Cruise Ship Photographers - Picture Perfect or an Unsightly Blur? | CruiseHabit

Cruise Ship Photographers - Picture Perfect or an Unsightly Blur?

Great memories are made on cruises.  Whether a family get-together, a honeymoon, or just a trip with friends – we all like to have photos to help preserve these memories, and most of us carry a camera around all the time (in our phones of course).  Does that leave a place for shipboard photographers or are they just an interruption at dinner?  Let’s dig into the pros and cons of this offering and learn a bit more about it.

embarking on the MS Sunward II
Embarking on the M/S Sunward II - Not sure who the woman on the right is.

Who Are Shipboard Photographers?

Many cruise lines, especially those in the contemporary and premium markets, have photographers onboard to capture vacation memories…and of course sell you photos.  Generally they’re in place to snap a photo as you get ready to board on your first day, while enjoying a meal in the main dining room, and as you disembark in various ports of call.  The photos are most frequently found in a photo gallery onboard the ship – though what this gallery is has changed quite a bit over the past couple of years.

Traditionally, all passenger photos were printed, organized by the time and place they were taken, and put on display.  Guests would look for their photo and decide if they’d like to purchase a copy.  About a decade ago, Disney Cruise Lines went digital in Shutters, their on-board gallery.  This meant that guests could scan their room key at certain terminals and see some of their photos, while getting instructions on exactly where to find printed copies ready for purchase.  Over time more and more lines have switched to similar models – where photos can be easily found, and entire bundles can be purchased on CD or a USB drive at a lower per-photo cost.

Pixels on Carnival Vista
Pixels on Carnival Vista


One thing that may surprise you is that cruise lines often don’t employ photographers.  No, that guy with the DSLR and giant flash taking your photo at dinner wasn’t just a creep – he was indeed paid to be there, but not directly by the cruise line.  There are several companies which offer their services to cruise lines, operating the galleries, taking photos, and of course – convincing you to buy the photos.  Their staff, whether contractors or direct hires, are generally two parts sales-person, one part photographer.

The Downside to Shipboard Photographers

There are few universal truths, but it’s safe to say that we all want some great photos to take back from our vacations, but we also want to enjoy that time on the ship without being bothered.  Some guests (myself included) find these photographers a bit annoying.  Being interrupted at dinner for photos we’re not interested in can be bothersome.  If a good photo is captured, the cost (sometimes over $20/each) can be too much to rationalize.  Additionally, it’s hard to pass by the photo galleries without imagining what else that space could be used for. 

Could this all be done taking up less space, and perhaps being a bit less invasive?  Probably, and this is why we've seen both digital innovation as well as some lines (most in the upper-end of the market) completely abandon shipboard photography.

The Benefits of Shipboard Photographers

I enjoy photography (though if you’re a frequent reader, you’ll see I’m not particularly good at it) and while it’s true that the best camera is the one that you have with you – shipboard photographers are far better equipped to get that shot in the dimly lit dining room. It’s not just about having a flash, but the right flash, and the right settings – and having that camera in the perfect spot for that picture of you stepping off the ship into Jamaica.  The onboard photographers range from ‘meh’ to great, but when they’re in the right place at the right time they help capture memories that don’t involve one arm extended holding your phone in front of you.

Further, often the photography team will set up backdrops and quality photo lighting in some public space (usually on a formal night) to get well-set shots of you and yours in your formal wear.  While I’m not much for formal wear, I’ve definitely bought a few of these, primarily to put a smile on my mother’s face – and isn’t that a good enough reason?

Stray Ramblings on Shipboard Photography

Photo Waste
Ever wonder what happens to those thousands of photos that are printed yet not purchased?  There are two ways to deal with this challenge.  One is to simply burn the photographs at the end of a cruise.  This seems awfully wasteful, but for the cruise lines is probably the most immediately economical.  The chemicals used in printing mean that the photos can’t be recycled by traditional means.  There are machines which strip the surface of the photos, allowing the paper to be reused – but the process isn’t cheap, and it isn’t completely clear which cruise lines are using this technology.  This doesn’t just occur on cruise ships by the way, companies that shoot school photographs do this as well.  Why do they all produce all this waste?  It’s easier to sell you a photo that’s already in your hand.

Facial Recognition – or Magic?
On ships embracing digital display and purchase of photos, they make it very easy to find your photos by simply scanning your room key.  How do they do that?  While facial recognition technology has become quite advanced, a reference image is still needed, and this is one of the reasons that the embarkation photo is pushed so hard – it gives the photographers an opportunity to associate your face with your room number.  While it’s possible to use your check-in image (and some may already be doing this), the quality of those photos isn’t always good enough to help a computer find your face in a crowd of 5,000 other guests.

Shipboard Photography Lessons
On some cruises, especially longer sailings, there is often a professional photographer onboard who offers classes in the basics of exposure and composition.  This can be a great opportunity to learn how to use that mode on your camera you’ve never understood, or just pick up some tricks to make you vacation (and other) photos that much nicer.  These photographers aren’t there to sell you anything, just help – and often they end up providing great pictures to cruise lines’ marketing teams (we recommend you follow Oceania on Instagram).

See anything wrong with this photo?  Photographic oversight or genius?
See anything wrong with this photo?  Photographic oversight or genius?


Don’t Panic – Go to the Gallery
Ship’s photo galleries often sell more than just photos, but photography gear.  You’re not likely to find a 58mm circular polarizer (fancy stuff), but if you need an extra memory card, batteries, etc, you can often get taken care of onboard.  When this offering first popped up guests definitely paid a premium, but we’ve seen more competitive pricing lately – even seeing GoPro action cameras and accessories for what we’d pay on land.


Are you glad shipboard photographers are available, or would you prefer them out of the picture?  Comment below or reach out on Facebook or Twitter.