Cruise lines modernize photo operations

When Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas made its November debut, almost lost in the crush of technology firsts was the ship’s photo gallery, the first all-digital display space at sea.

Quantum guests don’t stroll past walls of glossy prints, peering to see which ones might include them. Instead, they check digital monitors, which shorten the hunt for relevant photos.

On the Quantum, images are developed and printed only when guests see a photo they want to keep.

The system is a leap forward, said Brynley Davies, managing director of the Image Group, the concessionaire for photography on Royal Caribbean’s global fleet of 22 ships.

“It sounds very easy to say, ‘Do print on request,'” Davies said. “But what you see in the photo gallery and the systems that are running it aren’t evolutions of what we’ve done before. We started a complete rebuild three years ago, so this is a completely different architecture.”

In fact, he said, it is built on “a very, very sophisticated set of computer systems, programs and hardware that are all aligned and integrated with Royal Caribbean systems to make it work effectively.”

Across the industry, cruise lines are dashing to keep up with digitization of photography, which has brought sweeping changes to the way people take and store images.

A customer on Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas chooses photos with the Image Group's Li Jing. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
A customer on Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas chooses photos with the Image Group’s Li Jing. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

On land, it spelled the end of everything from Kodachrome film to Polaroid cameras and one-hour photo shops. At sea, it promises to slash the amount of wasted paper and chemicals used in cruise photo operations and do away with the ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling photo display wall.

The transition to digital is happening as fast as cruise lines can figure out how to do it properly.

Old gives way to new

Every major cruise line has a mix of advanced and legacy photo systems, ranging from the all-digital vanguard on the Quantum to the traditional print-everything model on many older ships.

But digital will eventually rule because it offers benefits to every cruise photo operation, and consumers are comfortable with it.

“What we see is a fundamental shift,” Davies said. “We’ve been [doing trials of] these new technologies on another ship. What we saw there was a shift away from print toward buying digital images. We see that trend continuing.”

If for no other reason, cruise lines would embrace digital because of the growing size of new ships.

Photo managers say it has become increasingly difficult to display on a wall all of the images on ships that are carrying between 3,000 and 5,000 passengers each week. Some cruise lines had begun to adopt a folder system to cut down on the need for display space.

Going digital simplifies the photo search process and frees a wall’s square footage for other uses. The photo gallery on the Quantum is 50% smaller than a traditional one on a ship of comparable size, Davies said.

A second benefit of going digital can be found in the print savings, both economic and environmental.

Ecofriendly bonus

Although he didn’t quantify the amount, Davies said the fully digital gallery on the Quantum will use much less photographic paper. Many of the prints in a traditional photo concession aren’t even viewed if the guest has no desire to buy photos. Henceforth, none of those images will be printed.

Guests of the Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas can use their WOWbands in the Focus Photo Gallery to digitally access and print on demand their professionally taken photographs, significantly reducing preprinted photo waste.
Guests of the Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas can use their WOWbands in the Focus Photo Gallery to digitally access and print on demand their professionally taken photographs, significantly reducing preprinted photo waste.

The classic print process also requires photo chemicals that produce “a waste stream that has to be removed from the ship and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner,” Davies said.

On the Quantum, instead of wet-processing, Image Group uses a dry-process inkjet printer, an industrial-grade version of the printer technology that many consumers have in their home or office.

“It produces absolutely no photo waste at all,” Davies said. “There’s a much-reduced environmental impact.”

The Quantum’s photo space, with 35 touch screens, 15 tablet-size devices and eight digital photo finders (that help find hard-to-track items) represent the state of the art in photo galleries.

Most of Royal’s ships are more retro. The relatively new Oasis and Allure of the Seas have 22 digital kiosks where guests can view, manipulate and purchase photos. But Image Group also prints all the photos taken on the Oasis and Allure, although it puts them in folders organized by cabin, rather than displaying them on a wall.

The print-and-display galleries will remain on many older Royal ships for some time, Davies said.

“It will take time to transition to this new business model,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve done this in terms of print on request. It will take a little time to settle into it and get it absolutely right.”

A shift to digital packaging

At Carnival Cruise Line, a transition is also underway. It will be testing digital packages that work with its current print model on one ship this winter to gauge consumer response and demand.

Guests will have the choice of one of three packages, enabling them to buy either a set number of images or all the images taken on an entire cruise, delivered on a USB thumb drive.

Photo displays aboard Princess Cruises' Regal Princess. Like other lines, Princess Cruises has carved out space for a high-end custom portrait business. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Photo displays aboard Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess. Like other lines, Princess Cruises has carved out space for a high-end custom portrait business. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Carnival said the digital images will be a better value on a per-file basis than the current pricing offered by prints.

Like many other cruise lines, Carnival also offers a DVD of each cruise that includes brief glimpses of many guests, along with footage of the cruise, its destinations and live events.

Many cruise lines have found that guests are asking for fewer photos than in the past, when cruise ship photographers could count on a steady stream of orders each voyage.

“It was a very captive market,” said Michael Miller, director of the Ship’s Photographer, which handles photos for Cunard Line and P&O Cruises. “We had it all to ourselves.”

Today, with almost every guest equipped with a digital camera or a camera-capable smartphone that takes quality pictures, many guests are opting to snap their own photos, driving down demand for the professional variety.

“There’s been [everything] from a free fall in photographic revenue onboard to diminished returns year after year,” Miller said. “We’re still talking about a significant business both for the cruise lines and in general, but the industry has been challenged by the advent of digital and what it’s meant to the average consumer.”

One response has been to change the type of photo that onboard photographers shoot.

While they still do embarkation, gangplank and dinner photos, there’s less emphasis on those because they’re the type of images that consumers can take themselves.

Instead, Miller said, the Ship’s Photographer is taking more studio-quality photos with professional lighting for a customized album that tells the story of a passenger’s cruise.

The album blends photos of the passengers with stock shots of the ship and port destinations, tied together with a narrative written by professional copywriters.

If a special enrichment speaker or performer is on the ship, it might include a page about them.

In one example, passengers who have paid $125 for five prints can, for an extra $50, embed them in a 24-page book. “It becomes a very good value for money,” Miller said. “It’s a hardback book, a beautiful glossy book you’d love to have and cherish.”

Making room for cameras

There’s been an upswing at many lines in the use of spaces around ships during the evening to do more personalized photography.

“Usually there are four to seven studio locations throughout the ship and more than 34 backdrops we are using,” said Laszlo Keresztes, operations and development manager for MSC Cruises, in Geneva.

Aboard the MSC Divina, a couple chooses photos to buy. Usually there are four to seven studio locations on an MSC ship.
Aboard the MSC Divina, a couple chooses photos to buy. Usually there are four to seven studio locations on an MSC ship.

And many lines have also carved out space for a high-end custom portrait business. Carnival has Dream Studios, Princess Cruises has Platinum and on Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s called Perspectives.

Despite prices that can run past $1,000 for some packages, Ross Henderson, vice president of onboard revenue and shore excursions at Norwegian, said demand is there and growing.

“I think it’s a product for which guests are willing to splurge, in a similar vein to weddings and other events that are priceless,” Henderson said. “When they’re on a cruise, they’re in a perfect environment with everyone together, with the time on their hands to go through the process of getting those pictures taken, which will last a lifetime.”

To further differentiate its photo offerings from those taken on smartphones, Perspectives takes photos that work together in a cluster or mosaic of images on a wall. So, for example, the “Verve” collection groups 11 mounted images in a larger wall ensemble that works as a unified grouping, for $1,399. Photos are shot on the cruise, and Norwegian works with an outside vendor to have them printed, mounted and shipped to the passenger at home, Henderson said.

At the other end of the spectrum, some consumers are opting to purchase only digital images. On some ships, this enables passengers to buy a set number of photos for a fixed price, take them all home on a disc, then choose the ones they like best in a more relaxed environment.

Software included on the CD enables guests to unlock the images at home for print or other uses. They can also buy additional images post-cruise using a feature on the CD.

Davies described this method as one way to mitigate another common problem: the crush on the last night as everyone tries to sort through and pay for the photos that have been taken over the course of the cruise.

“The last day is not an easy day, so we turn that around in our thinking and say rather than making people come to the photo gallery to choose what images they want, give them a CD,” Davies said. “All the images are locked. They take them home, put them into their computer and put an application on their machine, and then they can choose at their leisure.”

At Carnival, guests are offered a discount if they purchase photos during the first two days of the cruise.

Enabling technologies

Several recent advances go hand in hand with digital images to improve the photo-buying experience. One is facial recognition, or image-matching software, which makes photo searches quicker and easier.

Packages from Norwegian Cruise Line’s high-end portrait business, Perspectives, can run past $1,000.
Packages from Norwegian Cruise Line’s high-end portrait business, Perspectives, can run past $1,000.

Cruise lines are cautiously testing the software, which currently matches some but not all faces with photos, requiring a backup mechanism.

“We’ve got a combination of Google search-type criteria for recognition of people looking at photographs,” said Andrew Burt, general manager of the Ship’s Photographer. “If you can put in a couple of words to describe the particular restaurant, or maybe the port, they can sort of drill down and limit the number of photos they’re finding that way.”

Another digital technology that promises to improve the photo selection process is software to electronically link each photo taken to the cabin of the subject. Norwegian introduced such software on the Norwegian Breakaway last year and is rolling it out to other ships, including the Norwegian Star and Gem this year.

The system enables passengers to swipe their key card on a device linked to the photographer’s camera, tagging the photo to the cabin. That makes finding the photos in an electronic kiosk much easier.

“We really believe it is the wave of the future,” Henderson said. “We need to get away from the concept of not being able to link photos to guests and just putting them on a wall and have the guests find them, especially with the size of all these new vessels coming out.”

That system, in turn, paves the way for another innovation: being able to choose and buy pictures from a passenger’s cellphone or other portable device.

“As you look at how photography is becoming more digital and the technology really does exist to do this kind of thing, it just made sense to create a different system,” Henderson said. “Down the road, the way we see it, we’d like that kiosk to become something transportable via people’s devices.

“So in other words, your device can be your kiosk; you don’t have to go to the gallery to look at your photos. You can sit in your cabin and look at your photos and choose which ones to buy there. And that can result in freeing up a lot of space that you don’t have to dedicate to a large gallery.”

How to Preserve and Share Your Cruise Memories

Photo Tips: How to Preserve and Share Your Cruise Memories

camera-cruise-ship-photoStanding in front of the treasury building in Petra, Jordan, and gaping at the most amazingly beautiful stone building I’d ever seen, I knew I didn’t ever want to forget the sight. I anticipated the moment in the months leading up to my Middle East cruise, and when I was there, I didn’t simply want to rely on my memories to relive the day in the months and years following my trip. So, I did what I always do — I took out my camera and started snapping photos.

And it’s not only the big “wow” moments of a cruise vacation that I like to capture. I take photos of my family enjoying simple pleasures like decadent dining room desserts or lazy days by the pool. My camera will capture everything from our cabin to a gorgeous sunset or a funny road sign glimpsed on a shore excursion. So, when I come home, I have a visual record of all the fun we had on our trip, as well as many of the sights and attractions that made the cruise memorable.

You don’t need to be a professional photographer or take photography classes to take great travel photos. I use a digital camera that fits in my pocket, and still I get positive feedback from friends and family about the photos I share from my travels. That’s because I’ve learned a few things about capturing, editing and sharing my travel photos that help showcase my amateur efforts to their best advantage. If you’re looking for the best ways to preserve and share your cruise memories, read on, and I’ll pass those tips on to you.

Tips for Taking Great Cruise Photos

Tying together the people, places and experiences you enjoy on your cruise vacation begins with taking lots of pictures. And, in the age of digital photography, there’s no reason not to take an over abundance of photos — just delete the bad ones later. For example, on a seven-night cruise, I take about 300 photos, using every opportunity to capture a variety of images. Of those, probably 100 will be worth sharing and saving. It’s much better to experiment with different shots in order to capture the perfect moment, rather than be stingy with your snaps and miss out on the best details. Get creative, and have fun with it.

So, what can you do to ensure you capture the right moments in the best way? Here are some easy tips to improve your cruise photography.

sun-smiling-cruise-photosLook to the Light. One of the keys to getting good pictures is proper lighting. The sun’s rays cast a unique glow in the early morning and late afternoon. Observant photographers know they have to take advantage of this type of light. Most ships are docking at sunrise and getting ready to leave at sunset, so these are good times to get up on deck to take beautiful pictures of the port and the surrounding scenery, as well as your family and the sunsets over the water. Plus, you’ll often find fewer people out on deck at these times, so you don’t have to fight through crowds to get your primo shot.

Worried you’ll be caught without your camera and miss the best light? This is where a small camera can be a great advantage because you can keep it handy for unexpected photo ops. I captured some amazing photos of the mountains surrounding Aqaba in the new light — all because I remembered to take my camera with me as I left the cabin for breakfast.

But, you can’t only take photos at sunrise and sunset. During the day, you ideally want the sun to be behind you as you set up your shot. And, don’t dismiss cloudy days, as they can produce excellent photos because the clouds soften the light.

Go Wide. Wide shots are useful for establishing the context of a place, so seek out opportunities for panoramic views. Many shore excursions build these photo stops into their itineraries, and you should definitely take advantage. For example, on a visit to Florence, our tour stopped at a park overlooking the city, so I was able to get some wide shots encompassing the Duomo with its striking red roof, the Arno River with yellow and orange buildings standing guard and the lazy hills beyond. Once in the city of Florence, I was able to take closeup pictures of the Ponte Vecchio, Duomo, Baptistry and other famous sites. The contrast makes for a nice juxtaposition in your album or slideshow.

Then Go Small. I also find that shots of architectural details such as doors, arches or carvings in wood or stone work well in my collages and photo books. Other closeup subjects can be evocative of a destination and are often humorous. Coming across an open-air market in Nice, France, I stopped for photos of fish heads stuck in a bed of ice. It made me laugh as I wondered who would buy them, and I still chuckle when I look at the photo now. Flower stalls in Vienna and Dublin also gave me interesting and colorful pictures. Taking photos of city signs, road signs and markers at tourist sites will help you remember details you might otherwise forget. It is also entertaining to find signs with wording that isn’t translated correctly into English. Your friends will get a good laugh out of seeing those.

passengers-photo-scenery-cruiseDon’t Forget the People. Photos of famous sites are lovely, but you don’t want a scrapbook that leaves no evidence that you or your friends and family were ever on the trip. So, don’t forget to take photos that actually show you with your family in unique places (or just goofing around onboard). Don’t be shy about asking people to take the picture so you can be in it, too; plus, you can always volunteer to return the favor for them. I recommend looking for someone who seems to enjoy taking pictures — it reduces the chance your heads will get cut off or that the photo will be at an odd angle. (Plus, someone else with a fancy camera is less likely to abscond with yours.) And, don’t forget to snap shots of your family and friends in action — when they’re riding horses or parasailing in port.

When taking people pictures, I try to look for interesting backgrounds. Backgrounds that work well are those that include an architectural or natural frame, such as a doorway or a trellis with flowers. A natural scene, such as a beautiful beach, makes a great backdrop, as well. Look for unique angles of famous places like St. Peter’s Square in Rome, where you could get down near the ground for a photo of your sweetheart in front of the pigeons flying by the Basilica. Try to take photos that don’t have lots of people milling about behind the subjects (even though that’s sometimes impossible), and look for creative photo ops in front of unique sites like Petra’s Treasury. Try more than one angle, and take several pictures so you have a better chance of getting one great shot.

You may want to remember exceptional tour guides by snapping their photos, and usually they are happy to pose for you. Also, if you can capture images of local people, you will have a reflection of the true personality of a place. However, do be careful to ask permission if you are up close. Some people don’t want to have their pictures taken, and others may expect money for allowing you to do so. I also recommend getting pictures of the friends you make on the ship. Cruising is an excellent way to meet interesting, well-traveled people who make the journey more enjoyable. Snap a few pictures of these folks so you can remember them.

Around the Ship. Be sure to take photos around the ship because so many cruise memories are created onboard. Think of what makes the cruise special for you: the crewmembers and staff, fellow passengers, activities, unique areas of the ship, even the food. Taking pictures of the towel animals that magically appear in your cabin while you’re at dinner is a good way to preserve them when you have to take apart one or two to find more space in your cabin or because you need a fresh towel for your shower. Keep your camera handy at all times onboard because you never know when a good photo opportunity will present itself — one that you’ll miss if you have to run back to your cabin.

Post-Processing … or How to Make Your Photos Look Better After the Fact

The beauty of digital photography is that you don’t have to get everything right on the first try. You can always edit your pictures once you’re home, with tools that let you adjust the lighting, crop the photo and eliminate red-eye. Plus, you can easily flag the best shots and delete those that are simply beyond repair.

The best software for amateurs is often a program that lets you both edit and organize your photos. Some are free and some for-fee, but I’ve found that three particularly good options for amateur photographers are Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery and AppleiPhoto. If you’d like to really delve into photo editing, Photoshop is one of the most popular tools out there. While it does take more time and effort to learn to use, it offers many additional tools you won’t find in the other programs. Be aware however, that Photoshop is not photo organizing software — and it’s not cheap. Your camera may also come with its own proprietary photo editing or organizing software.

Using editing software is the secret to making your pictures more enjoyable to look at. My favorite fixes include cropping photos to eliminate unwanted background space or to better frame the subject; red-eye reduction so my subjects don’t look possessed by the devil with their glowing red eyes; straightening photos so the horizon is level; and brightening images so the details stand out better. I find that it takes only a minute or less to edit a photo, and you will be amazed at how good your pictures can look once you have applied that little bit of editing magic. After I learned how to use Picasa, several people wanted to know if I bought a new camera because my photos looked so much better.

Another interesting feature you can try is stitching your photos to create a panoramic image. When your camera can’t capture an entire scene in its viewfinder, you can, instead, take multiple photos to make up each section of the view, and, by utilizing special software, combine the shots into one picture. One of the best free software programs for this is Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE). This program allows you to upload various images of one scene, and the program creates one long panoramic picture for you. (On ICE’s Web site, you can see an example of 200 shots of the Golden Gate Bridge.) The results are stunning.

cruise-photos-ship-scrapbookThe Final Product: Sharing Your Cruise Photos

The days of printing out a bunch of 3×5 or 4×6 prints of your vacation photos, sticking them in a plain photo album and leaving it under the coffee table are over. Now, cruise travelers have a wealth of ways to save their cruise memories and share photos with friends and family. And, you can be as lazy or as creative as you wish, thanks to a variety of photo-sharing online tools and products.

Online Albums. The easiest way to share your photos is by creating an online album. Simply upload your best pictures to the photo sharing site of your choice, write captions if you wish, and send the link around. Viewers have the option to click on the photos one by one or watch a slideshow that automatically switches between photos after a few seconds.

Photo Collages. I like to get a bit more elaborate and create photo collages. Collages are a collection of photos placed mosaic-style on a page — either auto-fit together or in a “picture pile,” where they look like a pile of scattered pictures. The collages tie pictures together and make them more interesting to look at. Try creating collages of a particular theme or location. For example, I made an interesting collage of colored doors from Dublin, Ireland, that I found interesting. After completing the collages, you can upload them into your Web album, just like regular photos.

Slideshows. Another fun way to share your travel photos is with an enhanced slideshow set to music. Again, various options exist, but I recommend both Microsoft’s Photo Story 3 and TripWow. With TripWow, you can quickly and easily upload photos, put them into a slideshow with free music and maps, and share the finished product in multiple ways, such as embedding it on your Facebook page or e-mailing a link to others. Photo Story 3 (which can be downloaded for free from Microsoft) is unique because it allows you to record your voice with the slideshow so you can tell others about your cruise in your own words. It also gives you the option to compose your own music if you’re so inclined.

Photo Albums. If you’d prefer a hard copy of your photographic endeavors, numerous options exist for creating a bound photo album of your trip. I like to use Yorkphoto.com, but there are many vendors like Shutterfly, My Publisher and Snapfish, just to name a few. Some advantages to using these programs are the ability to choose different album sizes, themed page designs and pre-selected photo layouts. The programs walk you through the process, prompting you to take the necessary actions to create an album. You can even do some minimal photo editing (like red-eye reduction and cropping) before you upload photos to the album and add captions or commentary to the pages.

And, while it’s great to have a custom-designed book to pull off the shelf, the cost can add up if you want to add extra pages or have to pay for shipping. Watch for sales if you want to limit your costs. Many online stores regularly offer discounts for albums or free shipping promotions.

Scrapbooks. Scrapbooking is also particularly popular right now, and some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, even offer scrapbooking classes and sell albums right on the ship. If you go this more traditional route, you will need to print up your photos first before you put them in your albums. You can buy the books and accessories — like stickers, stamps, specialty paper and die cuts — onboard or in craft stores to personalize the pages. You can even join local scrapbooking groups (or take a scrapbooking theme cruise) to learn new ways of creating pages and albums. The upside to scrapbooking — as opposed to creating a photo album — is you can add in other mementoes from your trip, such as postcards and ticket stubs, along with your photos.

Does all this editing, selecting and designing take time? You bet, but I find that the time and effort it takes to create photo books and slideshows is worth it, especially when I can escape back to a memorable trip by looking at the pictures from that cruise. So, if you can, take lots of photos on your next cruise, and organize them into a display-worthy product. You’ll be able to remember and relive your cruises for years to come.