5 Indispensable Tips for Great Vacation Photos
Here are our top tips for taking great vacation photos, including photography equipment recommendations and a guide to focusing on key types of travel photos. This post serves as a crash course in taking better vacation photos. (Last updated February 3, 2018.)
I have a wider range of camera recommendations and also tips for taking photos in the parks (from dark ride photography to fireworks and more) in my Ultimate Guide to Disney Parks Photography. I highly recommend reading that if you want to get more serious about Disney photography. Think of this post as “Vacation Photography 101” and that post as “Disney Photography 102.”
This post is for everyone; that one is for anyone who wants to take their photography to the next level. The tips we have here should both improve your photography while on vacation, and help you focus on a variety of different subjects to increase the variety of your vacation photos.
Whether you’re a professional photographer with thousands of dollars of equipment or a hobbyist iPhoneographer, these vacation photo tips will help you improve your photography at Walt Disney World and Beyond.
Let’s dig into the tips!
5. Bring the Right Camera.
Before you can even capture the photos, you need to have the gear in hand to enable you to take the shots. This tip applies to casual vacationers as much as it does pros packing multiple bags full of gear. Vacations present unique circumstances from your average day of taking photos in the park, and thus require different planning.
If you’re serious about photography, you might spend years purchasing the perfect lens that will work best for your style of shooting. I have spent years refining my camera bag for a photography style that best captures the magic of Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Take a look at what, exactly, is in my camera bag. Be warned, as I am not one to shoot “light,” so looking at that page might result in a heavy (but awesome) bag full of gear!
There are other things that can be easy to overlook. It’s essential to carry spare camera batteries, so you don’t miss those special moments. Even if you can go weeks without charging your camera at home, you might find yourself using it a lot more than normal on vacation. This applies even if you’re just using your camera phone to take vacation photos.
A lot of popular vacation destinations (Disney especially!) can be a drain on batteries. you don’t want to find yourself with a dead phone before the fireworks. An external phone battery pack is pretty cheap, and good “insurance”!
Similarly, extra memory cards are really important. Some people recommend only carrying one really large card and keeping it in your camera at all times so you don’t lose it, but what if the card becomes corrupted? Worse yet, what if you lose the camera?! Not only have you lost an expensive piece of electronics, but you’ve lost all of those captured-memories.
I recommend carrying a few, high quality 64GB memory cards. Quality memory cards are so cheap nowadays that it really isn’t worth it to go for low quality ones. Believe me, you will regret the decision to save a few bucks when one of those cheap cards fails and you lose all of your photos. Along those same lines, I recommend transferring your photos to your computer after each day of your trip for extra safety.
The next question is a tough one for some people to answer: do you bring a big DSLR to capture the best photos possible, or do you travel light with a small point and shoot? I really can’t answer that question for you. You have to weigh what’s more important to you: traveling light or having the best possible photos. For me, the answer is easy, but it differs for everyone–I always take my best camera gear. If you do opt to go light, this is even more important; I highly recommend taking the best point & shoot camera you can.
Right now, I think the creme de la creme is the Sony RX100 (read our review here). Those of your with iPhone X (or comparable modern phones) might just use that if you don’t want a high-end point & shoot or DSLR. Camera phone technology has progressed remarkably in the last few years.
If you do choose a DSLR, which lenses do you take? Again, this comes down to traveling light versus having the best possible photos. And again, I take so much gear that I may resemble a sherpa or pack-mule on vacation. It doesn’t bother me. If you want to go light, I recommend an all-in-one vacation lens like the Tamron 18-270mm VC.
If you want to take photos once the sun goes down, a travel tripod or some type of camera-stabilizing device like a Gorillapod is pretty important.
4. Capture the Details
This is important, and something I think some people overlook. It’s also a great way to get shots that the average tourist wouldn’t take. For example, at Disney, most people get basic landscape shots of Cinderella Castle, Sleeping Beauty Castle, or Spaceship Earth.
By contrast, how many people get shots of the Sword in the Stone behind the Castle, light fixtures in the World Showcase, or directional signs? These type of shots can really set your photos apart from the average tourist’s, and give you unique (free!) souvenirs to take home.
Disney is rife with these kind of details thanks to the hard work of the Imagineers, but you can really find details just like this at any vacation destination in the world. Remember, the devil is in the details! (In a good way!)
My biggest tip for this type is to take these photos at “un-important” times. I’m a firm believer in experiencing your vacation in person rather than through a viewfinder, but I also like to take a lot of photos. This makes for a tough balance.
So, I take a lot of photos while we’re waiting in lines or while other members of my party are using the restroom or otherwise busy. The less intrusive photography is on the rest of your trip, the better.
WE’LL COVER MORE VACATION PHOTO TIPS ON PAGE 2…
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Hello – Appreciate your tips and have put them to good use. Thanks! One question: Can you tell me where that statue of a smiling Pluto is located? Thanks!
I believe there are eight “bronze” statues of various Disney characters located by the two fountains near the Partners statue. As you walk down main street towards the hub, the fountains are on either side of the street, just before Walt and Mickey. If you check out the area on Google Maps, you can actually see the pedestals the statues stand on.
Just returned from WDW. I’m so glad I read your blog before we went, I appreciated so many of your suggestions! Thank you!
For candid shots, I’ve personally found this to be the place my cell phone camera comes in very handy. It’s easy to point it in someone’s direction, but move your fingers in ways that make them not realize you’re taking a picture.
Awesome article thank you!! I’ve recently discovered this blog and am now addicted. I go to Disneyland all the time, and am planning for my second Walt Disney World trip in June.
It also helps to be ridiculously photogenic such as yourselves 😉
Tom, I’ve admired your photos for years. I particularly like your comments on “Get in the Shot”. As I’ve gone back and looked at our old photos – and especially the old Kodachrome slides that my dad took at Disneyland – the ones that are the most meaningful are the ones that show our family in the photos. Yes, they were usually posed, but still, to see us as we were then is memorable and lots of fun.
By the way, that photo of Sarah looking back on the Silly Symphony Swings is one of my favorites. A wonderful shot of a lovely lady!
Wonder how you managed to get soo many shots with no person in frame …i mean empty streets 🙂 . when does this happen in disney. i also have a plan in july 2015 when is it possible to get such shots, i tried to find one person but cant find anyone. is it photoshop?
Super inspired with your photography.
i have Sony Rx100 and also Canon 6D with 24-300mm F3.5-6.0 lens / 24-105mm / 50mm F1.8 / 100mm F2.0 / External Youngnou Flash & tripod.
What should i carry on PARK? as whole kit is quite heavy with 2 kids to manage and orover how i can manage my KIT BAG during RIDES?
Silly me — I just found your excellent entry about the photopass option:
Bad fan, no Mickey beignets for me 🙂
Still love the photo tips. Many thanks!
I appreciate the tips. Most esp about including yourself in the photos. I have a tendency to hide behind the camera myself. Just a few thoughts:
Framing – Someone once suggested to me to mentally draw a grid across your image with two lines by two lines. See that intersection in the top left or right on portrait? That’s a good spot to focus your shot. Not all the way to the edge, just where the two lines meet. Folks look better somewhat off center. Also works for landscape by placing your horizon in the middle third instead of bang in center. For example: top 3rd sky, middle 3rd Tom Sawyer Island, bottom 3rd rivers of America. Even better – mix things up with landscape & portrait.
Placement of photographer – I noticed you already do this. However, it’s worth noting that asking folks to take a picture of your “Faces not Feet” helps. I usually frame my shot with my sweetie pretty close in & then hand off the camera to the unsuspecting assistant passing by. You can really tell the difference in our photos. Early days; tiny little person with indistinguishable features surrounded by sidewalk & crowds. Now; good clear closeups with a pretty, crowd free backdrop. Also, get down low for small chldren or try standing on something to elevate your perspective for big shots like parades etc.
Last bit o advice – take a chance with Disney photopass. Last time we went we stopped for Disney photographers a lot. Got some amazing pictures. The best part was just buying a cd of the whole trip & cropping / editing at home. We have a pretty unbelievable shot of me dressed as a fairy kissing a bemused hubby with “mouse ears” from the Paradise Pier roller coaster at night. Back when DCA hosted the Halloween Haunt – they had photographers scattered around with tripods & long exposure timers to take the shot. Amazing!
Hope that helps.
PS love the shot of your lady love on the swings. Very ethereal
I’m headed to Disney for several days. Trying to pack/carry light, since I’ll also be carrying around family supplies for two young kids. I am shooting with a Canon EOS Rebel t5i. Haven’t decided if I’m taking the speedlite but probably taking off the extended battery grip for reduced size/weight. I have a Canon 50 mm f/1.8, a Tamron 28-75 mm f/2.8, and a Tamron 18-270 mm f/3.5-6.3. Two questions.
1 – Should I take both the 28-75 mm f/2.8 and the 18-270 mm f/3.5-6.3? (I’m taking the 50mm for dark rides.) If not, which should I take?
2 — Since I need a multitasking bag, I’m leaving the camera bag and taking a more traditional backpack. Any suggestions for lens protection (and camera protection) inside a traditional (non-camera) backpack?
Speaking of the Sword in the Stone pictures in the back of the castle pictures: I have always taken pictures of this straight on with the carousel in the back. But on our last trip I got a better idea for that photo. While my wife was shopping under the careful eye of the Giant; I snapped a few pictures of the S IN THE S while down on one knee and shooting up at the back of the castle. It makes a great shot. When my wife came out, I took one of her that way too. While she was shopping I took several pictures for families with their phones and cameras in the same way by kneeling down on one knee. When I was taking their picture, nobody could understand why I was kneeling. When they saw the results, they all turned aroundand looked up to see the back of the castle. Once they saw the photos they thanked me many times over.
I have to admit, I selfishly enjoyed the thankful praise. Tom I’ll bet you already took this one with sara holding the sword. And if not, what are you waiting for. I Hope this gives people an good photo idea
Great tip–I know exactly the perspective to which you’re referring, and yes, I’ve shot it a time or two!
In this post, you recommend: “Right now, I think the creme de la creme is the Canon PowerShot S95.”
Now that some time has passed, what do you think you would recommend now?
I love your photos! I was wondering, what type of lens did you use for many of the shots in number 2. And were you using a full frame camera or cropped?
Tom – We are going to Disney World for the first time this fall. I use a sling bag for my Canon DSLR. What do you do with your camera bag while you are on rides. Is it always possible to carry backpacks, camera bags, etc. onto rides? Thanks!
Great tips! Can’t wait to try them out when we go back to Disney next year.
I love your advice on here, I’ve just stumbled across it in the process of figuring out my own Disneymoon in 2016. My fiancé is the photographer in our little family-to-be, what would you suggest now for a amateur who wants to take pictures as well?
Also, off-topic but how best would you suggest couples from Australia organising their Disnyemoon?
I just have to say that you and Sarah make the most lovely couple 🙂
Great tips, I love your shots! I’m so bad about being in pictures, because my husband is really terrible at taking them. I feel like every photo he takes of me is somewhat less than flattering! LOL! I might have to pack a little tripod for our trip this time, and take them with the timer…
Also, I wanted to echo, for the love of all that is good, BACK UP YOUR PHOTOS! My husband and I went to Germany for six weeks shortly before Christmas a few years ago. It was our first time in Germany, and Hubby’s first time overseas. Everything was gorgeous, and I took approximately 2.7 million photos (felt like it, at least, I had a great time taking photos). When we came home, we discovered that our backup system had been overwriting our photos on the hard drive every single time we pulled them off the SD card. We only had the last week or so and a few scattered here and there that I’d managed to upload to Dropbox on the rare nights of decent internet. It was heartbreaking!
That is just heartbreaking. So sorry to hear that it happened. 🙁 Definitely a great tip, though.
You comment on people who may be afraid to hand their camera over to a stranger. Don’t forget, in Disney parks, cast members are always willing to help take a photo (if they aren’t busy). Even the professional Disney photo pass photographers will take a photo with your camera as well. Somebody my favourite photos are those, because those guys are great with photo composition and posing.
Just something for guests to keep in mind.
Great tips! As a pro photographer, it is easy to never hand over the camera and be IN some of the pictures. I have to make a diligent effort to be a part of the photos and not hide behind the camera. I am bringing my SLR essentials and a my waterproof point and shoot, this way my husband can take pics too, without being intimidated by the big kahuna, as we affectionately call my Canon 7D when it’s all tricked out with grip, flash, bigger lens… It can be overwhelming to anyone who doesn’t know their way around the equipment.
Tom, have you ever considered a monopod? It helps a lot for you to “get in the shot!
I love the tip about getting in the shots. I often come home from a trip and think “why wasn’t I in more pictures?” Perhaps less so at Disney though, because there’s always a PhotoPass photographer on hand to take a pic with your camera.