How to be a courteous theme park photographer

September 19, 2016, 9:23 PM · Taking pictures is as much a part of visiting a theme park as going on rides, watching fireworks, and meeting characters. While it's great to have photos to help preserve the good memories of a day in the parks, the act of taking those photos too often creates much less pleasant memories for everyone.

Don't be that photographer — the one who makes a scene, instead of capturing it. Here are our top five rules for taking pictures whenever you're on vacation.

Don't block others' view

Photography shouldn't be a zero-sum game. Your getting a shot shouldn't keep others from being able to take their pictures, too. Or even keeping others just from seeing the show, ride, or character you're shooting. Never hold any part of your camera equipment above the top of your head. Keep your phone or camera in front of you and out of the line-of-sight of others. If that's not enough to get a clear shot, move rather than block others' view.

And if you are one of those people who take pictures with an iPad or other tablet, be especially aware of how much space those devices take. Hold it down and out of the way of others. And if you can't, invest in a less conspicuous device to take your photos.

Don't block others' way

We all know that theme parks are crowded places. Don't block the flow of traffic to stop and take a photo in a busy walkway. Find a place off to the side to set up your shot.

Most parks, including all the Disney World and Disneyland theme parks, ban the use of selfie sticks, so just leave those at home. Even if they are allowed, don't set up tripods or other support devices in places that block people from moving around the park. If you are using a tripod for parade or show, don't hog valuable space — the tripod should not extend to take up more space than a normal person standing would. A monopod is often a better choice in a crowd... or a personal-sized gimbal-mounted camera, such as an Osmo.

Don't take other people's pictures without permission

Yes, theme parks are public places. And we've all probably been in the background of other peoples' photos more times than we ever could count. Plus, all those on-ride photos, too. But there's a difference between capturing a bunch of other people in the background of your shot and zooming in (or moving in) for a close-up. If you want to take a picture of someone you don't know (including cast or team members), ask first. That's especially true with children. I don't take how much that homemade princess dress would look just perfect on your Pinterest page. If it ain't your kid, ask the parent. You would want someone to show the same respect to your child, right?

Don't use a flash

The theme park's number-one rule for in-park photography still applies. Never use a flash or spotlight in an attraction, where a pulsing flash disrupts theatrical lighting and blinds people who waited to see the show. And don't even use a flash or other artificial light outside of an attraction if it's likely to bother the people around you. If you can't keep the light out of strangers' eyes, don't use it.

Don't make people wait

Taking "just a moment" to snap a picture of everyone getting into a ride vehicle might be the single most selfish and discourteous thing that most people do in a theme park. Even a few seconds' delay, when multiplied by every ride vehicle, can significantly reduce the number of people an attraction can put through in an hour, extending waits for everyone. On some rides, such as roller coasters, a delay in loading even can cause the ride to shut down, costing you and hundreds of people waiting behind you the opportunity to ride at all.

At character meet and greets, don't take an unreasonable amount of time with the character. Have your camera ready to go, any autograph books and pens in hand, and be as considerate of the people waiting behind you as you wish the people in front of you had been.

Now, we didn't get into any of the other rules for taking pictures, such as using available natural light, framing your subject, getting your focal point actually in focus, and all that stuff. That's useful, too, but on behalf of everyone who'll be sharing the park with you on your next visit, but never see your resulting photos... just be cool when taking pictures around us, okay?

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Replies (8)

September 20, 2016 at 4:11 AM · Using iPads as a camera annoys me too. Maybe it's my own irrational prejudice, but I would add tablets to this list.
September 20, 2016 at 5:21 AM · One time,

Carrying my one year old daughter while watching the light show projected onto the WDW castle. "Dim bulb" few feet behind me turns on their camera's high beams. Had to scream bloody murder after 10 full seconds of this light that was shining in my daughter's eyes since she was facing towards it.

September 20, 2016 at 7:50 AM · Asking for their permission to take their photograph in a public place isn't necessary. They are in a public place. There's no presumption of privacy. I would also think asking when they are busy trying to pose for the shot is annoying. Stranger: "Can I take your photo?" Response: "No speak English". or "Huh? What?". Just sneak in the photo and this is especially true if no flash is used. They won't know.

No Selfies either. Ask someone to help.

September 20, 2016 at 9:54 AM · Good article, Robert, although I agree with Anon Mouse that there is no presumption of privacy in a public place. I know from experience that the only way to avoid getting unsuspecting passersby in the frame is to clear the park. Someone in the PR department of a park with which I've had numerous interactions said that it was unnecessary to ask permission to take a photo of a ride op, as this is something that could reasonably be anticipated as part of a ride op's job. As to holding a camera over the top of one's head, that too seems unavoidable in some instances, notably when at ground level and trying to photograph the top of a 300-foot roller coaster. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible and make it a point to get out of the way of someone else's photograph but there's only so much one can do in a crowd.
September 20, 2016 at 10:57 AM · You missed the biggest pain in the backside, not only is it a pain when you have stood for an hour to get a view only to watch someone put someone on there shoulders, adults and kids is to see them then hold out a camera and try to video the show, I know kids need to see and I think there should be an area where parents with small children could go and view the show but it's everywhere.

This is why I think places lime Disney, Universla Studios etc etc should look into having seating areas that raise from the ground in certain areas when a show is taking place, this would then mean people could sit without blocked views.

At Walt Disney world the idea time was when they were remoulding the centre hub, they could have had this sort of setup easily incorporated into the setup.

September 20, 2016 at 10:37 PM · Check the article title, folks. It's about being a "courteous photographer", not about the law or privacy.

Without question, someone who is trying to be courteous should ask others before directly taking their picture.

September 21, 2016 at 12:59 PM · A good article as I've done plenty of photographs at Disney. It can be tricky but yeah, have to know you can't just stop suddenly to get a photo when so many folks are around. Then again, every now and then, you see that one image you just have to capture and need it quickly. Still, can be nice to volunteer now and then if you see a family trying to get a shot, done that and it's nice. Again, just have to be a bit understanding of others.
September 21, 2016 at 2:09 PM · Sometimes the best picture is taken in the "off-the-beaten-trail" areas; for instance, Sleeping Beauty's Castle was decked out for Christmas and I got a wonderful picture of the castle's reflection in the "moat" on the side by the wishing well. No one else was around us so I could take my time. That same evening I got a good shoot of one of Santa's "reindeer" in the parade, because I chose to concentrate on small details not the "big picture" other folks around us were attempting (and failing) to capture.
An additional rule to being a courteous photographer is to NEVER, EVER take pictures on a ride that is not a mode of transportation. Rollercoasters, water flume rides, dark rides, spinning rides, etc. are not modes of transportation - of course you get the picture (pun intended). I have seen the results of a person being struck in the face by a loose cell phone (not their own) while on a rollercoaster and I have also seen the very black eye a person gave to themselves when they insisted on using a small video camera on a launch ride - they could have lost sight in that eye. So please; when operators ask and/or tell you to put away the phone or camera please do so; besides if you drop it on the ride the likelihood of it being found in one piece is pretty small.

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