View over the Mansion, New at Thousand Circles this weekend
Yesterday I had a sort of a-ha moment that maybe this wasn’t something that everyone realized…especially if they’re planning a first trip or haven’t been in awhile. (Or, on the flip side, if you’re a frequent visitor but have never thought to explore photography here…)
So I give you, the top ten of many, many reasons why it’s incredibly cool to be a photographer at Walt Disney World—whether you’re a seasoned professional looking to test your gear or an absolute beginner who just nervously broke the seal on her first DSLR.
Dapper Dans on Main Street
1. You’ll never feel awkward.
Strange place to start, maybe, given the number of more obvious answers to this question—but one of the hardest things for some people when it comes to photography, especially early on before you get a little more confident in your purpose, is just walking around in front of strangers and taking pictures with the big camera that’s hanging around your neck. Setting up a tripod out in the open and occupying space to get that shot. Breaking out the 600mm zoom lens that looks like part of a telescope. It can be intimidating! At Disney, it’s really not though—because so many other people are doing the same sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong, your camera should never make you feel awkward—but we all know that feeling, especially early on, and I can confidently say that if it’s going to dissipate anywhere, it’s going to be in Disney World.
2. There’s an incredible range of environments to learn from.
In the course of one day in Central Florida, you’ll likely have sunshine and clouds and an evening that’s comfortable for strolling. Sunrises and sunsets have a tendency to take your breath away and are set off by golden and blue hours that are a playground for shooting. Photography (flash free, always!) on dark rides is an education in itself—you can really push the limits of your camera to see what it can do while you’re moving in extremely low light. And shooting the parades is practically portrait work. I could go on and on—it’s like a playground of test spaces for a photographer that wants to learn and experiment with their equipment.
If you weren’t into shooting it before, you will be by the time you leave. Florida itself is a treasure trove of wildlife. You can’t live here as a photographer and not get at least a little into the birds. They’re dinosaur artwork standing on your front step. The parks themselves, though, are such a fun place for wildlife photography. I could spend entire days doing nothing but wandering Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Maharaja Jungle Trek in Disney’s Animal Kingdom—not to mention the sheer joy of riding Kilimanjaro Safaris with a super telephoto lens. If you stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge (or can get there for a meal—they have 3 great restaurants), you’ll have everything from zebras to giraffes on your front step.
There are some less obvious places along the way, too. The butterfly tent at EPCOT’s yearly International Flower & Garden Festival is a fun way to pass part of an afternoon with your camera. The clusters of gourd shaped nesting houses that you’ll see around EPCOT and at some of the resorts are for purple martins, who travel to Walt Disney World to raise their young before making the more than 6,000 mile round trip to the Brazilian rainforest and back. Even Magic Kingdom has (unofficial) resident mallards who are more than happy to smile for a picture.
UK Pavilion After Park Close – Thousand Circles
Kenny G on Sax at EPCOT, Eat to the Beat Concert Series
4. Controlled Environments.
You perfect an art, and can really really get into the nitty gritty of understanding it, by doing the same thing again and again and again. It’s also a great way to really get to know your equipment—its limits, how slight changes in settings affect your outcome, how a different lens or filter might alter a shot. At Disney you have the magic of challenging environments that are effectively on a loop. I’ve learned the nuances of most of my equipment, not to mention lots about my own shooting style, by shooting the same dark ride scenes or roller coaster accelerations or World Showcase night scapes over and over. I understand ISO largely from playing with it so much on the same scenes on Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. I probably pinned down a lot of my portraiture style behind the lens at Festival of Fantasy and EPCOT music performances. It might seem on the surface like repetitive action is no way to go deep on an art, but it’s usually just the opposite. When you know something like the back of your hand, your mind can sort of start to play with it. Speaking of which…
5. You’re in a playful state of mind.
Nothing says embrace your inner child like a trip to Walt Disney World. It’s practically a trope that Disney makes you feel like a kid again. Allowing yourself to be playful opens your mind. It lets you explore ideas without fear of judgment or failure. It just lets you be curious, and maybe take an artistic risk or break a convention or two. When you’re strolling around Fantasyland with a camera in your hand, it’s easy to remember that it’s really all about enjoying the journey.
You knew this one was coming. Probably the first (and maybe the only) thing that came to mind with the title of this article. Fireworks. Every night you can catch some the most spectacular fireworks shows in the world at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and, of course, Magic Kingdom. Being local to here, sometimes I forget that not everyone can go outside any night of the week and nail down their long exposure skills with a fireworks photo shoot. They are an art in an of themselves and I could have mentioned them under most of the other things on this list, but they deserve their own line item.
7. Everything has been done.
“Lisa, I thought this was a list of positives??” It is! Nothing at Disney hasn’t been photographed again and again and again by a million people. That was true before social media—it’s exponentially true now. But you know what that means? You can focus on the pictures that really matter. Capture your family in the foreground of the fireworks—or better yet, turn your camera on them entirely. If your uncle wants to see Happily Ever After when you get back, you can show him someone else’s YouTube video. And when you really do want to take another picture of the Castle or Spaceship Earth or that topiary at Flower & Garden, you can think outside of the box a little. Relax and enjoy your trip, and just take the pictures that matter to you in your own style.
8. You can still be in the family pictures!
One of only bad things about being the designated family photographer is that you’re generally not in a lot of the family photos. One of the great things about Disney, though, is that they have really great PhotoPass photographers all over the parks. You’ll find them in green shirts, and they’re there to take your picture! The pictures are a pretty reasonable add on to your park tickets or annual pass and are a great way of making sure that you’ve got pictures of the whole family. (Plus sometimes they’ll even add a little magic…)
9. The Photography Community.
The photography community at Disney is full of so many talented, encouraging people. Dip your toes into the space in different Facebook groups or on Instagram and you’ll find some of the most creative people in the space. It’s so inspiring to see their takes on the things that we all see every day and I’m constantly finding myself inspired to try out new techniques or vantage points.
10. You’ll be equipped to capture moments like this.
You’re all together, relaxed, and focused on each other. Like we’ve said before, all of the basic photos have been taken, so don’t worry about those. This is why you bought the camera, anyway.
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If you’re missing home (or love someone who is) and are looking for a way to bring the magic home, I’d love for you to check out my photography prints over at Thousand Circles Images. Use code IHEARTWDW February 9-11, 2024 for 20% off any item on the site, and shipping is always free no matter where you are!
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Please join me on Instagram for my day-to-day adventures living a mile from the magic.
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You can find my complete guide to running trails on Walt Disney World property RIGHT HERE.