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How To Get More Photos With Less People In Them, at Walt Disney World

by Christopher Rainville

One of the challenges of taking great photos of Walt Disney World’s resorts and theme parks is getting “clean” shots. The term clean refers to photographing only the intended subject without the clutter of people. Over the years I have always strived to get photos with little or no people in them. Here are a few tips to try to increase your chances of getting cleaner shots.

Patience: No matter what time of the year you go to Walt Disney World there is going to be a lot of people there. The first thing you have to remember is to have patience. Often times the difference between a shot with 100 people in it or no people in it is waiting a few minutes. If you take a look and notice, people often travel in groups or maybe a better way to describe it would be waves. Sometimes if you just stop and wait for your shot the wave of people will pass and you can then take the shot before the next wave of people walk in front of your subject. When the park is really crowded the waves of people are often too tight but if you are in a park and it is an average attendance day try to notice how small groups of people travel and take advantage of that by waiting for them to pass.

Keep Your Camera Ready: Keep your camera ready to shoot at all times.  I always have my camera out and turned on.  There are times when you can get a “clean” shot of something because there is simply nobody around but if you have to dig your camera out, turn it on, and wait for it to boot up, the area may be full of people.

Additional Tips: If you camera has an auto shut-off feature you may have to disable it. Bring an extra battery. Having your camera on longer and more often will run down your battery faster.

Take Multiple Shoots: If your camera has a mode that will take several photos with one shutter push, often called “burst mode” us it. As people move through the frame, gaps will open up and those waves of people I spoke about earlier may gap just at the right place for a clean shot but your timing needs to be perfect.  By taking multiple shots this increases your odds for getting your timing correct.  Another reason for this is multiple photos can be used stacked together in an editing program like Photoshop and then people can be removed leaving the desired background. If you do not have a burst mode just manually take several shots.

Timing, Being Where People Aren’t: Understand that like a big city Walt Disney World has a rhythm to it.  Think about your commute to work.  You know where the traffic will be at what time.  How crowded the Dunkin’ Donuts will be at that hour and who will and will not be at work when you arrive based on the time.  Walt Disney World runs on a schedule and by looking and thinking about it you can make a guess as to what will be crowded and what won’t.  This happens on multiple levels and we already use these principles to plan out our vacation.  From when to eat, what park to visit on what day, even what rides to go on. There are guide books and websites devoted to just that.  Touring Plans.com does extensive sampling and research to understand how people move through the property and the theme parks.  Based on this information they come up with a number of ways to avoid waiting in long lines and still see and do everything. We don’t need to get that involved I just wanted to point out that what I am saying is already in practice and that there is a working theory behind these principles.

  • Shoot Photos of the Resorts When People are Busy at the Theme Parks:  Late morning or early afternoon are great times to get photos of the resorts.  People get up and get out for a day at the parks but a fair number return after lunch to go swimming.  Bad times would be mid morning when people are heading to the food courts and restaurants before waiting for the theme park buses.  Another bad time is very late afternoon or early evening when people return from the parks for dinner.  If you are staying at a resort with a lot of dinning options it tends to draw even more people making it quite crowded.  An example of that would be the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, or Boardwalk/Beach Club area.
  • Pay Attention to Show and Parade Times: Getting a picture of the castle without a load of people on the draw bridge walkway isn’t that difficult.  At about ten minutes before the castle show cast members block off the front walkways that flank the stage.  This is a prime picture time  for great shots from the west side near the Liberty Square bridge, or the east side path that runs from Tomorrowland and Fantasyland to the courtyard area behind the castle.  You can also get a great shot if you stand at the start of the roped off path.  Another thing to note is that just before the castle show is a bad time to try to get a picture of the center hub area as people will gather for the start of it. Parades and fireworks will draw people to specific areas of the park. Since you know where people will be, this gives you the opportunity  to be where the people aren’t.
  • Remember to Return to Locations That Are Crowed Now, But Won’t Be Later: Want that picture of Spaceship Earth without a sea of heads? Don’t take that photo when you first arrive in the Morning.  Comeback around lunch time.  Few people are arriving at lunch time and the ones in the park have moved past Spaceship Earth.  The same can be said for the Magic Kingdom at  the Walt Disney World Railroad Railroad’s Main Street Station and Town Square area

    Mickey’s House

Head to the Back of the Park First:  As I mentioned earlier Spaceship Earth is a crowded area early in the morning. It’s not surprising that as people enter the park for the day they start and progress from the front to the back. Many guidebooks will suggest avoiding long lines at the attractions by bypassing those in the front of the park and heading to the ones in the back. If you wish to take photographs of the parks the same principle can be applied. On my last visit to Mickey’s Toon Town Fair I wanted to be sure I could document it with photographs since I knew it would be torn down before my next visit to make way for the expansion of Fantasyland. As soon as the park opened I headed there and took several photographs of the land and of Mickey and Minnie’s houses with very few people in them.

A clean shot only minutes after a shower

Take Advantage of Bad Weather:  When those pesky Florida showers pop-up people scatter for cover but the showers sometimes disappear as quick as they arrive.  Be ready for some photo opportunities as people sometimes tend to stay covered after the rain has past. If you are at your resort and hear a far off thunder-clap the pool will close down giving you the opportunity to get some photos of the resorts pool.  Disney will close pools when storms are close but it still could be rain free and sunny where you are.

Use objects to hide people

Use Objects to Hide People:  I use this one a lot and requires you to think before you shoot.  Use foliage, a lamp pole, or a food cart umbrella to hide people in the frame. You need to remember to look at the entire composition when you are looking through the camera. Take a look at the edges of your shot, step to the left or the right and adjust your camera height. You will be surprised how many people you can eliminate from a shot by just taking a step to the left or right and using something like a tree to frame your shot and hide people.  I have often used the Leave a Legacy monoliths to hide people when taking photographs of Spaceship Earth on a really crowded day at Epcot.

France Pavilion after closing time

Cinderella Castle before the park is open

Be in the Park When It’s Not Open: Make early reservations for breakfast in the Magic Kingdom at Crystal Palace or Cinderella’s Royal Table  before the parks scheduled opening time. You will be able to photograph Main Street, the area around the hub including the Partners Statue, as well as Cinderella Castle. You can also make late dining reservations. On our last trip we had a late dinner at Le Cellier Steakhouse and left the park after Epcot had closed. I got a great shot of the France Pavilion on our way back to International Gateway where we were staying at Disney’s Beach Club Villas.

Beach Club Portico

Get up, Get Dressed and Get Out Early: This tip is primarily for taking pictures of the resorts. I like to get up early at least one day of my trip to take sunrise photos when staying at any of the various Disney resorts. I allow plenty of time to take photos of the lobby and of various areas around the resort before most guests are awake. Many of my night shots of resorts are actually pre-sunrise shots and are often taken around four and five o’clock in the morning.  I then find a location for sunrise photos and after the sun is up I try to grab some more photos around the grounds before the joggers and walkers come out.

Bay Lake Tower

Boardwalk Green

Saratoga Springs


Narcoosee’s Restaurant

Book First Setting: If you would like to get photos of an empty restaurant consider booking when they first start setting guests and get there before the doors open. You will often be let into the restaurant just before they start seating the first guests. You can also get shots of the restaurants in the parks if you book for an early lunch.

Crop it Out:  Even the simplest photo editing programs have a crop tool but pay attention to the edge of the frame before you hit the shutter button.  Sometimes a slight zoom or step in another direction would eliminate unwanted people.

If You Include People, Make Sure They are at a Distance: Studies have shown photos with people in them are considered more interesting to viewers than the same photos without people.  Not all of your shots can be people free but try to avoid photos with people dominating the composition.  Take pictures when people seems to be part of the subject and not a distraction from it.  Shoot from a distance or allow people to walk away from you. I like to get photos that make the parks look like I am the only one there but I have some great shots with a few people in them.

It is not always easy to get photos of Walt Disney Wold that are people free but using these techniques you should be able to increase your chances. I hope you will find these tips helpful on your next visit to Walt Disney Wold.


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