I spent approximately 8 years working for various cruise ship companies starting as a staff photographer and working my way up to photo manager.
How did I find the job
How I became part of this industry was through friends I knew who had previously worked on board. I was envious and at that time I had the opportunity to look for work. I started to apply for work in pro photo magazines/national papers and eventually applied with Princess Cruise from an ad in the British journal of photography. There are other avenues to apply, through agencies and direct to the companies. My interview was in Southampton which was at the P&O UK head office.
I first began my journey in June 2001 as a level 1 “shagger” a term used by the experienced fotogs on the then Crown princess a mid-size ship holding around 1800 pax and with crew of 900. She was already then 10yrs old.
I joined the ship in Copenhagen from London so in contrast to flying around the world to join a ship it was a mere hop & a skip!
I arrived with eyes wide open not knowing what to expect other than having photography skills to back me up and retail skills to assist in the gallery. I thought this would set me up nicely!
The ship seemed busy it was turnaround day where the passengers disembark and new passengers arrive … all in the same day & within a few hours of each other.
I can still remember the distinct aroma of fuel and grease in the air my senses were working over time in my new environment. Everyone seemed friendly and happy and the ship seemed a good size as I was given a tour.
Down in the guts of the ship on either dk 3-4 [dependant on ship] is the M1 which is a long corridor that is used by the crew to get to their work place/cabin and most importantly bar at night and staff canteen…although the food was a bit well not the same as passengers that’s just to clarify that! Being a staff member we had deck privileges where we could go and eat in pax areas when not busy. A lot of the crew do not get this privilege!
I shared a cabin with the assistant mgr who took me under his wing for the first cruise which was a 10 day Baltic cruise. From Copenhagen we were going to visit Stockholm, Helsinki, St Petersburg (including an overnight), Tallinn and Gdansk. That was a promising start!
I was blessed indeed because otherwise although from the UK I had no real desire to see this area but SO happy I did. Although it was my first tour [contract] and home sickness, long hours, and different work ethics and staff treatment all played a big part I did enjoy the beauty and different life styles I saw in what I describe as a snap shot or perhaps like eating tapas a small sample of other life’s and cultures.
I spent the first 3 months in the Baltic basically honing my skills as a shagger! Being a Level 1 fotog I realised quickly that everything in my past experience would be wiped out here on board. Trust only comes with experience and you only gain this through hard work and consistent quality and this in turn keeps the manager off your back and the team in return trust and rely on you.
The main activities of a cruise “shagger” photographer
The 3 main jobs on board as a shagger would be
- many hours in the gallery usually opening and closing on sea days whilst other team members lay in bed! I got used to this hierarchy but could see the lazy team members who took advantage…after a while I would let my feelings plainly be known!
- shooting most gangways or dressing up in costume on quaysides, so many very early mornings lasting about 4 hrs…then back to bed for a snooze and out to explore!
- we would shoot portraits on a formal night this was a very busy day whilst at sea and usually I had worked a 3 hour gallery shift, and then set up of back drops, and at 5pm till 12 back on duty.
We shot on film of course in those days and sometimes processing the film would take until 4am!! And the next day it could be gangway!!
NOT a job for the faint hearted and I have to admit the feeling of quitting did go through my head on lots of occasions. After a while though the life style on board and the colleagues you meet and of course the itinerary and countries you visit, keep you going.
11th of September, 2001
My final three months on board of this contract is what we call a transition cruise.
The 1st one, we travelled from Denmark over to Dover in the Uk around the west country and up to Ireland, Dublin & Belfast. We went up to Iceland then across the Atlantic to Boston. From here we did a two month season from Boston to Quebec, Canada. This was again 10 day cruising up through New England visiting ports of call as we went, Portland, Halifax, bar harbour, & Brunswick & back to Boston.
September 11th started as a normal day I had worked on gangway on our 1st port out of Boston we were in Portland. I heard the bus driver on the shuttle bus tell a passenger a “light plane” had crashed into the world trade centre! I went back on board a few hours later only to witness the carnage that unfolded on TV.
Read now the second part of this interesting 8 year long life trip of Simon and check the Equipment and daily work in Cruise Ship Photography