Set four alarms with an increasing number of expletives and threats, program the coffee maker to “automatic brew”, and wake up every 60 minutes in a panic feeling like you slept through my alarms.
These are the three essential steps to waking up early and photographing a theme park.
My name is Doug Young and my greatest passion is photographing theme parks. I moved to central Florida strictly to enjoy Disney and Universal Studios as much as possible. I started posting on social media to keep my family updated and two years later I’m hopelessly addicted to photographing the beautiful parks I call my backyard.
For today’s Motivation Monday it’s time to get out of bed bright and early, to open up the Magic Kingdom with thousands of other people. While they are looking to get the first ride on the Seven Dwarves Mine Train or blast through Space Mountain, we have other plans. We’re going to plan our way to victory so we can capture pictures of Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom… completely empty. Or at least we’re going to make it look that way with smart angles, knowledge of the park, and understanding of how the Magic Kingdom was built.
With tens of thousands of visitors daily, my first challenge is timing. To maximize the amount of time in the park with good light and minimal crowds I pick my day carefully. I check park hours for the Magic Kingdom and find a day when it opens at 9:00am. This is true on most weekdays. I avoid days with morning extra magic hours, these days have higher crowds at open. The next step is obtaining a dining reservation to the “Be Our Guest” restaurant, located in the far side of Fantasyland. This restaurant is unique in that it has it’s first available reservation at 8:00am daily regardless of park open time. Be Our Guest is also located furthest into the park, giving me more opportunity for unique shots. 8:00am and 8:15am Be Our Guest reservation holders are let into the park early, generally at 7:45am, to allow for travel time to the restaurant and timely check in. The rest of the guests are generally let in around 8:00am regardless of the posted open time to line up for photos and enjoy the welcome show performed in front of Cinderella Castle. An 8:15am reservation gives me a solid 30 minutes to shoot to my heart’s content.
Next, I need the lay of the land. I check google maps and see that Main Street USA travels north from the entrance towards the castle. Tomorrowland is to the East and therefore will have the sun rising over it. My plan is to shoot Main Street USA first, try and use the road and castle to create a fun symmetric shot. Then, I will slowly move towards the castle using angles and scenery to block out lingering guests and create the illusion of an empty park. After the central area in front of the castle becomes too busy I’ll shoot towards the east and capture landmarks and Tomorrowland with the same strategy. Finally I’ll head to my dining reservation on the path to the west of the castle, using the sun to create lens flares, light rays, and a beautifully backlit castle. Final step? By 8:15am I hope to arrive to enjoy a well deserved breakfast, because waking up early is tough.
Finally it’s time to back it all up and organize. I’ll head home at the end of my park day and prepare to upload. I shoot with a Sony A7III writing to two SD cards simultaneously. I upload these to my Lightroom library and backup using time machine. Once I have my first copy in Lightroom and my backup is complete I immediately format both cards so I’m ready for my next shoot. If i’ve been smart with my shots and don’t need to manipulate the image itself I’ll do all my edits in Lightroom. I only bring one out of every ten of my images into photoshop for extra pizazz or removal of something ugly. Export my favorites to the creative cloud and BAM they’re ready to post to social!
Now the big question, WHY? Why wake up so early to photograph a theme park empty? Try and recall a really special vacation, think about all of those wonderful memories and how they made you feel… can you feel it? Those emotions welling up inside? That is why I photograph theme parks empty. As Disney fans from all over the world see my images I hope to bring them back to the parks without distractions. I want them to see the important stuff, a beautiful castle at sunrise, and feel like they’re back on vacation even if only for a moment. This feeling, that monetary escape, is why I shoot.
I hope you all have had fun following along for my morning shoot! Please say hey on instagram, check out a youtube video, or contact me through any other social platform! I love making new friends and connections!
With much love,
Doug is one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet, and having him show me around Disney’s Magic Kingdom was amazing! I hope you all see more of him soon, but in the meantime you can follow him on Instagram or YouTube.