My Review of Disney's PhotoPass Service at Walt Disney World
Photos from Oct 2007 trip - by Frank Phillips

Disney offers a service that - while a fabulous concept for park guests - leaves much to be desired in terms of true value...the PhotoPass service.  If you've ever been in one of the parks and wondered who those folks are who stand in one spot waiting to take your picture - those are the PhotoPass photographers.  I recently took my family to WDW and was lured by a "pre-trip" email offer of an entire CD of all of my PhotoPass photos for $99 (a savings of $20 off the after-trip price) with a money-back satisfaction guarantee if I do not like the photos provided by the PhotoPass service.  So on this trip I made a special effort to get as many PhotoPass photos as I possibly could get.

In a nut-shell, I did order the CD (which means I do like the overall set of photos) but I also have some serious reservations about the value of this service...the value could be vastly improved if Disney would spend a little bit of time training the PhotoPass photographers how to take a good photo.  Why am I such a critic?  Well, for one thing, I paid $99 for the photos on this CD, and I think that entitles me to critique it.  Second, I am a very experienced photographer - having won an International Photo Award in 2003 and having been named "Master of the Macro" by the 2004 National Photo Awards.  My photos have been published in numerous magazines and books, and my work has been used in various nature-type museums.  I worked my way through college by doing work as an event photographer doing exactly the same kind of work as PhotoPass does.

As for my credentials as a "Disney lover" - I have been to WDW five times in 3 years, and I always stay at the Polynesian or the Contemporary - so I'm putting my money where my mouth is...I love going to Disney.  When I take my family to Disney, I expect to come back with several "trophy" photos from the trip, so I take this very seriously - take a look at this collage of photos from my first four trips:

To put this review into perspective, during this latest trip I was shooting with a $199 Sony W55 (7 megapixel) point-and-shoot camera with no special equipment or attachments.  The PhotoPass photographers were shooting with far superior equipment - Nikon D40 digital SLR cameras with Nikon lenses and external Nikon flashes (about $800 worth of equipment).  As you can see from my samples below, even very good equipment does not guarantee a good photo unless the person using the equipment has been properly trained how to use it...and that is my primary complaint about the PhotoPass photos.

First - comparative samples of photos taken with my "amateur" camera vs photos taken by PhotoPass with "pro" cameras.  These are unretouched photos - no sharpening, color correction, or anything - mine are straight out of the camera (but sized down).  I don't know what (if anything) the PhotoPass service did to theirs.

My Photo with Sony W55 ($199 point and shoot camera) Disney's PhotoPass Photo w/ Nikon D40 ($800 digital SLR)

These two photos are pretty comparable - theirs might be a little better than mine because their external flash eliminated the red-eye effect.

This is mine - shot level and from the proper perspective.

This one is simply pathetic.  Look how the photographer shot "down" from too high of an angle, and see how the shot is slanted and out of balance, not to mention cutting off the feet!

no PhotoPass photo

because photographer said

"my camera is down"




Imagine how you would feel if you had stood in line for an hour at Epcot waiting for a shot with Goofy - only to hear the PhotoPass photographer say "my camera is down".  Totally unacceptable.  There were 4 PhotoPass photographers stationed there and Disney should have one piece of stand-by equipment on hand for this exact situation.

Second - examples of some really BAD photos because the photographers haven't been properly trained (see comments below each picture):

What in the world is this???  Who wants a shot of Minnie with an unidentifiable 3 year old?

This one is pretty's easier to see in a larger size, but the entire photo is fuzzy - not because it's out of focus, but because the photographer's hands were moving while he/she took the photo.  There's no way you could get a decent print from this one.

...yet another one with unidentifiable kids and characters...

...and another one...

..and one more.  Who would buy this photo?

What gives?  Feet cut off, head cut off, shooting at a "down" angle...yuck!!!

Slanted, crowded, body parts cut off... 'nuff said.

Third - some examples of some good shots (and yes, they did get some good ones) and some of the neat effects that you can use with Disney's online service before you order the photos or CD.

Properly framed and composed - a winning shot.

Check out Mickey's autograph - this is one of the cool features available to you when you use the PhotoPass service.  You get the "original" photo and the one with the autograph or logo.

This one's pretty good - no body parts cut off and you can tell who everyone is.

This one is very well done...posed well and plenty of room to crop down.

This one is perfect - well lit and well framed.

This photo's not bad, but look at the great logo you can add at the bottom of it!

Summary: While I was able to "beat" the PhotoPass photos in many of my shots, they did get a few gems that I could not have gotten if I wanted to also be in the picture.  And with the money-back pre-trip guarantee, there's no reason to not go ahead and order it before your trip - if you look at the photos online and don't see anything you simply can't live without, then you just get a refund of your $99 purchase price.  Adding the logos and autographs is a really neat value, too.

However, I must "take Disney to task" about their lack of training with some of their photographers...a small investment of training time on their part (in photo framing technique) would go a long way toward providing lots more value to the PhotoPass service.