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Taking Great Photos and Videos at Disney

by Dave Marx, Author of PassPorter Travel Guides

Click! Whirrr! Zzzzzzzap! Clack! Whatever sound a still camera or camcorder makes, you can be sure you'll hear it at Walt Disney World. Disney characters wrap little ones in warm hugs, Kodak Picture Spots swim before beleagured eyes, and everyone scrambles to capture the legendary magic on film, tape, and digital memory card.

How can you make the most of all these once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities? Stick with us, and we'll share some of our favorite tips for fabulous Disney photos.

You may wonder why a couple of travel writers are qualified to give out photography advice. Dave's interest in photography goes way back. Prior to graduating high school he was a principal photographer on his high school yearbook staff and picked-up the spare dollar photographing weddings, bar mitzvahs and local news events. While his professional interests went off in other directions, he never stopped shooting, selling an occasional photo along the way. The upcoming 2002 edition of PassPorter includes more than a half-dozen of Dave's photos. Digital photography has also been a boon to PassPorter's field research. We have a digital camera capable of storing over 1000 high-resolution images, and a tiny, miniDV camcorder that is invaluable for documenting all aspects of resorts and theme parks. Typically, Jennifer shoots the video and Dave grabs the stills, but we're not averse to swapping. On our recent research trip to Disneyland Resort we shot over 20 hours of video and took more than 1200 still photos.

Choice of Cameras
Choosing a camera never gets easier, and with the advent of digital still and video cameras, your choices have never been greater.

Digital or Analog?
Digital still cameras are great if your primary interest is sharing photos over the Internet, or print publishing. And if you have the right printer attached to your computer, you can now make fabulous-looking prints, too. But if you just want a set of double prints to share with the family, film is still the easiest way to go. Digital camcorders (especially in the wonderfully tiny miniDV format) generally cost twice as much as analog Hi-8mm camcorders, but unless you're seriously interested in computer-editing your tapes and/or showing them over the Internet, an analog camcorder will probably serve your needs just as well, at a far lower price.

Still or Video?
Before you shell-out for a camcorder, consider this: The average home camcorder is used for only nine hours a year! Still cameras excel at capturing special moments that can be easily shared with friends and family. Camcorders excel at dynamic events like parades, fireworks and shows. In the
end, most camcorder-toting vacationers carry a still camera, too. Some of the newer digital camcorders do include a still photo feature, but you may find it cumbersome to switch between still and motion modes. We treat the still feature on our digital camcorder as a backup to our digital still camera, rather than a substitute.

Processing/Digital Options
Disney and Kodak sure make it easy for you. You can drop your film for overnight processing at each park's photo store and at the gift shop at every Disney resort. You can order prints and/or a Photo CD of your shots. At Epcot's ImageWorks Lab (in the Imagination Pavilion) they can even make a Photo CD from digital camera memory cards! Instant gratification does have its price, though. You can certainly find better processing prices at home and from mail-order photo labs. You can purchase pre-paid processing mailers (or use a mail-order lab), mail your film off to the lab, and it may be waiting for you when you arrive home.

Cost of Consumables (Film and Tapes)
When you're trying to capture priceless moments the cost of film (or tape) is your cheapest commodity. Buy at least twice as much as you think you need, and get it at a discount store instead of Disney. Any leftovers will stay fresh in the freezer until the next trip. What about printing all those rolls? Double prints of every roll can be a killer. It can be cheaper to get a Photo CD of your film and only pay to print the winners. Some labs provide 8x10 "contact sheets" with those Photo CDs, so you can get a pint-sized peek at your photos without popping the disk into your computer.

Cameras for Children
Kids take the darnedest pictures, so give their young eyes and imaginations a chance. Single-use "disposable" cameras are a great way to get them started. Help them "spend" their shots wisely, but give them the freedom to shoot whatever they please. You may be amazed by the results.

Water Parks
Don't miss out on the fun! Thanks to today's waterproof, single-use cameras you can leave the expensive equipment safely in your room and capture all the wet and wild action.

Fear of Intimacy
So you've finally got your family lined-up in front of Cinderella Castle for the biggest photo of your trip of a
lifetime. "OK everyone, stand right there!" And you back up. And you zoom in. And back up some more. And zoom all the way in. But now that you can see everyone's faces, you can't see enough of the castle. So you back up until the entire castle is in view. Now you're 20 feet away from your family, and when you get your prints you need a microscope to see the expressions on those happy faces. "Yeah, the tall one is Zeke, and the little one next to him is Zelda." The trick is to get closer to the people AND the castle, not farther away. Zoom the lens out to maximum wide angle, and walk in until the castle fills the viewfinder as desired. Now have everyone stand close to the camera, so they're all heads and shoulders (or at least waist-up). That's right, get in their faces! They're family, for gosh sake! When you frame things right your family will now loom as large as the World around them.

Night Photography
Is anything as magical as Walt Disney World at night? Colorful lighting, scintillating fireworks, dazzling parades, and the constant twinkle of flash cameras during IllumiNations. This is about as challenging as vacation photography can get, and the greatest source of photographic disappointment.

Nearly everyone now owns a camera with an automatic, built-in flash. It's great for taking photos of people and indoor locations, but it's nearly worthless for parades and fireworks. The typical flash is effective to a maximum of 15 feet, so anything nearby will be brightly illuminated, and nearly everything else will be part of a pitch-black background. That's no way to capture fireworks or twinkling lights. To get those magical nighttime scenes you'll need a camera with "program" exposure controls that includes a program for night photography. It also helps (a lot) to have manual control over the flash, so you can use flash or not, as appropriate. And finally, you have to hold the camera very, very, very still. A tripod or monopod is definately in order.

Digital cameras are great for this kind of photography, because you can experiment and immediately see the results. Try using the Night program with flash, and also without flash (each gives different results). Notice how easily camera "shake" blurs the scene or makes zigzag streaks out of lights and fireworks. This is where a tripod comes in. If you'd rather travel lighter, a monopod (a one-legged tripod) can help. If you don't have either, brace the camera (or yourself) against a building, railing or other solid object, and be very gentle when you press the shutter button.

Go Wide, Not Long
Nearly every camera seems to have a zoom lens these days, and they can be very useful. But close-ups are only part of the picture. Fight the urge to zoom in, and see what a little wide angle photography can accomplish. You want the big picture as well as the little details.

Avoid Tunnel Vision
The human mind naturally focuses on the objects that interest it and ignores everything else. Often, this means photos don't turn out the way you intended. Practice seeing EVERYTHING framed in your camera's viewfinder. Is the castle (or your husband) surrounded by too much empty sky and bare pavement? Does the facade of the Main Street Emporium create a confusing background for your shots of the three o'clock parade? Be aware of all items that detract from the subject of your photo, and reframe your shot to eliminate everything that doesn't belong in it.

Avoid Camcorder Whiplash!
Did you get motion sickness when you saw Blair Witch Project? The faster your camcorder pans (swings) around, the queasier your audience will be. Move slowly if you are taking in a wide view. If you're simply changing views, pause the camera before moving, and resume shooting when your camera has been repositioned. Whiplash is worst when your lens is zoomed in and/or pointed at nearby objects--zoom out a bit before you pan. The same holds true for fast zoom-ins and zoom-outs. Move slower than you think you should - your heart is probably beating faster than usual, so it's not a reliable time clock.

Think About Your Soundtrack
OK, you followed our last advice and paused the camcorder before moving it. Ooops! So much for having a complete recording of the parade soundtrack. Keep the camera rolling, and make slow, graceful moves with the camera.

Identify Your Shots
How many times have you come home from a vacation with mounds of film canisters or tape cases without any idea of what is on what? Next time, buy your film/tapes in advance and label each one with your name, phone number, and resort/hotel. Leave room on the label to write the name of the park/attraction you're visiting. Better yet, decide in advance where you'll be going and pre-print the park names on the labels. Now you can keep your film/tapes labelled, and if one is lost, chances are good the finder will know how to get it to you.

We'd love to hear your own photo tips, and comments on this article. Share them with us and we'll include them on this page.

Things To Do: Share your favorite photography tips in our PassPorter Tips Contest.

Return to | Discuss cruising security on the PassPorter Message Boards

Updated 04/06/07 

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