I'll admit it. We are a Disney family. Well, maybe not so much my husband, but he puts up with us. We love all things Disney. And the icing on the top of that big Mickey shaped cake is obviously going to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. There are so many things to love about WDW... this Disney veteran still gets overwhelmed with everything there is to do and see! It's wonderful. And magical.
So, the first few times to Disney with kids, I was so overwhelmed with everything to do and see (in the best way!) that I didn't take a ton of pictures. We had the Memory Maker (which I absolutely recommend, even for professional photographers! That way you get in front of the camera for once WITH your family! Proof that you actually DO exist!), but even with the Memory Maker, they are all posed shots of your vacation. There are so many in between moments that you want to remember. And that's where our personal cameras come in.
Of course we have our cell phones and they do take great snap shots, but if you know me, you know I stress the importance of having your memories printed. We put ours in albums and my family loves flipping through them. Especially the kids...one is learning to read and one doesn't have a clue. The wonderful thing about pictures is that they tell the story without any words. I love seeing them looking at the albums and their face coming alive with memories! They can remember the day, the weather, the sights, the sounds, and even the smells (Main Street USA smells so good!). That is just so, so special to me- to see them reliving those experiences. Priceless. And as great as cell phones are, when you print those images, they are not as high quality as they could be. And these are irreplaceable memories we are talking about here, they need to have some long lasting properties about them.
So, I've put together 5 tips for you to keep in mind the next time you are vacationing, whether it be at the wonderful world of Disney or some other family vacation.
1.) Look for the Light
Professional photographers are masters of light. This is the main component of photography. But, here's some tips for amateurs, beginners, hobbyists, or just regular moms and dads who want to take great pictures of their kids. Try to find even lighting. Full sun or full shade. Try to avoid dappled lighting, like when you are underneath a tree and some parts are shaded and some have sun. And if that is unavoidable, at least get the face or focal point in even lighting. That way, the skin looks evenly exposed and is not too dark or too light (or worse, blown out to where the skin is so bright you lose some of the features!). Try getting to the park at rope drop and getting some pictures throughout the park when the sun is not directly over head and it's not already super crowded. And if you stay on Disney property, those Extra Magic Hours can come in handy!
2.) Details Matter
It's all about the details. We often remember the main events, but it's the details that really shape our story. The details give our stories meaning and depth. And sadly, our human brains forget those tiny details over time...unless we have recorded them. Details are my favorite thing to document, but there have been times that I have been so focused on the details that I forget to document the whole picture. So, find your balance. Don't forget about those small details, but pay attention to the big picture too.
Some of my favorite details to document in Disney are hidden Mickey details, details within our resort, our food (I like my food Mickey shaped!!), the condition of the children's clothes by the end of the day (Funny side note: I apparently got too caught up in the excitement of Disney once and handed our 2 year old a chocolate ice cream cone in the stroller... in 100 degree weather. Within 5 minutes, the stroller was dripping with melted chocolate ice cream and there was the happiest toddler on Earth sitting inside, covered from head to toe in chocolate, sticky, goo.), details of their outfit, their Mickey ears, autograph book, different statues, architecture of the buildings, window displays, and flower arrangements (especially at Epcot in the Spring/early Summer!) etc. So, to elaborate a bit on the ice cream disaster story, I snapped a shot from his dripping chin down to his waist of that chocolatey mess. I'll never forget just how bad it was because I have that image. I look at it and I can feel the stickiness of it!! Ha!
3.) Waiting in Line
This has got to be one of my all time favorite images. This was taken in line waiting for the Dumbo ride. You absolutely cannot visit Disney without riding Dumbo! I think of so many things when I look at this image. I think of her ears, which I slightly protested that she not pick out that particular style because the veil part kept getting hung and snagging on the sequins, but she insisted upon because they were perfect in her eyes. I look at the light sculpting her face and highlighting her features and quickly falling off into shadow. I see the anticipation in her body language. I see her fingers gripped on the rails barely containing her excitement. I saw this in a million children there. This exact same pose, this exact same expression. It's worth remembering! It gives me all the feels! Or maybe your child is being goofy or maybe they are playing games with each other, it's all worth remembering. Pro tip: The Heads Up game is absolutely genius to play while waiting in line. I saw so many families playing that while waiting in line the last time we went.
We all will probably take pictures of the parade happening in front of us. We definitely want to remember the grandeur of the floats, the impeccable decorations, the bright colors, etc. But the real magic is happening right beside you...it's displayed on those little faces right beside you. Their eyes sparkle. I have seen them intensely absorbing it all in, I've seen them bursting with excitement, I've seen their face light up as they suck in their breath seeing their favorite character wave at them (and only them). Those are the expressions I never want to forget. Those are the ones you'll look back on in 20 years and your heart will melt just the same as it did the moment you snapped the picture. I also love capturing candid moments with characters we meet, both in their greet spots throughout the park or at a character dining meal. Seeing the children hug and talk to them, laugh with them, or playing silly games with them is the best! And, I'm not going to lie, one of my favorite pictures of my husband is of him watching the children meet a beloved character. Seeing their joy brought out an expression of pure happiness on his face. Priceless. So don't be afraid to turn the camera around to other members of your family not participating in the event going on right in front of you; you won't regret it. Especially if you have purchased the Memory Maker/Photo Pass option. Let the Disney photographers capture that character moment- you capture your family moments.
5.) Landscaping and Scenery
And lastly, don't forget to take pictures of the incredible and over the top landscaping and scenery. Disney is known for putting Disney magic in every single detail, going so far as to incorporate it into the landscaping, the hedge sculptures, and the architecture. It's all so ornate and perfectly themed. I have several shots like this throughout our Disney trips, but I have ideas for more and lists of other things I want to photograph. One of the best rides to really snap away in is the Tower of Terror located in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Brilliantly themed! And if you are a Twilight Zone fan, you'll love looking at all the references to the show while you wait in line. One of my favorites is the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom. Did you know that their is a version of the Haunted Mansion in every Disney park? Yep! So, when you are preparing to take pictures in these areas, be sure to practice beforehand shooting with the flash off. And don't be afraid to take your camera out on rides like Dumbo or the Flying Carpets. Maybe even the Astro Orbiter! It's a unique way to take a shot of the landscape. You'll have a great view from the top!
I hope you find these tips to be useful and inspiring. I'd love to see your favorite vacation shots and hear a backstory behind the images! If you have any questions I can answer or have any images or stories to share, let me know in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them.
Oh- and one more thing. Snap a picture of them one night passed out in your room. Precious!!!
Click here to learn more about the Memory Maker option at Disney; it's not an affiliate link, just wanted to post it in case you wanted to learn more about it.
And I have been asked several times about where we stayed (we always stay on Disney property) and the answer is: We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge this past time we visited the Happiest Place On Earth.
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.