Just like Facebook, every photographer needs to "tag" in where they are and who they are with. After a photographer signs in on their PDA, they get a screen listing every park and resort. After picking their park, they then tag in their assigned location. After their location, they also have the option of tagging in a character they are photographing or a Magic Shot.
For example, let's look at a photographer working at Disney's Animal Kingdom. After clicking on Disney's Animal Kingdom, the next page has every photo location possible in the park. Each photo location has a nickname assigned to it. So a photographer who is standing in the middle of the bridge connecting the Oasis to Discovery Island will click on "Bridge Middle." If they then move to the area between Asia and Africa where there is a great view of the Tree of Life from behind, they would click on "Tree Backside."
If a photographer is taking pictures of characters, or if they are in a photo location that allows Magic Shots, they then have one extra step to complete. After choosing their location, there is another screen that lists almost every Disney character imaginable, as well as all the Magic Shots. So if a photographer is at "Bridge Middle" and they decide to take a Stitch Magic Shot, they will tag in "Stitch Ground" (this is the Magic Shot of Stitch popping out of the ground or a box). If that same photographer is taking pictures of Mickey and Minnie, they would pick "Adventure Outpost" as their location, and then tag in each character.
Tagging locations and characters has a number of purposes. First, it's easy for a manager to quickly look at photos in that one location to make sure everything looks good and the photographer is taking the picture properly. Also, it's a great way to find a lost photo. If you go online or to a park's view station and discover a photo is missing, it's easy to find your photo if you can describe to a Cast Member the location and time the photo was taken. When a photo is tagged with a character, it's another easy step to finding a photo. It's also a nice way for the characters to look back at the photos they were in, to make sure they look nice (princesses especially like to make sure that their hair and makeup looks presentable).
The digital journey
Like Alice's journey into Wonderland, a PhotoPass Photo goes through quite a journey. First, the image is captured on the photographer's camera. After the photo (or group of photos) is taken, the photographer uses their scanner to associate the photo with the guest's Magic Band or PhotoPass card. In a perfect world, the photos would then be wirelessly uploaded from the PDA to the Quality Assurance team. However, even Disney isn't perfect.
Have you ever seen a PhotoPass Photographer standing in the corner, looking frantically between all their pieces of equipment and apologizing that they can't take a picture or their camera isn't working? This tends to happen a lot to photographers, especially if they are taking a lot of photos in a short period of time, like when they are with a popular character. It takes a few seconds for each photo to move from the camera to the PDA, and a few more seconds for those photos to move from the PDA and connect to the wireless network. Occasionally, a photo or two will get "stuck" on a piece of equipment. Photographers are trained to wait a few seconds between scanning a band and taking pictures of the next family. However, when you are with Donald Duck and the line is thirty families long, everyone gets a little rushed. That's why you may find a photographer standing around staring at their equipment. There is a good chance that they are waiting for all the photos to upload before they take more.
After a photo is uploaded it goes to Quality Assurance, or QA. Essentially, QA looks at every PhotoPass Photo taken. So yes, your family photo was seen by a stranger. However, they are there, as their title states, to make sure every picture is of Disney quality. Sometimes photos are way too dark or too bright to be seen properly, or they may be cloudy or blurry. While Disney tries to keep as many photos as possible, they will occasionally delete photos that are totally indistinguishable. They will also delete photos that are inappropriate. That's right, if you flip the bird in the photo, Disney will delete it. That's a warning for those of you who think it's fun to flash the Splash Mountain camera on the way down the hill.
Another interesting job the QA team does is insert the Magic Shots into photos. Remember how every photo is tagged? Well QA can see what the photo is tagged as and they are the ones who digitally insert it. Let's say that a photographer takes a picture of a family cupping their hands with a Tinkerbell tag. QA will select Tinkerbell (which is like a digital sticker), size her correctly (she about the size of a child's head) and drag and drop her into the correct spot. It's very important that each photographer takes the picture correctly because the Magic Shot needs to line up in a certain way. For example, when taking an Olaf Magic Shot, the photographer needs to make sure that there is enough room on either side of the guest for him to stand, and if there is a balloon Magic Shot there needs to be enough room at the top of the photo for the balloons to float. Rumor is that these specifications may be the reason the Baby Simba Magic Shot disappeared from Disney's Animal Kingdom. Because of the many factors needed to make Simba look just right (the angle and width of the guest's arms) it was always difficult to make the photo look just right. It is always a balancing act between the photographers, the guests, and QA to make the Magic Shots look perfect.