My Cruise Ship Photographer Experience

July 13, 2019  •  2 Comments

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth (Panama Canal)Cunard's Queen Elizabeth (Panama Canal)

In 2013 I signed up for my first contract as a Cruise Ship Photographer.

The job sounds amazing right!? You get paid to travel and take photographs? Heck yeah! The build up to my first contract was an exciting time, I was not long out of university, and eager to see the world. But beyond the formal contracts, PDF presentations and Visas that I had to sign up for, I wanted to know, what is life actually like working as a Cruise Ship Photographer?

Do I actually get to go out in port? And How long for? How much do I get paid? What do I eat? Do I need my own camera? What if I get sea sick? and many many more questions...

Knowing that many people out there would have the same questions as me, I decided to make a video detailing my cruise ship photographer experience. I mainly focus on my personal work life balance (covering 5 contracts over 3 years), I also share some advice and views for people considering to work and live at sea. Check out the video below, followed with some other question, answers and resources. 

Questions & Answers

As a result from the above video, I have been asked many more questions! Here are some answers to some more commonly asked ones. Please keep in mind that this is all from my own experience of working with The Ships Photographer from 2013 to 2016, so some policies and rules may have changed plus different cruise ships and contractors have different ways of working. With that being said, check out the Q and A below, along with some behind the scenes photos. If you have any other questions, be sure to leave a comment here or on my Youtube video! 

How do I become a cruise ship photographer?

Google "Cruise Ship Photographer positions". That is a good place to start. I know that it sounds simple, but it is! Look for job sites in your country and apply from there. If you're in the UK, I applied with The Ships Photographer, I also know a few Australians & New Zealanders that got hired via them. There are multiple ship photographer contractors for different ships, so you should have plenty of options to choose from. The role involves a fast turnaround, so the positions are available pretty regularly.

Cruise Ship Captain for a day.Up on the Ship's Bridge in the captain's chair. I never felt so powerful...

What was The Cruise ship photographer interview like?

What exactly can you expect from an interview to be a cruise ship photographer? Well, for me, since I had no professional photography experience, I put together a portfolio of personal photography projects to show what I do know, as well as including photography that I used in my Graphic Design studies. The interview involved 6 potential candidates though, so it did not really involve showing off your own work.  It was more about team exercises and showing that you are confidant at approaching people and seeing how you may handle stressful situations. They did not question my photography skills or knowledge at the interview, but I was prepared for it regardless, something I recommend. 

Do you need your own photography equipment?

The day that I arrived on the ship, I was assigned with my own work camera (Nikon D7000 or D90) with a kit lens.
Memory cards are issued out during shoots. The only thing I was required to bring was a flash which was a giant Metz hammer head flash (see the picture below), but honestly, something like this simple Metz will do the trick , just be sure to have plenty of good rechargeable batteries and a decent battery charger as you will be cycling through batteries, a lot! The photographers have access to multiple studio lights for formal portraits. The Photo lab is home to multiple iMacs that you may be able to use for personal use when no other work is going on.

The Ships GearIgnore my face, this was the best picture I could find of me using my assigned camera. I am using the ships Nikon D90 and my own Metz Hammer Head. This was taken during a formal night sail away.

Personally, I recommend that you do bring your own camera, lens, memory cards & laptop if possible, all for personal use. Just so you're not relying on using the ships gear, and so you can take all the photos you want whilst in port and stay on top of backing up and organising personal photos in your free time.

Do you need photography experience to be a cruise ship photographer?

To save your self a lot of stress, I strongly suggest you at least learn the basics of photography. Learn how to control a camera in manual and how to frame a subject. You should get taught all the different posing techniques and basic lighting from the ship photographer manager and experienced team members when you begin. Once you have done it all a few times, it all gets drilled in to your head and it becomes second nature, like learning to drive. From then on you can relax and start to add your own techniques and personal flare to the shoots. There’s plenty of YouTube videos and resources out there that can teach you posing and lighting as well, so do some research before you disembark.

What is life actually like at a cruise ship photographer?

You're living in a tiny tin can floating on the ocean miles away from land. Your cabin is small and shared with someone of the same gender (usually someone from the same department). The hours are long (up to 14 hour days, 7 days a week). You must be prepared to be sea sick now and again, so keep some sea sick tablets handy (I very rarely got sea sick once I got use to the ship). On all my ships, we had access to a crew gym, I learnt to utilise this as a place to let out some steam. The times that really test your patience though are back to back sea days. These mainly occur during crossings of the Atlantic or Pacific ocean and can vary from 5 to 9 days without seeing any land. There where times that I felt trapped and claustrophobic, so be sure to get out on deck, take in some sunlight and drink plenty of water. My skin and throat got pretty dry at times as a result from living in 24/7 air conditioning. We had a crew deck, located at the front of the ship, where only crew could go to hang out. Depending on the ship, there could even be a crew swimming pool.

Cruise Ship Photographer CabinHere's me in my cabin on my first sea day, looking young and proud. Notice the Pringles in the background, snacks are essential. Sunbathing on the crew deckHere's my feet. Not to much time was spent on the crew deck, but this was one of the best places to just come and relax.

You also have safety duties. This means you are responsible for the safety of passengers and crew, especially if a time came that required emergency response. Remember, you are living in extremely close quarters with hundreds of people, so have consideration for your ship mates safety and well being. 

The photography team can make or break the experience and different ships have different culture climates. As with everywhere you go in life, you may come face to face with someone that you do not get along with. I strongly suggest you do what you can to make the relationship bearable, tensions can get very high in the ships living and working conditions. Relationships and drama can happen, a lot. I learnt to just avoid it all, but I do know a few crew members that met on ships and have since gotten married and had kids. I also know of crew that have had their marriages and relations ruined whilst working at sea. Remember, there is no escape from the ship. If you start messing around with someone and it does not work out, you better be prepared to handle the consequences, as you will continue to see that person every single day.

What are the working hours?

Working hours are normally split in to shifts. A normal sea day would be split between the team 9am-1pm or 12pm-4pm then 5pm till 10pm.
During formal nights, shorts cruises or the last day of a cruise, expect those hours to go beyond midnight. Port days vary, depending if you are working on the gangway or not, but normally you would not be working whist the ship is in port and then you're back to work for when the ship departs (normally around 5pm) up until around 10pm. Most of the working hours are spent in the photo gallery, doing photo shoots or the photo lab. 

What do I eat whilst at sea?

The crew have a canteen called The Crew Mess. The food is hit and miss, depending on your ship. On the P&O ships, I found the food to vary greatly from being ok, to almost unbearable compared to the Cunard liner to be consistently pretty good. We also had the "privilege" to eat in the buffet area where passengers ate, but had to avoid peak hours. Because the canteens work on a schedule (breakfast, lunch, dinner), working hours may go over the hours the canteen is open, so I suggest picking up some snacks such as energy bars, nuts & porridge to keep stored in your cabin. This will help keep your energy up during the hours of no access to the canteen. Once on land, though it gets expensive (depending on the port) it's good opportunity to enjoy some proper, local foods. 

Do you get to go out in port?

Yes! This is the whole point of working on ships. The ability to go to sleep and wake up somewhere brand new never gets old! The landscape is constantly changing, your cultural experience is constantly evolving. Embrace this opportunity as much as you can!

Gangway Photos.Once in port, photographers have a rota for working on the gangways to take pictures of the passengers as they come off the ship. IPM daysIPM (In Port Manning) requires you to stay on the ship whilst in port. Though annoying, it is a good opportunity to get your laundry done!

That being said, there are a few things that can delay this experience. One of these is the Gangway shoot. Photographers take shifts to work in mornings to photograph passengers coming off the ship. For example, the ship docks at 7am the photographers have to be out on the gangway for up to 3 hours, encouraging passengers to have a photo.

The other job is what's called IPM (In Port Manning) where a member from each department has to stay on the ship in case an emergency happens whilst in port. Photographers take turns for IPM, and they can be arranged in away that everyone has a fair balance of missing good ports or bad ports (this is also a good time to get laundry done and catch up on sleep!). If you managed to avoid working on the gangway and IPM, then you are free to leave the ship as soon as it docks, right up until when you are required to be back in to the photo gallery for the afternoon shift.

What Cruise Line did I work on?

Even though I mention it in my video, it is still a common question, for whatever reason. I worked on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth and P&O's Oceana & Arcadia.

Thanks for visiting! Check out some of my favourite ship shots below or visit the Photography Store Gallery.
If you have any more questions be sure to leave a comment. 
Good luck!

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P&O's Arcadia (Papua New Guinea)P&O's Arcadia (Papua New Guinea) Watching the Ships (Bay Of Islands, New Zealand)Watching the Ships (Bay Of Islands, New Zealand) P&O's OceanaP&O's Oceana At SeaAt Sea


Is it good to go for cruise photographers job at the age of 40yrs with 6yrs of experience in my country as event photographer?
Costa Marcos(non-registered)
Cruise ship photography is more difficult that it seems, as, as well as being technically proficient, you have to be good with people. It's too easy to appear quite intrusive, especially in the MDR, but a little tact and humour gets you a long way.
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