How to photograph Disney magic with only your iPhone

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A few weeks ago Julie and I were so incredibly fortunate to take our 3 littles to Disney World.  We’ve been there before, but never like this.

This time we were getting the full enchilada.  You know, “The Disney Experience.”  The resort, the meal plans, the fast passes, and all theme parks meticulously planned out thanks to our incredible Disney travel agent.

So if you go to all this extent to plan the perfect vacation (and pay for it), the big question on my mind:

“What camera am I going to take?”

Haha!

It’s true though, right?

I debated long and hard, and ended up only taking my iPhone X. 

Crazy, I know, considering I have multiple cameras and lenses each worth thousands.  But aside from the incredible convenience, size, and weight advantages of my iPhone, truth is…I also knew it would push me to learn, to be creative, and ultimately be a better teacher.

All the pics you’ve seen on this post were shot (and edited) on my iPhone X only.  No extra lens add-ons or anything else either.  I also shot exclusively in the native Apple Camera app.

Me and my iPhone. BTW, did you know that you can use the volume up or down button on your headphones to release the shutter (aka take a picture)? Yep, you can. It’s a good way to shoot in ninja mode. ๐Ÿ˜‰

So was it worth it?
What did I learn that I can pass on?
Would I do it again?

There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’ll take a few blog posts to get through it (and we will).  But for now, let’s talk about some key tips and some key takeaways.

Trager and Kerbi didn’t want to go on this “baby ride,” but the classic Dumbo ride still stirred up plenty of smiles and laughter. ๐Ÿ™‚

6 Key Tips: How to photograph Disney with only your iPhone.

1. Lock your focus and exposure BEFORE the moment.

Do you ever get hacked off that you keep missing the “perfect moment” because your camera is so dang…SLOW!?  By the time you get it focused and exposed correctly, that smile, laugh, or moment is gone.

Well, there’s good news.

You just need to lock in your focus and exposure before hand.  That way when you press the “take the picture button” it snaps the pic IMMEDIATELY!

You lock focus and exposure by:

  1. Pressing and holding on where you want the focus set to
  2. Swiping up and down to adjust brightness

There’s a couple nuances here that are better shown than written.

 

 

2. Know your iPhone’s sweet spot.

Your iPhone is like any camera/lens combo and has a certain type of pic is does really well, and lot of other pics it doesn’t do really well (but perhaps okay).  I could say a lot here, and have in other places, but let me jump to the biggest practical point I can:

iPhones are great for wide angle photography.  After all, its lens is a 28mm lens equivalent.  Translation: it’s a wide angle lens.  Which means it’s best suited for landscape images, cityscapes, and photojournalism.

28mm makes for a good “environmental portrait” focal length, like this pic of Jules and Trager waiting to eat dinner in my favorite place of all of Disney World: Africa at Animal Kingdom.

But when it comes to “proper” portraits, the kind where you fill the frame with just your kids head and shoulders, you’ll have to get so close to your subject that the wide angle lens will do some funky distortion to your kids face shape and whatnot.  You’ve probably never noticed it because…you’ve never shot with a proper portrait lens, which is honestly 85mm and longer.  To see what I mean though: here’s and example from our iPhone Photography Course For Parents where we take a “proper portrait with an iPhone and then and 85mm lens:

 

With the iPhone, I have to get so close to Payson to fill the frame for a “proper” portrait that you can clearly see the effects of lens barrel distortion to his face shape. Translation: wide angle lenses stink for close up portraiture (as far as face shape is concerned).
In comparison, here’s a “proper” (close up) portrait with an 85mm lens on a fancy camera. See how his face looks more…well…like Payson? ๐Ÿ™‚

So, when taking pics of your kids with an iPhone, “environmental” portraits are best.  Meaning, stand far away enough from your kids to where you’re not distorting their face.  This most likely means you’ll need to be at least a few steps away from your kid and you’ll have to then include some background.

But with some good compositional technique, you can choose your backgrounds wisely and thus make it more like “environmental portraits” (where the background is well placed to add context and great story elements) instead of portraits with a bunch of “noise” in the background.  Which brings me to the next point.

“Fly again soon”… the pic changes completely without this bit of context in the composition.

3. Go back to the basics of composition

When you have a wide angle lens, it’s critical that you get a handle on the basics of composition.  If you don’t, your pictures will just be info overload.  If you do, you’ll craft pictures that draw the viewers eye to your subject.

These basics include:

  • The Rule of Thirds
  • Balance
  • Leading Lines
  • Negative Space
  • Perspective
Composition basics: The rule of thirds, low perspective, framing…the all work to draw the viewers eye to Kerbi, even in a chaotic scene.

The best place to start understanding even a couple of these (which even a couple will make a huge difference) is with our FREE 7-Part [Snackable] Photo Course.
.

 
Kerbi can’t look. ๐Ÿ™‚

4. Go back to the basics of lighting

Ditto point #2 but with lighting.  You absolutely must learn a few key tricks to place your kiddo in soft, open, beautiful light with your iPhone.

Again, the 60 second tips in this free email course will get you onto the right path the quickest.  It’ll teach you the main trick to get your kids in beautiful soft light every single time.

Light basics: choose open sky for a soft main light and direct sun behind as an accent light.

5. Use portrait mode

For those of you with an iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus, or X, you can place a big ole’ “exception” beside point #1 above.  These iPhone versions actually have a second 50 mm lens on the rear facing camera.  This gives your iPhone camera more reach (zoom), and thus less facial distortion for those “proper” portraits.

And it gets better.

In portrait mode, your iPhone will combine that 50mm lens with some auto-magical post processing to blur the background.  The result: pics shot in portrait mode look a lot more like fancy camera pics! And while we’re here, this is Julie, our fearless leader, who worked hard, saved, and paid for every single penny of this trip. Thanks, Jules!

Nearly all of the images on this page were shot on portrait mode, and then further edited to make them look like I shot them on $5,000 camera/lens combo.  Speaking of editing…

Bonus Tip: EDIT your pics!

If you’re not doing a few simple edits to your pics, you’re leaving a TON of impact and improvement on the table.  Plain and simple.

If I showed you the “before edit” and “after edit” pics of the worlds best photographers, your jaw would drop.  Whether you like it or not, editing is a huge part of creating amazing images.

But this is good news!  Truth is, you’re probably already taking some amazing images, you just need to learn a few editing tricks! 

Every single one of the images on this page were edited in Instagram.  For two of these pics, I also used the Retouch App to remove some people from the images.  Stay tuned for a blog post coming in the near future where I’m going to walk you step by step through my editing process for these pics.

Yeah there were people here! I just edited them out real quick (all on my phone). ๐Ÿ™‚

Would I take only my iPhone next time?

So with all of the tips out of the way, I did want to make a mention of just 2 key takeaways.  The first is for all the dozens of folks who wrote in asking me if I’d only take my iPhone again (who were on their way to Disney soon).

1. Fancy cameras (DSLRs, mirrorless, etc) are indeed better for two main reasons:

  1. Responsiveness.  Everything about my fancy camera is just faster.  And not just faster, but more responsive. Focus acquisition happens instantly and stays locked on far better with my fancy camera.  Way less shutter lag (the time it take to actually take the pic after pressing the “take the picture button”).  And changing settings to get my picture dialed in exactly how I want it is just…much faster…on my fancy camera.Bottom line: yes, I would have gathered many times more “keepers” with my fancy camera compared to just my iPhone.  No doubt about it folks.  No doubt.
  2. Low light ability.  You’re in low light a LOT at Disney.  All the rides and restaurants.  And there’s no doubt that my fancy camera would’ve faired way better in these situations.  I would have been able to focus quicker and better in low light, as well as get a cleaner file after.  And I would have been able to avoid blurry pics in these dark situations.
All the low light stuff would’ve turned out way better on my fancy camera. Focus would’ve been way faster and results would’ve been less blurry.

Sure, there’s other advantages to the fancy camera.  At the end of the day the quality is better, the bokeh would’ve been way better, the entire deal would’ve been “better.”  But…at the expense of lugging around a heavy camera, and lenses, all in a big bag, over 20,000 steps a day…and on rollercoasters.  So it’s a matter of weighing the costs.  Perhaps the iPhone IS good enough… ??  ๐Ÿ˜‰

2. Understanding Photography is more important than fancy cameras.

This of course is a no brainer.  At the end of the day, I’m amazed at the iPhone and the pics it allowed me to capture of such a precious time in our family’s life.  Your camera should get about as much credit for your great pics as your oven should get for your great pies.

And that’s good news for all of us and for all our cameras, which are just tools.  Learn to use these tools, and even more, learn the fundamentals of photography in general, and you’ll be well on your way to creating priceless pics of your family, kids, and all the memories along the way.

Both Jules and the African dancer failed to get Kerbi to dance. ๐Ÿ™‚

That said, stay tuned for more from this little iPhone only adventure.  As mentioned, we’ll have some follow up posts to this one, including how to use Portrait mode as well as an editing walk through.  Click here to be notified of when those posts go live.

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16 thoughts on “How to photograph Disney magic with only your iPhone”

    1. Same exact tips as this post Alisa, except you might not be able to apply tip #4 if your Android doesn’t have a feature similar to Portrait mode. Otherwise, all these tips apply. Thanks!

  1. Bethany Montgomery

    Appreciate you sharing what youโ€™ve learned so much! I love getting your emails. Thank you for sharing your passion with a heart to teach others.

  2. So you sold me on the iPhone Photography Course for Parents (even though I have a Pixel 2!), but enrollment is currently closed. Will you be opening it up again soon?

  3. Thanks Kyle!
    A lot of great information! Iโ€™m glad you got some great shots with your back pocket camera.
    One tip you could mention is to keep the lens of your phone clean. It gets foggy or greasy easily but is a cinch to wipe clean.

  4. This email made my day! We are going to Disney soon and Iโ€™m looking forward to photographing my kids with my iPhone. Itโ€™s as if you read my mind. Thanks

  5. Thank you! I love the e-mails and all the tips! I’m already a SPS member ๐Ÿ™‚ Just need to get back on track and catch up!!

  6. Thank you so much for this email. I still do not own a smartphone, but this information will be great for one I do. My family and I went to Disney in October 2016. I, too, was debating the fancy camera issue. Well, I really wanted to have my fancy camera along, so I just used my nifty fifty, f1.8, and did just fine! Thanks so much for SPS! I’ve learned so much, but still need to go back and review!

  7. Great tips! I would love to sign up for the 1 minute IPhone Photography Course for Parents email course. Is this separate from the class that opened in December? Sadly I missed the sign up โ˜น๏ธ

    1. Hi Gabrielle,

      We have a 7 Part Snackable course delivered via email or the iPhone Photography Course which is a paid course (that was open in late November). The 7Part Snackable you can sign up for on our main page at https://shultzphotoschool.com . The iPhone course isn’t open presently, but you can sign up to be notified when it does open using the link in the blog post. Hope that helps!

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