This helpful post comes to us from the phenomenal Disney Photographer Tom Bricker of Touring Plans & Disney Tourist Blog. He shares some tips and techniques on shooting beautiful Disney photos as seen on his site and in the Unofficial Guide to Disney World & Land.
As a travel photographer focusing on Disney theme park photography, I’m often asked about getting the best vacation photos. As a landscape photographer, I can recognize and appreciate the difficulty a lot of people have in capturing good family vacation photos, because I have struggled with it, too. It can be tough to get great family photos on vacation that are more than just the typical “stand in front of a landmark and snap a shot” style photos. Creating fun and frame-worthy family vacation photos is actually quite easy, so long as you have the right mindset. Learning more about the technical side of photography is key to great photos, but if you don’t have the time for this, there are a few simple fixes anyone can quickly make for better family vacation photos. I’m going to focus on simply technique rather than on technical settings, but if you have the time and desire, try to learn a bit of both.
That said, here are my tips for great family vacation photos, with examples from Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
1. Generic Posed Shots Get Old.
One of the most common pitfalls of family vacation photos is the tendency to to only take posed shots in front of landmarks. These are what I call the “proof we were there” photos. These photos generally just involve standing in front of the landmark, with no engagement in the environment whatsoever and a pretty standard pose, and smiling. Photos like this don’t really capture the emotion or feeling of the vacation. This practice can also get old very quick for your party. This type of shot is not all that representative of your experience, and will not prove that interesting for folks to whom you show your vacation photos.
Think about it. Unless your vacations are starkly different in nature from mine, the substance of your trip generally does not consist of you going up to various objects, standing in front of them, and engaging in “arms-crossed, hair-combed, smiles-full” activities. When I see vacation slideshows like this, I often think to myself, “Wow, these folks have a real knack for standing in front of things!” These shots just get boring after a while. Essentially, they are the exact same shot of the people in the photo, just with different backgrounds, green-screen style. This is not to say that this type of shot should never be used, it just shouldn’t be the de facto “go to” for family vacation photos. The tips that follow will help you minimize this style of family vacation photography.
2. Mix It Up With Fun Poses.
I have an uncanny knack for foolish poses. However, I see this as a good thing, at least most of the time. When I’m photographed, I often like to let loose, making a pose that fits the subject and theme of the photo. For fun shots, try to think of clever poses that fit the background and area in which the photo is taken. For instance, if you get a photo near the Seas pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot, posing like something from the sea would be a good option. It’s unlikely that you can illustrate “boat,” “submarine,” or “giant squid” through expressions or poses (if you can, I want you on my Charades team!) but you can certainly pose like a fish by puffing your cheeks and putting your hands to the side of your face as fins or pose like a shark by placing your hand atop your head. It’s okay to act like a kid in some of your photos!
With regard to Disney vacations, character shots are another area in which I think it’s necessary to have some fun to achieve a good shot. If you just awkwardly go stand next to the character as if they’re a living prop, the picture might not be as good, but more importantly, the experience will not be as good. We always go into character pictures with a plan. Something we’re going to say something to them (e.g., in jest calling Goofy by the name “Pluto”) that will rile them up. From there, we proceed with the interaction and have a good time. If you have young kids, I would recommend indoctrinating them to the world of the characters in a manner that allows them to play and interact with the characters, rather than treating the characters like a photo prop or autograph machine. If you want the whole family in the photo, hand off your camera to the PhotoPass Cast Member (or purchase a PhotoPass CD or prints) or Character Attendant, and let the Cast Member capture the interaction and whatever pose we’ve thought up for the experience.
Much like the “proof we were there” style from tip 1, the fun pose style shouldn’t be overused. Although just as posed as the “proof we were there” photos, this type of photo is a nice cross between an almost candid style and a pure pose-driven style of family vacation photos.
3. Capture the Moments with Candid Photos.
There are a lot of great candid moments that go un-photographed simply because we don’t think to capture the moment with a photo. These moments can make for some of the best photos, so it’s critical to break this mentality and capture these moments! Technical perfection is unimportant with these photos, so don’t worry if the lighting isn’t the best or something isn’t perfect about the scene. Candid photos are simple photos that are, quite simply, snapshots in time. When they work well, it’s not because of anything technically perfect or imperfect about the photo, it’s because they capture the emotion in a particular moment in time.
Capturing candid moments can be extremely difficult. People “doing things” make great subjects. When on vacation, children being captivated by their surroundings can make for great candid photos. For example, when at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, when a child first approaches a character, capture their expression and mannerisms as they see the character for the first time or approach the character, rather than waiting until they pose to take the perfect photo. Once you get in a rhythm of capturing this type of photo, you will see more and more candid photo opportunities. Like I said above, this type of photography is difficult at first, but once you develop an eye for these moments and get in the habit of taking photos when you normally wouldn’t, it becomes easy.
4. Use Scenery to Layer Photos.
This won’t always be possible, but when you’re in a location that has some visual foreground and background layers, some to position yourselves between some of those layers to make the photo more interesting. This can be a difficult one with some subjects where there isn’t much you can put in the foreground to give the photo layers.
At Walt Disney World, World Showcase in Epcot is one of my favorite places to layer shots because there are so many rich visual details and beautiful architecture. It’s easy to compose a beautifully layered shot in World Showcase.
One of the things you’re looking to accomplish by layering the shots is to avoid that “green screen” look to which I alluded above. You don’t want your vacation photos to merely appear as you standing in front of a bunch of things, so any way you can immerse yourself with your environment that may demonstrate an interaction with your surroundings will not only make for a more interesting shot, but also will make it seem like you had a more enjoyable trip. Instead of people viewing your vacation photos thinking that your family just begrudgingly went somewhere and stood in front of things, they’ll think you went somewhere and did things! At least, I know I think these types of things when I look at vacation photos.
5. Take as many pictures as you can while still having fun!
Remember, you’re on vacation. Relax. The entire trip should not be about playing family historian or setting up photo shoot after photo shoot. Just as you may get sick of taking pictures, yet feel obligated to do so, your family may get sick of being in pictures (but yet feel obligated to do so). Do what feels natural or is right for your family. That might mean getting as few as 20 family shots in a weeklong trip or as many as 2,000. Only you know what the magic number is for your family.
So there you have a few of my tips for better family vacation photos. By following these tips, anyone can easily achieve family vacation photos that are more interesting and fun, without learning a lot about the technical side of photography!
Tom Bricker is a published travel photographer specializing in photography of Walt Disney World and Disneyland. His photography has been published in the The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, Popular Photography Magazine, Celebrations Magazine, the Huffington Post, and numerous other travel publications around the world. You can find more of Tom’s photography on his website, DisneyTouristBlog.com.
- Which Disney World Guide Is Right For You? (chipandco.com)
- Disneyland: Sunrise to Sunrise by TouringPlans author and photographer Tom Bricker (chipandco.com)