This photographer uses Disney theme parks for magical inspiration
There are many people who have dreams but sit on them their whole life. Doug Young is not one of those people. If there’s one example out there of packing up to follow your dream, this is it. Doug is known on Instagram as @dougdoesdisney and this account was a dream he pushed to reality.
Hailing from Massachusetts, Doug packed his whole life up to move to Florida. The aim was to be close to the house of mouse, and the results are, honestly, phenomenal. Nothing but Disney has inspired Doug to hone his passion for photography. The aim of this post is to share some inspiration with you, too.
Florida sunsets are spectacular even on a bad day. What Doug does to them is the result of careful manipulation of reality in some images, and complete composites in others. The level of imagination involved in creating some of those images is apparently the result of pure fantasy. It could even come straight from the desk of a Disney Imagineer. It’s clear from Doug’s images that alongside pushing the limits of photography, he has also incorporated a considered level of manipulation. Learning Photoshop as one hobby via another, that being Disney, must be a great way to enhance education.
When asked about his passion for photography, here’s what Doug had to say: –
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 three years later I’m hopelessly addicted to photographing the beautiful parks I call my backyard.
There’s a lot of planning involved in achieving the shots Doug gets. I had the opportunity to wander the Magic Kingdom with him. He told me how he does it, and he wants you to know, too. There are some great gems in here!
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.
Doug demonstrates just what we can do when we combine our other passions together with our passion for photography. It was an absolute pleasure to explore Disney with him. He will soon being a new adventure. You can follow him on Instagram or YouTube for more.
Dave Williams is an accomplished travel photographer, writer, and best-selling author from the UK. He is also a photography educator and published Aurora expert. Dave has traveled extensively in recent years, capturing stunning images from around the world in a modified van. His work has been featured in various publications and he has worked with notable brands such as Skoda, EE, Boeing, Huawei, Microsoft, BMW, Conde Nast, Electronic Arts, Discovery, BBC, The Guardian, ESPN, NBC, and many others.