Petition Goes Viral: Do Not Replace Disney Photographers With Robots

Petition Goes Viral: Do Not Replace Disney Photographers With Robots

The "Robot Revolution" is already underway, but it's meeting pockets of resistance, including one based in our photographic community. Fans of America’s most-visited theme park and photographers alike have recently banded together to save a small group of talented professionals from replacement by machinery.

Recent news stories have covered the emergence of animatronic photography, with most machines still in a "beta" testing phase.  And now photographers and fans of the Florida theme park are up in arms about the Disney Corporation reportedly gearing up to replace the park’s "Photopass Photographers" with photo booths.

A Change.org petition has been started to "Keep the Disney Photopass Photographers", amassing well over 90,000 signatures by the time this article was written. The general consensus reflected in the petition’s comments section is that a robot cannot capture the real personality and "magic" of a moment as a human can. Silicon is long on hardware but short on heart.

black and white image of a photographer shooting a model

Photo by Gustavo Borges from Pexels

Disney parks have always thrived off the happy human premium of magic, from the dazzling spectacle of the Spaceship Earth sphere at Epcot to the musical performances and parades that seem to spontaneously materialize when you least expect it. Can replacing the crucial human eye of the photographer work in a magic kingdom?

Countless manual laborers lost their jobs to machinery during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. Robotic replacement is accelerating in our century. Supermarkets have expanded their checkout lines to computerized "self serve" kiosks. More and more fast food restaurants are replacing human order takers with robotic ones.

It's easy to kick your feet in the dirt and grumble that photography is going to hell in a handbasket, but I find it more productive to identify ways in which our professional and proprietary expertise provides something important, something valuable to people.

a white AI bot looking up at the camera

"Please do not hate me. I am programmed for love."
Photo by Alex Knight from Pexels

In our April article posted to Fstoppers about a roving wedding photography robot, one discerning user commented: "It's just a rolling photobooth which are now common installations at many of the weddings I'm hired to shoot (i.e. so far, not replacing me). If anything, they reduce the number of selfie takers in the background shots.”

Do you view Disney's move to replace photographers with computer chips as a simple cost-saving measure or a sign of lower standards and an enlarged market for mediocre photography? Please share your ideas with us in the comment section.

Lead photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

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19 Comments

Phillip Breske's picture

First, can these people really be called "photographers?" Aren't these guys just like the meatbags that run the equipment at Olan Mills in the mall? What is the real difference between them and a robot?

Second, if these ARE truly photographers, then the best thing that can happen to them is losing this job. Get out and make some real photos instead of taking snapshots of entitled tourists at Disneyland.

I'm all in favor of these people being replaced by automation. Let's get it over with.

And tell those damned kids to get off of my lawn!

Dear Sir,
I was once one of those ‘’ meat bags’’ how you call them, not on land in Disney but on ship. I am following this website for long time but this entitled comment of yours made me sign up just so I can leave my comment. My achievement was master’s degree in Graphical engineering and design, with heavy emphasis on photography. On a job like this you can’t do much because you have strict set of rules which you have to follow or you lose your job if you try to show just a tiny amount of creativity. I had lots of problems when I tried to use 35mm and shot on f4 instead of ‘’Company Standards’’. Reason is simple, you shoot what they want and how they want because all of the photos must be same. You would be surprised how many of those ‘’ meat bags’’ are more learned and bigger professionals than many of us. First thing you are asked when you finish your shift or section is: HOW MANY!? (photos ofc). You get targets and you have to achieve them. If you don’t you get warnings, 3 warnings and you are fired. For some time, I wanted to write article what I experienced as a photographer and what it did to my photography. I have not touched my camera and gear from 2013 until 2018 because I was disgusted with it. Main reason are smug ‘’professional’’ photographers who were coming with their cameras and making fun of us, harassing us, telling us how to pose, messing with our lights, changing settings on power packs when we didn’t look and then coming in the evening and laughing because we have to display photos even if they are not up to standard and it was their fault. SO PLEASE when you see someone like this most polite thing you can say to them is NO THANK YOU. Don’t give them advice they know what they are doing. If you appreciate this art that we share passion for, you will help them if you stay for one photo even if you don’t want to buy it. I would like to apologize if I have made spelling and grammar mistakes, but I have just created the account so I can reply to this comment, English is my 4th language.

jacob kerns's picture

Yet 99% of the photos still look like crap and you're better off being replaced by a robot. If all you had to do was follow their rules and push a button then yes it only requires a meathead.

Scott Mason's picture

Vojislav,

I think you'll have to ignore the rude comments here just as you did in your shooting career on the ship.

I'm curious if the rude photographers were vacationers or colleagues of yours?

Sorry you had such a bad experience. We're not all jerks. I wish you could come work with me, so I could prove it to you. I don't tolerate bullies.

Phillip Breske's picture

Bullies? Who bullied anyone? What the absolute fuck?

Phillip Breske's picture

Holy shit. Way to jump to conclusions! When I called these photographers “meatbags,” I meant that they were easily and completely replaceable with anyone skilled enough to read instructions and push a button. You even stated as much when you described the job you had to do. Do you think for one second that the company you worked for couldn’t have replaced your graphical engineering degree with a high school dropout in a second? What part of your degree was necessary for you to use a restricted set of exposure settings and tell people exactly where to stand?

How about you try reading what you wrote and tell me how your life wouldn’t have been better if you’d left that job earlier? If you’d been replaced by a robot, do you think you still would have not touched your gear for five years because you were disgusted with following stupid rules? Or would you have been so relieved to not have to do a monotonous job that you might have actually enjoyed the art of photography?

People are such absolutely fucking entitled snowflakes now. Get over yourselves.

I’m not sure how much the standards would be lowered by automating these photos. I’ve gotten mostly downright terrible photos at Disney parks.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Last thing I would want if I was to spend $3k at a theme park is to have these paparazzis stop me as I enter the park. How do you call this souvenir when you have barely entered and discovered the park in the first place?

I didn't want to stop for photos with these guys either, but my girl friend's mother purchased the photo pass and we had to go to every photographer we could find and wait in line. Some people enjoy this 'service' and I was going to be waiting in a line one way or the other.

Contextually, haven't the Disney theme parks, from their very inception, been all about technology application? I don't mean "world of the future" stuff, although yup, that happened too... I mean animatronics from day one, etc. Food for thought?

Scott Mason's picture

That's a great point, Peter. Thank you for commenting!

So I'm a little mixed on this. I hate to see the photopass cast members lose the role, but I tend to agree that the standards won't go down much.

I worked at the parks in Anaheim for almost 14 years and at one time, as an amateur photographer, thought about transferring to Photopass. Then I heard about the expectations and decided otherwise.

I could deal with only using automatic exposure. Having to take a few exposures of each group and be done was also understandable, during busy periods. While I did not go so far as to verify they were in fact rules, there were other things that were at the very least common.

I did not like the idea having to do the "hard pull" of telling a group to pose, and it was not encouraged to get creative with them.

There was also a quota.

It was also frowned upon to use their camera, especially if you hadn't at least taken some with the one you had.

(At one time) If another non-photopass cast member is assisting a family with a photo, you needed to shoo them away.

There were certain positions at some locations that appeared to be treated almost as territory, discouraging others from using it just so it was available for you to use.

That's not really true. I was an operations coordinator for them.
You did have to tell people how to pose because people for the most part don't know how to stand. You need to move people around so you can see everyone's faces. It was encouraged to do something creative when you were able to.

There wasn't a quota per say but if you were in a very busy area and had a low amount of encounters they would probably be suggesting that you start making some eye contact or saying hello. When we first started out guests didn't want to even respond to us because they thought we would try to do hard sells like the folks with Kodak. It didn't take too long for guests to figure it out that we were offering a good product and were happy to take photos with their cameras.

It was definitely not frowned upon to take photos with guests' cameras. Sometimes they would decline a Photopass photos and we would just use their camera.

If a cast member who wasn't in Photopass was taking a photo with a guest's camera, good for them. That is what they are supposed to do. Provide help to the guests. Plenty of guests ask other CM's to take their photo because Photopass photographers can't be everywhere.

Certain positions aren't treated as territory. They are positions. If guests are in the way where you are supposed to be standing you can just move a few feet over. If another photographer is in your spot that meant you were either taking over that position or one of you went to the wrong spot.

Scott Mason's picture

Thanks for the insider info, Sean!

Fair enough. Again, this is just the impression I was given by conversations between other Photopass Cast and myself or others in my area, at the time I was considering it. There may also have been other factors that contributed to this.

Ken Flanagan's picture

they are not just taking pictures, they are gathering information.

Scott Mason's picture

Can you elaborate on that, Ken?

While some might want to rag on the photographers let me tell you a little bit about them...

2003 they first came up with this idea. The technology wasn't quite there yet so the idea evolved in to photopass with actual photographers. When I interned with them we were using Nikon D70's, pretty much top of the line at the time. There were 100 of us in the department in '05, 40 of us were interns. Every full timer/part timer had a photography background. Every intern had either a photography, graphic design, or fine art background. We also had photography classes to take in addition to training. Over time they did take on people that didn't have a photography background.
I knew people that had photography businesses on the outside that did quite well, they just wanted to work for Disney. I knew one guy that had had a multimillion dollar photography business before his stroke. Point is there were people there at many levels of photography experience.

How many of you take over 2500 pictures in a day? Any of you? If you were to do that, how many do you think would be sellable? Look down on them if you want for not having their own business but their department alone makes about a billion dollars. I remember seeing the CD's sales number back in the day when they used to burn them at Studios. When you are making that much feel free.

The reason they are doing this? Money I'm sure. It does remove some of the human error, less equipment to have (I was in charge of over $300,000 worth when I was an operations coordinator), less people to pay. I remember once when Nikon ran out of parts for the D70 for the shutter. A camera can take about 100,000 photos before parts start failing, a camera there might capture 4,000 a day.
The downside is it takes away the human creativity and the care we have for the guests. The new boxes can't move around to capture the moment a child sees their favorite character for the first time, how wide their eyes get and how big their smile grows. I've photographed kids first visits, engagements, birthday moments, and guests last visits to the park with their families.

I remember one family where the kids surprised their dad with a photoshoot on the castle stage. He was so excited. The kids, the mom, they were so happy to give him his wish. Every time they had visited he would comment on how he wanted to run up and see the park from there. He had stage 4 cancer when they went on their last trip.

Once I was checking on my photographers in Toontown and there was a cute baby playing with Pluto. Just adorable. The other characters had left, no other guests in the room, just the attendant, the three photographers, myself and Pluto with the baby, her mom and grandma. We were all enjoyed this cute moment and some small talk when the mother told us she was so happy we had photopass there to capture these moments so her baby would have some pictures with her. We were all a bit quiet and eventually during our talk with her we found she had about two weeks left to live after her vacation. She had a very large tumor pressing out of her abdomen and wasn't going to make it. After they left we all cried. We got them to come back later that day and surprised them with every character we could find in the park.

You can look down on them if you want but they have a very tough job and a very different kind of photography job that most of you would be used to. Their job is to capture a memory, and for the most part they do a damn good job.