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Going on a cruise?

Tips for great cruise pictures


You can usually count on fair weather for photography when on a cruise.
You can usually count on fair weather for photography when on a cruise.

One advantage of a cruise ship is the amount of camera gear you can bring. You have a "home base" - your cabin, where you can securely keep a lot of photography equipment, taking out only what is appropriate for the moment.

For the digital photographer, this may mean that you can leave your camera bag, your charger, spare batteries, accessories and accessory lenses, your picture storage unit, even your tripod behind for a photography stroll around the ship. Even when you leave the ship to visit a port of call for the day, you will probably need to carry no more than your camera, a spare battery and your memory cards.

If you are shooting film, you can pack extra lenses, an extra camera body, that big equipment case, an electronic flash unit and batteries for it, reflectors, a variety of filters and plenty of film of different types and film speeds.

Most cruises are scheduled around fair weather, with reliable sunshine on most days, calling for daylight-type film. But, many shipboard events can occur indoors where the lighting is mainly incandescent, requiring tungsten film for proper light balance. (If you consistently use flash indoors, you can stick with daylight-type film.)


Be sure to attach a polarizing filter when you are shooting outdoors in bright sunlight. To discover how it can improve your photography, click here.

On darker, overcast days, you should consider using film of a faster speed, especially if you will be shooting moving subjects or using a telephoto lens. Digital camera users should adjust their sensitivity setting to a higher number, say from 200 to 400 or even 800 if you need an especially-fast shutter speed to prevent camera shake or to stop action.

As the ship approaches land or cruises by islands or through channels, choose the side of the ship that has the sun at your back whenever you can, to photograph the scenery.

Occasionally skies will darken. Changing to a faster film when there is less ambient light will prevent camera shake.
Occasionally skies will darken. Changing to a faster film when there is less ambient light will prevent camera shake.

When the sun is directly overhead, most pictures suffer, however you can still achieve interesting shipboard photographs by using your composition skills.
When the sun is directly overhead, most pictures suffer, however you can still achieve interesting shipboard photographs by using your composition skills.

If you have no choice but to shoot into the sun, fill flash is unfortunately not an option when the scenery is backlit, since no flash is powerful enough to illuminate it. This does not mean that you can shoot only brightly-lit scenery, though. Filling the frame so that there is little sky in the picture will cause your automatic exposure system to open more, bringing greater brightness to shadow areas. You can also often manually over-ride your camera's auto-exposure for similar results. If you position yourself beneath a ship's overhang so that you are in shadow when photographing into the light, you will avoid the risk of lens flare.

Side-lighting can produce excellent results when shooting scenery, and silhouettes of a tropical island with the sun setting in the frame make classic scenery pictures.

Generally, the worst lighting for most scenery photography occurs when the sun is directly overhead. Fortunately, that is when most of us on the cruise are inside having lunch. This doesn't necessarily mean that you should put the camera away at noon. If you are sailing past a scene that you won't come upon again, go ahead and shoot it, regardless of the lighting angle. Sometimes, direct overhead lighting can produce lovely results with subjects such as sealife, birds, objects directly below you, and shaded shipboard subjects when properly exposed.


WHAT SHOULD YOU PHOTOGRAPH ON A CRUISE?

You might be surprised at the extensive list of potential subjects. Most of them will be of interest to friends and family when you return home, and will help you to remember the pleasure and highlights of your holiday for years to come:

  • capture your first impressions of the ship while they are fresh,
  • food displays (everyone wants to know how the food was. A picture will show them.)
  • your cabin and its features,
  • the view from your porthole, using it as a foreground frame,
  • shots around the swimming pool,
  • new friends whom you meet aboard,
  • features of the ship, including those that have good graphic design appeal,
  • sunsets, and if you are an early riser, sunrises,
  • shots that reveal the character, personality and interests of your traveling companions,
  • staff with whom you have become friendly,
  • entertainers and the stage spectacles that take place,
  • stormy seas, if they occur, particularly if there are other vessels in the scene,
  • shipboard activities, such as sports and skill competitions,
  • special gala events such as a ship's costume ball,
  • and awards presentations.

Be on the lookout for colorful scenery picture opportunities as your ship sails through channels or cruises alongside tropical islands.
Be on the lookout for colorful scenery picture opportunities as your ship sails through channels or cruises alongside tropical islands.

Water activity in foreign ports can enliven your holiday photo album.
Water activity in foreign ports can enliven your holiday photo album.

We haven't left the ship yet. The list grows enormously when you decide to go ashore, opening up a whole new photography chapter in your cruise experience. For great pictures ashore, check out our other tips and hints for travel photography in foreign lands, starting here with what you should know about your destination.

Be sure to learn what time the ship will be coming into port so you can be on deck to photograph your arrival. The arrival information, along with a local weather forecast, can usually be found in the Daily Events sheet printed on board and slipped under cabin doors at night. Arrival time can be exciting, with plenty of colorful activity around the ship. You may get some of your best cruise pictures as you are coming into port and immediately after. When photographing subjects below you, such as small boats with native wares or little boys in canoes, try to get some of the ship into one or two of your pictures to show scale. Use your telephoto lens and your wide-angle lens for variety.


As you are leaving the ship to spend some time ashore, ensure that your camera strap is securely around your neck, and that your lens cap is on. You don't want to accidentally drop it into the briny deep, or scratch the surface of the lens. If the weather is inclement or you will be going ashore in a lighter or water taxi, be sure to wrap your camera or even your entire camera bag in waterproof plastic for protection from rain and salt spray.

Be sure to look back as you head ashore to photograph your ship in an exotic setting. If you are already ashore, include foreground objects such as palm trees, to increase interest and make a pleasing composition.

One final note. A number of cruises offer shipboard photography contests for passengers, sometimes with attractive prizes. You have nothing to lose by entering. Entering could not only be rewarding, but fun, too. And it's always educational to see how your pictures are judged. Be sure to find out if your cruise ship holds photo contests.

A picture of your ship at dock in an exotic setting can be nicely framed using foliage in the foreground.
A picture of your ship at dock in an exotic setting can be nicely framed using foliage in the foreground.