20 years of passenger ship photography
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
by Jochen Gielen with the help of Onno Heesbeen & Louy Lative.
I learned about passenger ships the classic way, when I was about 11 years old I got the book about the discovery of the Titanic by Robert Ballard and was instantly sold. I started reading about the history of White Star line, Cunard line and linked to my own country, the Red Star line, these 3 companies would become my main interest and still are, however I am now fascinated my passenger ships from all over the world and try to photograph the most interesting ones whenever possible, these days focusing more on the photographic art of the situation than just documenting that I saw a ship.
One of the best places in the world and where it all started for me is Southampton in England, the home base of the old liners and still the base for Cunard and P&O. The place where I took one of my best shots ever of the Queen Elizabeth 2 nearing the end of her life at sea together with her replacement flagship the Queen Mary 2 as you can see below.
Southampton is easy to get around and although you are not allowed inside the port, there are plenty of great viewpoints all around the area, for ships that berth at the older Queen Elizabeth terminal (where QE2 can be seen in the photo above) the best way to view them is by taking the Hythe ferry, it will sail right past the ship, upon arrival in Hythe you can just walk around and wait for ships to leave as this area is the best to view ships leaving the port of Southampton.
The other possibility is to take a harbor tour on one of the sightseeing boats, they usually advertise the ships that are in port and you can see them up and close from your boat, giving you the best opportunity to take some great shots.
Mayflower park is another great spot, make sure you get there when the ships
arrive or leave, they will sail right in front of the park and there are always some other people around to see the ships, in general the people of Southampton are proud of their ships so you 'll always find someone talking about them and it could even be my friend Louy who lives not too far away in Southsea (Portsmouth).
In 2005 I made some unique photos of the brand new Arcadia coming in for the first time as new fleet member of the P&O fleet (photo on your right). During all my years of visiting Southampton I have always been able to spot some of my favorite ships and go home with some amazing photos. Of course I 'm not done yet and some of my next projects will surely include my drone
flying around Southampton area for some new angles of photography. When I saw the Oriana leave on a winter day in Southampton with some great colors in the sky I knew this would also become a good shot as you can see below.
And when Arcadia was leaving on her maiden voyage and her fleet mate Oceana was berthed at the Queen Elizabeth terminal (Southampton now has 5 terminals) the opportunity was also presented to me to get a good view.
During that time I was taking the Hythe ferry to get the best view.
Of course onboard the ships you can also have an amazing chance of good photography. As I was working at Brussels Airport in 2004 and got a brand new digital camera, I decided it was time to visit the QE2, so I booked a cruise on her from Southampton to Guernsey and
back, just to get an inside view and get to know the ship even better, this was the only time I have ever been onboard QE2 and I have taken many shots of her inside and outside. Time doesn't stand still and by late 2008 she was taken out of service and sold to Dubai where by now she has become a static floating hotel.
I still think of her as one of the most successful ocean liners ever built and as ocean liners have now become very rare, QM2 being one of the last if not THE last real ocean liner, I 'm very grateful that I have actually sailed on QE2 in 2004.
Her replacement QM2 was from the beginning a very ambitious project and
when she was being built in Saint-Nazaire in France she was basically followed during her entire construction by historians, ship spotters from all over the world and photographers alike. My first encounter with this new ocean liner was in Rotterdam, probably one of the easiest ports to take photos of cruise ships as they dock right in the center of the city and although you can't actually get next to the ship, you can get in front, opposite and to the back of the ship, basically giving you a full view from almost every angle. When QM2 arrived for the first time there wasn't any free spot around the terminal, everyone wanted to see this giant ship, she was the biggest passenger ship and ocean liner ever constructed and luckily I was able to get an unblocked shot of her massive bow.
Guernsey is another great port to view cruise ships in the UK, however, this is an island! Guernsey isn't easy to get to from a European point of view, the only ways are flying from regional airports in Britain, or a ferry from Britain or France. Saint-Peter port is the capital and main port but even this port isn't large enough for cruise ships or large ferries, so the only ferries operating here are small passenger boats to nearby islands or relatively small catamarans taking vehicles as well while most other ferry services in Europe have abandoned the catamaran design. Cruise ships therefore anchor in front of the castle overlooking the port and they tender passengers to the main passenger pier.
When you are on one of the ships anchored at Guernsey, you have an uninterrupted view on other ships in the area and this sometimes results in great photos as well, the tides in this area are also a main factor as ships turn in the tides during the time they are anchored, so the bow of the ship may be facing town in the morning and sea in the evening, on the photo at right you can
see the Black Watch anchored there in 2004 when I myself was on the Caronia, the sky was amazing that day and I haven't been able to get a better shot in that location ever since, I would go on to visit 2 more times, on QE2 but the weather was so bad we couldn't get off the ship and on Oriana on her second to last voyage before being sold to the Chinese.
Disney cruises has maybe some of the most recognizable ships in the world, they look like modern ocean liners you would expect in fantasy movies and they are decorated with some of the best know Disney figures in history from Mickey to Goofy, Donald and Pluto. When I visited Cherbourg and waited for my friend Louy to come in on the ferry from Portsmouth I had a fantastic view
on the Disney Magic, one of the 2 ships of Disney cruises, later they would build more similar ships and we can only see what the future brings for this line.