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The Bittersweet of A Ship Photographer’s First Contract

21 April 2020 |

The Bittersweet of A Ship Photographer’s First Contract

All the bags were packed and I found myself at a land faraway from my hometown. When I looked at a map, it was definitely at the other side of the world I used to know. After the hassle of document preparations and a long flight, my first contract as a cruise ship photographer began.

1. Photo College

Two weeks before working as a ship photographer, the trainees and I did a training. We learned how to build a mini studio, the poses and all the technical part of photography. In our time, it was done in a villa and we visited the ship to get the real experience. Now, there is a ship assigned for training period. It’s definitely giving more insight of the work reality.

It was a wonderful time for the transition to ship life. I got to learn, party, and bond with the college mates. We had to pass the exam at the end. Then we dispersed to the assigned ship and hoped to see each other again when our ship would dock together.

With my photo college mates in January 2016. We are from Indonesia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Turkey and Hungary

With my photo college mates in January 2016. We are from Indonesia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Turkey and Hungary

First day signing on the ship was so overwhelming. A lot of things happened at once. Getting to know the ship and its rules, finding my cabin, meeting manager, and started working at the same day. Getting lost on the ship was inevitable. Appetite and sleepiness came in the wrong time because of the jet lag. After several days, I found the rhythm and it got easier to deal with.

2. Costume Duty

Trainees or first contract photographers are the most targeted person to dress up. But if the manager thinks you are suitable with the dress, you are going to wear it anyway regardless how long you are on the ship. You literally grabbed the guests who just walked down the gangway to take a picture with you.

My first costume was Cha-Cha girl. The dress was a combination of a lot of colors and a mixed of stripe and polka dot pattern. I personally hated this costume but it’s been used for a long time. Thus, I couldn’t complain. Then I got a sailor costume which is fine. My favorite dress was definitely Senorita dress, an-off shoulder red dress with large hat.

The Cha-Cha Girl and The Mariachi with Taras

The Cha-Cha Girl and The Mariachi with Taras

The Cha-Cha Girl and The Mexican Guy with Marko. Guess how tall is he?

The Cha-Cha Girl and The Mexican Guy with Marko. Guess how tall is he?

The Sailor Girl and The Pirate with Lazar

The Sailor Girl and The Pirate with Lazar

The Sailor couple with Silviu

The Sailor couple with Silviu

The Sailors couple who later got married, haha

The Sailor couple who later got married, haha

The Señorita, my favorite costume

The Señorita, my favorite costume

Gangway Duty with Carnival Liberty Team in Costa Maya, Mexico

Gangway Duty with Carnival Liberty Team in Costa Maya, Mexico

The nice part wearing a costume was hearing a lot of “beautiful” compliments. Some guests knew how to do crazy things for a funny picture. Other times, it became awkward and hilarious if a wife threw jealous look when a husband wanted a picture with a beautiful costume girl.

The exhausting part was smiling hundred times a day in front of the camera. The target was normally around 300-500 pictures. My jaw was painful and I didn’t feel like smiling anymore through the rest of the days. If the weather was very hot, tan lines was unavoidable.

3. Deck Assignment

Open deck assignment can be a blessing in disguise. Yes, you got yourself freely roaming the deck and the nice view of the sea. But asking a picture from the tired and hungry guests who just came onboard was hard. Not to mention the loud music swallowed your words. I just waved or touched their shoulders to catch their attention. Plus, it sucked when you were far from your roll count target.

On the embarkation day, it started at noon around lunch and on a sailaway moment. The heat on the deck was fierce. I never wanted to get more tanned than I already was, so wearing a thin arm sleeve and a hat was a must. For me, it looked quite ugly actually, but it was good for skin protection.

On the deck duty with my so-called sun protection outfit

On the deck duty with my so-called sun protection outfit

4. The Not So Sellable Photo Assignment

Setting up the portait background was a challenge. Even when I got the training, I was still slow at the beginning and so were most of the trainees. I was excited for my first portrait background.

It was surely fun to do a pirate-themed photoshoot or the popular characters for the kids, like Dr. Seuss. You got to decorate and doing fun poses with the guests, only to realize later the pictures sales were not as high as the excitement, lol. It took you longer to set up and break the booth down as well.

You start learning to shoot background that requires easy posing. If you are showing a good skill from the college, you will get a more challenging background. Or, if there are not a lot of experienced photographer onboard, you get lucky.

Shooting Dr. Seuss Background with the props and the mascot

Shooting Dr. Seuss Background with the props and the mascot

With Dr. Seuss character at a special breakfast

With Dr. Seuss character at a special breakfast

Shooting The Pirate Ship Background

Shooting The Pirate Ship Background

5. Captain’s Wheel Props is Your Best Friend

The idea of using a wooden steering wheel for a prop is cute. But when you are a trainee, you will probably hate them. I was assigned to use it everywhere: on the open deck, on the portrait and the worst is at the gangway. It is heavy to carry around. 

At the gangway, it will be at the furthest spot and thus getting less pictures. In some ports, I had to bring it very far to get a nice view of the ship at the background. Separated from others, the time passed really slow. And the only one companion with you was just that cute captain’s wheel, damn.

Thankfully it wasn't my turn to shoot the wheel here.

Shooting with the wheel props on the open deck

6. Hoarding Lots and Lots of Pictures

Since it was my first ship life, I wanted to keep as much as memories as I could. I saw the same pattern with other trainees as well. We liked to try all the background and ended up with big stack of printed picture at the end of the contract. Who doesn’t love free pictures? Then, we begged the gallery host for free albums or other retails as a farewell gift, LOL.

Taking free picture in every interesting background

Back to the Future background in the 80's night

There was nothing like the enthusiasm of the first contract crew to explore every port of call during the contract. Everything was full of new experience and I got just more than enough of energy to spend it on.

There are many more stories as a first contract crew, but I think that is enough for this post. I think first contract is a crucial time that will make or break your ship life. Some are lucky to have amazing helpful team and manager while some others not. But in the end, it’s you who will decide to continue the journey or the salt life is just not for you.





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