How to Photograph Destination Weddings Successfully

How to Photograph Destination Weddings Successfully

So you’ve booked your first destination wedding, now what? Don’t worry, photographing a destination wedding is not much different from photographing a local wedding. Check out how to photograph destination weddings and make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.

1. Logistics and planning

It’s incredibly exciting getting the chance to travel to photograph a couple’s wedding. With that, however, comes the logistics and effective planning, so you aren’t scrambling or getting delayed by a flight.

First things first, make all the flight purchases and itineraries yourself. You should arrive at the destination at least one full day before the event.

For example, if the wedding is on a Friday, you need to arrive early Thursday morning at the latest. The best would be to arrive on Wednesday anytime. This way, if a flight gets delayed or canceled, you have time to figure out your next move. Never plan to arrive on the same day as the event.

If you are not extending your stay, make sure to leave the destination the next day or next night. The reason for this is because, after a full day of photographing a wedding, you won’t want to worry about packing, airport shuttles, and all that goes into traveling back home.

Get your rest, eat a good breakfast and then be on your way. Make sure to say goodbye to your clients before leaving if they are still on the property.

It is entirely up to you if you wish to extend the stay and turn the opportunity into a vacation. However, make sure that you separate the costs of work and vacation so that your clients aren’t paying for your vacation and you can relax knowing that you can enjoy your vacation.

Having said that, it is acceptable to extend the stay and travel a bit on your own. Destination weddings are perfect for this type of traveling, however, always be careful of your equipment when traveling.

2. Research the location of the wedding

Since you’ll most likely be traveling to a new place, you won’t be familiar with the location. Research online as much as possible so that you can find possible shoot locations and get an idea of what you’ll be working with.

Googling the location and adding “weddings” can also bring up other photographer websites who have photographed there. It can give you ideas of where to photograph or how the light looks.

Reach out to the planner or coordinator of the wedding and touch base with them before you arrive. It’s also nice to introduce yourself to them via email before arriving. Ask them in-depth questions about things such as the weather, the location, travel, and access.

All of these logistical and location questions are important so that you know whether to rent a car or if it’s easily accessible to the nearest town.

Getting all of this information can help you make an itinerary with the couple and they will be impressed that you went the extra mile to find out all of the details not only the wedding, but of the actual location.

3. Make the most of your time before the event

It can seem pretty enticing to take a dip in the pool after traveling to the destination of the wedding, however, it’s best to make the most of your time before the event.

Take the time to walk the grounds and get the lay of the land. This can help you get an idea of possible locations that aren’t too far from any of the important events of the wedding day. Ask the coordinator or planner to give you a quick tour of where the ceremony and the reception are taking place.

This is also a great time to check out the town if the couple has opted for photos there. Go and take a look and take the time to make a list of possible locations for portraits, family portraits, creative bridal party locations, etc.

In order to capture this shot, we had to wake up for sunrise at 6:30. Doing research on the location will help you determine the best time for photos.

Also, take a short break to say hi to the couple. Reassure them that you have arrived and have been checking out the location for the best possible photo spots.

Upon arriving, also check your gear. Check that everything is in working order after traveling and that your batteries are charged. If you find you need something, it’s best to find it during this time rather than finding out you needed extra double aa batteries during the ceremony.

Preparing yourself, the photo locations, and your gear allows you to fully relax knowing that you have everything ready to go for the event. Then you can take that dip in the pool without any worries.

4. Gear

Flying with gear can be stressful. Never check-in your gear. Whenever possible, put it in a carry-on case so that it is with you at all times – at least the most important gear. Light stands and tripods are not as crucial as a flash and your favorite portrait lens.

Keeping your lens within arm’s length always ensures nothing gets thrown or broken in the course of the trip. Also, you’ll be able to take photos as you travel on the plane, in the airport, and anywhere.

Before traveling, make sure to speak to an insurance agent about getting your gear insured while you travel. Some insurance agencies only cover your gear in the country you live in. Be sure to call around and have your gear covered as you travel.

Also, ask if your gear is covered in transit. That means that while you’re on your way to where your event is taking place. Transit means in the car on the way to the airport, to the resort, or on the plane.

Having your gear insured while you are traveling makes you feel more at ease in the event something were to happen. Something like a broken lens, a faulty flash, having your camera fall in the water or having your gear stolen.

No one would want this to happen, however, being insured against these things helps keep repair and replacing costs lower than if you didn’t have your gear insured.

Now that you’re insured make sure you bring a backup camera and lens that helps you to cover the wedding in case your main camera stops working for any reason. This is pretty basic for any wedding event – local or destination. However, overseas or far from your local camera shop, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to rent anything if something does go wrong.

5. Tell a story

Most destination weddings take place in places that tell part of the couples’ story or is meaningful to them in some way. Take a photo of the dress where the resort is shown off. For example, a couple from Washington has their wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. An excellent photo to showcase the beach would be to take a photo of the wedding dress outside where you see the reflection of the ocean in the sliding door windows.

You can also strategically place the details of the wedding day, such as the shoes, bouquet, or the family formals so that some part of the location tells the story. Including these details in the photos makes for a beautiful wedding album and tells the story of the entire day. It has more meaning than a photo of the bride’s shoes in a location that could have been local.

Destination weddings tend to have a smaller guest list, and therefore, most of the guests are very close to the couple. This means that toasts and first dances may be emotionally driven.

Photograph from a more journalistic point of view during these emotional moments, that way, you can capture the mother with tears of joy during the ceremony, or a meaningful hug from a best friend after the first kiss. All of these moments are important during destination weddings.

The bride’s father is the officiant and her sister is behind them.

Take lots of portraits of the bride and groom with their guests, either candid or posed. As the guest list is small, every person is essential, and you should photograph each of them. If the wedding is tiny, say less than 20 people, take a group photo of everyone who attended.

Capture all moments. This man was telling the bride that she was the most beautiful bride he had ever seen during the bride and groom portraits. A funny and sweet moment to remember!

It’s sure to be a favorite among all the guests, and the bride and groom will appreciate you took the time to get a group photo of everyone who made their day special.

6. Get vendor information

Destination weddings are perfect for publications and lots of blogs. You’ll want to get the full list of vendors so that you can also share the images with them and across social media sites.

Tagging a vendor in your photos always creates more buzz and can help you to book more destination weddings in the future. This is especially helpful if you would like to keep photographing weddings at that particular destination.

Send the coordinator/planner a thank you email along with the link to selected photos of the event so that they too can share the images and tag you. Include any hashtags that you’d like for them to use on social media.

Doing this can create a positive rapport with the vendors and give you another opportunity to photograph more weddings at the same location. It also helps your future clients if they need referrals to vendors that you have personally worked with before.

In conclusion

There is not much difference between a local wedding and a destination wedding. With these tips, you’ll be more than prepared to photograph your destination wedding. With the right planning, you’ll do the very best for your clients, and you might even get to enjoy a vacation while you’re at it.

Have you photographed destination weddings? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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Jackie Lamas is a destination wedding and portrait photographer based on the beautiful beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She earned her degree in photography from California State University, Fullerton. Jackie has over 10 years of experience as a professional photographer and teacher. When she’s not on the beach, you can find her writing on her blog and spending time with her baby and husband. See more of her work on Instagram.