How to master 5 typical amusement/Disney Park scenarios


I figured instead of simply showing you my vacation photos, I’d do a quick tip post on a few amusement park scenarios you may find yourself in if visiting Disneyland, Disney World, or any other amusement park with shows and rides.

I noticed nearly every vacationer had a DSLR which is awesome.  I don’t want to assume every one knows manual mode, but I couldn’t help but notice the non-rule abiding citizens who kept flashing during the dark rides when we were all asked not to.  Can you still take a photo in the dark?  You betcha, well, depending on your equipment of course.  These images were taken by my Sony NEX-5R (c/o), 50mm f1/.816mm f/2.8 + 18-55mm (c/o).  It’s what I suggest taking for traveling.

If you find that you don’t know what I’m talking about, why not consider signing up for one of my online courses? Visit the workshops tab on this blog.  In 30 minutes you’ll know manual mode and I promise you’ll be glad you can take better photos on your family vacation!

Can you take good photos at Disneyland or Disney World?  Absolutely, here’s how.

The top 5 Amusement Park scenarios you may come across and how to capture them:

1) Bumpy + fast moving rides
Sorry, you probably won’t get a good shot on the tea cup rides, eeek.  I’m sick just thinking about it.  But, say it’s a bumpy safari ride that’s moving and there might be animals moving as well.

Camera tip: Fast shutter speed – Think 1/500 or faster, depending on how fast you are moving or bumping around.  But make sure you have enough light in, so bump up that ISO and/or increase aperture so you get correct exposure.

Examples, I was on the Disney World Animal Kingdom Harambe Wildlife Reserve in an open air jeep, super bumpy and going pretty fast.  I call these lucky shots but I knew at 1/4000 I was going to get a clear shot of something.

DSC036361/4000 sec at f/2.2

DSC03680 1/4000 sec at f/2.5

2) Dark rides or no flash photography shows
A common thing, just so guests don’t disrupt other’s enjoyment of rides or accidentally flash and show every one else the mechanics behind the magic.  Just because they say no flash and it’s dark doesn’t mean you can’t get a good shot.

Camera tip: High ISO (making camera sensitve to light), wide aperture (to let enough light in).

Now if you’re on a moving dark ride, just make sure to move your camera with the subject, pan with it as you move along to try to steady the shot.

DSC03133ISO: 25600, f/4, 1/250 sec

DSC03211ISO 12800,  f/2.8, 1/80 sec

DSC03212ISO 12800,  f/2.8, 1/80 sec

3) Light Show Parade or Fireworks
A lower ISO can work since fireworks – especially an explosion will give enough light. But for the most part, you can use a high ISO and do a quick shutter if it’s easier to control your shutter as they go off.  Use a quick shutter to capture fireworks frozen in air and less stringy. Be aware – You will be adjusting your shutter constantly throughout the show.

Camera tip: ISO you are comfortable with, keeping your finger on adjusting the shutter as the fireworks go.  This might take a few minutes in to find where you are comfortable.  Trick is a fast shutter then adjust other settings to get correct exposure.  A faster shutterspeed will be necessary if there’s a lot of light or the subject is close.  A slower one will be if it’s further away or dimmer light.

DSC03356ISO 12800, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec

BAD auto flash example:

DSC04169Blah!  Auto flash just makes the lights look less impressive and all I see are people.

On manual mode with my preferred settings, yay!:

DSC04168ISO 1600, f/1.8, 1/160 sec

DSC04191ISO 1600, f/1.8, 1/500 sec

Now I can concentrate on just the lights and the crowd falls into the background.

4) Water show

Do you know what kind of water look you’d like to capture?  A flowing stream or frozen drops?

Camera tip: fast shutter to freeze it in midair, or slower to show it more flowy.

BAD example of it on boring auto mode:

DSC03189Booo.  My camera isn’t smart to think on its own.  ISO 100, f/16, 1/125 sec
This looks terrible not only because of lighting, but the fact that at f/16 it barely had any light in, it had to slow down the shutter.  This looks like a boring water show.

In manual mode, my preferences:

DSC03194ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/3200 sec

5) Backlit Daytime Parade
Usually parades are slow as it goes at walking pace. What if you find yourself facing the sun and you can’t move spots?  You would then be doing backlighting to avoid your subjects being too dark.  On auto mode the camera meters the entire frame to get proper exposure, so it will often take into account the sky and not anything else.  This is why in manual mode you can adjust your shutter to be slower to let in more light.
Camera tip:  Slower shutter speed, over exposing because you are facing the sun.  Slower shutterspeed is relative depending on the rest of your settings.  You do want it fast enough to capture the moving parade.

DSC03855ISO 800, f/1.8, 1/1000 sec

These were fairly simple tips, but just incase you find yourself in a frenzy, now you know.  I had a good time teaching my younger brother about manual mode.  He has a Nikon (he must always oppose me) and he really started to like the features on my Sony NEX.  I might need to give him mine one day when I upgrade my NEX body or get him his own.  I think he realized he needs some new lenses so that will be exciting for him to build.

To see some of my online workshops that are prerecorded, check them out here.  You can watch on your own time.

Diana Elizabeth loves that 3 lenses and a camera body can fit in her purse. 

Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive thrift shopper. You can typically find her in the garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party. She continues to blog weekly.


  • Yasi

    Ooops Diana! Sorry ;)

  • Yasi

    Hi Diane, I love your blog! I’m always looking for great tips on taking photos and I’m still learning how to use the manual mode on my dslr, still after 5 years. I recently upgraded my lens and I’ve been looking for a great travel camera, because you’re right that dslr is HEAVY! I’m gonna look into the Sony Nex, I’ve never used sony, always been a Canon girl. I’ll definitely be visiting your blog now :)

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Yasi! Thanks for leaving a comment! :) Manual mode takes practice but it will be easy once it clicks. I do teach an online course and you’ll learn it within 30 minutes like most of my students if you’re ever interested. DSLR is super heavy, but it’s awesome :) However, I know that vacation photos don’t need that crazy huge file to be well documented, and if my Sony worked for me in Ireland, it must be a keeper. I think you will love it, but try to master manual mode so you can fully use what those cameras were created for!


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