In the summer of 2018, I had the pleasure of taking on a really cool assignment that was the first of its kind for me: Shooting the interiors of a brand new cruise ship. In this case, the Norwegian Bliss. This is Norwegian’s flagship, and from my personal experience, it lives up to the hype. I mean, it’s got a multilevel go-kart track and laser tag for chrissake! It goes without saying, but this was a great opportunity that I am quite grateful for. (I also got to sail through the Panama Canal: a hell of an experience I can't recommend enough).
I’ve had some time to reflect on the shoot and would love to take this time to share some of my thoughts and conclusions.
I am ecstatic with the images I got, but there are some real growing pains with shooting on a ship. As an architecture photographer, I am used to having a certain level of control on my shoots. Very few variables are left to chance. Lighting, staging, composition, foot traffic etc. are mostly within my control. I have the luxury of scouting locations ahead of time and waiting for that perfect light. Staff and personnel are alerted to my presence ahead of time and can usually accommodate my requests. In general, things can be rearranged with little hassle if it means getting it right. Even when things aren’t negotiable, I usually have enough time to comfortably figure out a workaround.
A ship is a living, breathing, moving city. There are millions of moving parts that stop for nobody. This shoot was also during an active sailing, so there were over 4,000 passengers and crew members to work around, and no, I could not ask them to get out of my shots. Many spaces had multiple sources of lights that created nightmares of color casts (that could not be turned off), and forget trying to rearrange furniture. It’s all practically anchored down to prevent it from sliding all over the place during rough seas. Couches and tables can easily end up weighing several hundred pounds! Mind you, these spaces are designed to hold 3-500 people at once, so that’s a lot of furniture. Photography is life, but not at the cost of a hernia. The crew all have their own duties to attend to as well, and they could understandably, not be bothered with the obsessive-compulsive requests of an annoying photographer.
The only hand I could play was to accept the things I could not change, which was practically everything minus a few restaurants that stayed closed during the day. To make matters more challenging, we were only on the ship 7 days and had over 50 spaces to shoot, so every minute had to be squeezed like a lemon. And did I mention there was also a badass video crew that needed to get their shots as well, often at the same time as me? We worked very well alongside each other, but it still required some logistical gymnastics.
On the technical side of things, everything is just bigger on a cruise ship. They have to be if they are to accommodate so many passengers. For my style of shooting, this meant that most of my Photoshop files were massive! I am talking some as big as 50gb because they were comprised of as many as a 150 layers at a time. Why? Well because when a room has over 75 tables and chairs, they all need to be lit to fit my aesthetic. Shooting a dining room meant for 1000 people is a tad more ambitious than the dining room in a single family home. In fact, this shoot was the last the straw that convinced me to throw my hands up in defeat and throw down the money on an iMac Pro.
I also frequently found myself resorting to stitching shots in post with my 24mm tilt-shift lens as the spaces were often way too big to get in frame with one shot, even shifting all the way up. My 16-35 G Master lens was on hand, but I'd have lost too much of my composition fixing the distortion and wonky verticals in post. This definitely added to the complexity and time in post-production, but eye strain is a small price to pay for perfection. I now have a 17mm tilt-shift as well to make my life easier in the future.
Some of the exterior shots were blessed by gorgeous, natural light, but because there were often so many people around, I still had to stack layers to remove as many as possible.
It wasn’t an easy transition, but It was definitely a pleasant and exhilarating one that proved to be a very valuable educational experience for the progression of my career. I didn’t have time to dwell on what I could not control, and that in itself gave me a certain level of relief. Shit needed to get done, and there was no time to waste. This meant that quite a few more things had to be “fixed in Photoshop” than I am accustomed to ( a lesson I’ll take into account for next time), but overall I could not be happier and more excited to finally share the work.
Below are some of my favorite shots! To see the whole gallery click here