December 4, 2004.
The gates to EPCOT at Walt Disney World opened to guests who were ready to make memories, and that morning, be offered to have them captured by a trained photographer.
This was the first day of the trial run of what is still called Disney PhotoPass to this day. 15+ years later, Disney’s in-house photo capture organization now spans all of Disney’s theme parks and resorts capturing hundreds of thousands daily of guests who can then purchase prints and digital copies of their made memories.
While the idea of capturing “Disney memories” wasn’t foreign to the company, there were a lot of challenges that couldn’t be solved with mere pixie dust.
“For a while, we had Kodak photographers in the parks,” said Jeff Harmon, a manager at Disney Photo Imaging at Walt Disney World resort, in a phone interview with DisneyExaminer. “But we wanted to make the simple act of capturing photos into a Disney experience.”
In other words, they wanted to have Disney cast members, who were already trained in giving great customer service, the ones telling guests to strike poses in front of Cinderella Castle. “It’s much more than just taking photos. These are moments that people will cherish forever, and that takes our touch,” said Harmon.
While another reason why Disney used Kodak photographers was because of the lucrative, multi-year, multi-million-dollar deal the company had with Kodak, that expiring contract also paved the way for Disney to try their own camera technology to better the guest experience.
Harmon continued, “We had built a digital infrastructure that no one else had to be able to deliver and share photos with guests. It would get us ready for what would come today.”
In 2012, Disney PhotoPass launched digital downloads, allowing guests to purchase all or select photos they had taken at Walt Disney World via app or website, in addition to having photos viewed and printed while at the parks. It’s the same feature that guests have the choice of doing today.
Like any industry, as demographics change, the way we enjoy photos changes as well. According to Harmon, that is why PhotoPass gives guests the opportunity to not just print photos, but make those photos into custom photo books and even place those photos on items like mugs and t-shirts.
However as photo sharing becomes increasingly instantaneous and digital-only through social media, Disney PhotoPass has seen the trend and is responding appropriately by offering downloads through reasonably-priced add ons to tickets and annual passes.
Another way the team is adjusting to the times is by offering new digital-only photo capture experiences. For the 15th anniversary of PhotoPass, Walt Disney World is offering the “Super-zoom Magic Shot” which utilizes a custom lens to captures a full photo of you and your background which then gets transformed into a 10-second video that zooms in on you first, then a wide shot of your surroundings, then back on you. “It’s perfect for Instagram,” said Harmon.
While many of these PhotoPass anniversary experiences are only exclusive to Walt Disney World, Harmon says that the teams across the globe will be getting their own unique variations of the opportunities at some point, too.
There’s a uniqueness to having many of the advancements for PhotoPass come from and then stay at Walt Disney World, however. One a recent visit myself, it was surprising to see so much of a guest experience have a PhotoPass opportunity. Whether it was at Be Our Guest restaurant before you sit and eat a meal all the way to having nearly every major attraction have a ride cam to capture that smug mug smiling (or screaming) on Space Mountain, there’s really no way around it.
For the place that pioneered memory making and then making those memories accessible to cherish wherever and whenever, it’s only fitting that posing in front of a camera seamlessly becomes part of your entire Disney experience.
Our special thanks to Jeff Harmon and Disney Photo Imaging for contributing to this story!