SATURDAY SIX SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Theme Park FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

Share This!

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a behind-the-scenes look at the seedy world of THEME PARK FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY! Yes, we all enjoy the frivolity of reading about our favorite attractions, shows, and hotels at Walt Disney World, but there are times we need some hard-hitting journalism. The SAT 6 investigative team has won various awards for deep dives on subjects including Disney Pet Peeves and the Worst Places to Propose at WDW, but this week we are venturing into a world that is virtually a theme park secret society. A group of dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line to get the one thing we all desperately need: pictures of theme park food.

Few understand the sacrifice your average theme park food photographer has given to the community. The theme park food photographers don’t do it for the fame or the accolades, and they certainly don’t do it for the money. They do it for the honor. They do it for the opportunity to give back. And sometimes they do it for likes on Instagram.

Prepare yourself for a look into a world that exists right below the surface. A world which has a rigid set of rules in which even the most minor of infractions can bring swift and painful punishment. Allow us to introduce to you, the world of theme park food photography…

# 6 – A Theme Park Photographer’s Best Friend is a TRASH CAN (in fact many times it’s their only friend)

Readers of this fine blog series probably know the oft-told story that it was Walt Disney himself who wanted garbage cans placed within every 27 feet of each other inside the parks. While the conventional wisdom dictates that the cans were to encourage guests from littering, Disney Historians now say the garbage cans are proof that Walt always foresaw a Food & Wine Festival at the parks and realized he needed more tables for capacity. Whatever the reason for their existence, over the years these garbage cans have become as important to a theme park food photographer as the camera itself!

You couldn’t ask for a better item to store food on. Thanks Walt! (photo by @Blog_Mickey)

A simple trash can, which may seem mundane and trivial to the average theme park guest became a wonderful canvas for the food photographer to work their magic on.

Ace photographer Brandon Glover at the Magic Kingdom.
A Rose Gold cupcake has never looked so beautiful! (photo by Brandon Glover)
Brandon Glover uses a nasty garbage can in Adventureland to take a picture of the Dole-Whip Topped Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
Indescribably beautiful! (photo by Brandon Glover)
A garbage can shot with a garbage can as a background. The rare garbage can INCEPTION. (photo by @blog_mickey)

 

# 5 – When Not Using a Trash Can, a Theme Park Food Photographer Has To Think Outside the Box (and risk the consequences)

There are occasions when a trash can is unavailable, generally because it is being used as a two-top for guests eating at whatever festival is currently going on at EPCOT. In these instances, the theme park food photographer has to be creative and figure out another way to get their shot.

Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders takes a picture of Masu Sake (served in a box) at EPCOT’s Japan Pavilion.
Voilà! Magic has been created in front of your eyes. (photo by Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders)

 

Other times a new drink will debut at Walt Disney World and the “bloggers” will swarm on it like locusts. BREAKING: readers have to see the same boring shot a thousand times until a theme park food photographer steps in to add some flair.

Captain Cruiseline always looking for originality. (photo by Emily Sanders)
You’ve seen this drink photographed many times by “bloggers” but none of them with the creativity and panache of a theme park food photographer. Show us a better photo of a glass of Barrymore Rose, we’ll wait… (photo by Scott Sanders)

 

Balancing a drink on a themed fence takes practice…and courage (photo by Emily Sanders)
But in the end, it’s worth it. Every time. (photo by Scott Sanders)

When looking for appropriate places to display food or drink, a theme park food photographer has be fully aware of the environment around them, lest disaster occur.

You must have GUTS to be a theme park food photographer. Getting the sake box to sit perfectly on this particular post would take the balancing skill of a Jenga black belt. (photo by Emily Sanders)

 

Take for example this wonderful shot of food taken at Flower & Garden Festival. Sitting on a railing, the contrast between the food and the gorgeous flowers behind it leads to a wonderful shot.

(photo by Blog Mickey)

However, mere milliseconds after the photo was taken, the photography gods took a sacrifice. A theme park food photographer’s biggest enemy is their own hubris (and diabetes).

(photo by Blog Mickey)

# 4 – The Appropriate Use of Plush at the Table

Many “normal” people think nothing of the hours of preparation a theme park food photographer spends when deciding which Disney plush to bring to a restaurant shoot. There are so many complex variables involved that it takes a super genius like Neil deGrasse Tyson (or that guy from The Hangover) in order to figure it out. That’s the type of brain power a theme park food photographer needs to have.

There is a strict caste system when it comes to which plush is appropriate when photographing theme park-related food and drinks. For example, Duffy the Disney Bear is a definite no-no. Too pedestrian. A theme park food photographer needs to have an air of sophistication around them at all times. That’s why it’s okay to have friends of Duffy the Bear, such as, ‘Olu the turtle from Aulani, or Tippy Blue the seagull and Gelatoni the cat from Tokyo Disneyland. Attraction plush such as Albert the monkey from Mystic Manor or Chandu the tiger from Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage are also recommended. Having these type characters at the table show everyone right up front you mean business.

Certain Tsum Tsums are allowed, and you are encouraged to theme the Tsum to the various locale. Bring a Remy the rat Tsum to Chefs de France, Lumiere the candle Tsum at Be Our Guest Restaurant, or Cruella de Vil at the Electric Umbrella. All Ufufys are acceptable because most Disney fans have never seen them and that makes them appear even more exotic. People like “forbidden fruit” and they have no idea that you got Ufufys at Buy One/Get Two Free on ShopDisney.com. It’s a win-win situation!

As two intrepid theme park food photographers take glamour shots of a Maximus Tsum Tsum, a bewildered guest in the background seemingly questions their sanity. John Q Public has no idea of the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into every Disney food photo shoot.

All worth it. (photo by Hunter Underwood)
Chef Remy Tsum Tsum correctly pictured enjoying the France Pavilion offerings of EPCOT’s Festival of the Arts. (photo by @FiBelleFi)
Chandu the tiger paints a cookie. This is a perfect example of the level of dedication that is expected by the craft of theme park food photography itself. Anything less? GTFO. (photo by @FiBelleFi)

It’s important that you never treat the plush at the table like a prop and instead understand that it’s a member of the dining party. Once a theme park food photographer understands that, it’s game on.

Not just a Gelatoni plush, but a Gelatoni-From-Aulani plush. When you want to be serious about theme park photography, that’s where you START. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Stitch Ufufy “drinking” a moonshine. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

Chip & Dale Ufufys with shots of Cuervo Gold tequila. An untrained theme park food photographer may have tried to take this photo with only one shot of tequila THAT WOULDN’T MAKE SENSE. Always think of “story” when at a photo shoot.

A non-trained photographer would attempt this shot with just one shot of Tequila, but that would make no sense story wise. Chip & Dale would never split a shot! (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

Sometimes a good theme park food photographer needs to “peacock” a little and strut their stuff. This is best accomplished by taking Disney plush to the Universal Orlando Resort. Universal may be printing money by selling Harry Potter wands and Thing 1/Thing 2 t-shirts, but they have yet to make a plush recognizable enough to bring to a food photo shoot. By bringing exclusive Disney plush over to “the dark side,” you’re doing your part to class that joint up.

‘Olu at Universal’s Voodoo Doughnut. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

 

VERY IMPORTANT! After a certain amount of time, photographing Disney plush will drive a theme park food photographer insane. Plush photography time must be limited.

 

# 3 – A Theme Park Food Photographer Must Be Creative and in PEAK PHYSICAL CONDITION (because you never know what it will take to get your shot)

While movie fans have heard stories of Tom Cruise doing his own stunts for the Mission: Impossible films, what many don’t realize is that for six weeks before every M:I, Cruise shadows various theme park food photographers – including Tom Bricker, Scott Sanders, and Blog Mickey –  to get his body in the extreme physical shape that those stunts demand. To get the shots we all take for granted, oftentimes theme park photographers have to contort their body into more positions than a Cirque du Soleil performer. These photographers end up popping Percocet and OxyContin like they are Skittles, but they have no regrets because you, Dear Reader, are worth it.

Ace photographer Brandon Glover places a chair on top of a ping pong table to get his shot.
Bam! (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

You don’t have to have Abs Of Steel to be a theme park food photographer, but it helps!
Bam! (photo by Brandon Glover)
Imagine staying in this position for 35 minutes just to get the perfect shot. Quads BURNING. Is it worth it?
Answer: A resounding YES. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Corollary to # 3: A theme park food photographer has to have NERVES OF STEEL. They must be able to concentrate under the most absurd of conditions.

The actions of a theme park food photographer may be questionable to the untrained eye, but that’s only because they are working on a level very few humans can comprehend. They may get weird looks. They may even get snide comments. Regardless, a theme park photographer must ignore everything around them with the knowledge that – in the end – they will be proven right once again.

Imagine seeing THIS while walking through Universal CityWalk. (photo by @Caitlizgrace)
Nailed it. (photo by Hunter Underwood)
“Nothing to see here. Keep moving on.” (photo by @Cheeksadam)
Captain Cruiseline prepares for a shot. (photo by Emily Sanders and @SuperweenieHtJr)
E-Ticket Pinord La Dama Reserva Familiar Brut from the France Pavilion in EPCOT. (photo by Captain Cruiseline)

 

# 2 – Above All, a Theme Park Food Photographer is Cheap Frugal (AKA, if you absolutely have to spend money, bring along extra photographers to split the cost)

As a theme park food photographer, going to a restaurant alone is a rookie mistake. The more photographers you have, the more times the bill can be split.

To see how theme park photography can affect the bottom line, let’s give an example. First we have master photographer Travis Terrell. First of all, kudos for Travis for using an appropriately sized lens for photographing No Melt Ice Cream in the Wizarding World. However, Travis went by himself. So this $4.99 snack cost him – with tax (thanks Obama) – over $5 out of pocket.

 

Now, let’s try a similar priced dessert with two world class photographers. The price of this Yin & Yang Oreo Mousse Cake is $6. Split between two it comes to $3 per person. Good, but not great

 

Okay, time for a master class on the subject. Here’s a picture of theme park food photography royalty in action. They are photographing a skillet cookie from House of Blues in Disney Springs. At $9, the cookie is much more expensive than the No Melt Ice Cream. However that $9 is being split by 5 photographers, bringing the per photographer cost down to under $2 each!

No need for a 360 camera when you have food photography professionals in the house!

 

Here’s the best part, that ONE skillet cookie can now be featured in multiple blogs and the readers will be none the wiser! The food photographers just coordinate who is going to use “FIRST LOOK,” “BREAKING,” “EXCLUSIVE REVIEW”, and so forth.

Skillet Cookie at House of Blues. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Skillet Cookie at House of Blues. (photo by the undisputed King of Counter Service, Josh EasyWDW)
Skillet Cookie at House of Blues. (photo by Hunter Underwood)
Skillet Cookie at House of Blues. (Photo by Tom Bricker during one of his rare days not in Kyoto, Japan)

Corollary to # 2:  If a theme park photographer has to pay a check, they are always prepared with DISCOUNT CARDS

A theme park photographers wallet – an item which should be opened as little as possible – must contain the following items: WDW Annual Pass, Universal Orlando Annual Pass, SeaWorld Annual Pass, Chase Disney Visa, Chase Disney Visa Rewards, Disney Gift Card (preferably purchased at Target), Tables in Wonderland, Universal Dining Plan card, and LEGO VIP. Before heading out, a thrifty theme park photographer heads into the purse or wallet of their parents (or grandparents) to grab that AAA, Diner’s Club, or DVC ownership card. The ultimate goal is the confuse the server to the point of stacking discounts.

(photo by Hunter Underwood)

 

# 1 – Proper Table Etiquette for Guests Dining WITHOUT a Camera

They say for children the rule is to “be seen and not heard.” A similar rule exists for guests at a table without a camera, except it’s “you should not be seen or heard.” A theme park photographer’s focus needs to be on the food or drink in front of them, and they can’t be distracted by idle chit chat or questions like “are you done yet?”

If you happen to be at a table with a theme park photographer it is very vital to remember that THE CAMERA ALWAYS EATS FIRST.

Always.

Let’s go over some examples. When food or drinks are delivered to your table it is a natural human instinct to grab them. It’s been a long day at the parks, you’re starving, and that food looks so good…

(photo by Hunter Underwood)

 

The correct procedure for those dining without a camera is to sit with your arms straight to your side, look straight ahead, and keep your mouth shut. This allows the theme park food photographer – a modern day Renaissance artist if there ever was one – to concentrate and deliver the pictures that the reading audience deserves. If the food gets cold, that’s what we call collateral damage.

(photo by Hunter Underwood)

 

Let’s check out another pair to show the WRONG way. Look at them grabbing the food and wine like their animals. Even smelling something is risking an essence of the food or drink being lost before the camera can capture it. DO NOT DEPRIVE THE READERS OF THEIR RICHES.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

 

Let’s try this again. Looks like this one is also WRONG. Any idea why? We’ll tell you why below.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

THERE IS NO SMILING IN THEME PARK FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY.

This is not “fun.” We’re not here to have a good time. We’re here to work! The readers deserve our very best, and we can only give them that when we FOCUS. Want to smile? Go have a meal at some unbloggable place like Chuck E Cheese. When you’re ready to truly be all you can be, then you join us in the high stakes kill-or-be-killed world of theme park food photography.

 

Let’s try one more at the parks. Look at this guy. Gets a Rainbow Sherbert Glitter Dream Ale at the Festival of the Arts and has the audacity to hold it up for all the world to see. Who does he think he is?! By now you should know this is absolutely WRONG!!

(photo by Emily Sanders)

 

THIS is the right way. You stand there and wait! A theme park food photographer doesn’t work around your time, they work around the best picture’s time.

(photo by Emily Sanders)

 

Now we finally have a photo that can be featured in a theme park article.

Rainbow Sherbert Glitter Dream Ale. (photo by Capt Cruiseline)

 

COROLLARY TO # 1 – A guest without a camera MUST serve the theme park photographer’s wants and needs, WITHOUT QUESTION

The duties of guests without a camera may include the following: being a lighting fixture, blocking other guests from ruining the shot, and giving constant encouragement to the photographer.

(photo by @caitlizgrace and @SuperweenieHtJr)

 

HONORABLE MENTION – You can judge how good a food photographer is by how hot the meal is. The colder the food, the better the photographer

If you happen to be out with a theme park food photographer and you enjoy a nice hot meal, guess what, the photographer you’re with is horrible at their job. Like a Hollywood movie, all good theme park food photographers need to get “coverage.” Pictures must be taken from various angles, with different backgrounds, and with whatever prop is needed to make the photo the absolute best it can be. In between photos, the better theme park food photographers will also be posting live updates to social media platforms. To quote @Blog_Mickey, “You can’t eat it, ’till you tweet it.” Words to live by.

No, we’re not done yet! Some artists work on canvas while others chisel out of stone but a theme park photography creates his masterpiece out of theme park food AND IT TAKES TIME! (photo by Hunter Underwood)

 

DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION – When Reviewing Theme Park Food, Pictures Are All That Matter…TASTE IS IRRELEVANT.

In fact, eating the food may actually bias you. A theme park food photographer knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, so when getting home and writing the review, they know that photos can do the talking.

Here’s an example of theme park food photography in 3 simple steps.

STEP 1: Take an overall picture of the food.

Pop-Tart Sandwich.

 

Step 2 (if needed): If there is something extra interesting about the food, take a second photo to highlight it.

Most breakfast sandwiches do not have an egg in the shape of a hockey puck or bacon and cheese melted in a way that reminds someone of a creature from John Carpenter’s The Thing). So that deserves an extra picture.

 

Step 3: Throw away the food. Write blog post.

That’s it. You’re now an official theme park food blogger.

“Bye Bye Bye!” – *NSYNC

Let’s go through the process again, except this this time with a “Belle” cupcake that only needs one photo.

Belle Cupcake. (photo by @viewsandqueues)

So there you have it: A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Theme Park Food Photography! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

6 Pieces of Disney Merchandise That Don’t Exists (But Totally Should)

Are Disney’s Hotels Going To The Dogs? A Review.

Walt Disney World Locations Used in Hulk Hogan’s THUNDER IN PARADISE

SATURDAY SIX Investigative Report: Disney PET PEEVES

The 5th Annual Theme Park TURKEYS of the Year

6 Reasons We’ll NEVER FORGET 2018 (No Matter How Hard We Try!)

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, Mrs. Captain Cruiseline Emily Sanders, a man with a true eye behind the lens @ViewsAndQueues, DisTwitter meme machine @SuperWeenieHtJr, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Mr. ‘Ohana Tim Grassey, the man who took down DISFLIX @Schmoofy, the Joker of DisTwitter (AKA the one who just wants to see the whole world burn) Josh EasyWDW, Ufufy and Tsum Queen @FiBelleFi, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, Disney Photography ICON Tom Bricker (and Sarah Bricker), the lovely lady of theme park merchandise Blog Minnie, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will  enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.

An extra special thanks to Blog Mickey for, well, he knows what.

FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2019 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it?That’s right, ANOTHER NEW ONE EXCLUSIVE TO THIS EDITION!Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!

Becky Ashley taking photos of runDisney medals, as one does. (photo by Jamie Boedecker)

9 thoughts on “SATURDAY SIX SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Theme Park FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

  • February 2, 2019 at 10:22 am
    Permalink

    This was equal parts informative and hysterical. The pictures were perfection. Worthy of a Disney food photographer indeed!

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 10:49 am
    Permalink

    I am inspired. I am so gonna annoy my husband on our next trip by photographing food, drinks and stuff – I just need to decide which plushes I need to take with me ……….. (if I could, I’d put a thinking emoji here). I am also going to join a gym and do some sudoku puzzles so I will be both physically and mentally fit enough!

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 2:38 pm
    Permalink

    My husband and son know not a bite is to be taken until I get my food shot for posting to my do ner club

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 7:47 pm
    Permalink

    Forgive my ignorance, but why “Cruella de Vil at the Electric Umbrella?”

    Reply
  • February 3, 2019 at 3:05 pm
    Permalink

    Loved.This.Post.

    Reply
  • February 3, 2019 at 7:45 pm
    Permalink

    Genius.

    Also, I think you’ve forever changed how my 11 year old son will take photographs in the parks. Thank you?

    Reply
  • February 4, 2019 at 3:54 pm
    Permalink

    Thank you for your sacrifice.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *