I got my DVD today with all of the photos from our 2008 Disney Vacation. Some outstanding – some that would have been better left on the Disney servers. But overall I was happy with what we got. I was going to post a short review of the DVD, but the blog has been getting a lot of traffic for PhotoPass, so I’ve decided to post a full review instead. Here we go:
Basic Overview: What is PhotoPass?
Disney’s PhotoPass is basically a service where “professional” photographers take your pictures at “numerous” locations around Disney’s four main theme parks and water parks. You are given a special card with a unique ID code for viewing and ordering photos online. You may purchase the photos “al la carte” as printed and finished images or you may purchase all of your images on DVD – or both.
Already familiar with the service and just want the review and tips? Scroll down – you will see it in red.
Cost: Is it expensive?
There is no cost to have your photo taken by a photographer and no limit to the number of poses and photos you can ask them to take. In other words – there is no sitting fee and no obligation to purchase the photos once you view them. However, if you want to buy a photo, here are the current costs as listed on the Disney PhotoPass website. These prices do not include sales tax and shipping costs:
A La Carte Photos (printed and finished):
2- 4x6s $12.95
1 – 5×7 $12.95
1 – 5×7 & 4 Wallets $19.95
1 – 8×10 $16.95
1 – 16×20 $29.95
1 – 16×20 on canvas $99.95
PhotoPass DVD with all photos and image release for self printing:
(The photos on DVD is by far the best value in my opinion and yes
you can take them to Walgreens and print as many as you want!)
(buy DVD before you go)
(buy DVD after vacation)
Other products are available such as coffee mugs, mouse pads, photo panels, t-shirts, etc. There is even a really cool photo book option.
If you are on a tight budget, PhotoPass would not be where I splurged. The PhotoPass photographers will use YOUR camera to take the same poses and photos. This means you don’t get access to the web site and special effects and boarders – but you would still get some cool pics with YOU in them!
Quality: Are they really professional portraits?
The photographers scattered around the parks did not seem to be “professionals” in my opinion as claimed on the Disney PhotoPass web site. I talked to one cast member who told me that most are not degreed, hold no photography certification, work hourly on a slightly above minimum wage pay, and applied as “will train – no experience necessary.” While I have no way of knowing whether their statement is true, I did speak to two that were retired photographers.
In any case, the photo quality is hit and miss – and mostly miss! Many of our photos were grossly out of focus, underexposed and in need of PhotoShop, or overexposed with certain areas of the photo unrecoverable.
However, I was prepared to consider it a success if we got just a few good images of our entire family and at least one outstanding photo with a park icon. We got that and more.
So, don’t let the inconsistent quality scare you off – I still think it’s worth the money – but be prepared for a lot of scrap photos that are not good for much.
How to use Disney’s PhotoPass: My reccomendations
Again, I have been to Walt Disney World more times that I care to admit. Needless to say – I am at WDW junkie. However, I didn’t know a lot about PhotoPass before our last vacation in June 2008. I read the reviews – but I never had a sense that I knew exactly how to use the service. Hopefully, this will save you some grief:
Step 1: Pre-purchase
I will give a detailed review of PhotoPass as we go, but you are going to want ALL of these pics – good ones and bad ones. So save a few bucks and pre-purchase your photos by going to this web site: http://www.disneyphotopass.com/previsitcdplan.aspx
Step 2: Plan
As you will read later, it’s hard to know exactly where all of the photographers are located, but there is SOME consistency that makes planning easy. So, in order to get your money’s worth, you are going to want to plan some photo sessions.
I thought it would be worth the $99 if we got only ONE trophy photo we could use as a Christmas card photo or fun family portrait for our living room bookshelf. So we planed two photo opportunities then just went with the flow the rest of the time. For our photo, we wanted a park icon in the background.
You can always (or err 99.9% of the time) count on photographers to be close to the entrances of the parks. These photos are generally good and have the park’s icon in the background. After we figured out the routine, my family planned ahead on the poses we wanted, how we would stand, and sometimes what we would wear. This is important because like everything at Disney – there is a line and a certain degree of herding folks in and out.
Another place you will consistently find a PhotoPass photographer is with the Disney Characters. However, this falls under the 99% too because at certain meet-n-greets there wasn’t a photographer to be seen.
Finally, there is a full service PhotoPass studio in Downtown Disney. The studio has multiple backgrounds, nice basic props and no appointment is necessary – this alone makes it worth the money.
Step 3: Get a card and document the number!!
You get your “PhotoPass” or “photo card” from ANY PhotoPass photographer. However, you only need ONE card.
This is important if you are getting your photos on DVD because you can only have ONE account associated with each DVD purchase. I assume this is to keep multiple parties from combining their cards and splitting the cost of the DVD.
However, if you do find that your family has multiple cards – don’t stress out – you just take all of the cards to a Disney photo center before you leave and they can consolidate the photos into one account number.
The most important this about this service though is your account number! If you loose it before you have had a chance to log into the PhotoPass web site – it’s tough luck! So as soon as you get it – write the number down, take a picture of it with your personal camera, enter it as a contact number in your cell phone – whatever – just don’t loose it!
Step 4: Get your pictures taken at every opportunity!
Hey, you paid for the service – so it’s up to YOU to use it! Don’t expect the PhotoPass photographers to look for you either. You will have to proactively find the photographer and ask to use the service.
And remember, do NOT be afraid to tell them to take your picture multiple times and in multiple poses until you are comfortable you got the shots. We found it a LOT easier to TELL the photographer to “take this shot – ok, now take it this way…” rather than asking. Folks that were shy often got only two or three shots. And with the inconsistent quality of the photographers and photos – you are going to want as many pictures of the same pose as possible. This is why it was easier and more time efficient to have an idea of what you want before you get in front of the camera.
Step 5: Review and repeat if needed
The photos are posted to your account in a very timely manner. We brought a laptop with us and by the time we got back to our room, we usually saw all of the photos we just had taken at the parks for that day. Sometimes we would be missing a few photos – but they were always there by the next morning.
If you don’t have the luxury of a laptop, you can visit any Disney photo location and they will be more than happy to pull up your photos on a viewing screen.
I read reviews where some people’s photos were lost – completely! We did not have this problem, but we did have a LOT of out of focus photos and photos with poor exposure. So it’s important to review your photos – if they missed/messed up an important one – go back and get it again!
Step 6: Add boarders and special effects to all photos
Once your photos are online, Disney provides you several special features including many boarders and special effects. You can add as many of these effects as you want to each image. In other words – you can use 8 different boarders and effects on the same photo – thus making you have 9 different photos! Best of all, all nine photos are included on your DVD!
Step 7: Order your DVD
Once you have your entire set of photos enhanced and ready – order your DVD. Our DVD arrived within two days of ordering and included about 350 photos. I’ve read reviews and talked to people who have received as many as 900 photos on multiple DVDs! I think it’s a stretch to think they had 900 individual images – but you can easily turn 300-400 photos into 900 different images once you add boarders, cropping and special effects!
Review of Disney’s PhotoPass Service: My Experience
As a professional photographer I was a little skeptical about PhotoPass after I read the lukewarm reviews in several online forums. But the mere idea of me being able to leave my camera or “work” behind was a chance I was willing to take!
Now, before you get too excited – DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAMERA AT HOME!!! I can NOT stress that enough. Disney’s PhotoPass service is not intended to be a substitute for your camera – but an enhancement to your own photo memories.
With that said – I was very excited to get my PhotoPass card and on the first day of our vacation we went to Epcot. To my absolute surprise we could not find ONE PhotoPass photographer at the park’s entrance. We searched around for 5 minutes or so then asked a cast member where we could find photographers. In a nutshell – they don’t know either! I was beginning to think we just wasted $99!
Fortunately, we rode Test Track first and low and behold that attraction is PhotoPass enabled. We finally got a PhotoPass card and I was beginning to get really excited when I discovered the attraction photos were included on the PhotoPass. But my bubble was quickly burst when I found out that Test Track is currently the only attraction that is included on PhotoPass. I was told by several cast members that the service will eventually – but slowly – roll out to the other attractions such as Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, etc. To my knowledge, as of June 2008, there is no “estimated time of delivery” of PhotoPass to other attractions.
So as we cruised around Epcot, I was expecting to see photographers around World Showcase. Nada! Zero! Zilch! I was so disappointed and ready to start looking for that money back guarantee. We finally saw a photographer at a character meet-n-greet, but there was a long to see “Jasmine” and our kids were not really into it – so we moved on to the next ride. After a long day at the park, we headed back to the hotel. That’s when we FINALLY spotted two photographers at the Epcot entrance directly behind the ticket stalls.
They were very friendly and professional and happily fulfilled all of our photo requests. They were also somewhat intrigued we didn’t see many (3) photographers – but not surprised. They told us we probably see more at the other parks. They were right.
Without going into a lot of boring detail – we saw many more photographers at the other parks. However, this was the formula I observed. Photographers are stationed at or near the park entrances where there is a clear view of the park’s icon and around the majority of the characters. Beside that – we hardly ever saw a random photographer at a scenic spot taking photos.
That was disappointing because there are so many scenic areas – especially at the Animal Kingdom – where a PhotoPass photo would have been great. For instance, one place I thought we would see a photographer was on the bridge going into Asia where Mt. Everest is in the background.
In any case, we finally found enough photographers around the parks to make the PhotoPass service worthwhile.
One place in particular that the PhotoPass shines is at the water parks. I didn’t want to keep up with any camera – even a waterproof disposable – while we were at Blizzard Beach. And much to our enjoyment we saw at least 5-6 photographers stationed at different spots including the wave pool, lazy river, kids area, front entrance, and at the end of Summit Plummet. The majority of the photos were good and were certainly good enough where I would feel comfortable leaving my camera at the room for the day.
But the water park is one place you can get messed up on multiple PhotoPass cards. The photographers were usually busy and would scan new cards instead of asking if you already had one. When we left the park – we had four cards all of a sudden! But again, they can consolidate the photos onto one account by visiting any Disney photo store.
As the week went on and we had more and more photos added to our PhotoPass account, we shared our photos by emailing a special link provided on the PhotoPass web site to friends and family. Everyone could open and view the photos without any problems at all – and they could even see the ones we edited and added boarders and special effects to.
Another place PhotoPass earns its keep is at Downtown Disney. Here they have a photo studio with competent and kid friendly photographers. I also found that the studio provided the highest quality images. Albeit a bit basic, the studio had several backgrounds and props to choose from. Best of all, there is no sitting fee or appointment required for the studio – which in my opinion – made PhotoPass worth the money.
Since we stumbled upon it, we didn’t use the studio to its fullest potential. If you are getting your child a “makeover” at “Bibbity Bobbity Boutique,” then getting their pictures made at the studio is a no brainer! However, our kids were not into the makeovers and if I had it to do over again – we would have picked out some cool Disney t-shirts and character hats and had a fun family portrait made. When we go back next year, this will be a top photo priority while we are at Downtown Disney. Again – to maximize the PhotoPass value – you HAVE to plan!
So after we got back home, we reviewed the photos and added boarders to the ones we liked. Using the special code provided when you pre-pay, we sent off for the pictures. Our DVD arrived two days later with ALL of our pictures.
All of the images are 300 dpi and suitable for printing up to 11×14. You might be able to squeeze a 16×20 or larger from the images made at the studio. The smallest file on the disk was about 1.9 MB and the largest was around 4 MB.
We had a lot of out of focus images at the Magic Kingdom during the night shots with the castle in the background. Apparently the photographer hit the manual focus button on the lens and thought she was auto focusing. Most of our images from that night are too fuzzy to save. We did get a few good ones from a different photographer on the side of the castle going into Tomorrow Land. But our son was so tired of photos at this point that he stopped having a “natural” smile….lol
Now, the exposure problem was a little worse at Animal Kingdom. I suspect that since the lighting condition vary greatly here that the inexperienced photographers have a hard time getting the exposure correct. I also suspect that they were all using auto mode and thus the background was blown out or the subject was way too dark.
I was able to save our underexposed images with a little PhotoShop help, but the overexposed images are a different story. At Camp Minnie Mickey – my daughter’s shirt is blown out in every single photo with every character. In some cases our faces are overexposed as well. Since the photos were greatly overexposed – there wasn’t a lot I could do with most of them. Some of them were so bad I just deleted them.
Back to the DVD – it was delivered in a nice DVD case and worked flawlessly. The limited image release was included as promised and we had no issues whatsoever printing them.
So – the bottom line is: PhotoPass is far from being perfect and is in no way a substitute for bringing a camera to the parks. However, the service did provide some great family pictures that would have otherwise been a hassle to get and the photographers at the water parks made enjoying the fun a little easier.
The $99 for all of your images is really a bargain – especially if you have priced out the same service from your local professional photographer. I look forward to seeing how the service progresses – especially the training for the “photographers.”
In the end we got the one photo we wanted and a lot more for the scrapbook and some others suitable for framing.
But if you are looking for crystal clear professional quality photos – this is NOT your bag. If you are on a tight budget – I would save my money. However, if you have the extra dough – it’s a nice perk. Either way – get a PhotoPass card and enjoy – it’s FREE to try and is a low cost way for friends and family to see your images while you are on vacation!