PhotoPass at Disney World
During my escapades through the Lines Chat, there are often discussions about whether various Disney offerings are “worth it.” One such offering that is asked about quite a bit is Disney’s PhotoPass. My goal with this post is to give a full, clinical, unbiased breakdown of the entire system and its results (well, I’ll try with the ‘unbiased’ part…and the “full” and “clinical” parts too).
PhotoPass is a service offered at Walt Disney World where Disney’s photographers “capture the magic for you” (Disney’s words). If you’ve been to Disney World recently you have no doubt noticed the plethora of photographers standing on all the main arteries and at most character greetings in the parks. These photographers are part of the PhotoPass system, and using the system is actually very easy. What you do is simply get your picture taken. You are then given a card that can be scanned by any Disney photographer, and that card is then used to recall your pictures via the Internet or at one of the PhotoPass ordering stations scattered around the resort.
There are definitely benefits to PhotoPass, which is the reason that so many people use it, which is the reason Disney still does it (as with all things: if it didn’t make money, it wouldn’t be there). For one, someone else is taking the picture, meaning your whole family can be in it (if that’s something you’re interested in…my family is undecided). The photographers are also professionals with professional equipment (my fellow blogger Tom Bricker’s head just exploded, but I’ll get into the professional thing later).
Another benefit is that PhotoPass photographers can be found in many, many locations. They are around all major “weenies” (Walt’s word, meaning a hot dog luring a real dog…not what you’re thinking) such as Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth, the Tree of Life, and Graumann’s Chinese Theater (or, I guess, the hat). You will also see them at most character greeting locations as well as at other in-park locations.
Other PhotoPass benefits are discovered when you see your pictures online. You can do special things like add borders and signatures. The photographer can also set you up with certain special shots; the most popular being with Tinker Bell. What they do is pose someone in your group with her hands out as if she is holding a small fairy. Later, when you see the picture, it turns out that Tink herself was in your hand all along (the moral is: don’t clap, or it’s bye bye Tink).
The Less Good
Unfortunately there are also a few things that are not so great about PhotoPass:–primarily the price. The pictures are $14.95 for two 4×6 prints or one 5×7…ouch. The best value offered is the CD, which will contain all of your pictures plus some bonus stock footage for $149. If you preorder the CD before your trip you can get it for $99, but that’s still not exactly a bargain since it doesn’t include the print charge. It does at least give you digital copies so you can print them out from other sources such as Snapfish or Walmart. Ultimitely the value of the CD depends on how many PhotoPass pictures you take. If you and your family only take one periodically, as mine did, it will not be worth it. If you take a few hundred the value will change…although you may have also just spent your entire vacation in front of a camera.
There are a few other nitpicky things that I personally don’t like about PhotoPass. These things will not bother everyone, but they bother me, and since I’m writing this I get to talk about them (so there). First, I find the photographers themselves to be hit-or-miss personality-wise. I’ve had some pose us like we’re on a photo shoot (Blue Steel!), and some snap one picture, scan the card, and grumble their way to someone else.
Another thing that grinds my gears is also related to the photographers, and that is their ability as photographers. I am far from a professional as many of my pictures will prove, but I understand the basics such as “take the picture so there is something nice behind the subject.” This rule was broken in the picture with my daughter holding Tinker Bell. For a reason I have yet to discover, the PhotoPass photographer moved her onto the sidewalk rather than get the castle behind her. That in itself is forgivable; after all, I love the facades on Main Street. What I was baffled by when I saw the picture was that the photographer took it from above her meaning that the background is entirely sidewalk. Still a very sweet picture, but it could have been much better.
My last whiny point about PhotoPass is the quality. I carry in the parks a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera, and it is a very nice point and shoot. It should not match the quality of a professional setup, yet I find that it comes very close for a much cheaper price. At the bottom of this post I have some comparisons.
Good for some, but not for me. I fully understand those who want to go camera-less and let Disney do the work for them; I cannot do that. My preference is to take the pictures myself, or at least with my camera. But what about the group shots you say? Here’s a tip: the PhotoPass photographers will also take a picture with your camera while they are taking theirs. Overall, for me, the PhotoPass was too expensive, and the quality did not match the price. If you are the type of person who uses a cell phone as a camera or carries no camera at all, the convenience may sell you on it. If you enjoy taking pictures yourself, I suggest you continue to do that.
Here are the comparison photos. The PhotoPass pictures are unedited except for resizing. My photos are slightly cropped, but nothing else. These photos were chosen because of the direct comparison they offer; they are not necessarily my best pictures.
Thanks for reading!
31 thoughts on “PhotoPass at Disney World”
We as a family tend to do 10-14 day stays on our annual trips and are PhotoPass addicted. My wife, three kids and I love to have our pictures taken while at Disney (we rarely have our pictures taken anyplace else). We get the CD and the last two years we have gotten around 500 pictures (including edits with different boarders, so it might be closer to 200 shots and 300 additional edits). The pictures are then loaded onto digital picture frames and screensavers on our laptops.
A down side of the CD is the quality (file size) is not the greatest. It is fine for 4×6 prints, but for larger prints the quality is poor. You can order prints from PhotoPass which are based on the original file which is fine for larger prints (but are paying the premium for Disney to print the photos for you.)
We also use Snapfish (or Wal-Mart online depending on the “deal” we can find) to print albums of our trips. The PhotoPass photos come out fine in these albums and it is great to mix our candid pictures we take ourselves along with the PhotoPass pictures.
If we were taking a shorter trip, and not having A LOT of photopass pictures taken I doubt we would bother getting the CD or ordering prints. I am also annoyed that we need to “pay” to have attraction photos like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Everest (I think) to be included on our PhotoPass account. I know with Space Mountain you “get” some additional photos added as well (pro shots of the Electrical Light Parade) but I would prefer just to be able to add the attraction photos without an additional fee.
Great article but I have to respectfully disagree with the final verdict. We were on that got well over 100 pictures through photopass and bought the CD along with a discounted photobook. Probably the best souviner of the vacation (other than the memories). I agree not all shots came out perfect but there were several which were perfect, to include baby simba and tinkerbell. I also liked having the “professional” disney pictures included on my CD.
I agree, it’s convenient but relatively expensive and the quality is hit-and-miss. We had “free dining” with mandatory purchase of the Photobook, so we had pictures taken. I would have liked more but my wife doesn’t like posing and the time it takes. Some of the pictures were good but some didn’t even get 100% of us in the frame. We do like the Photobook, but again, at almost $100, it’s pricey.
I agree and disagree with you.. Like everything else, as you said, you have ‘good’ people and ‘not so good’ people. Same here. I’ve had some pictures that were so basic I have no clue how they screwed them up, but they did. BUT I’ve taken pictures under ‘perfect’ conditions and somehow, it screws up. So cant blame them for that. The attitudes, both good and bad, also, totally agree.. Some of the photogs actually want to try to make it too good, so it takes more time that you really didnt want to spend (well, until you see the ‘perfect’ shot they took) Others as you said, here’s your picture, not leave me alone!! The quality of pictures though, photopass USUALLY will have better ‘hard’ shots.. ie: night time since they are set up on nice tripods, get the double exposure etc etc. Those you probably arent going to get very well with your point and shoot. To us, it’s worth it, and make sure if you split up your party, the others get a card, have their pictures taken on their adventures, then just put them all on the same account / CD!!! IMO well worth the $99 when you look at the rest of the costs involved in the trip.. $149, still worth it, but getting the pre-order is the best lol.. We did one photobook and it was very nice to have a hard copy, expensive, but worth it..
The common definition of a professional photographer is one who makes at least 50% of their income through photography. By that definition, PhotoPass photographers are, in fact, professionals. By that same definition, I am not a professional photographer. So I suppose that makes them better than me.
I could rant about PhotoPass for pages, and it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t write this article, because it would be far more one-sided.
From this (non-professional, mind you) photographer’s perspective, PhotoPass is a horrible PRODUCT. The “professionals” rarely have any idea what they’re doing, and are barely familiar with their own equipment. Granted, there are some PhotoPass photographers who are excellent at what they do, and are actually photographers beyond what they do for Disney, but my experience has been that these folks are few and far between. We use PhotoPass regularly (just to take photos of us with my camera), and at least half of them don’t understand the concept of a prime lens (it’s a lens that doesn’t zoom–this is photography 101 for a real photographer). As Cast Members, they’re usually delightful to us just like most Cast Members are, but as photographers, I don’t feel that most are up to snuff. I realize I’m painting with broad strokes here, and as I mentioned above, some ARE excellent. So if you’re a good PhotoPass photographer, please don’t take offense.
Now, as a SERVICE, PhotoPass is wonderful. This is because all of the photographers will take photos of you with YOUR camera. We use this free service all the time, and while the photos don’t always turn out great, it’s tough for me to take photos of us during the daytime hours, so they offer a very useful service. Because of this, I’m glad PhotoPass exists!
Given the fact that PhotoPass will take photos of you with your own camera, it’s very unclear to me why regular Disney guests purchase the photo CDs or photobooks. Most guests would come out far ahead if they purchased a pocket-sized Canon S95, had PhotoPass photographers use that to take their photos, and then purchased photobooks through reputable online photobook services (the quality is higher than Disney’s, in many cases).
After only a couple of trips, you’d come out ahead monetarily. Plus, you’d have a Canon S95, which is an excellent camera. You could use that camera for other photos at the parks, too!
I have PhotoPass photographers (or, in some cases, the character handlers) take photos with my camera, as well.
It’s inconvenient for some reasons not mentioned:
1. Turning-on and handing my camera to someone (or, in a multi-character area, a string of someones) is annoying, and I always worry about dropping my crappy camera during the hand-off. When juggling the baby, backpack, and other stuff, the camera is one more thing to worry about.
2. Despite the fact that I’m pretty soulless when it comes to such things, I think Disney intentionally creates a scenario where many guests irrationally feel guilty for not using the PhotoPass Service. It’s completely stupid, but I feel like I’m robbing the photography team of a commission or something, and end up taking the card, even though I won’t use it.
3. I’ve seen PhotoPass photographers run in to snag “natural” close-ups with kids in order to capture reactions upon meeting characters. They aren’t so enthusiastic with your own camera, so you’re generally stuck with posed shots. Or you can jump in and take similar photos, yourself (without you in them), unless the PhotoPass photographer has the best position.
4. It’s slower to have the photos taken with your own camera, so this slows the line (and also may cause guilt). Things run more efficiently if the PhotoPass photographers are the only ones snapping shots.
All this said, the value of the service is nowhere near $99 or $149 to me, but that’s a personal thing. To others, photos may matter more, or money may matter less. That’s why PhotoPass works for some people and not others.
Your reason #1, David, is exactly the reason why we pre-order the CD. I’m lazy, I admit it. We do LOTS of character meet ‘n’ greets so we end up with 300+ photos the majority of which are decent-to-good quality (and if not, I’m pretty handy in photoshop). I don’t want to have to worry about all our kids and stuff plus getting our DSLR out and hoping the photography knows how to use it. Much less stress for me to use Photopass. I bring along the DSLR for character meals, parades, fireworks, decorations, etc.
I couldn’t agree more. I think Photo Pass is great in the fact that Cast Members will take a photo of my whole group using my camera. I usually take the card out of guilt and then toss it, but I have no guilt in having them take my picture with my camera. I feel that this has a larger percentage of working out better than asking another Disney tourist since CMs shoot this all the time. But I would never actually spend $100+ on a CD when I can get the exact same thing for free.
I’ve gotten the Photopass a few times now. The last being when 7 of us went to the park over 4 days. In all I had 4 cards to upload. Different groups would split up and still had a photopass card to have pictures taken. Thus we had moms with daughters, sisters, cousins, best friends, etc. A great mix of pictures. We ended up with over 400 photos…before adding borders and signatures. Many of us also took pictures with our own cameras and cell phones…which we added to the Photopass. At the end I had over 1000 photos. For $99, I got 2 CD’s holding all our pictures. Plus we got the “staged” shots of all the characters, the major attractions and even the topiaries at Epcot (since we were there during the Flower and Garden festival). We had the traditional “posed” pictures, but also a lot of candid shots. It seemed that as soon as our group approached the character or attraction, the photographer started snapping away. We never got less than 5 shots per photographer. When the CD’s arrived, I downloaded them to my computer, my daughters and then took it to her best friend, my sister-in-law, and my mom’s. We’ve posted them to facebook, made calendars and regular prints at Walmart. I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth and would definitely do it again.
PhotoPass would be worth it at twice the price. It’s an awesome service!! We utilized it to the max and ended up with over 500 pics. My wife and I also each had our own point and shoot camera so we could take pics when the PhotoPass cameras weren’t around and ended up with 100s more.
My only complaint is that the PhotoPass photographers would take pics with personal cameras if asked. That often created delays and longer wait times.
We have used Photopass in the past. The last time we went for 7 days, and with 2 kids, we see plenty of characters. Except for the princesses and fairies, the lines aren’t too bad. We walked out with over 300 photos before editing. There definitely is a difference between photographers. I wouldn’t use this for shorter trips, but it is nice for longer trips.
@Tom, one of the biggest reasons people will do it is the borders you can easily add to the pictures and have them on the CD’s also.. If it wasnt for that, I probably would have them just use my camera. And I still do have that done sometimes.. Now I’m not going to say you cant add your own borders if you are good and want to spend the time and design them or maybe even find something on the web. Like you said, the service side is just awesome. IF they would take away the release form so you can have them printed anywhere, I dont know if I would still get it or not. Actually this upcoming trip and maybe one more with the other part of the family will be it for our photopass just because everyone will have been there. At a certain point it gets to be repetitive also. I have 3 or 4 PP cd’s at home, but they were all with different parts of the family lol… My wife and I are the only thing common in all of them 🙂
Your verdict is spot on, Brian. Also, all of the Photopass examples are clearly washed out by flash, the photos taken with your camera are much more visually pleasing.
You do have a very good point about the “Magic Shots” (the one of your daughter holding Tinkerbell), the backgrounds are not always the best. The photographers are trained to NOT have an “icon” in the background of these shots. Certain magic shots (such as a kissing frog) require specific backgrounds and orientations. Sometimes you get a good background on Main Street, sometimes you do not, but they are trained to avoid having the castle in the background.
I hope this clears up any confusion as to why the background was like this.
I have a wonderful picture of my daughter holding Tinkerbell with the castle in the background. In fact, I have about 12 over various visits.
They are technically not “supposed” to do this, but it’s always a nice photo when the castle and Tink are together. Just like there are no magic shots at night, except for the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Just passing along what I have been told, there are always exceptions and special circumstances!
We bought our first PhotoPass this past year. Mostly because both of our kids were picked for Phineas And Ferb Make a Movie. We were ahead of them and couldn’t get pictures ourselves. Plus we took my parents and mother-in-law for a visit one day so we had to have that group shot. We were disappointed to find out that you can preorder them for $99. I think in the future if we do the pre-order then we would make it a priority to get as many pictures as possible. It’s great that you can now add your Test Track photos to the Photopass. I was even able to add the border that blocked out the extra rider in our car. I hope they start doing that with all of the photo rides. It would be great to have pictures from Splash Mountain on there too!
We took both sets of grandparents to WDW, and pre-bought the CD. We split the cost 3 ways. I added tons of borders etc before the sent the final CD and then made digital copies of the photos for both sets of grandparents. We were all pleased with the results and had some great shots!
Yes. We went with a group of 14 extended family members made up of five family groups. I preordered the cd and planned to split it up 5 ways. It turned out we just split it 3 ways but I felt it was a good value for this large group. Got characters, scenery, BBB, and Pirate League pics as well as the park icons and scenery.
I’m in the “no” camp on this one. As a Disney Visa card member, you have a special perk of Mickey and Minnie PhotoPass with you with minimal wait times. I took a friends mother who goes by the nickname Mickey and when she met the “real” Mickey she was so giddy! Lots of PhotoPass pictures taken. Only 1 taken with our camera. The 1 on our camera turned out badly (not centered, part of Minnie cut out). And they completely lost their own PhotoPass pictures. So it turned a great encounter into a more sour experience trying to track the pictures down and not succeeding.
As a general rule I like taking the pictures on our trips (1400 last time) and I’m by no means talented or even good. But we didn’t get photopass to get great pictures (follow Tom for those). We pre-ordered the CD for piece of mind knowing we would get more pictures of all of us in the “famous places”. My mother in law came with us and at 76, she knew it was her last trip. We now have great pictures of all of us, great because we were all together. Well woth $99, as the pictures are priceless.
We bought the CD last year because we were chosen to be the “First Family”. Before opening they did a photo shoot of us in the fire engine up and down Main St. and posed us in front of the castle etc., and then took pictures of us during the good-morning show from the front of the park perspective, and then back up main st. when the park opened. We were given one free photo from our experience, but we knew immediately that we were suckers and would pay to get all of those awesome once in a life time shots (I’m sure they count on this)- and there were a ton of them. Once we knew we were paying for the CD we did try to use photo pass as much as possible, but many times they weren’t around (Princess Tiana’s meet) or the lines were huge (at icons). We did get a few more great pics, but often our pics were actually much better (basic camera).
One big issue with Photopass was that the person that sold the CD didn’t make it clear that we had to add our boarders before we got the CD and she pushed for us to buy it then and there. She said that we would get the boarders/ characters etc. on the CD, as if we could add them from home, which you can’t if you’ve already got the disc. That was a big disappointment for me. My only option was to add them on- line and then buy another CD for a lower price, but that was just too much. We also got an offer once home for a discounted photopass rate, so we felt stupid for paying full price at the resort.
All & all, unless we had another once in a life time experience, we wouldn’t pay for photo-pass again- too many hidden glitches.
On our recent trip, I was hoping for good shots from Photopass but felt disappointed when I viewed the results. We are also not into waiting in lines to have someone take our picture. Also, we do not wait in any lines to meet characters so we missed out on many would be photopass opportunities. We are not super experienced at WDW but will not be using photopass next time either. I am happy I did not buy the CD. We would have had to spend a lot of precious park time waiting for and then posing for pics. Instead, we took what we could and got generous, kind park guests to help us get some family shots.
The photopass sounds like a great deal, and I won’t have to worry about my camera getting wet.
Because I haven’t been to Disney in several years, I don’t remember how it works, and I have a couple of questions.
Are the pictures that they take on the rides part of the pass or not? I love the screaming pictures.
Are the photopass people available at the character meals?
Generally no with the ride photos, Test Track will allow you to add the picture, but I’m not sure if any others do yet.
As for the character meals the answer is definitely no.
I completely agree about the quality of the photographers! They’ve all seemed simply lovely, but the photos have all been absolutely terrible. I’m not a photographer, but I can do better. Having said that, I’m going to take part in a share for the next trip so that I can watch my son’s first visit through my own eyes rather than through a lens.
The article and responses all make great points. We’ve gotten the PhotoPass CD a few times. It is pricey, and while the photographers are at all the “weenies”, it can sometimes be hard to find them elsewhere. But one thing we have always appreciated about PhotoPass is the presence of photographers at the water parks. We never want to bring our camera to the water parks, so pretty much all the photos we have from TL and BB are PhotoPass ones. We have one of our son bodysurfing at TL, all of us in the lazy river at BB, a few family shots at the end of Teamboat Springs… all pics we would not have otherwise had.
re: water- I bought an Olympus waterproof, drop proof digital camera a few years back and it was the best purchase I ever made. I have no fear of bringing it into waterparks, the pool, splash mountain etc. and have some awesome pictures because of it. You can literally swim underwater and take pics without putting on any addtional waterproof case and I don’t worry about extreme temp changes damaging it (A/C to Fla heat) or the fact that I’m a klutz 🙂
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