They snap hundreds of shots a day, but what are they really seeing through their camera lens? Disneyland photographers have a unique job, and they get to experience the parks from a perspective that no one else does. From touching moments to interesting behind-the-scenes stories, a former Disneyland Photopass photographer did an IAmA on Reddit and revealed all.
1. Where do you think the best spot for taking photos is?
"In the daytime I would say Fantasyland or Adventureland in Disneyland side. Disney California Adventure side would be Buena Vista St. and the trail. At night Main Street is really nice as well as the side of the castle. Buena Vista is also nice at night but the Tower of Terror or whatever it's called now is pretty sweet."
2. Your favorite part of year to work?
"Christmas time is without a doubt my favorite. Getting to see the park all decorated and seeing the trees and scenery change is so nice. I also love the cold weather."
3. What was the most touching/heart-wrenching guest moment you were a part of?
"I was working Princess Fantasy Faire one day and we were told we had a special guest coming in for a private meet and greet. Just before they came in we were told it was going to be a family of three. A mom, dad and a 4-year-old daughter. The family had just lost their 7-year-old daughter to cancer. The family came in and was super nice and grateful to be there. When they finally to got to my location the girl was going on about her sister and then she called her a 'sky princess.' It was really tough to hear and everyone in the room got a bit emotional."
4. Did you have prior experience as a photographer before working at Disneyland? If so then was there any difficulty adapting to their style of "take the photos our way"?
"I had several years experience taking photos before going to Disney. So yeah, it was a bit tough to adapt to what Disney wanted. They wanted close ups and photos that were dead centered and had flat lighting. I had been shooting concerts for a while so I was used to shooting super wide and maybe tilting the camera just a bit. I constantly got told to zoom in. Luckily for me they were nice about it and I was able to adjust quickly. However, just a few months before I left, they started letting photographers do more creative shots."
5. Do you get to interact with the characters during their after hours? How are they in real life?
"I got to interact with them during our downtime and after work. Most of them are pretty cool. They can be a bit loud at times. Singing and dancing randomly but it's all fun. They love to talk too. Some of the princesses can be kinda bratty. They were all nice to me but I've seen them be petty to others. Chip n Dale are my favorites. They love to cause mischief and play jokes. Who couldn't love that!"
6. Do you make commission on photos? Do you have a quota?
"We don't make commission on photos or sales or anything. There isn't much of a quota but the leads can check how many photos you've taken and if it's a low number they may come out to talk to you to see whats up. However, It was rarely if ever enforced until about a month or two before I left."
7. It's my understanding that the Disney photographers will always take a photo with your cell phone if you ask them, is that true? Did most folks do that?
"All the Photopass Photographers in Disneyland will take a photo with your phone and/or camera even if you don't get a photo with ours. It's just a guest courtesy thing and they're all happy to do it. Although a lot of guests will still get photos on our camera just to be nice."
8. Any interesting interactions with celebrities?
"One morning at Plaza Inn Matt Damon came in with a huge group of about 20 or so people. They were about to take a group photo and I saw his wife had her phone out ready to take a picture. So I offered to take it for her. I guess I took one to many photos and someone in his group made a joke about me being a paparazzi. Everyone in the group including Matt had a big laugh.
"I met Mike Starr once, he plays Joe in Dumb and Dumber. I sold him his photos at Goofy's Kitchen and he was really nice and was having a blast seeing the characters interact with his kids. We had a short conversation about how he knows how uncomfortable it can get in the costumes. I also shook hands with Johnny Depp and Eric Stonestreet the guy who plays Cameron in Modern Family."
9. The line to visit with the characters is mostly pose for your photo and move on, the character doesn't interact with you (or the kid) at all. When I was a kid it seemed like they would ham it up with you for a minute so you could have a memory and an experience, and the photo was a bit of an afterthought. Can you comment on that?
"I believe a big reason why characters don't interact that much with kids is because they were told to speed it up. A lot of the times when the characters would have to leave set for their break and there would still be a huge line as they didn't get through a lot of guests since they were taking their time. And it got even worse as the crowd size increased. So it might be due to management telling characters to rush through the line.
"It's unfortunate because a lot of guests miss out on a fun interaction. I also believe that a lot of guests, maybe most, go to see a character only for the photo. The parents will push a crying kid in front of the character and try to force them to smile. Other times people might just walk up and without saying a word take a photo with them. Some people really do treat characters as if they're just a prop or a statue and I think the characters sometimes get used to that and just expect it, as well as the photographers. The best way for a good interaction is to go to the character dining restaurants. The earlier the better because you get the characters all to yourself or at least mostly to yourself."
10. Which park did you prefer and why?
"I really preferred working Disneyland side. The locations were better, made for better pictures, the vibe was a bit different too on DL side as opposed to DCA side. The leads on DL side were usually much more professional and active in their jobs. Also, there was more shade."
11. Was working at Disneyland a life goal or dream for you? Did you do it just because you needed a job?
"Working at Disneyland was never a goal and I never felt drawn to working there. For most of my life I didn't even have a desire to go there. A friend talked me into going one day and I went because it was free (his sister who worked there got us in) and I noticed they had photographers working there. Being that I was a photographer who was in need of a part time job I decided to apply. I was offered a job and took it because I needed one. But I stayed because it was such a fun place and I made a lot of friends and was able to create special moments for people."
12. What is one of the most vivid moments that you can still imagine right now?
"There's a few but I think the night when I was closing the photo store is very vivid. It was Christmas time and I had just finished my shift on Main Street Photo. My friends and I clocked out and walked through the park which was already closed. The lights were still on and it was a lot of fun just walking through without anyone else in the park."