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Decades of iconic cruise images from a master, Michel Verdure

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Michel Verdure photographed Silver Nova, Celebrity Ascent and Icon of the Seas off St. Thomas on March 12, the first-ever meet-up at sea between the three sister brands
When Royal Caribbean Group wanted to capture its trio of newest ships together, the company turned — as it had so many times before — to Michel Verdure, a photographer with a penchant for stunning cruise images.

'We have had the pleasure of working with Michel on numerous milestone projects over the years, and his artistic vision and knowledge of ship movement is beyond compare,' said Susan Lomax, AVP corporate communications, Royal Caribbean Group.

'When the idea of our first-ever meet-up at sea between our sister brands came up, we knew we needed Michel’s expertise behind the lens. More than being a gifted professional, he is a wonderful person who makes every project special.'

Nova, Ascent and Icon rendezvous

The company arranged for Silver Nova, Celebrity Ascent and Icon of the Seas to rendezvous off St. Thomas early one morning in March. The ships, carrying passengers, were all on tight schedules with no time to spare.

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Michel Verdure had less than 30 minutes to shoot the trio of ships together

The weather had to be perfect, the sea calm. The captains had to maneuver as close as possible, while still maintaining a safe distance — no nearer than three cables (about 600 meters/1,969 feet). The helicopter, coming from San Juan, had to be on time. Verdure had to get numerous cases of heavy equipment on site. He would have less than 30 minutes to shoot.

At 6 a.m. Nova, Ascent and Icon were in position, awaiting sunrise at 6:30 a.m. when Verdure began snapping away. The gods were smiling. The sea was flat; there was no wind and just a bit of cloud.

At 6:59 a.m., the shoot was over. The ships had to be on their way.

'I was really stressed out,' Verdure said. 'Of course, the best shot was the last one.'

He summed up the assignment with characteristic understatement: 'It worked. They're happy.'

The images are breathtaking.

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Hanging from a helicopter is all in a day's work — except Verdure doesn't have the luxury of a whole day to capture ship aerials. It's more like minutes

It all came together with loads of planning, including many communications and a video chat with the captains: Teo Strazicic (Icon of the Seas), Tasos Kafetzis (Celebrity Ascent), Samuele Failla (Silver Nova).

'The captains were extremely cooperative, all very nice,' Verdure said. 'They are very, very proud of their ships. This was something unusual and different for them, exciting.'

For Verdure it was challenging but not exceptionally so.

'They're all tricky,' he said of ship assignments. 'Taking the shots is nothing. It's everything before. The logistics are always different.'

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Queen Mary 2

Millions see cruise ships through Verdure's lens

Verdure's images over the decades are how millions of people 'see' cruise ships — his aerials, interiors and lifestyle shots.

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SeaDream II dancing on deck

The 'three sisters' shot of Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas off Port Everglades on Nov. 4, 2016. Maiden calls with water cannon salutes. First looks at interiors of iconic ships.

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Water cannon salute for Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas

Verdure keeps track of his cruises — 305 — and estimates he's photographed 180 ships, producing 'millions' of photos.

'I only do cruise ships,' he said. (He takes cruise line executive portraits, too.)

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'He understands light and space and captures details that delight,' veteran cruise line marketer Kari Tarnowski said

'Michel’s photography helps punctuate the story we are crafting to connect with the customer,' said Kari Tarnowski, a veteran senior cruise line marketing executive. 'He understands light and space and captures details that delight. He is also passionate about our industry and captures moments that are uniquely reflective of each brand.

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Moments that are uniquely reflective of each brand — here, Seabourn

'It’s such a privilege to work with someone like Michel and develop a shorthand over the years, and brands that hire him and just let him do his magic, without a worry or second thought.'

Secret to his success

The secret to Verdure's success, said Len Kaufman, a close friend and fellow seasoned photographer, videographer and expert in travel shoots, is 'his extraordinary attention to detail and his encyclopedic knowledge of the logistical workings of pretty much all of the cruise lines. 

'So when it comes to putting together a rather complicated shoot, like three ships, all lined up and underway, that knowledge and attention to detail enables him to make it all happen.'

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Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas off Port Everglades on Nov. 4, 2016

Self-taught

Verdure began his career as a Club Med scuba diving instructor, falling in love with the underwater world. He advanced to village chief, and worked at Club Meds from Italy to the Maldives.

Fascinated with photography, he began to study it when he left Club Med and started as an underwater photographer, working with the legendary Jacques Cousteau on his Calypso.

As a contractor, Verdure photographed Club Med I for a brochure when it came out in 1990 (the ship now sails as Wind Surf for Windstar Cruises).

'When I took pictures of that ship, I was like a kid in a candy shop,' he recalled.

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Seabourn Quest off Elba

From then on, he began shooting lots of ships. One client was ASTA, where he took photos for ASTA Agency Management editors Ralph Grizzle (who later started Avid Cruiser and River Cruise Advisor), Mike Driscoll (Cruise Week) and Buck Banks (who went on to lead NewmanPR's maritime division).

Getting his big break from Royal Caribbean

The ASTA work put Verdure in touch with cruise lines. He approached Rich Steck in public relations at Royal Caribbean, begging for a chance and offering to work for free. On a short Grandeur of the Seas repositioning cruise, Verdure shot slides, paying for the film and processing. He handed them over to Steck: 'No charge.'

Based on that work, a year later, in 1997, Steck assigned Verdure to photograph the newly delivered Rhapsody of the Seas, flying him and two assistants to Europe. It was his first job capturing an entire ship. They were supposed to sail trans-Atlantic. Things didn't quite go as expected.

Rhapsody had engine trouble and spent a week docked beside a pile of coal. But Verdure completed the assignment. And since then, he has never missed photographing any new Royal Caribbean ship.

'Every ship — from top to bottom,'  he said.

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Radiance of the Seas against the backdrop of Hubbard Glacier

He considers Steck his hero, and Royal Caribbean is 'deep in my heart because they are so loyal.'

Celebrity Cruises is the same; he started shooting for them with 1997's Mercury and hasn't missed a new ship. Holland America Line has been another favorite client, thanks to the loyalty of Erik Elvejord, who recently retired from a long public relations career there.

Having proven himself many times over, now Verdure only works 'when I love the client or the job.'