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Thursday, May 12, 2022

What Happened to the PhotoPass Photographers?

 by Beth Keating



May 12, 2022


I am, much to my son’s chagrin, a collector of PhotoPass photos. If the cast member happens to be a purveyor of Magic Shots, so much the better. If left to my own devices, I would spend most of my day hitting up Magic Shots for fun, rather than waiting on hour-long lines for rides.  


(If you haven’t heard of Magic Shots, those are the specialty photos where Disney magically surprises you by digitally inserting adorable characters or backgrounds into your posed pic. You don’t typically know what they are going to be until the shot shows up on your PhotoPass account.)

And, for reference, I am not in the least bit photogenic. I just love the whimsy and memories inspired by the park photos. My photo albums are full of my kids cradling a baby Simba at Animal Kingdom, laughing at Stitch and his ice cream cone at Hollywood Studios, pointing to a flying Figment at EPCOT, posing with a tiny Tinkerbell in hand at Magic Kingdom, or looking (sort of) terrified of the Headless Horseman at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. If I spot a PhotoPass photographer with a prop, I am immediately on that line, waiting my turn.


My youngest son, however, does not feel the same. He abhors the photo taking process. He and I have a deal now when we go into the parks. I am allowed to include him in “one” PhotoPass stop per day, and after that I am on my own.  So, I tend to be choosy about which photo stop I request his presence in.


On Mother’s Day, we were visiting Magic Kingdom. By all rights of the holiday, it was supposed to be my turn to set the agenda for the day. I was in charge of picking the rides, shows, etc., because, you know, it was Mother’s Day. But I had only one real objective. Now that up-close character experiences have returned, I wanted a visit with Mickey at Town Square Theatre with his 50th anniversary outfit for my photo collection.  


So, we waited on a line for 35 minutes, and finally stepped into the room to meet the Big Mouse himself … and discovered that the dreaded photobox had returned to the rooms, with no PhotoPass photographer in sight.  If you aren’t familiar with them, the “photoboxes” are wall mounted, automated cameras that take a wide angle shot at a specific moment. 


Note to Disney: The photoboxes don’t work. They didn’t work before COVID closure, and they don’t work now.  All the spontaneity of the photos is missing, and the PhotoPass photographers who used to engage in the banter and the directions of the Meet and Greet really added to the experience, and helped get the perfect photos. They knew when to snap the un-posed, candid shots of kids’ reactions and character hugs.  My photo of the day was just…okay.


In fact, it took additional time from our park day to get our photos straightened out.  When we tapped our Magic Band to the tapstyle on the way out of the Meet and Greet room at the direction of the character attendant, the kiosk registered “success!”  But when the photos showed up on our account half an hour later, they were adorable… but not our family. A cute little girl, her autograph book, and her grandfather had seven photos with Mickey on my phone. My family was nowhere to be seen.  


If I had been a less alert guest, and not checked my photos before leaving the park, I might have been out of luck. But since I am photo obsessed, I check it regularly to see the Magic Shots and ride photos come through.  When I realized fairly quickly that we were connected to the wrong photos, I headed to Guest Services to see if we could solve the problem without having to go back through the Meet and Greet room again. Guest services sent us to the PhotoPass counter at Town Square Theatre, where they were able to retrieve my two lonely photos, one of which had people’s eyes closed, so I got one usable photo for our experience.  And the picture of me hugging Mickey?  Hadn’t been taken by the photobox.  We just had two posed group shots.


Now, I might not be as disappointed if I thought that the photoboxes were just a temporary fix with the struggle that so many Central Florida businesses are having in finding and hiring staff.  But as we stepped outside of Town Square Theatre, a mere 15 minutes before the afternoon parade, there were at least five PhotoPass photographers lined up down Main Street, waiting to take guests’ photos in front of the castle.  Let me emphasize that part again… “waiting to take photos.”  Of the three photographers closest to us as we walked down Main Street, looking for a seat for the parade, the cast members were on stand-by for guests who wanted photos, but they didn’t have any takers. Nary a line to be seen. Not a camera shutter going off.


I totally understand the backed-up lines those photographers experience at the beginning of the day, when guests are first entering the park looking for the perfect shot with the castle. But several of the mid-day photographers were actually walking over to the crowds sitting on curbs in anticipation of the parade, and asking them if they wanted their pictures taken.  It seems that a reshuffling of assignments, putting real photographers instead of a machine box back in the Meet and Greet room, would garner nicer photos and probably fewer tech glitches, while making better use of the men and women who were customer-less on Main Street. Plus, it’s likely that more attractive and endearing Meet and Greet photos would generate greater photo sales at the end of the day. Just sayin’.


I love the PhotoPass photographers. They have been a part of many significant moments in my life… our honeymoon photos; anniversary trips; my kids’ graduation photos; our first time visiting with our new grandbaby post-COVID lockdowns. And in every one of those instances, the personalities of the photographers and their decisions of how to pose us, snapping candid shots along the way, have provided me with a lifetime of memories.  In many cases, I wouldn’t even have been in the family photo at all without their expertise, because I likely would have been the one behind the camera, taking everyone else’s picture.  PhotoPass allows me to be in the memory, too.


Sadly, the photobox on the wall in Mickey’s dressing room didn’t get that right on Mother’s Day. I might be in the one solitary picture we received, but it was surely missing some of the magic.



Beth Keating is a theme parks, restaurant and entertainment reporter for DisneyBizJournal.


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