Cruising For Photographers: Good Or Bad Idea?

Cruising For Photographers: Good Or Bad Idea?

A few weeks ago I took a cruise with my wife to the Caribbean for 8 days and 7 nights. It was an incredible way to relax, leave the world behind, shut off my computer and cell phone and spend some quality time with my wife at some of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s hard to complain about a vacation where you have no plans except for the ships itinerary, no alarm clock, an endless all you can eat buffet, open reservations at gourmet restaurants with 4 course meals, nightly shows from Broadway and a seemingly endless list of etceteras to boot. Our ports of call were: New Orleans –> Sea Day –> Costa Maya, Mexico –> Belize City, Belize –> Roatan, Honduras –> Cozumel, Mexico –> Sea Day –> New Orleans.

I’ve taken several cruises in the past but not since really becoming serious about photography. While we didn’t go on this cruise to take pictures I of course brought my gear a long just in case, you never know what you’re going to see. I figured that with all the incredible ports of call I was bound to have endless photo opportunities wherever we went. I was wrong!

The Problems With Cruising

Don’t get me wrong; I came back with some good images. It just comes with the territory. But there are several issues that cruising presents for making photographs. Notice that I said ‘making’ though. If your just taking snapshots then the possibilities are endless. But if you’re looking for quality portfolio images a cruise is not a very ideal choice for destination imagery.

Time of Day

Not one time during this cruise in-particular did I see a sunrise or sunset at a port of call. We arrived at each port around 8:00 a.m. each morning; about an hour and a half past sunrise and well past any good quality morning light. We left each port of call at around 5:00 p.m each evening. By the time the sun started to set we were already well on our way to the next port of call in the middle of the featureless expanse of ocean. As any seasoned photographer knows, the middle of the day is the worst time of day for pictures. The light is extremely harsh if there are no clouds and subjects become flat if it’s overcast. There is just no good combination really. It’s not to say that great images can’t be made but they are considerably harder to come by.

The Cruise Ports

Cruise ports are about as far from scenic as you can get. In fact, if you don’t do a shore excursion or hire a guide you can rest assured that your experience at that port will be shopping at Diamond International. Just plan on getting ripped off and conned into believing that you are getting a good deal on rare gems that have nothing to do with said port of call. If you make it past Diamonds International, the next layer of shops seem local but oddly they all sell the same products at each port. The only conclusion is that some behind the scenes suppliers are making deals with the locals to sell goods that were actually made in China. If you make it past the second layer you may actually find some legitimate locally owned business that will actually support the local economy (like the one below).

Costa Maya | Mexico | James Brandon Photography

A local tourism business in Costa Maya, Mexico

Time To Shoot

If you’re smart you’ll leave the ports behind and either pay for a shore excursion or do research before going to find a guide for each location. Doing either of these options will actually allow you to take in the port of call and experience the surroundings and essence of the location. Shore excursions through the cruise line itself are the safest and I think it’s well worth the money to guarantee your timely return to the cruise port. Hiring a local guide or taxi may be cheaper (and a bit more supportive of the local economy) but you never really know what you are getting into. I’d rather pay a bit extra to make sure I don’t wind up stuck in a foreign country waving goodbye to cruise ship.

Even if you do book a shore excursion and get the opportunity to see something awesome, you will run into the issue of time. Some destinations take up to 2 hours to travel to and from the port, which means a 4 hour round trip. If the bus doesn’t leave until 9 a.m. and gets back an hour before the cruise ship leaves, that could mean you only have 1-3 hours to explore wherever you are visiting. Probably half of that time will be taken up by a spoken tour by a guide, leaving maybe 30 minutes to an hour of free exploration. That’s hardly enough time to truly explore photo opportunities and compositions.

Camera + Tripod = Rich Tourist

In hindsight (always 20/20), carrying my 1Ds and 24-70 lens on a tripod was not the best idea when walking through some of these places. I may as well have been wearing a shirt that read, “I have money to spend, just ask!” In a crowd of tourists, the locals would almost always come up to me and try to pull me in their direction. It got incredibly frustrating and at times I wanted to just go back to the ship and relax. It was especially annoying when walking by the taxis, as every cab driver in the country seemed to be fighting for my business to show me some good “es pictures.”

Roatan Honduras | James Brandon Photography

The port of Roatan, Honduras from the top of our cruise ship


Cruising is awesome, but not for REALLY making pictures. I had an absolutely wonderful time and I would do it again in a heartbeat. There is no better way to see multiple locations in a short amount of time for less than the price of most plane tickets. However, don’t plan on coming back with a new portfolio full of incredible travel images. The conditions simply make it far too complicated to truly concentrate on photography. If you really want to take a photo trip, plan on spending quality time at your locations and getting off the beaten path.

Agree or Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!

As always, be sure to follow me on twitter (@jamesdbrandon) if you aren’t already. I’m always looking for interesting and fun people to follow and talk to!

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James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

Some Older Comments

  • Max Scott March 7, 2012 02:59 pm

    Some time ago my wife and I cruised to the Mediterranean visiting Turkey, Greece and Egypt shortly before the Arab Spring. We did encounter some difficult moments but the tour guides managed to keep us out of harm’s way. I was and am an amateur using my Cannon T2i for the first time. One of the things that helped me was to go to the onboard photographers as well as the local guides and ask them for help. Great bunch of people, they not only gave me a “heads-up” on getting to the tour spots first but where to have the best angle under the existing light. My camera came in a kit that included an intermediate and telephoto lens. One of the ship’s photographers advised finding a Circular Polarizing filter for shooting in and aroundthe pyramids. While we were cruising in the Antarctic, that ship’s young photographers extended similar courtesies. I don’t have a professional touch but two of my entries in the ship’s photo contest finished in the top five percent of several hundred submissions. Not bad for a sixty four year old camera neophyte! A lot of folks in this discussion have commented favorably on doing the same or similar thing which is to go to the people who would know where to go and what to photograph while in port.
    On the opposite side of the coin, just this past Fall I spent a few dollars to hire a professional photographer while in Dublin, Ireland. He came highly recommended from our hotel and the experience was well worth the money! He had done some of the advertising layouts for our hotel and others in the region. I have been to Ireland many times but never with time to do what I wanted. This trip was planned to maximize site seeing and what better way to do that then with a professional photographer? How about an invitation to the Guinness Family Estate for starters? Well maybe not at the family’s request but we did manage to get some great shots of the estate and surrounding areas.

  • Robert Rosen March 6, 2012 11:08 am

    For several years my photography has been focused on street photography. In particular I have been concentrating on the individual as in street portrature. The reason was because it was the lives of the people that interested me the most. For that reason I always find such great opportunitys.

  • Darlene September 15, 2011 06:26 am

    I recently did a Globus tour of Turkey and it was kinda like that only with a bus. I was continually being annoyed by the fact we left each city about 8am, drove for 3-4 hours , saw our new site at the peak of the day and had maybe 3-4 hours in this new city before we headed to the hotel for 6pm. Dinner was at the hotel and most we so far from anything that I didn't venture out, except for one night a bunch of us walked to the pier which was close. I even skipped breakfast one day to go walk and shoot in the early morning light.

    I wouldn't do a big tour like that again, or if they had one that travelled at night I'd take that one. It would make so much more sense to drive from 7-11pm, and get to see the new city first thing and have 10 hours there instead of 3. I had a total of an hour and a half as Ephesus, the highlight of Turkey and it was midday and all the cruise ship bus tours had already gotten there too, funny hey! Couldn't take a shot that didn't have a person in it.

    But now I know where I'd go back to in Turkey and have a smaller tour or self guide.

  • Artrina June 12, 2011 06:28 am

    I was on an Alaskan cruise last month. If you want chances to take pix of sunsets in port, sunrises on the ocean, some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever scene, wildlife etc, then go on a cruise to Alaska! I saw people with ALL types of camera, with and without tripods, naturalists on ships and in ports to tell you about the area - and not obnoxiously push their wares. Talk about a break from the erst of the world - Alaska is even in it's own time zone! One day our port was Skagway. We were in Alaska time zone in port. We went on a train excursion which took us into British Columbia, so we went into Pacific time zone and into the Yukon Territory which took us into another time zone. We knew the ship didn't leave port until late, so, as long as we stayed fairly close to our tour group, what time it was didn't matter. And we went thru some of the most gorgeous scenery I've ever seen!

  • Ann Courtney June 5, 2011 05:05 pm

    But think of the endless hours of fun finding "ship architecture" shots - people shots - food shots. In port/docks the possibilities are endless with other ships, cranes, mooring lines.........oh everything everywhere. Life is one giant Photo Op!

  • Jay May 29, 2011 06:12 am

    I've just returned from a cruise in the western Med and agree with the author about the timing of arrivals and departures which miss the light in the various ports. However there is nothing stopping someone getting up early to capture sunrise shots on board - just need to do some research on the ship layout, etc. to pre-plan a shot or two.

    I hope to cruise again and will take my monopod next time. I used a leather 'man bag' to carry spare lenses and camera along with a point-and-shoot. The P&S came in handy several times.


  • joann, sidewalk chic May 27, 2011 10:57 am

    This is a really pertinent article, as I'm planning to go on a very similar cruise (same route and everything) in a few months.

    I have to ask you and others who have gone to these places and photographed: which cities are better for guided excursions, and which ones are good for exploring on your own?

  • Gene Zepka May 24, 2011 05:18 am

    I use a "point and shoot" but I agree with your article entirely. I'm gratified that someone at your level
    feels what I've found at mine. GZ

  • The Beatkat May 24, 2011 12:09 am

    Some excellent insight here, and good suggestions, but to those who have never Cruised I would say don't knock it until you try it. I have been on two Caribbean cruises, Carnival (with two young kids), and Norwegian, and while the first cruise was a handful because of the child to adult ratio, I felt the Photo opportunities were there if you wanted to spend the time.In Aruba we rented a small Jeep like vehicle and escaped the throngs of tourists pouring off the ship, and were able to really spend some time away from the tourist traps, seeking out the real "flavor" of the island and it was much easier and less stressful to get creative and search out much better composition. I would have to agree that I was quite nervous about flashing my equipment around or carrying it openly, though. That's a real concern in some of these areas, but for the most part, people were friendly and non threatening when they noticed me shooting....except in Mexico. Cozumel was a nightmare, constantly being accosted by street vendors, and the hustle and bustle of the port there was a bit nerve wracking.And there seemed to be a lot of young males just hanging around as one came off the ship...just people watching, perhaps sizing up their targets?....the suggestion of a good point and shoot pocket camera is a good one, and carry a pack to conceal your DSLR. When on an excursion, it can be difficult to be near your equipment at all times, and theft is a real concern...especially if you're swimming, or otherwise preoccupied.Keep the amount of jewelry you wear to a minimum, (expensive watches, rings, necklaces) to a minimum, and try to keep a low profile as much as possible, and try to always be with someone else who can pay attention to your surroundings while you're absorbed by the viewfinder. If you're traveling with family, utilize the time for portraiture, as everyone will have that vacation "glow", especially if they've got a little sun...and there are many lighting opportunities on the decks, and within the ship areas...early morning is always good because 85% of the people will likely sleep in most mornings.....Another concern I experienced on the Caribbean cruises,(both), was that my equipment was in the air conditioned stateroom overnight, and if I ran out on deck in hopes of grabbing an instant shot during arrival or departure, the gear would be instantly affected by condensation issues that would last for some time and were hard to plan for, because trying to slowly warm the gear up to deck conditions takes a bit of planning and careful time management. The video camera was the worst, my Canon has a humidity sensor and often the camera would not function for an hour or more when first coming out of our room. I'm afraid I have to blame the wife for some of that, (good thing she doesn't read photography forums) as she loves the room chilled to bottled beer temperatures...Cruising is a really fun way to take a vacation, but do your research, and plan excursions carefully, as well as asking the ship guides about photography at your destination. They will be ready willing and able to answer all your questions, and help you get a unique experience from your trip, that's what they do....I also found a few other photographers pretty quickly onboard, and we instantly hit it off and learned a lot from each others experiences, sometimes even going ashore together for 3-4 hours sessions, and returning back to the ship to stow the gear safely before returning back to the port unencumbered by it, (but with the pocket camera) to then sample the restaurants, and other attractions.

  • Sam Gordon May 23, 2011 11:34 pm

    As I posted above, I prefer small ship, adventure cruising. However, back in the day,I started on the Big Ships. I didn't like the style of the tours, ie, the crowds. So I walked down the end of the pier after them tours had left and hired an English speaking professional guide who hadn't gotten a gig that day. Besides being cheaper, I avoided the groups, saw everything, a got some local color. Keep in mind, the ship and it's passengers are the thing that engulfs the town. If you want photo opportunities, get out of the ship's routine.
    Sun rise? Get up early, shoot going in to port. ( the small ships are in around 6 ot 7 am)

  • JWH May 23, 2011 08:17 am

    Wow. This is a great thread and quite interesting responses. My wife and I been taken a dozen cruises and I enjoyed every minute of them. Usually I carry two bridge cameras and a pocket one because they are light and capable to shoot stills and videos. Every morning at 6, already I am on the top deck ready for sunrise shots after my half an hour walk. Few times when the weather was bad, I stay down decks shooting different locations like casino, lobbies, the ship and atrium…I noticed every ship has it own unique theme, decorations and hundred of art pieces. Only one early morning on a mega ship, a security approached me while I was shooting the closed casino, we chit chat a bit, I showed him what I had been taken and we were friendly OK. I totally agreed it is hard to get photo you like during the land excursions. But thanks for several tutorials from this site and practices the “shoot and run guerrilla tactic”, when time we are stopping for attractions, I always stay back just a bit from the group while they shooting something and I’ll be shooting the other things and then exchange some photos afterward. Certainly I would not carry a big camera to the dining room or dancing so my little pocket one comes in handy. My most enjoyable destinations were Panama, Columbia and some South America’s regions. People are friendly, local sights were so colorful and the scenery were exceptionally magnificent. Thanks for reading.

  • John Wexler May 23, 2011 12:06 am

    I agree with the author, When your on a cruise, your seeing the glitz the international "made in China" hocker wants you to see.

  • Mary McGrath May 22, 2011 12:36 am

    I've written for a number of photo magazines and web sites. Here's a piece I did a few years ago regarding travel photography. There are several other articles I've written for this web site as well, if you want other tips to help you with your photography.

  • DrKoob May 22, 2011 12:30 am

    You sir are taking the wrong cruises. Get out of the Caribbean. Get off the big cruise lines, Try something small like Azamara or Oceana. Took a 14 day from Singapore to Hong Kong. Each port had an overnight stop. Check out the photos I got and I'm not that good. They are some of the best I have taken.

    The big lines are fine for rest, relaxation and food but after 20+cruises I can tell you that the big lines are not for picture taking.

  • moliver May 21, 2011 02:40 pm

    I agree that it's hard to find really good shots on a cruise. We did our first cruise last year and I only got a few that I was really proud of. I did get several shots that were great snapshot quality, and that was fine. My favorite shot was this one posted here. No sunsets off the ship, but this one was quite nice. It was our last night on board.

    We are booked on another cruise for November (our 25th anniversary) and I'm taking more time investigating the destinations. I'm hoping to get private guides for a few places at least that will allow us to take time and go and do what we want. Most of these are actually cheaper than the people packed blow and go standard excursions.

    [eimg url='' title='Sunset_small.JPG']


  • Trep Ford May 21, 2011 02:27 pm

    The author learned some important lessons on this trip. As Wilbur Wilbur Wright said, "What is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery."

    So many thoughts on this one:

    1) DRAWBACKS OF MULTI-TASKING: Any time our attentions are divided like this (partly on family time, partly on great shooting), we're not going to get great results with either. If you want to cruise to shoot, then cruise to shoot, I suspect you'll get great results. If you're point is to spend time with family, then spend time with family. A few shots along the way is fine, but serious shooting and serious togetherness only work if you're BOTH shooting. When my wife and I are BOTH shooting, then we can get into spending time doing serious shooting, otherwise ... she comes first on vacation.

    2) ON VACATION, STAY LIGHT: If you decide to bring some gear along when vacationing, keep it small, light and inconspicuous. One of the regular contributors here once said (paraphrased) "when on vacation, leave the big gear behind". His point was that if vacation is for spending time with family, big gear is just in the way of the REAL point. So true. Heavy gear requires time and attention to haul, prep and use, none of which is adding to your experience of vacation or family. It's fine to do a little shooting along the way, but try limiting yourself to only gear that fits easily in and is easy to retrieve from your day pack. Don't even consider a tripod and don't think in terms of those kinds of shots. Some of the greatest travel shots in the world AREN'T razor sharp ... they're just a bit blurred ... with LIFE.

    When I'm spending time with my family on a day trip or vacation, I only take small stuff that's easy to handle, easy to stow, and doesn't tempt me to even try to get the kinds of shots I'm not really going to have the chance to shoot properly anyway. The lack of big gear also keeps cash seeking pesky locals at a distance.

    3) YOU'RE BETTER THAN YOU THINK: When I was young, I was also drawn by the temptation to bring the big stuff on vacations. It is a natural enough temptation. But I learned some really valuable lessons when I finally committed myself only to small, lightweight gear when I'm on leisure time.

    A) I can get a LOT more out of the small stuff than I ever dreamed possible. Push your photographic skills a bit and learn how to get the most out of your light gear, not just the big stuff. Sure, there's some prestige points for walking down the street with that tree trunk Canon or Nikon around your neck ... but you'll feel pretty good when your photographer friends offer kudos on a shot you took with a pocket camera or super zoom.

    B) If you teach photography, your students will really appreciate the fact that you can teach them how to create great images without having to upgrade their budget by a factor of 10. When my wife and I met, she was amazed by what I could do with a little pocket camera. As Wilbur Wilbur Wright said, "What is chiefly needed is skill rather than machinery."

    There's plenty of chance to use the big guns ... let's take a different approach to vacation. Keep it light ... in both senses of the word. ')

  • MaxRoadster May 21, 2011 12:20 pm

    Your observation seems quite broad- Having some twenty plus cruises the first thing my wife and I do these days is to select the ports of call we both will enjoy- we share an interest in history and culture. Granted, our last cruise was "To Get out of Dodge" for a week. The cruise prior to this last one involved a visit to Egypt, Greece and Turkey. As we were embarking from and watching Italy dissapear I headed stright for the onboard photographers and videographers knowing they already have a plan for the ports and associated passenger excursions. You mention timing and you are absolutely right! Two things here: How much should photography be involved on the trip and how much time should be allocated to family? When the answer is resolved one can go to the next step- Getting to know the employees who have to record the events for passengers will allow you to know where and when the excursions are going to be and allow you to be there earlier or later which will make your photos better then the average tourist type photographs. Happenstance photography while onboard can be interesting as wel if one is prepared to take a photograph. In my conclusion; preparation and chase enhances the end result. Just thinking out loud :-)

  • javier May 21, 2011 09:41 am

    Chris, I think you got a bit confused with the contract jargon... What it states is essentially that you are signing a RELEASE allowing them to use your image for whichever purposes. This is of course limited to photos taken by the company, you are not surrendering the copyright of your own pictures.

    And as of not being able to use their vessel/logo for commercial purposes, how is that any different from any other brand/private property? You can never display a branded product or well known logo (or even a recognizable person, btw) unless you have the corresponding commercial property release or model release. There are a few exceptions (like having some image protected building as part of the city skyline) which are considered "fair use", for the rest rule of thumb says you can only use those pictures for private or editorial use. Not that I am any fond of cruises (never been in one myself) but those rules you show look very similar to what you might to abide to when visiting a museum.

  • Dixieboy May 21, 2011 08:16 am

    Thanks James! I have taken several cruises and feel the same way. We have taken that same cruise out of New Orleans, it is a super good cruise, with good ports. Instead of Honduras, we went into Guatemala. I got several good shots entering port as it was January and was slightly overcast with spotty rain and just minutes after sunrise.They do happen!

    Thanks again!

  • Tom Anthony May 21, 2011 07:44 am

    I agree! Last year I went on a P and O cruise on the Azura to the Baltic. It was great! But it was not a photographers holiday.

  • James Brandon May 21, 2011 04:55 am

    Great discussion going here everyone :-) I will have to try an Alaskan cruise one day soon and the Mediterranean has always been on my list. Perhaps another article in the future would be 'Tips for Taking Pictures On a Cruise' or something to that effect, where I give some tips on how to get the most out of a situation that isn't always ideal for getting great photos. Keep 'em coming everyone!

  • Steve W May 21, 2011 04:15 am

    OK, I won't loudly disagree that it takes (lots of) extra work to get great shots while cruising, but I completely agree with your evaluation of cruising as a great chance to relax. Nonetheless, some of the best photos I've ever taken were taken on a cruise to Alaska. The difference between your ports and those on my Alaska cruise can probably be summed up in one word: WILDLIFE!
    I got pix of bears, bald eagles, seals (sea lions?), humpback AND killer whales (very exciting!) and a few native kayakers, wood carving artisans, reindeer, etc. There were also some very nice nature picture opportunities, including a few beautiful sunsets from the land of the midnight sun, some glaciers, mountains, gardens, forests, and beaches. I agree completely that you need a local's assistance or a shore excursion to get these shots, but they're among the best I've ever taken.
    If I were even semi-competent on this here internet machine, I'd be able to show them to you! (What the heck is an Image URL???!)

  • Mary McGrath May 21, 2011 02:21 am

    I'm enjoying seeing all these threads. As a travel writer, I've gone on many press trips, where taking photos is a part of what I'm required to do. The press trips are very dense with activities, making it a bit hard to take the best pictures, since you are visiting so many destinations throughout the day. I just try to best I can given the time constraints, which are similar to being on a cruise, with excursions, etc. It's easier for me to take a portable point and shoot, but I know I don't have as much control with composition as I'd like.

    I'd love to hear how you guys manage to travel with all that heavy gear. My back hurts just thinking about it...

  • Sam Gordon May 21, 2011 12:20 am

    The problem is the ship size and what the experience is designed to be. Do you expect to get interesting images at a resort because that what a big ship is all about, eating, drinking, etc. They are floating Las Vegas. I'm not being judgmental but they are not designed for photography. Try some of the small ships, lines. For example Zegrahm in Seattle or national Geographic/linblad.. These are designed to be adventures and. Have so many photo opportunities you head will get into places the big ships can't get into, the crew is there to help you find great image possibilities. I always have my tripod with me on the ship but I never take it on the hikes, rambles, nor walking around the city. ( I crank up my shutter speed and don't expect to do any HDR or pano) my typical day starts at 6 am as we enter port and ends at 10 pm, exhausted) (I don't miss anything since there are no shows or night clubs). Download my images, charge my batteries, make sure my lens are ready and cameras happy and I'm ready for the next challenge. The lesson: small ships and adventure cruising.

  • Lara May 20, 2011 02:10 pm

    All good points, but then it also depends on your expectations and point of view. If you want to take those sunrises and sunsets from the Ports of Call, then you're not on the right trip. I just decided to change my focus and found countless of inspiration inside the ship - there were details galore in the lights, the windows, the restaurant while setting for the night... I just explored a different side of things and came home with some interesting shots. Some of the light issues might also be resolved depending on the time of year you are traveling and the location - are the days short or long? In summary, I agree and disagree. A cruise may be a perfect opportunity to find new inspiration in photographing things that are not your usual style. Because, let's face it, hell probably would freeze over before any of us took ANY trip without our gear. ;)

  • Bob Kleinhans May 20, 2011 01:12 pm

    I both agree and disagree. We have always used Princess Cruise Lines and have pulled into ports very early in the morning. I've taken some great pictures at dawn in Alaska, and found the late afternoon lighting great as we pulled out of Boston Harbor. We also went to Roatan and I found Mahogany Bay a good place to photograph. As I recall there were some rusted shipwrecks in the bay. Indeed shore excursions are the best way to get off the beaten path and get some nice photographs, some can be a bit pricey, but they are worth the experience of learning a little more about the culture of a place you may never see again and mingling and photographing the local people is priceless.
    Even "snapshots" are a great memory enhancing tool.

  • James May 20, 2011 11:47 am

    Been on two cruises with my DSLR. Went out and got a Canon S95 for the next one. Life's too short, it's a vacation. If you want portfolio pictures go to your destination of choice for a few days instead of a few hours.

  • Jim May 20, 2011 11:32 am

    Personally, I don't agree with you. It depends on what kind of cruise you are talking about. There are cruises tailored especially for and / or geared toward photography. If you are looking for good shots maybe you should take one of these cruises instead.

  • Mei Teng May 20, 2011 10:49 am

    I never do cruises. Mainly because I feel that's not the way to travel and see the world. I prefer to travel by land or air.

  • Julian May 20, 2011 09:32 am

    I have been on a 7 day cruise in the South Pacific, when i was just getting into photography.
    Back then my photographic eye wasn's what it was now, and looking back at the photos, i can see potential in shots that i took, and also missed opportunities in the memories i have.

    But in saying that, I did get some fantastic shots. All through the day. My port calls wern't restricted to 8am to 5pm, some days we would get into port as the sun was rising, and the sun rising over these small, lush green islands is really a sight to behold. and a few of the ports we didnt leave till late in the evening.

    While i had the options to shoot within these "golden hours", I would have been crazy to put in my mind that these were the only times where i would get a good shot. Id like to think that as a photographer i should be able to produce a solid image at any time of the day, or night. Which leads to all the time that you have while you are on the ship, We saw (and i shot) dolphins swimming along with the ship. Entering and leaving the ports, of these islands creates some fantastic, almost arial opportunities. And then there was the ship itself, which, when left to explore created a mountain of opportunities for quality photos.

    So in my experience, cruising is a great way to relax and get back to shooting. Like James said in this post, its a holiday where you dont have to do anything. You have every part of you holiday planed and done for you. Its perfect to spend with your family and friends, stress free, which in my mind is a great time to take photos. And is definitely on my "to - do AGAIN" list.

  • ColininOz May 20, 2011 09:02 am

    For a cruise with a difference go container ship. If you can, stop off somewhere interesting and get a different container ship home. Or the same one next time around. Container terminals are good spots for 'industrial' shots, as are the ships themselves. Only a handful of other passengers, run of the ship - bridge, engine room, officers mess, usually happy smiling Phillipino crew , relaxed and leisurely pace. Except in port when all Hell breaks loose loading and unloading containers. This travelling is also wondrously cheap. Even with 'single occupancy' of a usually fairly luxurious cabin resembling a good motel suite. Because the 'passengers' are a side line there is none of the cruise ship pressure to conform, spend, and make merry . But dont be late returning aboard as they do not wait for you. I am off on another trip in one next month.

  • wesley hilton May 20, 2011 08:50 am

    i disagree with your view on photos on a cruise. i have been on several and gotten some beautiful shots. maybe because i took tours with many of the locals and never experienced any bad results. i have gotten up early and captured some great sunrise cruising into port. some of my best shots were leaving a port including sunsets.

  • Richard May 20, 2011 08:31 am

    I love cruises.A great chance to spend quality time with my wife and any friends who travel with us. Photography on a cruise is what it is. That said, what a great way to scout areas of the world for future "photography" trips at a reasonable cost. Not much said here about indoor photography on a cruise.I have some great interior shots in everything from tavernas to cathedrals As well my wife enjoys a trip where I don't spend the entire time looking through through a camera lens. The photography that is done on cruises by the "photography departments" is truly awfull.

  • Luis Matias May 20, 2011 08:20 am

    Hi James
    I did only one cruise with my family staring in Venice > Bari > several Greek Islands > Dubrovnik > Venice and I agree partialy with you and almost all of the above repliers.

    Yes, the time to shoot can be a little short, but travel photography isn't always like that?
    Yes, you never get a good sunset/sunrise only the sunniest hours, but you can shoot people and markets (my preference to catch local sellers and buyers).
    Yes, good photo gear make you a target but all turists are targeted everywhere (same precautions everywhere).
    Yes, you cannot change/adapt your schedule like if you were on foot, but with family (with family I mean teenagers) do you really wait to get it? I think's very dificult.
    Yes, you can't take night shots that in most places show the true local environment.

    Cruises for me have the following advantages:
    - Shots in the ship
    - Waking up every morning in a new city without any work and effort.
    - The ship is a 5 star traveling hotel that lets you sleep peacefully and have good quality food; waking up in the next morning refreshed and ready for another hard day's walk. More, you always travel at night saving time and that you can't do if you are traveling by plain/train. You will lose time in traveling and checking in and out of hotels (of course you can travel by night but you will be exausted the second day forward). In the ship you can leave your luggage safely and carry only photographic gear [ :-))) ]
    - You can take pictures from the top of the ship, at a high altitude, obtaining a view point that you have low probability to get in leisure travel photography. That was the way I got good photos of Venice and Dubrovnik

  • Carolyn May 20, 2011 08:18 am

    Hm, I was hoping to read this and find tops for taking good cruise photos but that's not what I got. I happen to be going on such a cruise to the Caribbean in a couple of months (my second, the first was to Alaska). I agree when you say it's hard to take portfolio-worthy pictures at ports and it's true about all the jewelry shops you'll find in these so-called local cities. It was hard to find any authentic moments to capture on film. However I thought different about planning the trip to the Caribbean what with sunrise and sunset pictures. It's hard to work around the cruise's itinerary but I'm sure one could definitely get a different perspective of it elsewhere. I suppose it won't be the same. As my cruise is for 10 days, I hope to challenge you in finding those worthy moments... but I'm still an amateur.

  • Noland May 20, 2011 06:47 am

    After reading your article, the photo opportunities on a cruise do sound bleak. As well as, the posted comment on the photography restrictions in the ticket contracts. I got roped into a bus tour in China, i.e. Beijing, XiAn, Pan Yu and Hong Kong. The Cruise sounds like a photo expedition when compared to the photo opportunities I had on a 7 day bus tour! My wife wants us to go on a cruise next. In the back of my mind, I was wondering about the possibility of good photo opportunities.....thanks for the warning. LOL

  • George Synakowski May 20, 2011 06:43 am

    We took a river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam and had good photo ops.

  • Geoff May 20, 2011 05:25 am

    I agree, purrdey, but I've already said "probably been on my last cruise". Sunset/sunrise in port really is much better - colours on buildings, other ships, hills, jungle even. I was in the navy for over 25 years - I've seen more than enough sunsets and sunrises at sea.

    Glad a 'proper' cruise is 15 days for you..... way out of my league, aren't you?

  • purrdey May 20, 2011 04:49 am

    Well all I can say is you took the wrong cruise, it all sounds a bit rushed, with only 9 hours in any one port.. First off, as a seasoned cruiser, 7 days is a joke of a cruise: you've just about found your way around the ship and met a few people when you have to get off. To us, a 'proper' cruise is 15 days, maybe a bit longer, and covers an itinerary that would be impossible to replicate other than by getting on and off planes, and constantly packing and unpacking. Second, you need some overnights in port, which you only get on a more leisurely cruise.
    But what's with the sunrise and sunset IN port? There's one of each every day and you can get some great shots at sea.
    Purely as an example, just before Easter I came back from a cruise between Hong Kong and Dubai, via Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Burma (three days near Rangoon), Cochin, Mumbai and Muscat. I took 2500 RAW images and I'm still ploughing through them, and tinkering with the best in PSE/Photomatix.
    The best advice I can give anyone is to find a mid-size ship with a great 15-day itinerary, rather than some behemoth zapping round the Caribbean for 7 days, trebling the population each time it docks.

  • Alison Sargent May 20, 2011 04:41 am

    I went on a Mediterranean cruise last fall and the problem with the light was the most frustrating. Barely ate a thing was so busy trying to get to interesting spots and always looking for the shot. Have to say I loved every minute of it though.

  • Geoff May 20, 2011 03:42 am

    My only experience of cruises were in the Caribbean. The first cruise, on the Queen Mary 2, we seemed to get into port right at dawn and leave at dusk, so there were lots of good shots of harbours in great light. The excursions included two, Barbados and St Thomas, that were meant to be 'photographic tours' and they were almost useless in terms of time allowed to wander even for a few minutes.... a lot of "OK, here we are at ****, nice pictures, bus leaves again in 5 minutes". Then we were left at the tour guide's cousin's Rum Punch shack on a dusty road beside the beach. The second version of this, on St Thomas, drove us around for two hours then left us on a scruffy beach for another two hours. I'd taken full photo kit for this cruise - didn't seem to be a problem.

    Second cruise was with Norwegian Cruise Line - the "Norwegian Jewel", out of NYC, didn't get into any port until gone 9am and left well before sunset. (Let's face it, if the passengers are ashore they're not spending money on the ship). I didn't even bother with my DSLR on any of the five islands - my Canon G10 was sufficient and much more convenient - I wasn't expecting time to go trekking with DSLR and tripod. After the poor experiences with excursions on the earlier cruise we didn't organise anything from the ship, partly because the 'official' excursions cost three times as much. (Though I understand the point about booking through the ship or cruise line, because you've got a good chance that they'll hold the ship for a while if you're late getting back, whereas if you're out on your own and not back in time - they're gone!)

    The privately organised excursions, where you deal with just a taxi-driver, are perhaps a bit risky but you get full control of where you go and for how long you stop - even though the driver obviously wants to just get your money and take you to somewhere fairly quickly and back again (so he may get another fare).

    I can't really see Mediterranean cruises being much different, though I understand the Alaskan cruises are much more interesting to photographers. Anyway, I've probably been on my last cruise.

  • Timothy stafford May 20, 2011 02:50 am

    Its really according to where you go we just took a panama canal cruise and in the past we have rented cars at different ports, but on our last cruise one of the ports was columbia. I didnt want to rent a car for safety reasons ,so we were we such with a private tour. But we went on an alaskan cruise last year and we rented a car in 2 of the ports and got away from the crowds and i got some very good pictures .

  • Gino Carrozza May 20, 2011 02:45 am

    great shots yes and as stated most at the worse time of day and usually on a tight schedule... he's exactly right

  • Mike McLeod May 20, 2011 02:32 am

    I got back from a cruise a couple weeks ago and had the exact some issue. However, the previous cruise I went on was in Nov. The sunsets were very close to the typical 5 pm departure time. I did get some nice shots with good light in 2 of the ports. This was a west coast Mexican cruise. So time of the year can make some difference.

  • Rick May 20, 2011 02:16 am

    I could not disagree more. We have had many great cruises and returned with a host of shots and great catalogues. I suggest that you try smaller ships that get to the best moorings, not an hour away from town, avoid the 100,000t monsters, and go to great Places- Venice, the Greek isles east and west, Alaska Norway to name a few.

  • Rick May 20, 2011 02:16 am

    I could not disagree more. We have had many great cruises and returned with a host of shots and great catalogues. I suggest that you try smaller ships that get to the best moorings, not an hour away from town, avoid the 100,000t monsters, and go to great Places- Venice, the Greek isles east and west, Alaska Norway to name a few.

  • Terry A. May 20, 2011 02:02 am

    Lots of good points mentioned in this discussion. We have a cruise designed specifically to allow for photographers to have opportunities to photograph! Hope some of you will come along and join us and enjoy capturing some great images in the eastern Caribbean . . . San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Martin . . . February 2012 . . . info on our web site at .

  • John May 20, 2011 01:48 am

    We took the same basic itineray on Celebrity out of Fort Lauderdale. There's nothing to photograph on board, although I did get several sunrises and sunsets [the latter because we took the late dinner.]

    Ports of Call were bad. Mexican [Aztec] were good to see, lousy to shoot. Cartagena, Colombia was cool - all the city buildings were white, great shots on arrival. Walking through Old Town was good, too.

    But, I only took 274 images in eleven days. compare that with 1200 in seven days on the Canyonlands Tour, or 900 in 6 days in Paris.

  • Tim Krenzke May 20, 2011 12:00 am

    There is some truth to the authors contention that cruises are not ideal for photography, BUT! It really depends on the photographer. If you are willing to stay away from the shopping areas, do diligent research about the port area, and get out early and walk the streets you definitely can find some interesting shots. I agree on the idea of taking the ship's tours. Again, do some research. Find places that are truly photo worthy and go for it. I carry a tripod and camera (formerly a Hasselblad and now a Canon 5d II) and have never been targeted by merchants. I have been surrounded by curious people. That usually led to some interesting portraits of the locals. I found that letting them look through the camera first, and then asking for a picture, works the best. Look, the reality is that all people on a cruise are RICH when compare to most locals. BE CAREFUL. BE SMART. Enjoy cruising with your camera!

  • Doug May 19, 2011 11:13 pm

    I am afraid that I will have to agree with you. For the most, part taking much more than a snapshot when cruising, is more often than not an exercise in frustration. I have found that we are just as well off with my wife's point and shoot when on an excursion. The only time I ever felt as if I got some quality shots was on our second trip to Nassau. It was Remembrance Day (a Sunday) and there was not a lot to do excursion wise. The wife and I opted to take our own walking tour of Nassau and the straw market. Attended church services at the Methodist church there and was able to get some great shots of the stained glass and local RD celebrations.

  • shotslot May 19, 2011 08:25 pm

    Thanks for reminding me not to go on a cruise...I can't stand package holidays because I find them too restrictive it sounds like this would drive me nuts! One question though...Tripod...why?

  • DerekL May 19, 2011 03:04 pm

    The problem is - you're cruising the wrong place... Try Alaska if you want scenery. The other problem (which I also see repeated in the comments) is that you need to be fast and flexible to get the good shots. Effectively, you're shooting 'street'. Which I admit isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's wrong to condemn an entire genre and style because you don't care for it.

    I think if I were to cruise again, I'd spend less time on the scenery, and more time on the people on board the ship...

    My collection of cruising shots from Alaska:

    I could do a lot better nowadays, but it should give some ideas. (And really, most of the good ones I haven't even published yet.)

  • GradyPhilpott May 19, 2011 01:28 pm

    The theme of the article is that cruises aren't designed for the needs of a photographer, so don't expect to build a portfolio on a cruise, and heavy professional gear is not only difficult to manage, but that gear is tantamount to wearing an international orange shirt with the word money emblazoned front and back.

    That makes sense to me, although the last cruise I took was in the Caribbean aboard an LST in 1970.

    The author also said that he was in great need of a retreat from the stresses of the workaday world and some quality time with his wife. Add dining and entertainment to that mix and really there isn't a lot of time for getting those great shots. Travel time to and from interesting destinations limited that time time considerably also.

    I think the article is a good heads up for those who may not know what there in for when they pack up for the trip.

  • Johnp May 19, 2011 09:12 am

    I agree, plus another disadvantage is that when a cruise ship unloads it's passengers into a small port (e.g. cruises from here in Australia go to small pacific islands) the whole area is swamped with tourists. It's hard getting a "local" scene without it being surrounded by by your fellow passengers. It's so much better to have arrived at a destination under your own steam and have the place to yourself (with the good light) after seeing the cruise ship disappear over the horizion.

  • LJOP May 19, 2011 07:18 am

    Great article and follow-up comments. I think the key is your focus. I finally got my husband on an Alaskan cruise with my mom and brother. While I snapped zillions of photos, it was not the type of trip that allowed for the time to get the awesome shots. My husband who is just beginning to dabble in photography commented that a return trip with just the two of us would be in our future. So the cruise was memorable and the pictures will preserve those memories, but it also whet our appetite for revisiting places on our own, without the time constraints of the excursions.

  • Richard Shoaf May 19, 2011 06:04 am

    I liked the points of the author, as they are valid in many locations. Watch what you are shooting for personal and professional use and the legal ramifications. Cruises are GREAT samplers of locations to plan (or not to) for future shoots. I grew up cruising (nearly 10 with my wife of 10 years and over 30 total) Go for the longer transitional cruises as they get you to some unusual locations and do note be afraid to break from the pack.

    I believe this article stirred some discussion,

    Happy cruising, not cursing!


  • MattB May 19, 2011 05:45 am

    I love those kinds of destinations but hate being in a herd. I don't think I'll ever take a cruise unless I'm doing it to please someone else (could happen, but I hope not). Your article just gave me another reason to avoid cruises and just visit places to really experience them.

  • Jess May 19, 2011 05:34 am

    looks like you stirred up some controversy! :) i could not agree with you more, James! this post got my attention because i just went on a cruise myself (also with NCL) last month. i thought i would come back with thousands of images after a week in these beautiful places, but that was not the case at all :) i was almost embarrassed when i did a blog post about the trip and the best photos were of the towel animals in my room! haha

  • Chris May 19, 2011 04:46 am


    You guys may be right. The cruise lines may not be able to use all of your images, just the ones with your likeness in them. Decyphering legal jargon is like decyphering mandarin chinese to me. :)

    However, NCL's contract says that they can use your likeness in any photograph taken during the cruise. RC's contract states that you grant them the exclusive right to include photographic portrayals of Passenger taken during or in connection with the Cruise or CruiseTour. It does not distinguish between photos taken by the cruise line's photographers and photos taken by you or anyone else. It simply says any photograph or photographic portrayal.

    Furthermore, RC and Carnival don't limit what you can't use for commercial purposes to just logos. Both RC's and Carnival's contracts state you cannot utilize any photograph of himself/herself, any other guest, crew, or third party on board the vessel, or depicting the vessel, its design, equipment, or any part thereof whatsoever. So if you want to do a commercial shoot off the boat and don't feature the boat anywhere in your photos, then you will probably be alright.

    I would love to hear the opinion of a contract lawyer on this. These days, photographers' rights seem to get trampled on without much regard.

  • Mary McGrath May 19, 2011 04:43 am

    I recently returned from a 7-Day Western Caribbean cruise, and I didn't even bother taking my SLR. It's too hard trying to set up shots when you're on an itinerary, so I opted to simply use my Panasonic Lumix. I was pretty happy with my shots, but they didn't have the same kick as those I've taken when I'm off alone to explore a locale.

    And when we were in Rome a few years ago, having my SLR with me made me a target for those gypsies
    who try and pick-pocket.

  • Joy May 19, 2011 04:38 am

    I completely agree with this article. I love taking pictures and I am going on this exact same cruise in June with my family. I know going into it i will never see a sunset while in port and mid day shot cause unflattering shadows on just about everything. I feel like one's attitude and expectations of the type of pictures you will receive is a big part of it. I plan on having fun and experimenting by photographing subjects I normally wouldn't. Who knows, it might result in more great shots and treasures I wouldn't normally obtain.

  • Caroline May 19, 2011 03:57 am

    Timely post. My family used to do a lot of Carribbean cruises, with itineraries similar to yours, but that was before I got into photography. Next we're taking one to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday, my first Mediterranean cruise and my first cruise as a serious photographer. I do there there are photo ops wherever you go-- those tacky port shops can be an interesting subject in their own right. Nevertheless, I don't plan on taking a ton of shots becuase the whole point of a cruise is to relax and do nothing.

    I've found that carrying an SLR does make you a target in third world countries (I spent my visit to the Taj Mahal lieterally running away from a guy who was very persistent about giving me "photography tips"). But on the flip side, my parents accidentally left their point and shoot in the back of a taxi at a cruise destination and got it back! This was back in the day when the cost of a digital P&S was probably more than the cab driver earned in an entire year.

    I'd like to see some tips on how to take good pictures inside the cruise ship. For me, it's one of the few times my extended family is all in one place, but the spaces tend to be tight and poorly-lit with a lot of distracting elements in the background.

  • Killian May 19, 2011 03:40 am

    Chris -- you might want to re-read those contracts. The cruise line has the right to use pics taken OF you, not BY you. Legalese isn't always the easiest language to translate, but those are actually pretty simply laid out.

    I do disagree with the author, but it doesn't make him wrong - it just makes us different.

    For me, I take a cruise to see many different things in a short amount of time. When I go to a port, I am trying to see some sights, but my main goal is to see the people, eat the food they eat, learn about their culture. everybody and their brother tries to get the quintessential Caribbean coastline shot, or that perfect sunset portrait, but you can do that any time. In your "boring" places, I have to ask...did you bother to sit and chat with locals? Listen to their stories, smile at their children, show interest in their lives? It is amazing, the photographs you can get when you look INTO a place instead of AT that place.

    I too, was in Roatan. And yes, I took the port shot as well. Whatever. My favorite shot from the whole day? This one: The expression on the boy's face, and the girl's posture tell a story of what's going on. These kids had just gotten released from school; hence their uniforms. But check out the bag the girl is sporting -- clear American influence. This had nothing to do with their poverty level, the light at the time of day, or anything else. It was simply truly seeing the people as they are.

    So if you feel like cruising isn't right for you as a photographer, I respect your opinion. But I would challenge you to truly immerse yourself next time, instead of just strutting around with your camera.

  • David Moore May 19, 2011 03:33 am

    I agree with a lot of the post's views, having been on a Mexican Riviera cruise a couple of years ago. But traveling light on shore, avoiding some of the organized tours, and keeping alert for images that can survive mid-day light, you can come up with something. But it's definitely not ideal if you're looking a photography-driven vacation.

    Here's a post I wrote with 8 tips for photographers on a cruise:

  • Teri Roy May 19, 2011 03:31 am

    I'm going on the very same cruise next week with my family. I'm bringing my old canon rebel XTi in a backpack so I can get some decent shots when I have opportunity, but I'm glad you wrote what you did... My expectations will be a little more realistic! I'm now considering it a challenge, & maybe I'll share something when I get back!

  • Teri Roy May 19, 2011 03:30 am

    I'm going on the very same cruise next week with my family. I'm bringing my old canon rebel XTi in a backpack so I can get some decent shots when I have opportunity, but I'm glad you wrote what you did... My expectations will be a little more realistic! I'm now considering it a challenge, & maybe I'll share something when I get back!

  • B May 19, 2011 03:25 am

    "I figured some people would disagree with me and that is perfectly ok "

    Aw, that would be a nice sentiment if you didn't ask people on Twitter to defend you.

    "Also, I know for a fact that an image taken during twilight or sunrise/sunset is more appealing to viewers than an image taken during noonday sunlight."

    Don't believe everything you read. A noon photo of a UFO landing is way more appealing than a sunset photo not of a UFO landing.

    "Also, I know for a fact that an image taken during twilight or sunrise/sunset is more appealing to viewers than an image taken during noonday sunlight."

    It's nice if you have the choice. If you can afford five multi-day vacations, then yes, that's a much better photographic experience, I'm sure!

    "and of course theres only so many photos of the cruise ship you can take! Not great Flickr fodder!"

    Really? You're the only interesting person on the cruise?

    "It’s true if you are in a possession of good body with L lenses you’re kind a rich man there."

    That makes you rich in about 90% of the world, really.

  • wri7913 May 19, 2011 03:20 am


    You should re-read those contracts.

    They state that any shots done on board for commercial purpose showing any kind of guests or logos of the cruise ship would be a no no. You would need their permission to do so. There are still plenty of generic cruise shots you can come up with and have those models sign release forms. Just make sure you don't have any shots that include the Carnival or RC logos. You will get sued if you do leave a logo in and use it for commercial purpose.

    While on board those cruise ships you also sign over permission for Carnival or RC to take photos or videos of YOU and use them for commercial purposes. It says nothing about using YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS. Big difference there and something you clearly misunderstand.

    Despite those limitations you can still find many good situations for images for your portfolio.

  • wri7913 May 19, 2011 03:10 am

    You can still find some interesting shots to capture and doing shooting on a cruise will force you to become more creative in shots. Yes you won't get the ideal light, but forcing yourself to make good images in bad situations will up your game a bit. If you give up simply because its not the right light, you may want to reconsider your "career" in photography. On the cruise I went on, I was still able to make many good images. A few I would throw into my Portfolio.

    I do agree that I would have loved to explore more at each location (say overnight) and have the perfect light, but that was not an option.

  • Richard Shoaf May 19, 2011 03:05 am

    This would depend on where you are cruising. Having cruised in the Med and North Atlantic a few times this has provided great opportunities for photography and quality photos. (yes some are snapshots) As far as gear, I know many will not like this statement but I use my TrekPod Go! as a walking stick (also defensive weapon if needed) I attempt to hide my gear unless in use with my LowePro 350 as it has the standard look of a backpack and a great place to put a patch or two to throw off those thinking its a camera bag. I use it to carry a few items as well as a couple of lenses (yes it can carry more but a jacket, snacks and water bottle are nice to have easy access. You also can get some great overnight shots with certain cruises. Egypt, Israel and Turkey have great nighttime photo ops.

    I routenly post some of these photos on @RichardShoaf on twitter or online at


  • Chris May 19, 2011 02:55 am

    Like you said, traveling with a 1Ds and 24-70 lens on a larger tripod is probably not the best way to go for travel photography when you are walking a great deal. A smaller DSLR body paired with a good fast prime lens supported by a much smaller travel tripod (such as the Gitzo GT1542T) should be sufficient, not to mention lighter. I'm able to fit all that gear into a small inconspicuous duffel.

    Since you're shooting during the middle of the day, you will most likely be shooting at your lowest ISO. At ISO 100, your images won't be much cleaner (if at all) on your 1Ds than they would on a T3i.

    One thing that you failed to touch on is the cruise company's use of your images that you shoot during your cruise. Basically, when you sign the ticket contract, you give the cruise company the right to use your images without compensation. Section 16 of Norwegian Cruise Line's ticket contract states the following:

    16. Use of Guest Likeness: The Guest consents to Carrier's use and display of the Guest's likeness in any video, photograph or other depiction for any purpose, commercial or otherwise, without compensation or liability of any kind. The Guest's consent extends to minors and other persons in the care and charge of the Guest.

    Royal Carribbean and Carnival take it a step further and have you handover exclusive rights to your images to them. Here are the provisions in Carnival's and Royal Caribbean's ticket contracts respectively:

    Carnival's ticket contract:

    Carnival and/or its promotional partners have the exclusive right to include photographic, video and other visual portrayals of Guest in any medium of any nature whatsoever for the purpose of trade, advertising, sales, publicity or otherwise, without compensation to Guest, and all rights, title and interest therein (including all worldwide copyrights therein) shall be Carnival’s sole property, free from any claims by Guest or any person deriving any rights or interest from Guest.

    Guest hereby expressly agrees that he/she will not utilize any tape recording, video, or photograph(s) of himself/herself, any other guest, crew, or third party on board the vessel, or depicting the vessel, its design, equipment, or any part thereof whatsoever, for any commercial purpose or in any media broadcast, or for any other non private use, without the express written consent of Carnival. Guest acknowledges that by boarding the vessel, at any time, Guest irrevocably agrees to this provision, which is a condition precedent to being permitted on board the vessel and can be enforced by any legal means, including, but not limited to, injunctive relief.

    Royal Caribbean's ticket contract:

    Guest hereby grants to Carrier (and its assignees and licensees) the exclusive right throughout the universe and in perpetuity to include photographic, video, audio and other visual or audio portrayals of Passenger taken during or in connection with the Cruise or CruiseTour (including any images, likenesses or voices) in any medium of any nature whatsoever (including the right to edit, combine with other materials or create any type of derivative thereof) for the purpose of trade, advertising, sales, publicity, promotional, training or otherwise, without compensation to the Guest. Such grant shall include the unrestricted right to copy, revise, distribute, display and sell photographs, images, films, tapes, drawings or recordings in any type of media (including but not limited to the Internet). Guest hereby agrees that all rights, title and interest therein (including all worldwide copyrights therein) shall be Carrier's sole property, free from any claims by Passenger or any person deriving any rights or interest from Passenger.
    Guest hereby agrees that any recording (whether audio or video or otherwise) or photograph of Guest, other guests, crew or third parties onboard the Vessel or depicting the Vessel, its design, equipment or otherwise shall not be used for any commercial purpose, in any media broadcast or for any other nonprivate use without the express written consent of Operator. The Operator shall be entitled to take any reasonable measure to enforce this provision.

    Good luck using any frames you shoot in a portfolio.

  • Mico Rowler May 19, 2011 02:35 am

    Agreed with corey - and, a big part of the whole challenge of photography is just that, making the most of your surroundings, turning the mundane and boring into the creative and spectacular. (Btw "mundane" and "boring" are two words I've never heard used to describe a cruise.) The burden lies on you to "make" the images from your surroundings, regardless of where you are. There are fantastic photos waiting to be taken EVERYWHERE. It all depends on your creativity. And regarding the locals thinking you have money, it's not because of your camera / tripod, it's because you are a TOURIST who arrived on a CRUISE SHIP! Mico

  • ScottC May 19, 2011 02:35 am

    Timely article! We're leaving on what will be my first cruise this weekend, eastern Med, Croatia, Athens, and Turkey.

    I've read the disagreements in the comments. I tend to disagree on the opportunity for photos but for a less contentious reason. Latitude has a lot to do with light during the day. In Europe shadows are a big problem, but the days this time of year are much longer in the Med versus the Caribbean so some opportunities should be present.

    We usually absorb the places we travel to, so the short time in amazing places have been a challenge to plan for. Great advice, I'll be watching out for those Taxi drivers.

    We will spend a few days in Venice along the way, where I'm looking to improve on something like this:

  • Wayfaring Wanderer May 19, 2011 02:30 am

    This was a rather timely post because I have been heavily contemplating a cruise for the first time. The insights you have offered do bring up some great points that are definitely something to consider when planning a cruise.

    Sunrises and sunsets aren't really the things that I typically try to capture. I always seem to be sleeping in or doing something else once the day shifts to evening.

    It's not hard to find images that don't include perfect lighting if you know where to look and how to see photographic opportunities. In my travels, mid-day is usually when I'm out and about taking pictures and I typically have no trouble overcoming those "bad lighting" situations.

    I still want to go on a cruise, but it sounds like limiting the number of ports may be the key to having more time in each area. Thanks for the insights!


    Current post: -- Trail Days in Damascus, VA:

  • kerrberr May 19, 2011 02:28 am

    I actually agree with a lot of this. Before I had ever cruised, I looked at itineraries & said "But I want to see a sunset!" and passed on quite a few opportunities. I have many of the same problems you did, especially trying to take great shots at mid-day (in the Caribbean sun --yuck). However often I would be on the ship, just "hanging out" & missing good opportunities because I didn't have my camera or wasn't ready to shoot. I tend to come back with mostly snapshots of our great time, & only a few great shots. I consider cruising a way to sort out which destinations I need to visit again. I try to note what places I'd go back to get better pictures on a future visit.

  • Rick May 19, 2011 02:25 am

    The problem I typically have when trying to do serious photos while on vacation is the people I'm traveling with aren't into photography as much as I. So, as not to bore them with taking their time watching me carefully compose photos, I'm forced to grab a few shots as I can when I can. I sometimes get some keepers, but I do far better work when I can get off on my own and concentrate on my craft. Photography really isn't a "team sport" and even more so on a cruise when one typically has a limited schedule, things to see, places to go, and travel partners who have an agenda that doesn't include photography.

  • Nicole May 19, 2011 02:25 am

    Not that I've ever been on a cruise before, but I have been on enough guided tours while we were living in South Sinai that I wholeheartedly agree.
    Tours like that are great to get the general idea, but don't expect to get anywhere in decent light (midday blazing sun at the pyramids in Cairo while we spend the morning INSIDE the museum).

  • Chris May 19, 2011 02:18 am

    Cruising is a good way to connect vacation with environmental pollution. Sorry to say, but this is true. From a photographers perspective: It limits you in every single way when it comes to taking photos. I was once on a ferry and thought again and again: If I just were at the coast line or some other vessel.

  • Elizabeth May 19, 2011 02:13 am

    I agree on even a larger scale. When you're on somebody else's schedule it's just about impossible to get really really good shots. Most of the time you don't even have the time to set up a good shot. In March I took a tour of Italy, and while the trip was wonderful, and my family and I had a great time, and I did get pictures that are perfectly fine mementos of the trip, only maybe two even potentially had that "wow" factor. I gave up on it early on - I just said, hey, we're not after art here, I just want this recorded.

  • Jody May 19, 2011 02:11 am

    I was on the same ship a two years ago, and if you swap Santo Tomas de Castillo, Guatemala for your Honduras stop, I had the same trip. I was with my family, so I didn't have much time to try to make art, but I did get a few shots I am proud of. Unfortunately, they fell off the end of my Flickr stream. I mostly agree. You don't have much time in the short stops that you are given to explore enough and have the patience to wait for the light or make something happen. You can take away some great shots, but it would have been better to have more than 6 hours to do it.

  • heaterguy May 19, 2011 02:11 am

    I disagree with this article. I have been to most of those ports and there are many shooting opportunities for your portfolio. Come on now, you can't find a portfolio shot in New Orleans? In Casa Maya I found the building colors invigorating amd the people more than willing to be photographed.
    Didn't you think to wake up early enough to go out on the deck with your tripod and camera for a sunset?
    If you didn't see any photo opportunities it is because you weren't looking.


  • Cheryl Spears May 19, 2011 02:07 am

    We were in Italy in December and I got a lot of pictures. Some good, and some not so good. The problem is when you are on a tour, you sometimes can't get the picture you want, and usually there are time restraints which doesn't help.
    I will still take pictures wherever I go.

  • Carol May 19, 2011 02:05 am

    I disagree also. I took a Mediterranean cruise and got lots of great shots, both entering and leaving port, and especially on shore. My camera was less conspicuous than the equipment you described, but I didn't have any problem with others bothering me. Lots of tourists have cameras. And the best part was that the days at sea offered Adobe Photoshop Elements classes. My cruise on the Celebrity Solstice was perfect for a photographer.

  • Karl May 19, 2011 02:02 am

    As a seasoned cruiser, I can appreciate and agree with most of your comments, especially about the cruise ship itself. With a big but coming - we have been to virtually all the standard ports of call in the Caribbean at least once. The excursions are fine; but if you really want to do these locations for photography - cruising is not the way to go. Too little time to explore. Go to the sites by plane and stay a while. That being said, even in the local ports there are often many picture-taking opportunities. Look for the people, the side streets, even the tourists. I have made lots of interesting images while waiting for my wife on a shopping trip!

  • Regan May 19, 2011 02:02 am

    I had some fantastic sunrise and sunset shots, in and away from ports. It's mandatory to get away from the wharf to get the best shoots. If you're not on an excursion, I recommend you find a "credentialed" guide. They'll usually be around the transportation area. He get's paid by you, agree up front no stores, if that's what you want. He'll keep the predators away and will quite possibly take you to a view you wouldn't have seen.

  • John Davenport May 19, 2011 01:58 am

    @James - I agree with you that you're not going to easily find a portfolio worthy photograph at noon very easily. How bad is the light around 4pm though? It's got to be getting at least a lot more favorable for your shots, maybe not idea, but you can't exactly hope for ideal in every shot, can you?

    Then again I guess you'd only have 10-15 minutes to shoot and then you risk missing your boat. I guess it's just a matter of like Erik said - cruises are more of a sampler platter, find interesting places that you'd like to book an extended stay at in the future.

  • Jeremy Hall May 19, 2011 01:58 am

    Having just recently been on a wonderful Mediterranean cruise I agree with your assessment. Snapshots were plentiful, but often the time of day was not ideal for the locations we were visiting. Of course it wasn't my focus to make great images, rather to simply enjoy everything we were experiencing. There were great images to be found and made, but it was not as ideal compared to a land based trip where I could have more control over the times I was visiting great vistas.

  • Bonnie May 19, 2011 01:45 am

    It depends upon where you go and the shore excursions--I love to hike and I have my camera backpack and the camera and lens I want with some water and a few extras. In Alaska, who needs more? If I didn't get stunning photos there it's my problem!

    Also, don't forget those pre- and post- cruise trips. You'll have several days to be around an area. On Easter Island this meant doing a lot of walking and seeing some amazing sights. There was a sunset shot by a cave that was amazing and that was with an old point and shoot--I'd do that trip again in a heart beat just for the photo potential.

  • fotomate May 19, 2011 01:38 am

    excellent article! It's true if you are in a possession of good body with L lenses you're kind a rich man there. I am planning this year to take a cruise somewhere about Mediterranean Sea. I hope I will be able to share my details with you.

  • @antjphotog May 19, 2011 01:35 am

    I agree withthe writer. I prefer to see an area for longer than a few hours (preferably over a few days) to get the full experience of the location. Plus if there is something I couldn't photograph on the first day, at least I can put it on the "Round 2" list.

  • Jason May 19, 2011 01:30 am

    I went on the same cruise as you James (different NCL ship and a couple of weeks before but same locations) and found it hard to balance carrying around kit and enjoying the brief stop over in each location.

    Was constantly balancing which lens,kit to take etc with family commitments. Expensive cameras and days on the beach dont mix.

    Some of the ports on that cruise aren't appealing at all...Costa Maya especially. It would take an extremely talented creative photographer to find anything worthwhile there...and not a lot to do outside the port either.

    The Mayan ruins just outside Belize were my photographic highlight of the holiday but being in a tour ultimately results in hoards of other photographers and sightseers clung to the ruins like mussels to a rock...with no option to stay late to get good light and a clear picture (unless i wanted to fly myself home to the UK from S America)

    ...and of course theres only so many photos of the cruise ship you can take! Not great Flickr fodder!

  • Sharon May 19, 2011 01:22 am

    I agree with you. I worked for an airline for 16 years and was lucky enough to actually have time off to explore my destinations. But sadly at many of them it was just too dangerous to be walking around with my Canon 20D (I've since upgraded to a 7D). I always felt like I had a "target" on my back. Oh and I did one cruise holiday, around the Greek Islands. Most boring holiday photos I have ever taken!

  • James Brandon May 19, 2011 01:22 am

    Very interesting points John and Corey. I figured some people would disagree with me and that is perfectly ok :-). As I mentioned in the post, the opportunities for taking pictures are endless, but I like to have time with my subjects where I can really think through how to compose a scene and make it as interesting as possible. Also, I know for a fact that an image taken during twilight or sunrise/sunset is more appealing to viewers than an image taken during noonday sunlight. The conditions simply aren't ideal for getting gallery quality images because of the light. And photography is of course ALL about light.

    I can go out in my backyard right now and get some decent images, but it doesn't mean I prefer to :-). With that, I stand by my statement that, "Cruising is awesome, but not for REALLY making pictures."

    If I'm simply out for getting images and my choices are to either go to 5 places for a couple hours at noon, or one place for 30 minutes at civil twilight, I'll go with the latter every time :-)

  • Jae May 19, 2011 01:20 am

    Interesting tip! I took a five day solo trip to Roatan and wish I brought more gear instead of just my Micro Four Thirds kit and underwater bag. Then again, after what you said, maybe not.

    I don't think you can do anything about the locals fighting for your business as long as you look foreign. More importantly, just make sure all your gear is well insured internationally.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 19, 2011 01:18 am


    I have been on numerous cruises from Alaska, Mexico had a wonderful time. I like to think of cruises as a "sampler" of destination that I might want to visit in the future for a better look. Usually I like to plan some day excursions at each port of call - they usually yield many interesting photo opportunities.

    There are opportunities everywhere you look, like this old row boat!

  • John Davenport May 19, 2011 01:13 am

    I agree with Corey - While it can be difficult or maybe not even ideal to find the shots you want they are there - no matter where you are.

    While cruising does have it's own unique challenges it's working through those challenges that makes a good photographer take amazing photographs.

    Anywhere you go there will be things in your way and if you truly want to take amazing photographs everywhere you go you have to be ready to fight for that shot and not wait for it to come to you.

  • Metallion58 May 19, 2011 01:05 am

    Couldn't agree with you more.
    Although you can pick your cruise with earlier arrival and/or later departure from some ports of call, in most cases you'll face some great opportunities for photos but very few opportunities for great photos.
    But don't let that stop you.
    I found that taking pictures in those conditions helped me being more selective when I got back from the cruise, which is an added (and unexpected) bonus.
    And the quality time you'll spend with your loved one is just priceless :)

    [eimg link='' title='Croisière 2010' url='']

  • Corey May 19, 2011 01:02 am

    Um, I don't believe a word of that. There are opportunities for beautiful pictures all around you. You just were to concerned with being on vacation i guess? Not sure, This is where you should be the most creative because to say the ports of call aren't really good for pictures is kinda slack. You just didn't look good enough. I believe someone could go off and come back with several beautiful images. Never stop learning, never stop creating