Tag Archives: costumer satisfaction

Greenock (2) – The mental challenges of the Photo Booth Set-Up

12 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Back aboard the ABC RypMeOff I prepare for my night of labour. The first task is an attendance of a photo training session. Yes, after he has been defecating on our photographic efforts for two weeks our manager has finally scheduled a practical lesson in the work of cruise photography. In a 90-minute session he shows all ten photographers of our team how to pose the passengers, and how to frame the pictures. I intend to incorporate this lesson into my plans when I shoot portraits in the plaza tonight. However, before we get to shoot anyone there is the issue of setting up the six studios around the ship. And that is where the energy drains from me like money from Britain’s economy.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

This is the set up of our photo studios. A background and two light sources.

Set-up is not actually a difficult task. All we need to do is: go to the locker room, extract all the necessary equipment, distribute it to the studio locations, and assemble it. That plan may sound simple in the ears of an educated child, but it poses a mighty obstacle to the hive mind of a photography team with mixed continental origin.

Firstly, we never arrive at the locker as a team, because everyone has to solve personal tasks of varying importance before manoeuvring one’s body to the locker. Those tasks range from cigarette breaks, to chat-ups of the bar servers, to elaborate discussions of last night’s food mess. However, I enjoy being early, if only to witness the dilemma unfolding in its entirety.

Locating the necessary equipment is not a great obstacle either, because everything has its place in our dusty locker room. That’s not to say you are likely to find said item in that place, but at least an initial effort has been made. The uninitiated might be tempted to just grab the equipment from the locker room, and transport it to its destination, but my “team” has developed a far more extraneous method for acquiring chaos. First of all someone assumes command, in the best case multiple people simultaneously. Said person or persons then takes all the tripods and lights he can grab with both arms, and hands them to someone else, preferably someone who has not been ontroduced to whatever plan has been made. The locker room is subsequently drained of its content, and the necessary equipment for about nine studios is laid out on the floor, for all the passengers to marvel about.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

For legal and technical reasons I cannot show you photos of my “team mates”. It wouldn’t help either – they look like normal people; they just aren’t.

Once enough late-comers have arrived to witness the chaos, the real show can begin. This is usually the time when I ask the self-proclaimed leader where I might carry which lights, so as to start on the actual task of building studios. Unfortunately it is also the time when people start remembering that half of the items are broken, and so they haggle over what tripod and which background can possibly be dragged to their own work station. After approximately five minutes the first photographers have conquered their preferred items from the heap of scrap metal, and attempt to knit me into their work stream. I then load my arms with as many lights and tripods as I can safely carry, and walk off.

My labour of carrying is often guided by frustrated calls from the other pack mules, who are all convinced that I “can take more stuff”. I usually ignore them, much to their dismay. Once during my early days I tried to argue that safety is more important than testing one’s carrying capacity. But arguing with a stressed-out cruise photographer is much like discussing poetry with a watch dog – no matter how your phrase it, your message will be lost in blood. And so I let them scorn me, and amuse myself with the sight of an overladen human mule who can barely hobble fifty metres a minute through our passenger-laden hallways, and who still manages to bounce one thousand dollars worth of equipment into every corner along his way.

But the troubles don’t end there. Not only am I utterly unwilling to risk the structural integrity of my bones for a bunch of lunatics who think everyone should carry sixty pounds of metal and electronics around. My colleagues also formulate a multitude of verbal requests that I cannot even process, because they are muttered in a language that is barely recognizable as English. I don’t even care that Lolek & Bolek speak predominantly Macedonian, or that our South-African quota boy tries to smooth his slurring accent by reducing most words to a single syllable. (Hearing the word “autopole” pronounced without consonants is a real treat.) I am only offended by their attempts to make me feel guilty about their inability to pronounce the Queen’s English. The sound sequence “look in o’ice and see i’ the’y car, and ‘eel a’pao” does not gain meaning by increasing the master volume, nor does repetition of the phrase inject any clarity into it. I have taught Anatomy at a Canadian university; I know what English sounds like, and this is not it.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

The Plaza is just thirty metres away from the locker room. It still takes half an hour to build a photo location there.

Every day at least one of my male “team members” is left disappointed and frustrated by my lack of cooperation, either because I don’t understand what he wants from me, or because relaying the details of his plan to me would take longer than if he’d do it himself. Similar to the problems that we encountered during the embarkation shootings I am left with two unfavourable options. Either 1) I gobble up the frustration that is spread by my colleagues, leaving them to believe that somehow some of their words make some sort of difference. Or 2) I sit them down and try to discuss our inability to understand each other’s words, hoping that during the next set-up session everyone will attempt to follow a common plan. Since the problem seems to be an unwillingness to cooperate and communicate, I don’ see much purpose in option #2, so I save myself the time, and just focus on my own jobs. That’s life, I guess.

At least I get paid. Oh, please tell me I get paid.

CRUISE – Hamburg, first embarkation shooting

7 May Cruise Photography during embarkation

Our last cruise was a rather short one – two Dutch ports in less than four days is not a tour that I would book a pricy cruise ship for. But things are looking up. The next tour moves us once around the United Kingdom, which promises a lot more scenery and more relaxed passengers, because they spend nearly ten days aboard our vessel. That does not help with ABC’s unwillingness to fulfill the wishes of its paying passengers, but their anger spreads over a greater amount of time.

Today I get to shoot embarkation for the first time, which is pretty exciting. For the lucky people who have not yet had the questionable pleasure of a cruise I shall briefly explain what happens there. After the happy passengers checked their bags and received their boarding passes at the counter they have to run a winding track through the port terminal to reach the ship. At a bottle neck of our choosing the photo department erects a studio trap consisting of a green canvas and portable lights. We then waylay any passengers who dare to approach the ship, and position them in front of the canvas for a quick embarkation photo. Half of the passengers agree to this procedure quite willingly, others need to be persuaded, but in the end most people get their photos taken, whether they want to or not. The intention is merely one of financial gain – all photos will be exhibited in the gallery, and people can purchase their pictures from 20 Euros upwards.

Embarkation shooting

Embarkation shootings don’t take a lot of set-up time. Unless you want to do it right.

I will report on some of the weird occurrences during these embarkation shooting another time. Today I will focus on my colleagues, and their limited social skills. I am joined on my photo mission by two experienced shooters: Lolek and Bolek are both from Macedonia, and already shot the same cruise adventures last year. While Bolek positions the passengers in front of the camera, and shoots, Lolek scans their passes, and hands them a flyer with information about the resulting photos. To me falls the role of Crowd Control. After all, we don’t want anyone to escape into the ship without contributing to our image count. And so I stop the people, organise them in pairs, and show them to the studio. Passengers who insist on not having their souls removed by the use of devious image technology I kindly ask to wait, and not run through other people’s picture.

That would be enough of a task for my first embarkation shooting, but Bolek attempts to occupy me further. Seeing that most of the passengers are German, and I speak their language, he wants me to position them in front of the camera, which is not that easy with a crowd of people waiting behind my back. Every now and then one couple breaks through my carefully arranged lines, and runs through the studio towards the ship, much to the dismay of Bolek, who is still shooting. Every missed passenger and every delay in positioning them gains me a scornful look from Bolek, often accompanied by brisk remarks that he groans under his breath. For any light-hearted soul this might be a source of discontent, but I chose to ignore his tirades, and keep my own mood intact.

After a while my failed attempts at multitasking disgruntle Bolek so far that he lets me switch positions with Lolek. Now I scan the passenger’s cards and hand them flyers, while simultaneously positioning them in front of the camera, and dodging their questions. Occasionally the inevitable rude Italian and his ten family members bulge through Lolek’s lines, and a dozen other passengers run after them. You know, just like they did when the unexperienced me held that position. But in stark contrast to my own efforts Lolek’s fauxpas does not gain him the grudge of Bolek, the shooter.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Cruise Photography: embarkation shootings usually get two teams of photographers, because picturing 4000 passengers takes a lot of time.

A few times we swap positions around, every time realising that I am utterly incompetent at performing three jobs at once, and every time Lolek and Bolek are the sole saviours of the dignity and revenue stream of our department. My sister works as a kindergarten teacher, so I am familiar with the face of stress. And I know that nothing I could say today would convince Lolek and Bolek to rethink their correspondence. Thus I refrain from respond to the passive-aggressive monologues that they unleash between passenger waves. After all, this is a five hour task, and ignorance is bliss, as so often in this menacing occupation. Lolek and Bolek are not terrible people, but under conditions of stress, like the weekly embarkation shooting, their social abilities collapse into a heap of Trump Dump.

piano in the cruise ship atrium

The atrium of the ABC RypMeOff has a piano, and during embarkation also a pianist. To get there you have to pass the photography trap, though.

There is something to be said about bullying at work, and maybe we should hold an elaborate discussion to decrease everyone’s stress level, and to increase team cohesiveness. But I start every work day tired like a factory worker, and still have to entertain a barrage of disgruntled cruise guests. I’m surely not wasting any time on trying to correct the visions of the Macedonian morons that ABC saw fit to grace our department with.

CRUISE – Southampton

30 Apr Exterminate!

My work day starts with more safety training. Since I still don’t understand any of the procedures that a ship emergency carries with it, I have many questions for the Italian Mr. Sanders. Alas, this training is scheduled during our precious port time, meaning that any training time cuts into my port adventure. So, should I actually ask the scrawny Italian how to identify vertical and horizontal fire zones, and watch his body succumb to a four-minute charade with Italian subtitles and English sound effects? So far the educational value of those attempts at communication has never risen above the entertainment value of his exaggerated gestures.


Dr. Who and his eviltons had a guest appearance in Southampton. Exterminate!

Alternatively I might just leave the ship, and enjoy light British rain and Victorian architecture in Southampton. Thus I opt for the easy way out; bottle up my safety questions, and see some city scape instead. In case of an emergency I can just stalk any of the other crew members, and hope that they fake understanding more easily than me.

Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

The Grand Stairs are a photographic attraction on cruise ships. Often enough they were my photo studio.

During my evening shift our assistant manager shows me how to “catch” people on the stairs, and how to properly pose and shoot them. He has an aura of authority, I grant him that. When he shouts “Stop” at a random lady who descends the stairs, she halts in her tracks, and produces a face that vaguely resembles a smile; probably in the vain hope that he might let her continue walking. Once the first photo is made she attempts to flee. However, she did not prepare for the gruesome gaze of the Assistant Photo Manager, who, by the power of his eyes, freezes her once more.

The vague smile on her face has made way for lines of panic, and after the second photo she considers whether it might be safe to continue her journey. But no, the figure of authority that holds my camera is out for blood, although he now has to resort to hand gestures to keep the unlucky passenger on the stairs. Her third pose is one of discomfort and insecurity, not far from actual terror. After triggering the flash the Assistant Manager points at various portions of the digital photo that he made, and highlights its grandeur. Our female victim uses his drop of attention to flee the scene as fast as her short legs allow. Tonight she was lucky to escape with her life, and in the future she will know better than to walk the Grand Stairs alone at night.


You can view my photo gallery of Southampton here.