Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide

Looking for the best camera, lens, or other photography equipment to take great photos or improve your photography at Disney? This photography guide offers tutorials to take better photos in a variety of scenes at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond! The guide also provides helpful “real world” photography equipment reviews from an actual photographer (take a look at my photo galleries to see my work), with information current as of June 2018. 

These tips are key, and will help you take better photos of Disney fireworks, dark rides, Cinderella Castle, and much more that’s specific to the parks. However, the first thing you should do is learn the basics of photography. For this, I highly recommend a copy of Understanding ExposureSeriously, just get it.

All of the expensive equipment in the world won’t help you if you haven’t learned the basics, and that book is the best way to learn the basics. It’s how I taught myself photography and many others have used it to do the same. A book is a lot cheaper than a new lens, and if you’re a beginner, that book will improve your photography more than a new lens.

Along those lines, it’s important to realize that no camera “takes good pictures.” Some cameras can help an adept photographer more than others, but if the person taking the photos doesn’t do things right, photos taken with a Nikon D850 can look worse than photos taken with an iPhone. Likewise, many experienced photographers can take better photos with an iPhone than inexperienced photographers can with expensive DSLRs on Auto Mode.

This guide will help you choose the right camera for you, and then provide you with resources for learning more about photography, so you can really take your photos to the next level. While I love gadgets, I aim to make recommendations so you’re spending as little money as possible. I recommend starting cheap because knowledge is so much more important than equipment, and armed with a bit of knowledge, you might realize you don’t need to waste additional money on more equipment!

June 1, 2018 Update: A few readers have asked about it, since I’ve posted about the camera a bit on social media, but I’ve gone mirrorless…again. This time, I’ve purchased the Sony a7 III along with an ultra wide angle lens (Voigtlander 10mm), pancake lens (Samyang 35mm), and super-zoom (Sony 24-240mm). This camera will not be replacing my Nikon D850, but rather, supplementing it.

After extensive traveling and carrying my camera bag daily for around 5 of the last 8 months, I’ve experienced a lot of back pain and wanted a way to downsize and carry something significantly lighter on occasion. This new set-up allows me to do that, and hopefully saves me from long-term pain when older. On our recent Disney Cruise to Alaska, I opted for the Sony A7 III over the Nikon D850 every single day we’re in port. I’ve yet to use the camera at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, but will be testing it there very soon.

This is not my first foray into mirrorless photography. I’ve written about my previous misadventures in mirrorless in “Why I’m Going Mirrorless: Volume I,” which discusses my initial excitement and enjoyment of the Sony a7R II. The second is titled “Why I’m (NOT) Going Mirrorless: Volume II.” Perhaps ironically, large portions of both posts remain accurate for me.

My decision to add a mirrorless camera to my bag at this point is mostly about having a lighter camera option, and not because I think the system is inherently better. To the contrary, I plan on keeping all of my Nikon equipment for the heavy-lifting. At present, my plan is to use the Sony a7 III in situations that are physically strenuous, don’t call for my full range of lenses, or don’t need the sensor-size of the Nikon. My ultimate frequency of use remains to be seen, but I’m anticipating about a 50/50 split between the Nikon and Sony.

I’m sharing this update now because I’m not ready to write any standalone post on the topic but wanted to at least offer some of my thought process. Honestly, I’m not sure whether I’ll even do a full post once I have more experience with the new camera. While there’s been a bit of interest, perhaps my indecisiveness about mirrorless does not merit further coverage. (Let me know if you’d like to read more about the Sony a7 III in the comments if you are curious.)

With that update out of the way, let’s continue with a few of my favorite photography books…

Books

Understanding Exposure – Again, this is the newest edition of the book I used to learn photography. If not for this, I might still be using automatic mode. It is the definitive photography textbook, but written in a way that is accessible for everyone, without being dry and overly technical. It’s a wealth of information, from the basics to some more advanced techniques, this book is the perfect jumping off point.

The Photographer’s Eye – Great composition is paramount to a great photo, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that’s difficult to learn. This book helps any aspiring photographer really learn composition. This is a book to read over and over again.

Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4 – A four part series of  beginner and intermediate books with plenty of useful tips for veteran photographers, too. The information in these books really runs the gamut, and if ever there were to be a single (or 3 book) series for mastering the craft/business of all types of photography, this would be it.

***Click here for our full list of Photography book recommendations***

Cameras

The first thing you need to do is determine which type of camera is right for you. Over the past 5 years, I’ve tested 20+ cameras and talked with hundreds of beginners who wondered which camera to buy. From that, I’ve learned that the “right” camera for a beginner is almost entirely a matter of personal preference and goals.

When thinking about which camera to buy, you have to think about your intent. Are you primarily interested in capturing quality photos of your family’s memorable moments on vacation? Consider a nice point & shoot. Concerned about camera size and weight? Go point & shoot. Want an starter camera that will make learning easier? Again, think point & shoot.

On the other end of the spectrum… Are you serious about taking high-quality landscape photos of the parks at night like mine on this blog? Consider a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Are you willing to carry a heavier camera bag? Consider going with a full frame DSLR and nice lenses. Want something lighter while still retaining quality (albeit at a cost)? Think mirrorless.

Personally, I have cameras for all occasions. I use a Sony RX100 when I want something I can fit in my pocket. I have a Nikon D850 DSLR and pro-grade lenses when I don’t mind carrying a heavy camera bag and doing “serious” shooting.

You can see what’s currently in my camera bag (updated for 2018) here with my addition of the Nikon D850 and several lenses, and my recommendations for each tier below…

Point & Shoot Cameras

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Sony RX100 – This point and shoot has been described by just about everyone who has reviewed it as a game changer. I was skeptical at first, but I drank the Kool Aid, and am loving it. This point and shoot somehow combines a large sensor and a great f/1.8 lens into a compact package. We carry this camera just about everywhere. (Read Our Full Review w/ Photo Samples)

We think the Sony RX100 is the best starter camera for 75% of people reading this post. The other 25% should consider an entry level DSLR or just stick to using their iPhone for photos (the newer iPhone cameras are exceptional–but still not as good as the Sony RX100).

There are now 5 different versions of the Sony RX100, with a new one having been released each year since the original. The Sony RX100 V is the newest, and has a lot of excellent features…but is also $1,000. If money is no object and you want a pocket-sized camera, look no further. If money is an object, choose the original Sony RX100. It’s a great value and produces excellent photos.

Most people should start with the RX100, use it to learn the basics of photography, and upgrade if and when necessary. Many people will never need to upgrade, because the Sony RX100 will be everything they need–and will fit into their pocket!

Last summer, we also purchased the newly-released Canon G7x II point & shoot camera. We got this to take better videos, including vlogs. The Canon G7X II is a great camera for photos, but not as good as the Sony RX100 series. However, it is better for video, and arguably a more well-rounded camera, particularly for beginners.

Note that these are the only point and shoot cameras we recommend. The gap between lower quality point & shoot cameras and smart phone cameras has closed, so anyone with a smartphone is wasting their money by purchasing a cheaper point & shoot. (In fact, the new iPhone X has a better camera than the vast majority of point & shoots!)

Bottom line: if you are only want a camera for still photos, get the Sony RX100. If you want to do video, too, the Canon G7X II is a better option. If you have a nice smartphone and don’t care quite as much about manual settings and quality, skip the point & shoot and use that.

Regardless of which point & shoot you use, I highly recommend you read our How to Take Great Photos with Your Point & Shoot Camera post to really get the most out of your camera. In fact, look at that post before you buy to see the excellent quality of photos you can take with the Sony RX100 (all of the photos in that post were taken with an RX100).

For the vast majority of people reading this, a DSLR is overkill, but if you really want to go that route, here are my recommendations…

DSLR Cameras

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Nikon D3400 DSLR – This is the perfect entry level DSLR for beginners, offering great bang for your buck in a small size. It has solid image quality when compared to higher level cameras, and only lacks some of the features–definitely a great value.

Nikon D7500 DSLR Camera – If you’re upgrading or are more serious about photography, go straight to the Nikon D7200. The benefits of the D7200 over the lower models are improved dynamic range & high ISO performance, better build quality, better HD video capabilities, and more.

Nikon D850 DSLR Camera – The newest, biggest, and baddest (in a good way) DSLR that offers unparalleled performance. It’s not cheap, but it can outperform pro-grade cameras that cost twice as much. As of April 2018, I’ve had this camera for around 6 months and absolutely love everything about it (read my full review for more info and sample photos).

Nikon D750 DSLR Camera – This is my main camera for photographing Disney, and offers great bang for buck (for what it is). Awesome autofocus, excellent high ISO performance, and amazing image quality. The controls and functionality are great, making this a really versatile camera.

Ultimately, which of these DSLRs you buy depends upon how serious you are about photography. If you’re just getting started, no matter how excited you are about photography, I don’t recommend buying anything above an entry level model, no matter how large your budget.

For more experienced photographers looking to make an upgrade, the Nikon D850 is an amazing camera. It’s pricey, but the results are potentially worth it if you’re serious about photography. I have zero regrets about purchasing it!

Lenses

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If you are serious about photography and opt to purchase a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you’ll also want to think about lenses. We have used a lot of lenses over the past few years, and we have reviewed many of these lenses on the blog. So many, in fact, that considering which to buy when your first upgrading your camera gear can be a bit intimidating.

Fortunately, we’ve put together our Top 10 Lenses for Disney Photography List that offers ideas for the best upgrade options at the beginner and intermediate level. There’s a variety of lenses on this list, from prime lenses that are great for portraits and dark rides to fisheye lenses good for fun, creative shots.

The majority of my photos are shot with ultra-wide angle lenses. I love the wide panorama look, and also using these lenses to my advantage to intentionally distort a scene. If you’re considering going wide, read my Ultra Wide Angle Lens Guide. It’ll help choose the right one.

Some of my favorite lenses include the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye LensSigma 18-35mm f/1.8 LensTokina 11-16mm f/2.8, and Sigma 30mm f/1.4You can read about all of these lenses, and our other top picks, on that top 10 list. 

For reviews of other lenses–including high-end lenses and specialty options–check out our lens review page (link below).

***We have a lot more reviews on our Lens Reviews Page. Read that to decide what’s right for you***

Accessories

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A lot of beginners make the mistake of only budgeting for a camera and lens when starting out, only to find out they need other accessories. These things quickly add up and can cost far more than expected.

Some of these things are gadgets and trinkets that can real help out in certain situations, but aren’t universally applicable. I’ve put together a post of the Top 10 Photography Accessories for Disney Photography that are items that will really help with taking photos in the parks (in my experience, a lot of these are useful elsewhere, as well).

Other things are a must for everyone. These include memory cards and a camera bag; I’d also strongly recommend everyone buy a tripod. We’ll cover these below in detail…

Camera Bags

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I recommend that you learn from our mistakes and purchase a camera bag you can “grow into” as you buy your gear. I’ve gone through far too many bags as my gear “collection” has grown.

Lowepro SlingShot 102 AW – This bag provides great bang for your buck, and can store your camera with a lens mounted, plus two additional lenses. It’s possible to cram three additional lenses into this in a pinch by using the top pouch for the 50mm f/1.8 or another small lens. It’s much better than the 100AW that it replaced, because you can carry a tripod on the side of it!

Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW – This is my current camera bag. The “Sport” makes it a much better option than traditional camera bags when hiking or, coincidentally, in the humid environments of the Disney Parks. While not perfect, I’ve gone as far as calling it the Best Camera Bag for Disney.

***Visit our “Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel” post for more info!***

Tripods

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There are a lot of differing opinions on this one, but for the purpose of vacationing to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, a lightweight travel tripod is best. We use the Velbon line of tripods, specifically the Velbon Luxi-L III. This is a GREAT tripod: incredible value, height, and it collapses to a small size!

Since tripods are such an incredibly important (yet often overlooked) element of capturing great photos, I’ve put together a thorough guide for choosing the right one.

***Visit our “Choosing the Best Travel Tripod” page for more information.***

 Flash

If you like taking photos of your family & friends, an external flash is a must. The little on camera flash just washes people out and doesn’t do nearly as good of a job as an external flash. External flashes are fairly cheap, too.

Nikon SB-300 flash – great entry level flash that’s small, cheap, and has an adjustable head for bouncing.

Nikon SB-700 flash – mid-range Nikon flash that has a lot more features than the SB-300, is larger, and a bit more expensive than the SB-300. Unless size is an issue, this is the flash you should target. Its features make it much more compelling than lower-level flashes.

Filters

Unlike in the days of film, most filters nowadays can be achieved via post processing. For that reason, we don’t recommend many filters. We also don’t recommend UV filters for protection (use a lens hood instead) as they slightly degrade image quality, especially if shooting into bright lights. Here are the filters we do recommend:

Tiffen 77mm Circular Polarizer – A great option for deeply saturated blue skies, but is by no means a necessity. It also acts as a neutral density filter, of sorts. Be careful using polarizers on wide angle lenses. You may not like the uneven results.

B+W 77mm Neutral Density 1.8-64x Filter #106 – Neutral Density filters are great for long exposure fireworks shots and long exposure daytime shots. There are cheaper options, but this is really the filter that will be most versatile. If you’re considering purchasing one, read the link below to make a better-informed decision.

***Visit our full list of Neutral Density Filter Reviews.***

Disney Photography Tips

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We’ve done a number of blog posts providing tips for improving your photography at Disney. I can’t stress enough that knowledge is the biggest component of taking good photos at Walt Disney World (and beyond!) so you should really read some of the tutorials I’ve written. They have helped a lot of people.

Actually, before you read my tutorials, it might be a good idea to read My Philosophy on Photography. You may not agree with my aesthetic or stylistic approach, or have different goals with your photography. If that’s the case, there are a ton of other sites with photography tutorials, and those might be better for you. I don’t take any offense, everyone has different preferences.

With that said, here are some of my best photography guides. You should read these after you read Understanding Exposure. These guides all assume you have a decent foundation to understand the basics of photography, and you might be confused by these if you don’t know the basics:

This just scratches the surface on the photography guides we’ve written. To read and learn more, browse the photography category of posts on the blog. Once you’ve learned a bit, it might be time to buy some new equipment to help you take better photos. Read on for our buying suggestions…

Guide Conclusion

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As mentioned above, the vast majority of people just getting started in photography are probably best suited by a high-end point and shoot camera, with my absolute top pick being the Sony RX100. This is a great way to get a taste of serious photography with customizable settings and excellent image quality, but in a compact package. Most people won’t outgrow that camera, but if you do, then look at DSLRs or mirrorless cameras.

If you’ve already decided that a DSLR camera is your best option, you’ll want to think about everything you need to go along with it to really take your photography to the next level. If you’re on a limited budget, start out by making 3 upgrades: 1) tripod, 2) Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, and
3) Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. I’d say these are the 3 best purchases a new DSLR photographer who wants to photograph the Disney Parks can make to improve their game.

However, if you really want to take your photography to the next level, gear is not what you need–at least not exclusively. What you need is knowledge. You will never take amazing photos in auto mode. You need to start by getting a copy of Understanding Exposure to learn the fundamentals, and then read more advance books, tutorials, and practice like crazy. Anyone can become great at photography, but you can’t get there just by purchasing fancy toys. 🙂

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Finally, a word of warning. Don’t take shortcuts when buying photography equipment. Yes, it’s expensive, but I’ve discovered first-hand that buying photo gear on eBay or Craigslist is a huge risk. You don’t know how the seller took care of their gear, if it’s grey market (meaning US manufacturers won’t service it if there’s a problem), or what problems may come up down the road. You also don’t save that much over buying new. Finally, you don’t get a warranty. Things do go wrong with cameras, seemingly inexplicably, and it would really stink for that $1,000 investment to break with no recourse for you.

We’re Amazon Prime members, so we almost always order from Amazon.com. I also recommend Adorama.comB&H Photo, or Abes of Maine, but I generally avoid all other online photo retailers (I STRONGLY recommend avoiding J&R Cameras due to two negative experiences I’ve had with them). By the way, if you are considering a purchase of any photography equipment, lenses, or anything else for that matter we would greatly appreciate it if you use the links in this post to make your purchase. It benefits the site, doesn’t cost you a dime, and helps us to keep providing you with useful(?) content!

If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, we’d really appreciate it if you’d share it via social media to help spread the word about DisneyTouristBlog. We put a lot of work into making this site a helpful planning resource, and hope it’s useful to you! 🙂

Your Thoughts…

What have you found helped improve your photography? Have other photography tips of your own to add? Other gear recommendations? If you have questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to help!


239 Responses to “Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide”
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