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How much someone gets paid for any given job is always a rather personal question.  But many cruisers have been curious about certain cruise ship jobs, namely the job of being a photographer on a giant vessel.

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After all, it appears to be a demanding position.  On mainstream cruise lines the ship is teeming with photographers in the evenings, especially on formal nights – that is, on ships where formal nights are still “a thing”.

A recent social media post revealed an answer to this question after another user on Reddit showed interest in the job.

A self-professed former photographer with Norwegian Cruise Line, who used the online alias pdx-Psych, detailed their own pay structure after 3 contracts with the company.

Gallery photographers, the entry-level position, can expect to make around “$1100-$1300 a month,” the user explained. With long hours factored in, often exceeding 60 per week, that pay can fall below minimum wage.

A path to higher wages

However, there is a path to higher earnings. Cruise lines offer photo lab and management positions with better salaries. 

“These pay on commission and if you are doing well getting appointments and selling your work, it’s more common to earn around 2.5-4K a month, the higher end being a very good month, and you are able to work a flexible schedule.” pdx-Psych noted, with top performers reaching even higher.

Experience vs. money: a trade-off

The social media post highlighted the trade-off that many cruise ship photographers make.

“It’s not just about the money (which you will save very quickly by not paying for room and board), it’s about the experience. I will tell you there is no monetary value you could put on the experience” they wrote, adding “it is one of a kind. I met my wife while working ships.”

There is a definite uniqueness about the lifestyle of a cruise ship photographer.  Seeing the world by not paying a dime in room and board is especially attractive to a younger demographic.

But for those focused on salary, there has to be a mindset ready for long, demanding hours. 

I always admire the creativity and energy of these hard-working members of the crew, and even though I’ve been cruising for over 15 years, I still try to buy at least a few photos on each cruise if I’m able.

A starting point for some photographers

Lightstalking.com, a website dedicated to photography, acknowledges the reality some photographers face while at sea.

While the field is looked down on by “more ‘snobbish’ elements of the photographic industry”, the author, Jason Row, argues it can be a valuable steppingstone for aspiring photographers.

According Row, the experience of working on a ship for 10 years taught him not only how to be a better photographer but how to manage a business as well.

“Most photographers working at sea are technically freelance. You are contracted by a photography agency to take images for a set period of time,” Row stated, adding that “pay is usually done on a commissions basis by rank.”

For many crew members, cruise ship photography offers the chance to gain valuable experience in areas like working under pressure and interacting with people.

However, Lightstalking.com also paints a realistic picture of the job’s demands. Long hours, seven days a week, with limited free time to explore ports, are the norm.

Bottom Line

Cruise ship photography offers an adventurous experience with the potential for decent pay, but it comes at a cost. Long hours, demanding schedules, and the pressure to meet sales quotas may be a turn-off for some.

According to pdx-Pysch, the photo shoots that took place in various cruise ports offered more freedom of expression and creativity.

“Imagine, we get paid to take people on little tours through the gardens of Capri or the beaches of the Bahamas and have a fun time doing a photoshoot all the while. For me, I’m still amazed I got paid to do that,” the Reddit user stated.

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