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.
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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 overabundance 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.
Look 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.
Don'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.
The Final Product: Sharing Your Cruise Photos
The days of printing out a bunch of 3x5 or 4x6 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.