Photo Tips #5

by Frank Anzalone, staff writer

Sharing vacation photos with friends and family are always special moments and in this session, my photo tips are aimed at taking pictures of the “characters at the parks.” My previous photo tip editions have covered vacation pictures of your friends and family, the landscapes of the park and low lighting challenges. To complete your “vacation photo package,” we are going to take a look at taking pictures of the park characters and “streetmosphere.”

My first (and biggest) photo tip is, “Take lots of pictures!” Have you ever looked back at your vacation photographs and just wished there were more to look at? The price of film is worth every penny when you walk away with those great shots. Every special photo memory is “priceless!” And if you have a digital camera, there's really no excuse about "wasting film" anymore.

Ok, grab your camera and let's get clicking! And remember please keep your hands, arms and cameras in the tram while in motion.

Photographing characters at the Parks

This article is not specific to Mickey and Minnie (and the rest of the Disney characters that roam the parks); I wanted to show how Disney used the characters in many ways and shapes to add to the experience we get when we visit. These also make interesting pictures that, when you look back at your vacation picture album, help convey the memories and story of your vacation.

The one common theme throughout this edition of photo tips is to take some time to look around as you walk through the parks and try to notice (and photograph) more than just the route to the next big ride or attraction. Many times when we go to the parks, we rush from one big attraction to another big attraction—so I hope these photo tips inspire you to take a little extra time to notice the special [and many times unnoticed] characters as you walk through the parks.

When you think of Disney characters, you think of Mickey Mouse and the gang.
Left: Here, I was able to capture a moment with Mickey on Main Street, USA in Walt Disney World. The tip: Get in close, frame your main subject with the rest of the scene (but not always with the main subject in the exact middle of the picture). Notice how I included the castle in the background to add to the image story.
Right: You do not always have to be in the picture with a Disney character. Snow White took a moment for a pose. The tip: Wait patiently between the kids and just get ready to take the picture, ready your camera, and compose your shot even before it is your turn to visit. Frame your picture in close to the subject and watch for a not-too-distracting background. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Some of the best atmosphere at the park centers around music. Here are the Dapper Dans in action. The tip: You do not have to stand and shoot straight on towards the subject. In these pictures, I stood to the side, which helped avoid having the other park guests in my picture. I crouched down a little to give this an interesting angle, and to place some familiar background in the picture. The picture on the left subtly includes the lamp post with the Walt Disney World logo banner to help me remember where I was! Photo by Frank Anzalone.

I enjoy combining elements in my pictures. In this case, it's a rare moment when the Disneyland Band was on the Mark Twain. The tip: Always have your camera ready! For this picture, I was standing at the edge of the esplanade of the Rivers of America and waited for the ship to come close for the photo. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Try to catch the action! Left: Here is another Disneyland Band moment with the band on King Arthur's Carrousel in Fantasyland. I set the camera sensitivity as if it were a brightly lit daytime scene. This will make the shuttle stay open a little longer for a motion effect when you are shooting into open shaded areas. As the carrousel revolved, I panned following the horse movement: Stand in one spot, look through your camera at the object and follow that object as it moves—move your camera along from left to right as you press the shutter.
Right: On a rainy afternoon in Disneyland, I noticed the Dapper Dans on a bicycle built for four traveling up and down Main Street. As they went to the right of the hub, I ran to the left, got my camera ready and framed my picture with the castle. I waited for them to pedal into the frame and click—there was my Kodak moment!. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

In past photo tip articles, I talked about the “rule of thirds.” This divides the scene into one-third proportions for a better composition.
Left: For this example (again, combining elements), the thirds are from side to side with the castle, Matterhorn and sky in the frame.
Right: At the Animal Kingdom, the sky, the land and elephant, and the water are the one-third proportions. I also liked the way the reflection added some interest to this picture. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

These pictures are similar in the way they were taken. Get in close to the main subject and yet frame the picture to include a complimenting background element. The tip: Focus in on the main subject and frame that subject off-center. This should (with most cameras that have auto focus) slightly blur the background which makes the main subject stand out more. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

While visiting the Animal Kingdom at WDW, I enjoyed interacting with the cast members almost as much as riding the attractions.
Left: These two women were working at the marketplace. I got in close, framed my picture to include some of the items they were working on to help tell the story with this picture.
Right: Music in action! Framing the picture to get in close yet include the percussion instruments to help convey the memory. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Left: At the Animal Kingdom, as busy as it was, I noticed one cast member concentrating as he applied his ceremonial design.
Right: In the evening at Epcot, the drummers at the Japan pavilion were performing. Rather than use a flash, I let the camera's shutter stay open a little longer to capture the movement of the drummer. For this picture, I steadied myself by holding the camera flat against a nearby light pole, focused in on the drum, and tripped the shutter. I also noticed a certain angle placed the illuminated Spaceship Earth in the background. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Here is another example of “combining elements.” Left: Focusing on the topiary of Mickey while placing Spaceship Earth in the background (centering Mickey in the sphere). This combines the character and the place.
Right: The Mark Twain riverboat is the background element with these park characters. For this picture, I crouched down low to the water level to get a perspective from the ducks point of view. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

I love Disney “streetmosphere” and sometimes you can just miss those little details. Here at the Animal Kingdom, blended into the vegetation was the “vine lady.” The tip: Look around as you travel the parks! For this picture, get in close enough to see her face yet not too close so you miss the surroundings she is a part of. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Main street is sometimes such an overlooked part of Disneyland and WDW. Catch the action of the trolley and then get out of the way of the horse! Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Not all “characters” are cast members. Have your camera ready because you just never know when you are going to see some special Disney enthusiasts.
Left: These Japanese tourists smiled upon my request to take their picture. For this one, I framed in as close as I could to get the entire outfit and still included the castle in the background.
Right: Not everyone can have an annual pass to Disneyland, but these characters still like to enjoy Downtown Disney. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Something to remember

What our eyes see is a grand perspective of our surroundings. What the camera sees is a small area and a split second of those surroundings. This is the big challenge when taking vacation photographs—what should I take a picture of? When choosing your scene to take a picture, sometimes the larger area and grand view is what we want, while sometimes you might want to get in nice and close to selectively choose what you are trying to show with a photograph. With these photos, you have seen a few different perspectives. Now you decide what you like when you have your camera in hand! After all, you are the photographer.

I hope this might inspire you to want to take more and more pictures, and capture those special Disney memories and moments. So plan that trip to the Park, pick up your camera, take lots of pictures and see what develops!

One last comment about these photo tips

Although I receive comments about my photos, one important thing you need to know is that it's all in the eye of the photographer. You do not need to use the most expensive camera on the market to get a good image. You can get a great picture if you take a moment to use a few simple and easy techniques. These “tips” are just suggestions and ideas to use when you are the cameraperson. Remember, there is no such thing as a bad picture... some are just better!

If you have any specific questions or ideas of what you would like to see regarding photo tips at while visiting Disney, please e-mail me!

Frank's Photo Tips series:

  1. Basic “vacation picture ideas” (link) when we walk through the ticket turnstiles and head into the Happiest Place on Earth
  2. “People at the park” (link) when visiting with family and friends
  3. Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure in the evening, inside attractions and nighttime fireworks shows in low-light conditions (link)
  4. Taking pictures of the Disney parks and surrounding landscaping. (link)