In September we took a week long family vacation to Disneyland, our first family trip to the magic kingdom since 1989. It would also be our first family vacation with our two year old and five year old, so Disneyland was perfect. I was roughly the same age as our oldest son when I was last at Disneyland and I have scattered memories of the two weeks we took to drive down to Anaheim and back home. So I figured I would document the trip like crazy, 7,186 photos on my camera and another 688 photos and videos from my iPhone. That translates into full on tourist mode trying to capture a busy family who were trying to take in everything in a single week.
Full disclosure, our family are not diehard Disney fans. Our two boys know of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, but that acknowledgement of their existence is kind of where it stops for them until they saw the characters at the park. They are much more into the Pixar aspect of Disney as well as Star Wars and Marvel comics now that Disney owns those properties. My wife is the biggest Disney fan in our house as she grew up during the peak Disney movie period of Lion King, Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pocahontas.
In this blog post I want to share our experience taking photos and maybe offer some advice to you for your Disneyland adventure.
Tip #1 - Be Patient
Thousands of people are at Disneyland, all the time. It is almost impossible to not have other people in your photos when you are trying to capture the sights. There are ways to try and limit the amount of people and one of them is to show a little patience. Show a little towards the people currently trying to take a photo where you want to take one and you will get your shot. Rarely was there a situation where someone just arrived to a spot, barged to the front, took their photo and left. People are understanding because they are trying to do the same thing you are. Also if you are trying to get photos of your kids, people are more than willing to make some space and give you the opportunity to get your photo. That being said you need to have your camera settings set and what you want your composition to be before you get to the spot so that you are not infringing on the patience of others. You’ll have some time setting your camera up (take a photo of the family in front of you to see if your settings are fine) and watch how others are composing their photos for some ideas.
Tip #2 - Hit The Landmarks
This is where you get your timeless Disneyland photos. The landmarks are the sites that have been there for a long time and will continue to be there for a long time. In thirty years when you look at the photo you should instantly know it is Disneyland. These are landmarks are places such as Space Mountain, Fantasyland Castle, It’s A Small World, Paradise Pier, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, the Mark Twain and Main Street Disneyland. These spots are always busy and although they have been photographed a million times, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get your own photo with your own style. Theses spots are always busy so bring your patience and creativity. Grab one of the park maps located at the main gates, they highlight popular photo spots in both Disneyland and California Adventure.
Tip #3 - Shoot The Details
Something I ended up doing while waiting in lineups, and you will be waiting in lineups a lot, is to photograph some of the details. I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of small details that Disney has put into the park. There is pretty amazing architecture everywhere and the little details can often be missed unless you look for them. During our visit both Disneyland and California Adventure were transformed for the coming Halloween celebration. This meant Halloween themed decorations and details throughout the parks.
Tip #4 - Make Sure You Have The Right Gear
We spent the morning at Disneyland, back to the hotel for a recharge and some food, then back to the park in the afternoon until it closed. Make sure you have enough storage space for your photos, you’ll be taking a lot and don’t want to have to sit and delete phots on the memory card via the back of the camera to make room. I would highly recommend not shooting all of your photos on one memory card. Bring multiple memory cards with you and change them out every day or two if you aren’t able to unload them onto a hard drive in between visits. This way if you spend a week in Disneyland and have the photos spread out over four different cards, if something happened to one card, you at least have three others full of photos. If you do have a laptop and hard drive with you, I would still recommend having multiple cards to shoot on and keep the photos on the cards even after uploading them to a hard drive. Having more backups of once in a lifetime moments is better than no backups.
If you are spending hours on end at park, take an extra camera battery with you as well. You don’t want to miss a great moment because your battery is done. Make sure you charge those batteries or that phone when you get back to the hotel, you don’t want to head to the parks without a full charge.
Tip #5 - Spend Some Time Scouting Locations
I think we saw every corner of Disneyland and California Adventure twice because we took a few minutes each day to come up with a plan of attack. It also let us target the rides we wanted as well as getting to see most of the park in different lighting settings such as during the day, dusk and night. The lighting conditions make some of the locations look and feel much different. A good example of this is Cars Land, which is great during the day but at night it is outstanding with all the lights. It also helped us make sure we were able to get as many photos of the boys with characters as possible as they are in certain locations at certain times. So we knew we could see Captain America and Spider-Man then the Guardians of the Galaxy in the same area at relatively the same time.
On a side note, if anyone in your group is having a birthday while you are visiting Disneyland I highly recommend getting the birthday button for them. It is quite amazing how the cast (staff) and characters go above and beyond to say Happy Birthday. Our oldest turned five while we were there and it was fantastic to see him get an extra high five from a character, for a cast (staff) to stop what they are doing to say happy birthday or for Captain America to talk to him about his birthday I think made his day even better.
How I Took Photos
During the day and walking around outside I was either shooting in Aperature Priority mode (camera controls the shutter speed) or Manual Mode. Aperature Priorty let me quickly grab a photo of something as we were passing by if I didn’t have time to set my own exposure before it was gone. When we had slightly more time I would adjust everything in Manual Mode for the exposure that I wanted. This typically occurred when the boys were with characters or I was wandering around taking detail photos of buildings.
On a ride or in a building I would turn it over to Manual Mode, set my shutter speed at a minimum of 1/200 and adjusted my ISO as needed. This often meant riding a fairly high ISO in some of the more dimly lit locations due to not using a flash.
Most of the photos, maybe 75%, I took were with a 24-70mm f2.8 as it let me capture wide angle and then get a little tighter if need be. The remains photos were primarily a 50mm f1.4 and a few 35mm f1.2 shots tossed in. I simply had my camera out with me at all times on a shoulder sling so I didn’t have to grab in and out of a bag all the time or off the stroller time and time again. I use a shoulder sling for weddings and events as they take the weight off your neck and it feels more comfortable to have the camera at my hip while walking versus bouncing off my chest.
My last piece of advice is be comfortable standing in a group of people and taking a photo with your camera or phone held up. No one cares. There are thousands of people around you and thousands of those thousands are taking photos of something or someone. You’re going to get other people in your photos and you’ll be in other people’s photos (so dress nice). You don’t have to be rude and pushy to get your photo but at no point did anyone say anything to me about stopping somewhere to take a photo. It is just in the Disneyland culture.
Thanks for reading along, don’t forget to share any of your favourite vacation photography tips or photos. Here are some of our favourite photos from the week!