Embarking on a cruise is like stepping into a world of endless possibilities, where breathtaking landscapes, captivating destinations, and unforgettable experiences await. Amidst this extraordinary voyage lies a treasure trove for photographers, with a myriad of opportunities to capture stunning moments both onboard and ashore. Join us on a visual journey as we delve into the art of cruise ship photography. From the grandeur of colossal vessels to the intimate details of ship interiors to the ever-changing seascapes, we’ll explore the gear, techniques, and tips that will help you make the most of your time at sea, immortalizing memories that will forever adorn the pages of your travel photography collection.
Stereotype of cruising
Like many, we used to have a stereotype for those who went on cruises. That was until we went on a cruise ourselves! Photography on a cruise ship is very diverse with many different compositions both inside and on deck.
Our first cruise was around the Caribbean and when we first stepped on board Oasis of the Seas (at the time, one of the largest ships in the world) we were blown away by the size. It’s literally a floating city!
We were worried about “getting bored” during sea days, but there was so much to see, do and photograph that we struggled to find time to fit everything in! The real fun started when we arrived at our first port, we sorted most of our shore days out ourselves and made sure to explore as much as possible when on land.
Then the best part, you get back on board have incredible food and entertainment, go to bed and wake up in a new destination providing new exciting surroundings to photograph.
Overall cruising is an excellent way to visit numerous places in a short period of time, all at an excellent value. This provides a huge amount of opportunities for photography.
This post focuses on photography on the ship, including the gear, and tips for making the most of your time on board including within the ship and also out on deck.
This post is focused on Oasis of the Seas, but look out for future posts for our other cruises.
- Eastern Caribbean (2019) – Oasis of the Seas – Royal Caribbean
- Norwegian Fjords (2022)- Iona – P&O Cruises
- Antarctica Expedition Cruise (2022) – MS Fridtjof Nansen – Hurtigruten
- Western Mediterranean (2023)- Symphony of the Seas – Royal Caribbean, including Palma De Mallorca, Marseille, Florence, Rome and Naples.
- Japan (2023)- Planned for November 2023!
- + Many more to come!
Gear for photography on a cruise ship
The section below describes suitable gear for photography on a cruise ship such as the camera, lens choice considerations and other equipment.
Although it will depend on the type of cruise, your camera won’t need to be out at all times. One exception would be wildlife/scenery when out on deck. This can come and go very quickly, for example, birds in Antarctica. Therefore it’s often easier to keep your camera gear in a bag for protection and ease of transport. A dedicated camera bag isn’t needed, a regular backpack can be used without issues.
As always, take a camera you’re familiar with, whether it’s a full frame or crop sensor DSLR or mirrorless camera. Even your phone can work well on board. Cameras with good low-light capability would give benefit both indoor shots and sunrise/sunset. These conditions are where higher ISO may be required to maintain an adequate shutter speed.
A lightweight camera body can keep the total weight of your gear down. This increases the chances of you wanting to take it with you, improving your chances of capturing special shots for your photography on a cruise ship.
Wide angle lens
Due to the scale of cruise ships, it can be challenging to capture the full scene without a wide-angle lens. For crop sensor cameras a lens with a focal range in the region of 11-16mm is recommended. The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is the lens I used for the majority of the photos within this post. It also comes with a relatively wide aperture of f/2.8 which helps keep ISO low in low-light situations, which is fairly common inside the ship. For full-frame sensor cameras, a lens with a focal length in the range of 16-35mm would also work well.
A zoom lens is a flexible lens providing different focal lengths and therefore compositional options. I would highly recommend having a zoom lens with you during a cruise. If you’re concerned about carrying a lot of gear with you around the ship, due to the size and weight, having a zoom lens with a wide focal range is a great option.
For crop sensor cameras the Tamron 16-300m is a brilliant lens which an impressive focal range and compact size. I use this paired with my Nikon D7200. The main drawback is the relatively small maximum aperture of f/3.5-f/6.3 depending on the focal length. The relatively wide 16mm focal length can capture wide scenes while the extended zoom can enable unique compositions by compressing the background and subject.
A prime lens has a fixed focal length and typically a wide/low aperture letting in a lot of light, for example, f/1.4 or f/1.8. This enables faster shutter speeds, hence why prime lenses are often labelled as “fast lenses”.
From an image perspective, these are the perfect lenses for portraits. The wide aperture allows for a shallow depth of field. The shot below was captured out on the deck with Ieva walking towards the sunset.
For shots at night or timelapse photography, a tripod can come in handy. Although, if you’re short on space it’s not a must unless you’re after very high-quality images where hand-held shutter speeds are insufficient without increasing ISO.
A long exposure shot from the back of the ship while at sea. This was shot with a tripod and a 2-second timer prior to a 10-second shutter speed.
Explore the ship
Firstly, take the time to explore, most certainly if you’re on a large vessel. A great time for this is when you first arrive on the ship, especially if you have an early boarding time. This is a time when the vessel may be relatively quiet. Another great reason for exploring the ship early on is to scope out nice spots which can be enjoyed throughout the cruise and also work well for photography.
Imagine discovering a perfect spot on the ship, but on your last day after visiting all the ports and the vacation is over!
It also pays to do your research for your ship, for example, on Oasis of the Seas there are two “wings” protruding out from the Solarium sun deck which offer great views whilst at sea on docked in port.
Find the best spots & compositions
As with all types of photography, lighting is key. The lighting within the ship remains constant which gives opportunities to get shots at any time of the day (or night!). We like to venture out early when the ship is still mostly asleep! This is a great time to get wide-angle indoor shots of the impressive architecture. For example around the lift area outside the boardwalk deck on Oasis of the Seas below as shown below.
Outside, sunrise and sunset are great times to be out on deck. Depending on the location of your cruise, sunrise times may not be at sociable hours! Especially in Antarctica! But if you don’t mind an early start, it’s worth it!
The shot below was captured with my Tamrom 16-300mm, the focal length of 300mm allows subjects in the distance to almost fill the frame, such as the sun with a silhouette of another ship.
Bear in mind that on a cruise ship sunset can be a busy time out on the deck, if there are interesting clouds on the horizon or you’re near land this may not matter. However, if you’re out at sea you may need to rely on the ship as foreground interest, which can be a challenge if it’s busy.
Cruise ships are often decorated with many different themed decks which makes their interior design a great subject for photography. The key is to pick out an interesting composition. I usually find that leading lines are a key technique on cruise ships due to the floors, ceilings and long areas inside. The opportunities are almost unlimited!
The beauty of cruising is that the scenery is always changing, in particular, when around ports or land. Combine this with changing weather, lighting and many different viewpoints from numerous decks and it’s hard to stay away! There isn’t really a bad time to be out on the deck, but the sunrise, arriving into port, leaving port and sunset is definitely my favourite times. These are the times when there is the most going on and when the lighting is best.
During the day, unless it’s a sea day you will be out enjoying the locations either on your own or through organised excursions. Sea days, unless you’re going past land can be a challenging time for photography, especially in the middle of the day when the light is harsh and there may be no land in sight. This is a good time to make the most of the ship, relax or even do some editing inside if the weather is poor.
Ieva admiring the views while leaving port, we’re sure to be out on deck when leaving port. Depending on timing, make sure you have your evening meal booked at a time either before or after the “sail away”, or you may be stuck without a window indoors while the scenery goes by, for me that’s too difficult! Also, make sure you consider when and where you’re going to have breakfast on days when you may have an early start for excursions off the ship.
From the immense size and architectural wonders of cruise ships to the ever-changing seascapes, this article explores the gear, techniques, and tips that will enhance your photography experience on a cruise. Whether you’re capturing the grandeur of ship interiors, chasing stunning sunrises and sunsets, or immersing yourself in the unique ambience of being at sea, prepare to unlock a world of photographic possibilities and create lasting memories on the high seas.