Cruise ships and their photographers: It can be fun to use them!

The “boarding portrait”: More than a bit on the tacky side, but as you can see, on that occasion we did buy it!

If you have ever been on a cruise then you know what we’re talking about: cruise lines hire photographers to take photos of practically everything and everybody.  Opinions on these photographers seem to fall into one of two camps:

  • Those who love them and step into camera range at every opportunity;
  • Those who loathe them and wish they would just go away.

But even within these two groups, the extent to which cruisers buy the photos varies considerably.  Some of those who love to have their picture taken never actually buy them; at the same time there are those who complain but who do buy the pictures.

We can still remember our very first encounter with a cruise-line photographer.  We had just checked into our cruise aboard the Carnival Triumph with our then ten-year-old son.  We had our key cards in hand and were about to walk across the gangway to board, but before we were ‘permitted’ to do so, we (and everyone else in the line) had to stop  behind a life preserver emblazoned with the ship’s name and the Carnival logos to have our picture taken.  We had just flown from Toronto and looked a bit dazed – as did everyone else getting their boarding photo taken.  At that point we had no idea where, or if, we would ever see that photo.  It wasn’t long, however, before we learned about the photo gallery on board cruise ships.  No, these are not galleries of professional, artistic photographs for our viewing pleasure.  These galleries have portable, foldable walls that come out every evening to display all of the photos that the onboard photographers have taken that day – and some of them are a sight to see!

Oh so tacky: the roving dining room photographer provides us with a reminder of our Christmas dinner on Holland America’s Zuiderdam. But we bought again!

As that first cruise progressed we found ourselves accosted by photographers in all manner of locations.  Over the years we’ve learned that cruise ship photographers will inevitably take your picture in the following places and at the following times:

  • When you are boarding on the first day.
  • At the end of the gangway every single solitary time you disembark at a port (this happens much less in Europe we might add, all the time in the Caribbean).
  • Sometimes at the end of the pier with the ship in the background when you arrive in a port (this is a newer incarnation).
  • On your way to and/or from dinner on formal nights.  They will offer atrium and/or grand staircase backgrounds or those weird phony ones like in front of the Titanic staircase. On these nights the photographers will inevitably tell you how to stand, where to put your arms etc. and some of this looks very odd.  We often argue with them;  we usually win, but it isn’t easy and they have told us that they are instructed to do this.
  • During dinner with or without your dining companions in the shot.
A prime example of a fake background on semi-formal night aboard the Celebrity Century where we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary a few years ago.

Some time the next day, these will all appear on the walls of the ship’s photo gallery.  You can buy them or ditch them – it’s up to you.  Ten cruises later, and we’re here to tell you that you need to take control of your photo experience on board – and we’re delighted to be able to tell you that as you become more discerning in your travel choices and graduate to the high-end cruise lines, there will no longer be any photographers.  That being said, it can be a lot of fun if you take control of the experience.

Based on our personal experiences on a variety of cruise lines (Carnival, thankfully only once, Holland American we believe three times, several times on Celebrity – all of that before Regent and Silversea who have wisely ditched their photographers), we have some advice for making the best use of the service.

  • Think of this as an opportunity for that really nice, formal family or individual portrait.  Put yourself in front of every photographer whose backdrop you like on formal nights.  You don’t have to pay a sitting fee as you would if you did this with a photographer at home.  Then when you see the ones you like the next day, you simply buy them.  We recommend waiting until the end of the cruise before making a final decision, unless you are convinced that you want the one from the first night.  These are usually 8 X 10’s and cost around $20.00 each.
  • Buy only the photos you really love or think are very fun!
  • Especially if you have children or it’s a special occasion, take advantage of the opportunity for a group photo somewhere fun – like at the end of the gangway in the Bahamas or Jamaica.  Work the cost into your on-board budget in advance if you need to.
  • Just say no – and be firm – if you do not want your photo taken, especially at the end of the gangway at every port.  This is the place where it becomes tired fastest in our view.  Do you really want your photo with a very large, stuffed lobster?  Last winter as we walked along the pier from the Silver Spirit (which wisely does not employ these photographers) in St. Martin we were accosted by a ship’s photographer – from an NCL ship that was on the other side of the pier.  We demurred, he insisted.  We said no, he cajoled.  We then pointed to the Silversea ship and he let us go.  Be very firm.
  • When you are really sick of the whole idea, switch to an ultra-luxury line.  No one will ever accost you again!
A family portrait aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 last summer. It’s the only way for the three of us to get a professional portrait since we live on a different continent than our son. A great opportunity when we’re all dressed up.