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Photo business working as a cruise photographer

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Photography business
– working on a cruise ship

Benefits of Working on a Cruise Ship as a Photographer

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by Guest Writer: Ian Kee

In this guest article, Ian Kee writes about some of his business and photographic experiences working on cruise ships. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Northlight Images.

Article Copyright ©2012 Ian Kee.

ships bow

Working on a Cruise Ship as a Photographer

Cruise ship photography is a type of photography that not a lot of people think about when they think of getting a job as a photographer.

The truth of the matter is that getting a job as a cruise ship photographer is an extremely good way of starting a career in photography.

I am a photo manager and I work for a company called Ocean Images , and I primarily work on Holland America Lineships. It’s very important to note that most cruise lines don’t actually hire photographers. Photographers are almost always hired by concessionaire companies like Ocean Images. These different concessionaire companies generally send their photographers on many different cruise lines.

Let’s go ahead and start diving in with some of the reasons why you should consider a job on a cruise ship as a photographer.

About the Author

Ian Kee is a photo manager on board cruise ships.

He enjoys travelling the world and getting paid to do it!

His favourite destination so far is Hong Kong..

Photo of Ian Kee

As a beginning photographer you can expect a starting wage of $1200-$2200 USD per month. How much you make varies wildly because different seasons are more popular than other with cruise ship passengers. As a photographer you will be paid 100% on commission. This means if you sell nothing you make nothing. Of course this will never happen, but sometimes you definitely make more than others. However $1200-$2200 is a good estimate of a monthly wage for a regular contract.

This may not sound like an awful lot, but you need to keep in mind that you will have no expenses. Your food and housing is totally taken care of by the cruise line. You will also have all medical expenses taken care of if you need any help. For example, I had to have my wisdom teeth removed and I had to pay for it initially, but the cruise line reimbursed me in full the very next day. Just make sure you keep the receipt. If you think of your current employment, you would be doing well if you were able to save $1000+ every month. With this job you can.

I was quickly promoted to assistant photo manager as I was a hard worker. By November of 2010 I got this promotion. With this promotion comes a 20% increase in salary. Not bad. Again, I worked very hard and by September of 2011 I was promoted to photo manager. This position makes about 90% more than a beginning photographer. The purpose of telling you this information about me personally is not to boast, but simply to give you a real world example of what can be expected.

World Travel to Many Exciting Locations

Making good money isn’t enough reason to uproot your life and take on an adventure. At least for me it’s not. If you work on a cruise ship you’re going to have the opportunities to visit many exotic destinations around the world. Of course, when you’re not working.

Luckily as a photographer you usually have plenty of free time in the ports as the photo gallery is closed when the ship is docked.

In my two years on ships, I have visited Alaska, the Caribbean, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and my next ship will be in Europe. It is inevitable that you’ll see so many places you won’t be able to remember one port from the another.

As a photographer I love all these chances to visit many places around the world because I can go out and take photos. My favourite type of photography is street photography and photojournalism so these chances to see different cultures are extremely valuable to me.

Of course you can’t discount the ability to try the food in all these different countries! I’ve made it a new requirement for myself that I can’t consider having visited a place unless I’ve sat down and had some local food. Let me tell you, I’ve had some amazing food over the last two years!

Whale comes out of the sea

Gain Photography Experience

You’re going to learn an awful lot about photography when you join a cruise ship. Even if you’re already an experienced photographer, there’s going to be something new that you will learn.

When I started I already had a 4 year degree in photography as well as a year experience shooting elementary school photos. I had also shot a few weddings and had other clients for different types of photography. I’ve still learned a TON and expect to continue learning.

On a ship there are formal nights where the passengers dress up and go eat dinner in the fancy restaurants. This is a great chance for the photographers to take photos of everyone while they look so good. The problem is that there are more than a thousand people gong to eat dinner and they are all in somewhat of a rush. This means that the entire photo team (usually 5-7 people) set up their own portable studios around the ship in prime locations. You will get experience photographing people in very short amounts of time and still get high quality photos. Naturally you’ll also get experience in studio lighting as you’ll need to setup and meter the light each time.

There are also opportunities to learn about candid photography. The guests on a cruise ship are on the ship for their vacation and love to have photos taken at key times during the cruise. Photos are taken when the passengers get off the ships at different ports, and on the ship at scenic views such as a glacier. You’ll gain a lot of experience shooting under many different changing weather and lighting conditions. It’s a big challenge and you’ll always be on your feet with this. If you don’t know how to use a speedlight flash, you’re going to learn very quickly.

View over the bow of a ship, into the sunset

Develop People Skills

You’re going to be dealing with people from all over the world while on a ship. Both crew members and passengers. It can be challenging to know how to relate to people with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking. You’ll need to learn to be culturally sensitive as it can get you in a lot of trouble if you disregard other people’s cultures.

Along with gaining skills dealing with people, you’re going to meet many fascinating people from all over the world. These people are going to enrich your lives and you’ll learn more than you can imagine about all the places you visit and about all the places the people are from who you come in contact with.

Cultivate Business Skills

Once you start getting promoted to assistant photo manager and then to photo manager, you’re going to be dealing more and more with the business side of things.

As already mentioned, you’ll be working for a concessionaire company which will give you basic guidelines for how the photo gallery is to be run on board. These guidelines are just that, however.

You’re going to have a lot of freedom to operate how you wish. How you operate your business is going to greatly affect how well you do and therefore what your salary is going to be. While you’re the assistant photo manager your manager is going to give you a lot of instruction. Once you become the manager, you’re going to be learning through trial and error.

You’ll be in charge of all photo shoots, training new employees, paying employees, maintenance with the printer, keeping paper records, and dealing with customer care issues. This is a lot to learn and the experience that you get in this job will be extremely useful to you in future jobs. Of course, you might decide to stay working on ships for a long time and this will be your career.

Pack Your Bags Already, Man!

Well, those are some of the excellent benefits that you can have from working on a cruise ship, so why not take the next step and try it out?

You can head over to the Ocean Images website to apply for a job right away, or you could also go to my website to ask me any questions you might have about starting a new photography career on ships.


Thanks to Ian for this article – my own experiences, some time ago, of working at sea as a surveyor and geologist were in a very different environment ;-) – Keith

Please do not send CVs to us at Northlight Images – we have no connection whatsoever with cruise photography – this is a guest article.

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