. I happen to love the pink/red outfits I’ve seen photographed at the Grand Floridian.
- Consider all the ways your family might use the photography. For example, my husband sometimes speaks at conferences and will have to submit a head shot for the program. The photo he had been using was out of date, so we asked the photographer to take several shots of him against a fairly plain background during the shoot. We also took shots that will be appropriate for my daughters to use in their 8th grade yearbook. Will you want these pictures for over the mantle? On holiday cards? As a gift for grandma? All of the above? Plan your session accordingly. We were able to kill many birds with this one stone.
To give you a fuller idea of the types of photos you might expect, I’m including a selection of pictures from my Moms Panel friends’ family shoots. Big thanks to them for sharing.
So folks, have you ever taken part in a Disney Fine Art portrait session? Do you have any tips on what worked well for your family? Is this something that’s on your wish list? What would be your ideal photo spot? What would you wear? Let us know in the comments below.