I’m a theme-minded photographer who is pretty used to finding the magic in the obvious spaces designed for us by Disney and Universal. However! While those are always amazing, some of the most authentically magical spaces don’t even require admission. Check your fear of large crowds at the gate — there are acres of magical spaces all around Orlando. Since the Parks began their COVID-19 reservation systems (making it infinitely more difficult to plan photoventures), I drove the extra mile to scout, explore and organize these off-Disney, off-Universal natural spaces to show you we don’t even need the Parks to make your magic.
These locations are perfect Park substitutions for any thematic photo session, be it Dapper Day, Wizarding World, Disney princess, Star Wars or anything else that gets you excited to wave wands about. The key is: the atmosphere sets the scene, perspective is everything, and Imágemária magic tops it off.
I will continually be updating this blog. As so many of my magic sessions have until now been taking place in the Parks, I have yet to gather more content on these mostly new locales for photography other than myself simply exploring them. New finds and actual sessions will show up in social media first, so follow me @imagemariastudio if you’d like to get ideas as we go.
All of these locations are considered in the Orlando area.
Some outer-Orlando and near-beach locales follow at the end.
Celebration, FL is your Dapper Day Central with its adorable fountains, picturesque trees, charismatic shop fronts and quaint sweets parlors. If you don’t know about Celebration yet… how! Celebration is just 15 minutes south of Disney, and it’s currently in top position to be my backup Dapper Day coverage spot.
Disney Springs, for an outdoor mall, has quite a lot of retro-fun scenes happenin’: Splittsville Bowling (at a lane or just outside), a quaint carousel, Rainforest Cafe’s volcano for your tiki/island love, even a Christmas window any time of year. If you want Park-like thematic variety all in one place, this is the spot. I also do magic character meets, in case you didn’t catch Vincent Van Gogh sharing a drink with my Most Dapper Winner (Fall 2019) above at Wolfgang Puck Express.
DISNEY’S BOARDWALK RESORT
Disney’s Boardwalk Resort requires no proof of lodging to experience. Shops, boardwalks, a beautiful lake, tiny white-sandy beach and a pretty lighthouse make this the perfect spot for a Dapper jaunt.
“THE GENERAL”, WINTER GARDEN, FL
“The General” is what I’ve named this badass tree in Winter Garden. This giant oak had an incident with lightning that split its trunk into two living halves. With the ability now to walk along a fallen trunk, you have loads of enchanted woods, Whomping Willow and lightsaber-slashing opportunities here. It’s the most amazing oak I’ve found to date (and believe me, my radar is always on for these).
STONE-IN-THE-WOOD OAK, WINTER GARDEN, FL
Stone-In-the-Wood is where I take a lot of my book creations to be photographed, aptly named after my son posed in Dark Crystal theme for my last book shoot. You can literally have a picnic on the massive trunk of this tree (yes, ON). It’s perfect for an Enchanted Forest, faery, Medieval or Viking vibe. So much magic in this gorgeous tree. This oak is near a parking lot that gets regular traffic, so I entirely recommend sunrise or sunset sessions for this location.
MAITLAND ART MUSEUM, MAITLAND, FL
Maitland Art Museum is about 15 minutes north of downtown Orlando. The outdoor (free) part of the museum has this Mayan Temple mystique you never knew you needed for wand-waving or pondering where you might have lost your glass slipper. The Mayan Temple compliments everything from elegant portraiture to temple escape adventure. It’s all about perspective. It also has a gorgeous lily pond and a fairly retro Meso-American fusion vibe that is so versatile.
KRAFT AZALEA GARDEN, WINTER PARK, FL
Kraft Azalea Garden is a local favorite for weddings and portraits. Its concrete pillars stand regal as a greenery-flanked architectural backdrop for any variety of sweet- or moody-themed portraiture. When I design fashion inspired by Harry Potter, this is the first spot that comes to mind in light of Hogwarts-like stone structures. The lake near sunset is also quite beautiful for any romantic scene.
FIELDS OF MIST, WINDERMERE/WINTER GARDEN, FL
Fields of Mist is a gothically gorgeous concept, and I say concept because mostly the creation of this atmosphere is entirely Imágemária magic. The exception is the people-less portrait of actual sunrise mist above, which I discovered when fog hunting one fall, and it was incredibly difficult to find and capture, let alone schedule, as it is so very fleeting. However, my fog-hopping scout allowed me to study fog for re-creation in portraits on request. I’ll also add that Fields of Mist come complimentary with moonlit portraiture if you’re looking for something on the Dark Side. No actual moon is needed, and in fact “nighttime” portraits can be shot in the middle of the afternoon as well, per Imágemária magic. (See portrait of “The General” above.)
TIBET-BUTLER NATURE RESERVE
Tibet-Butler Nature Reserve just says “Ewok Village, Endor” to me. It’s the tall, woody cypress trees and browny-green forest floor and lush wooded walkways. I take all my forest scene Star Wars shoots here. And you can’t unsee that AT-ST firing at kids.
FIDDLER’S GREEN, WINTER PARK, FL
Fiddler’s Green Irish Pub (photo by Fiddler’s Green), if you’re looking for a secret passageway into The Leaky Cauldron, here it is. If you’re sneakier, bring your wand and spellbook and see what mischief you can manage over Irish fare. You’re in the center of Winter Park here, so if this is a first stop for “butterbeer”, you can apparate on over to a nearby park for the rest of your adventure.
DAMES CAVE, LECANTO, FL
Dames Cave is just under two hours northwest of downtown Orlando, and it’s a fair travel for the natural wonder this un-commercialized cave provides. Serious Goonies vibes here, my friends. Probably a place you could find all your Horcruxes and face all your dragons and Dark Sides. I’ve daydreamed about digitally filling it up with water and doing an Ariel’s Grotto session, which must eventually happen. What you need to know about Dames Cave: 1. There are no toilets. 2. Explore at your own risk. 3. Ask me the best way to get there, because if you put this in Google it will take you the sand-dune entry route and your car may not be built for that (or it could get stuck in the road banks). It’s a good 10-15 minute forest hike from parking to approach the main cave, which is literally a hole in the ground. Getting down into the cave takes, I would say, moderate climbing skills as you scale down a wide but steep staircase of twisting tree roots. WORTH it for the serious adventurer.
MARINELAND BEACH, MARINELAND, FL
Marineland Beach: the one with the rocks! This beach is about an hour and 30 minutes north of Orlando on the Atlantic side. The rocks really make it a unique playground for all sorts of photoventures, and you can see more or less rocks depending on the tide. It does have a restroom, but is not a commercial beach and is not really on the map (ask me). It’s especially gorgeous at sunrise, and the bright sand and surf could go from desert scene to wintry mix in a snap of photo editing.
If you didn’t see your particular photo ideas represented here, please chat with me! I am always up for an adventure, and I’ve developed the knack for making actual locations look like entirely something else. I’d love to bring your unique vision to life and immerse you in a one-of-a-kind photo experience.