Tag Archives: passenger

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 – Sea Day & Formal Night

6 May Grand Glittery Stairs aboard ABC RypMeOff

It’s another sea day, and coincidentally another gala night. We already shot restaurant photos yesterday, and the passengers didn’t like us back then. But I guess there is no harm in trying again. So we go out once more, making our rounds through the tables in the two big restaurants, begging the passengers to pose for pictures. We even have the full set of seven studios out on the ship, so as to make use of every photo opportunity.

The choice is odd, considering that we will arrive in Hamburg tomorrow. Almost all paying passengers will disembark tomorrow morning, which means they won’t return to the gallery to check for their pictures from tonight. I’ve been observing this nonsense of a work schedule for nearly two weeks now, and I can’t help but think that any fourth-grader could come up with a better plan to distribute our precious human resources than our current photo manager. Luckily I am on photoshop duty, so instead of boring myself alone in one of the studios I entertain the odd visitors of the gallery.

Cruise Photography with portable lights

Apparently there is always someone taking photos aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Even if nobody wants their photos taken anyway.

A few years ago Germany had a game show called “What am I?” A panel of prominence had to guess the occupation of a guest, using only Yes/No questions. The guest had to make a “typical hand movement”, so as to give the panel some hint what job they were looking for. They’d be helpless with my performance. My typical movement would be one of flipping through endless folders of photos, looking for a picture that matches the face of a particular guest. I have two university degrees, play a dozen musical instruments, have published research papers and book chapters. And today I stand in a windowless photo gallery, flipping through endless piles of cruise pictures, predominantly assisting passengers who only want to check their faces on celluloid, but have no intention of buying anything.

And just like the people on the panel of “What Am I” I do not have a clue of where this is all going. But unlike them I am not allowed to sit down during my six-hour shift, I won’t have time to watch TV after I’m done, and there surely won’t be anyone who finds entertainment or educational value in my labour. At least I get paid.

CRUISE – Sea, Security, and Sale Day

2 May ABC RypMeOff

Just like yesterday my daily safety training does not actually happen. Maybe I missed some announcement, but there are three other crew members with me in the room, so I am certainly not the only one. As before I just wait out my thirty minutes, catching up on some of the much needed sleep. Every day I get to bed around 2 A.M., and I have to be back up by 8:30, or not get any breakfast. I don’t think I can do this long-term, especially since I have great trouble sleeping during the day. Oddly enough I can doze and nap very effectively whenever I sit in this training room. Maybe that’s a result of my first sleepy encounters with the incompetent Italian safety officer. I will try to come here more often; if only to quietly read a book, or nap off in my spare time. Man, I wish the chairs were more comfortable.

ABC RypMeOff - crew cabin

My shared cabin aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Back in my cabin I am granted approximately ten minutes of rest before a security lad knocks on the door, and loudly announces a room inspection. The immediate outlook actually excites me. Maybe this unannounced visit will spur my cabin mate Pancho to a tidier life, and reinforce the idea of not smoking in our bathroom. He might even receive a warning, for his pile of empty cigarette packs in the bathroom, next to the toilet bowl that likely still contains a rim of ash, a horrendous smell, and the butt of his last cigarette. Sadly, Pancho is called off his duty and back to the cabin before the inspector is allowed to make his round. Thus, he manages to flush the toilet before anyone sees anything.

So the security pal searches and scrutinizes, and once a minute morns the impossibility to perform a proper inspection with all the garbage lying around. It is quite entertaining to see him scramble through the disorganised dump that is our shared cabin, and exclaim his dismay about its troublesome appearance. He surely finds plenty of issues with the state of affairs, but they are all Pancho’s problems, so I can’t be bothered to comment. Without trouble he locates the empty cigarette boxes and beer bottles in the bathroom, and explains, once more, that neither alcohol nor nicotine are allowed to be consumed in the cabin.

That is pretty much it, though. The visit does not result in a warning (a collection of three of those leads to your termination of contract), or any other official announcement of his dismay. Apparently the blatant violation of policies regarding drug use and tidiness do not suffice as evidence of ignorance.

My shared non-smoking toilet aboard the cruise ship

The toilet in our shared smoking parlour (bathroom) usually smelled the way it looked.

Security Sam finds two items of concern, though. Pancho owns a set of very small plastic bags, and my own luggage contains a small stack of nitrile gloves. For the schooled mind of the cruise-trained inspector those items can only be utilised in one business – yes, we have ourselves a secret drug lab! Luckily we have been clever enough to hide it from investigating eyes, so even a thorough search of our private cubicle does not yield any traces of methamphetamines or other illegal substances. I’m not certain how we managed to hide our diabolic business for all these days, or how we acquire a steady stream of costumers among our weekly rotating line of passengers. But at least I finally can make use of that diabolic laugh that I have been practicing for these past years.

Oh, and it is the very last day of the cruise. Everybody in the department is in the shop, selling photos and illegal substances. Everyone but the two freshlings. Both of us stand alone and forgotten in our studios, void of any hint of photo-willing passengers. That ain’t surprising, considering that tomorrow the vast majority of passengers will leave the ship before we can even pin the new portraits to the wall! But the photographers shall roam where the manager demands it. And thus, we roam, and suffer our boredom in silence.

CRUISE – Le Havre

1 May Le Havre crêpe shop

While the ABC RypMeOff is fastened in the only French port town along this route the weather is cold, and rainy, and windy, and overall unpleasant. I guess this is the kind of weather one should expect from rude France, especially on a holiday. (I will never understand how people justify not to work on Labour Day.) More remarkably, there are barely any people in the streets. Except for a few cruise tourists Le Havre seems void of human life. It feels like the zombie apocalypse is already here. The only thing missing are cars burning in the streets, and an angry mob demanding the head of some politician (and/or footballer). That is one great French tradition that we have been spared today.

Thanks to the cold rain I feel rather glad to return to work early. Lucky that, because today our manager hosts a training session for the whole photo department. For ninety minutes we stand in front of the canvas, posing the assistant manager, and photographing him. He shows us how to bend the knees without tripping passengers, how to pose people without little body contact, and how to frame the photo to adhere to company standards.

As theoretically interesting as all that might seem, it is of little help with the three elderly couples that stumble into my studio tonight. No matter how I arrange them, as soon as I put my hands to the camera they slump back into their starting position. Like a pile of potato mash the old peeps can easily be bent into funny shapes, but always fall back into a standard lump once you try to picture the result.

Le Havre crêpe shop

Le Havre crêpe shop on a rainy day.

Safety training #3 is very relaxing, because no instructor shows up. Thus, I have half an hour extra to read, and reflect on my own misery.

Today’s schedule is not only full of the usual spelling mistakes that I have come to expect from our Rumanian manager, it also bears a special motto in the bottom line: “Rumors are carried by haters, spread by fools and accepted by idiots…” I think it is safe to say that someone dug out some irritating half-truths about our manager, and he heard them only after they were filtered through his long-reaching network of manager friends.

The photo manager reminds me more and more of my old Chinese landlord – permanently stressed out, and full of paranoia. He even has the same hair cut, and the same annoyingly loud voice. And an extraordinarily great percentage of four-letter words in his conversational repertoire.

port sight of Le Havre, France

Part of the yacht port of Le Havre. Probably looks prettier on a sunny day.

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.

CRUISE – Vigo, first port day

28 Apr Vigo, Spain. A view of the port

We have landed in Vigo, Spain. Old houses and narrow alleys invite the cruise passenger for a walk. So I pack my camera gear, and leave the ship troubles behind, at least for a few hours.

Vigo, Spain, a view of one of the many narrow back alleys

Vigo, Spain, a view of one of the many narrow back alleys

A brief visit to the tourist center allows me to gobble up free internet. Obviously my parents will appreciate information about my save arrival on the ship, even if it comes a day late. I still don’t have access to the ship’s internet services, so for the moment the Free WiFi areas in town will have to suffice.

After two hours the ship calls me back. Not literally, but my schedule says I ought to return, so I better do so. Being late on my first day of work just doesn’t do. As before I spend my evening walking up and down the photoshop, occasionally helping a passenger to find his or her photo. But mostly I am asking directions myself, still trying to figure out what magical order lies behind the arrangement of approximately thirty boxes and forty panels of photos. I am being assured that all of this will make sense once we start a fresh cruise, and I see the piles building up from Day One.

As it turns out I have joined the party during the last days of a 21-day cruise, so there are more passenger photos in the gallery than hairs on my unshaved face. Even worse, this prolonged imprisonment aboard the hotel vessel has dire implications for the overall happiness of the hotel guests, and their willingness to pose for additional pictures. They go through great lengths to avoid us in the hallway. On the one hand that’s lucky, because of the near four thousand passengers only few actually request my assistance in locating their image prints. On the other hand the general mood of the photo team is lacking in inspiration.

This general tiredness has spread right into our supervisor team. While our assistant manager tells me to stay close to the other photographers, and ask them loads of questions, our manager tells us to spread out, cover all of the gallery, and not talk to each other. Since I have less than twenty-four hours of work experience on a cruise ship, I decide to follow both requests, thin though the overlap between those chief orders may be. And thus, we spread out, and congregate, and disperse, and gather again; like a pulsing heart, pumping printed pictures and incomplete conversations through the empty veins of the photo gallery.

You can view my photo gallery of Vigo here.

Vigo, Spain. A view of the port

Vigo, Spain. A view of the port. That bloody cruise ship follows me wherever I go.