24 Disney Photo Tips for Real People

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.

  1. 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?
  2. You need the Castle photo so that when your child says, "I hate you," you can reassure yourself that you tried to be a good parent.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?)
  6. 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.
  7. Don't worry about how you look, just capture the moment.
  8. Messy and cranky kid photos are a must. They’ll come in handy for blackmail later in life.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. The ride photos will give you proof positive of who the brave one in the family is.
  13. 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.
  14. Kids with animals are cute, always. Go to Conservation Station. Your child will hug a goat. Take a picture. ADORABLE!
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. Little kid + too big object = classic photo.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. Photos of your kids from the back are always perfect.
  25. 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.
  26. Ask adults’ permission before posting/tagging their image on social media outlets. It’s only polite.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. 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.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

39 thoughts on “24 Disney Photo Tips for Real People

  • June 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    We take 2 camers with us. That way each adult has a camera and if we are seperated we can both take pictures to capture the memories! It has come in handy, espically the time I broke one of the cameras on Splash Mountain! We had another with us and were so glad we did!

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      Good tip, thanks for sharing.

  • June 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I would also suggest that even if you have your own camera, take a minute to let the PhotoPass photographers snap your photo. It’s free and there’s no obligation. We ended up buying the CD but it was completely worth it.
    And by the way, your tips are all fantastic. It really applies to all picture taking…any vacation, not just Disney! We went ahead and took our DSLR on our Disney trip in February. It was our first visit with our kids and it wasn’t too bad to haul the gear around. We have a backpack so it easily went on all of the rides with us or stayed on the stroller while one of us had the younger child. I’m ready to go back and put some of your other tips to use now! Thanks!

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      You’re absolutely right about PhotoPass. I can’t believe I forgot to mention it.

  • June 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Great article and I love your style. But really, does Disney allow Fifty Shades of Grey on property?? πŸ™‚

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      That’s why you have to read it on an electronic device where it’s concealed. πŸ˜‰

  • June 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Once you get home – do something with all the pictures! Use your favorite photobook program and make a great coffee table book. We even save up our pictures from multiple trips and create our own Disney “Yearbook.” Sure, the larger the book, the higher the price. However, think of what it would cost for printing, scrapbook supplies, etc…

    Our largest book was 350+ pages, 1200 pictures. It was awesome!

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      I do often make photo books. I’m curious about what service you use that lets you have 350 pages. All of the ones I’ve seen cap you at 100 pages. I’d love to get more in.

      • June 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm

        We use blurb.com for the most part – at least for our main Disney yearbooks.

        • June 6, 2012 at 4:34 pm

          Thanks, I’ll check it out!

    • June 7, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      My family is not much into scrapbooks. But I create a picture montage/video all to Disney music (entrance loops, illuminations, and classic Disney songs). My “slideshows” last anywhere from 15-20 minutes. I now have a Video CD that contains all our Disney Vacations as chapters, so I can then just watch our 1st visit to Disney or the most recent one or something in-between.

  • June 6, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    A corollary to #20 – each memory card I own has, as the first photo on the card, a picture of a simple printed out sheet that says “IF FOUND, PLEASE CONTACT __________” with my email address. That way if I drop/lose a memory card and someone checks the card to see if they can find a way to get it back to the owner, they have a way to do so. Sharpie on the card itself can rub off over time.

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Great point. Thanks!

  • June 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    That was awesome. I only disagree with one point, I do lug my DSLR to the parks, along with the baby gear. My Canon S100 is a pretty great PnS but it’s all too often the video camera at the moment, and I need the speedy shutter of the DSLR to capture the blur that is my toddler. πŸ™‚

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

      You do make a good point that the faster shutter speed of a DSLR can be important at times.

  • June 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    #6 is great! #24 is very important – I once had a memory chip go bad on me. I lost about 12 hours of photos. #19 will save family fights on where the car is parked. As for #17… finding postcards was HARD on my last trip to Disneyland last month. I finally found some in a kiosk just inside Fantasyland.

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      As for #24, I’ve taken to bringing my iPad and a camera connector into the parks with me. Whenever we stop to eat or rest, I download from the camera to the iPad. This gives me a backup every couple of hours. Interesting about #17. Maybe people just don’t send postcards any more πŸ™

  • June 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    #19 is a great tip no matter where you are. I do this at festivals, hockey games, etc. Those parking lots are huge, a quick photo of your parking garage floor/spot can save a ton of time & extra walking at the end of the evening.

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Excellent point.

  • June 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    This was a great article – really practical tips!

    My only other suggestion (and you may have touched on this), don’t wait for kids to pose. Take pictures anyway… you may get some good candid ones. I love some of the pictures I have of the kids interacting with characters.

    • June 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      Yep. Just keep shooting. Your kids may be annoyed with you now, but later they’ll appreciate that you took the time and paid attention.

  • June 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Don’t rely on your phone for photos. It’s nice in a jam, but for lasting memories the quality just won’t be there.

    It’s easy to take all your photos the first day because you’re so excited or last day of the trip because you were racing around to see everything. Try pacing yourself and take a few excellent shots each day.

  • June 6, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Such a great article. I can’t believe I just read a blog post on photography that I pretty much totally agree with!

    My two cents…

    I take my DSLR everywhere, but I agree…it can get weighty and cumbersome, especially if the shots you take could be just as easily gotten with a compact.

    My only real issue is I disagree with the point…Don’t bother photographing the scenery.

    A photograph of a beautiful scene or building that I have taken (even if it isn’t quite as sharp) means so much more to me than the most beautifully composed image that someone else has taken!

    Thanks so much for the article, really enjoyed it.

    • January 10, 2014 at 6:49 pm

      The scenery pictures also make great background pictures for those photo books.

  • June 7, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Thanks so much for these awesome tips!!

    LOL! I did exactly as you suggested in #18 and was pleasantly surprised! I went to my camera store last summer to buy a backup battery and they wanted $84 at the time!! I about fell over! Just purchased a new one on Amazon for under $5 – total! Here’s hoping it works! The seller has lots of great feedback so it was worth the risk. If it doesn’t work I still have time to reorder from someone else before our trip. Thanks again!!

  • June 7, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Definitely do an “every trip” photo. There’s nothing cooler than seeing pictures of a family next to a particular landmark, year after year. My husband and I ask to have an elevator to ourselves on Tower of Terror, and the picture is so much fun. I can’t wait until our son is tall enough so that he can join in!

    Be silly. Smiling shots are fine, but the Beverly pictures, or pictures of gasps and giggles are much more powerful at evoking memories.

  • June 7, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Thanks for the article. Your tips are right-on. Following up on the Fotopass comment, we have found that after we pose for the Fotopass picture, the photographers graciously agree to take the same picture with our camera.

  • June 7, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Really enjoyed this article!

    Something I learnt last year on our honeymoon trip to WDW… if you forget your camera charger, ask at the resort concierge desk – at the Grand Floridian, they had a huge selection of phone & camera chargers – and let me borrow one for our entire vacation πŸ™‚

  • June 7, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Pretty solid tips for “real people,” overall. I can’t say I agree with all of them, so maybe I’ll write a ‘Family Photo Tips for Cyborgs’ in the future. πŸ˜‰

    Here are a couple suggestions I’d make that stand out:
    1. In family photos, the people should dominate the frame, always – Cinderella Castle shouldn’t take up 75% of the photo while your family is speck-size.

    2. Turn off the date-stamp – A date stamp is something that visibly appears on the front of a photo. This is hideous and is a holdover from some film cameras. Every digital image file stores the date and time it was taken (assuming you’ve accurately set the date and time) in something called the EXIF data.

    3. Take portraits that hint at Disney, without screaming it – You should always take photos in front of Cinderella Castle and the other icons (it’s fun to watch your family grow each trip!), but also get photos in less-obvious spots, like World Showcase, or in front of icons with only a bit of the icon showing or in the distant background (exp: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tombricker/3893483993/)

    4. Turn ON your flash for daytime photos taken outdoors – If your flash is set to auto, it will only fire when the scene is too dark, so it won’t fire during the day. Turning the flash on will during the day will eliminate harsh shadows on the face.

    • June 7, 2012 at 10:26 am


      You are the master and I bow before you. Truly.

      The very moment my children leave home, I’m going to hire you to teach me everything you know.

      These are wonderful tips! Thank you for sharing.

      As for your tip #2. Yes, absolutely! My tip #23 was meant for the internal date in the camera, not for having the date printed on the actual photo itself (ewww). Sorry for not being clear. My mother never sets the dates on her cameras and it seems like the past six years of photos were all taken on 01/01/1980. πŸ™‚

      Again, if I could live in your photos I really would.

  • June 7, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Erin, you are always ‘spot on’ with your blogs. The suggestion about the underwater cameras is awesome. I am taking my two grandsons this summer by myself and still have book three of 50 to read. Might actually get it done poolside. Laters,Mickey!

  • June 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Batteries, batteries, batteries, and battery chargers. Last Fall, I forgot our battery charger, and our camera died on the third day of a six day trip. Worst part was that it was right in the middle of our Character Dinner at Chef Mickeys. We had to settle for lower quality pics on our cell phones, and eventually overpaid for disposable cameras.

    Let the PhotoPass photographers take your picture too. I never thought I’d pay the high price for their images, but we ended buying a couple when we got home because they were so good. We also had a PhotoBook included for “free” in our vacation package, so I was able to fill the book with quite a few of their images at no additional cost.

    Finally, you can get the memory of the Ride Photos without paying the price. Just snap a close-up photo of the TV screen. Sure, it’s not an especially high-quality shot, but they are funny to look at when you get home.

  • June 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Great tips and many of them I hadn’t thought of.

    I’ve done the photo book thing once but what I think is nicer is keeping every little piece of paper, receipt, sticker and leaflet and put them in an album with your photos. Genuinely it makes the album amazing.

  • June 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Three best photos:
    1. take a photo of your child’s face while they watch the parade, first see Mickey, or first get of a new exciting attraction! If crowds are small enough…walk about 5 people up the parade route (leaving another adult with the kids of course) so you can have a great shot of you little one’s face as a favorite character approaches on the parade route! sure is it nice to have a photo of cinderella in the parade but I much prefer my photo of my little girls reaction to seeing Cinderella in the parade! And there is nothing like that look of exhiliration after the step off Big Thunder for the first time! And before meeting Mickey or other characters, try to slip around to the other side so you can get you child’s face as they approach him or as he hugs them. Then slip around to the front for the posed shots.

    2. Take photos ON the rides when you can. We are a family of 5 so we need to split up on rides into smaller groups. I try to get 4 dumbos in front of dad and baby so I can look back and get a great arial shot. Same works for Magic carpets. Sitting one row ahead on Big Thunder, etc. allows me to look back and get a good shot too…be sure to use the wrist strap and click during mild track!
    3. I love to take photos of my kids with dessert! Their is a wonderful look in thier eye right before they bight into that mickey icecream…sweet joy (pun intended).

    • June 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

      I love these ideas!

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  • January 5, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    We took a trip with our 16 year old son and 11 year old niece. Each kid had a camera and one camera between me and my husband. Each evening when we got back to the hotel (no matter how tired we were) we viewed the pictures on the TV. We had some secret photos taken by the kids or random funny pictures! It was great fun having the “family photo” time and seeing WDW through their eyes as well! I love Photopass, along with our own photos! You have awesome tips!

  • January 9, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I know this is an old post, but hopefully people are still looking at it because you have excellent tips. One thing I have taken to doing with all my vacation pictures is to store them on a thumb drive, in addition to the cloud and burning to a disc. While on vacation we purchase a key chain that has the name of where we went and then I clip that key chain onto the thumb drive to ID it. I had a friend who lost all of her daughter’s first DL trip, so I’m extra cautious. I’ve also learned to check the chip in my camera…once I accidentally had a 128MB left in the camera and no back up. Filled that sucker up in a hurry!

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