When I take my kids’ portraits, I spend a lot of time scouting exactly the right spot (and time) for the right lighting. I time the session with their mood. I pull from years of reading and practice and training I’ve acquired to get not only the right exposure in camera whenever possible, but the right set of options that give me a good exposure plus the artistic choices that I want.
But when I am at Walt Disney World (or Disneyland), I am there to enjoy my kids, my spouse, or even just my surroundings. I want (and cherish) good pictures, but not at the expense of creating real memories!
[clickToTweet tweet=”I want good pictures, but not at the expense of creating real memories!” quote=”I want good pictures, but not at the expense of creating real memories!”]
With that in mind, I have learned over the years what to bring – and what to leave at home – if you have a choice of photography gear. If you’re just starting out and don’t have much, this may be a good starting point for every day shooting as well; to be honest, life should be more about making memories than always having a camera plastered to our face. I know, sometimes easier said than done.
First, let me say this: whatever camera you have (phones included) will be fine for your trip. It really will.
If you want great pictures and are in the market for a camera, but you are not interested in photography as a whole, there are some excellent point and shoot cameras that are easy to carry around and take really high-quality shots. My favorite, hands-down, is the Canon G7X. I may have had a little bit of a panic attack a few times without my SLR, but I actually took this little thing – and no other gear – to Hawaii. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I really did not regret the decision for one moment.
Do not feel like you need a DSLR because you are a) going on a nice vacation or b) have cute kids. I have watched so many people throw thousands of dollars at an electronics store to take pictures that are good, but could have been taken with a new model point and shoot. Usually better, because there are fewer settings to mess up if you don’t plan on learning them anyway.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Do not feel like you need a DSLR because you are a) going on a nice vacation or b) have cute kids” quote=”Do not feel like you need a DSLR because you are a) going on a nice vacation or b) have cute kids”]
That said, I cannot say enough about how wonderful it is for photography enthusiasts to shoot at Disney Parks. You will be hard-pressed to find a place more rich with detail, color, and – most importantly – joy.
Best Photography Gear to take to Disney Parks
- A low-aperture, prime lens. For dark rides, fireworks, shows, etc you will need a very “wide open” aperture, as there is no flash photography in many of the attractions. Let me just say this now – if you break the rule and use a flash, your picture will stink anyway. It just will. So please don’t do it.
- A versatile “walk around” lens. I keep the same lens on my camera 85% of the time. When I had a crop body, my personal favorite, hands down, was the Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 EX. My current go to for my full frame camera is the Canon 24-105 f/4 L.
For an everyday lens, you’ll want something with a decent reach while keeping as low an aperture as possible. If money is no option, I prefer a fixed aperture lens – but that’s a discussion for another day, or another blog entirely!
- An external flash. Some cameras like the Canon Rebel series have an on-camera flash. On many cameras (mine included), there is none. That said, even a lower-priced, reputable external flash will provide much more benefit than any on-camera flash would.
You may be tempted to skip this piece of equipment, especially if you’re thinking specifically of the bright Florida sun – but I assure you it will save you plenty of shadows and silhouettes when the perfect shot of your family is in far-from-perfect lighting.
- A tripod. I know, I’m trying to get you to consider bringing less gear. If you are going for publication-worthy fireworks shots, you need a large, professional tripod. For the rest of us, I suggest you throw a gorillapod in your bag.
I have owned one variety of gorillapod or another since they came out, first for a point and shoot that probably cost the same as the tripod (that is to say, not much at all…) and for every camera I have owned since. They are especially nice for the parks; set yours up on a trash can, wrap it around poles… the possibilities are endless.
Update: While I previously suggested you bring a selfie stick/monopod, they’re no longer allowed. If you try to take one into the parks, it will almost certainly be confiscated at the security checkpoint; you can pick it up again when you leave the park.
- Plenty of memory. Of course you need plenty of space on any number of memory cards. Even if you have a giant one though, consider bringing extra. Though thankfully I have never needed this advice, I continue to heed it just in case: swap cards out every day or two, even if there’s still room. If something happens to your card (it gets lost, corrupted, etc) you won’t have lost all of your precious vacation pictures!
- An additional battery. That you actually keep charged. I won’t tell you how many batteries I own, mostly because I forgot to pack a spare. And I also won’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a handful of batteries only to have approximately zero that are not dead. Please don’t be like me.
What’s missing from the list of gear is just as important as what’s on it…
You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of lenses on here. The most I bring on a trip anymore is 2-3. Most trips I don’t bring any except the one on the camera body; if I bring multiple lenses, I often leave all but one in the hotel room.
The more time you spend switching out your lens, the more moments you miss – for photographing, and for simply enjoying.
What about a big zoom lens?
If you’re specifically bothered by the absence of a superzoom, I will say this: you may want one for Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
If you plan to take great pictures of animals on the savannah – and you absolutely can – bring your favorite zoom along. Let me suggest though, that you leave it in the hotel safe every other day that you aren’t “on safari”. They add a lot of bulk, and you will almost certainly not use it elsewhere.
Final Thoughts on Photography Equipment and Family Vacations
Everyone has a different style of photography, whether on vacation or at home. You may agree or disagree with my thought process completely, but I figured out over several trips what works best for me and my family.
After bringing lots of gear that took up extra space, worrying about its safety, spending additional money on proper bags for the parks, and having sore shoulders from carrying around equipment I never once touched, I learned my lesson!
I assure you: you CAN take plenty of photos – that are more than worthy of your family’s investment – with as little gear as you feel like taking (…or even just your iPhone!). I truly think that you that you will have far more regret if you come home from a trip with a great photos but don’t remember spending much time with the people you love, than if you miss a couple of shots here and there while making precious memories.
What is your must-have photography gear for a trip… or do you stash the camera and just rely on your phone?!