If you are a wedding photographer considering shooting destination weddings, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to marketing, booking and traveling for weddings! From what to pack, to what to expect – destination weddings can be both exhausting and highly rewarding. This is Kristen Weaver’s take on her experiences as a destination wedding photographer.
For all intents and purposes, my very first wedding that I shot was a destination wedding. I was living in Orlando, and one of my closest friends got married on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s gulf coast. In April, I felt like my career has gone full circle, shooting my long-time best friend’s wedding in Los Angeles at the world-famous Wayfarer’s Chapel and the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica.
See Candice and Kevin’s full wedding post on Style Me Pretty
Three years later, I’ve logged thousands of miles for weddings, going to places like Jamaica, the Bahamas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Cleveland – and have weddings coming up in Australia, Mexico, Hawaii, Chicago, and Connecticut.
I’m not sure what initially made me a destination wedding photographer, because I actually love shooting weddings in my hometown of Orlando, FL. But I have loved the unexpected surprises that have come with my travels. At the very least, it’s nothing like what I was expecting!
My first true destination wedding was in October in Jamaica. My bride, a photographer from New Jersey, booked me within 24 hours of her first contact. I decided to bring my fiancé and shot the wedding for a minimal fee, with all travel covered. It was a business decision at the time, because I wanted to break in to the international wedding market. Not to mention, the wedding was at a Sandals, where all of my expenses would be entirely covered.
How to Market
There are so many ways to market yourself in the destination arena. The best way is to blog an actual destination wedding (if you’ve shot one). This will lead more brides to your website who are looking to hold their own destination events. You can also check forums for destination weddings and post advice about hiring a photographer. Don’t be a creeper and openly post that you’ll shoot their wedding – unsolicited sales attempts could make you look less than reputable. Be an expert in photography and establish a relationship and open communication with these brides. Don’t be desperate – I’ve heard horror stories of brides offering “free advertising” to photographers in exchange for them shooting their destination wedding. And when I say “free advertising” – I mean they’re going to stamp your name on a t-shirt that they give out to guests. Hardly worthy of your time to shoot and edit. Another great way to market is to connect with local vendors – especially coordinators – where you’d like to shoot! Send out emails introducing yourself and let them know you’re willing to branch out of your own market.
As I found myself getting more and more wedding inquiries everywhere from Turks and Caicos to Egypt, I started becoming more discriminating with my pricing. Depending on the location and what accommodations I would need, I priced accordingly. Decide what extras you want to charge for, and how to bill them out (before or after you go) – like cab fare, checked baggage fees and wi-fi at the hotel. I also started to take in to consideration that while I was away from home, my business was literally put on hold. This, in itself, cost me valuable lessons as I budgeted each month. Not only did it mean I couldn’t book what I normally would (because my response time was much slower while out of town), but it also meant I wasn’t there for my current clients if they had an emergency (anything from time-lines to needing an image quick). Pricing became a major factor when I started traveling with my second shooter/assistant as well. I covered all of her costs, plus I’m still paying her a set salary while we’re gone in addition to her fees second shooting.
What to bring
Besides simply pricing, there is so much more you have to think about when you’re traveling for events. First, your equipment. Proper equipment insurance and back-up plans are a must. As always, I recommend travel insurance for every flight, as well as a plan for flying in and out of locations. In Florida, bad weather is common (and hurricane season is the worst), so we plan accordingly, requiring to fly in several days before we’re needed to ensure there aren’t any glitches with our flights. You also have to take in to consideration flight times, time-zone changes and the potential for jet-lag with cross country or international flights. Always carry on your equipment (I use the ThinkTank for mine), and have a laptop with you that you can edit on, communicate with or back up files to. I also bring an external hard drive that I can use to back up in a secondary location from my laptop. If you’re traveling internationally, always check for outlet converters and currency exchanges. If you have an iPad – look up some travel apps to help you navigate the area.
I can’t stress this part enough – bring suncreen and bug spray wherever you go! We also carry little packs of medicine (Pepto, Advil, etc) and always try to stay stocked up on bottled water.
Location scouting for destination weddings can be a challenge, but can also be one of the highlights to shooting in places you’ve never been! I encourage you to feel out your location, keeping in mind that lighting during different times of the day and seasons may be different than what you’re used to (I’m especially concerned about this on my own trip out to Australia for a wedding in January!) Be excited to see new things and try to bring in the details of the location as much as the details of the wedding. Utilize backdrops like the ocean, mountains, and different types of fields and cityscapes to add interest to your normal posing. Make sure you get full benefit from the location by suggesting to your couples that you have plenty of time for photos. What’s the benefit of shooting a destination wedding if you’re stuck in a hotel for the whole day? Be especially conscious of this as you plan the timeline for the day – in unfamiliar territory you have to consider things like different traffic, waiting for cabs, busses, subways or valet. For instance, driving 10 miles means totally different things in Ohio (10 minutes), Orlando (30 minutes) and Los Angeles (60 minutes).
See Rachel and Matt’s full wedding post on Destination I Do
Contracts and Expectations
Agreeing to a destination wedding can be stressful if you’re not clear about your contract to the couple. My pricing is set up so that I’m always in attendance at the rehearsal dinner (even if I’m not scheduled to shoot it) so I can meet the family and get to know the key players for the wedding. I will often do a set 8 hours of event photography for the wedding (more if they convince me about awesome locations we can go for pictures) and will sometimes do a Day After session with the bride and groom for some more photo-ops. I love this session because it’s my chance to use the location to get creative shots that I want for my website. If you’re invited to other wedding events during the time you’re there – clarify expectations with them. They may be inviting you to hang out – but they may also be expecting you to shoot while you’re there. If you’re not clear, you could end up working a lot more than what you bargained for. No one wants to argue about contracts and time while you’re there – so be clear about this in advance.
In most cases, I haven’t even met the bride and groom, so I’ll schedule a pre-wedding dinner when we arrive so we can sit down and chat. Communication is key when you’re working with brides from another state (or country), so I frequently email, Skype and Facebook my couples so that they’re used to me (as much as someone can get used to me J). My most recent destination wedding was one of my favorites – learning to communicate with a bride, groom and half a wedding party that was all deaf, while being in a new state, presented it’s own challenges for me! Luckily, I had spent a lot of time chatting online with my bride ahead of time and could easily communicate with her from simple hand movements and a pre-established relationship.
It’s not always rainbows
Not to say there haven’t been tears along the way – I always miss my family, my fiancé and my cat (yes, my cat), I’m sometimes stuck without transportation, have been put in last-minute (change-of-plans) accommodations, have had hundreds of infected bug bites (at once), bad sunburn, dehydration, and even had to push golf carts with ALL of my equipment up a hill to get back to my room; but I always stay focused for my brides, trying to bring the best out of each wedding! They are a constant reminder of how lucky I’ve been to follow my dreams as a photographer.
The unexpected part of shooting destination weddings is the relationship you’ll develop with your bride, groom and their family and friends. I’ve walked away from each of my destination events with such an amazing bond. I cried on my way back from Vegas, got chills when my Bahamas bride put on her gown, and frequently keep in touch with both of my Jamaica brides and their families! Spending 5 days with someone else’s family will either make or break you, and you’ll quickly find out if shooting a destination wedding is for you – but in my business, it has been one of the most amazing experiences!
In a nutshell:
- Always carry on your equipment when flying
- Make sure your couple knows exactly what and when you’re scheduled to shoot during their events. Set ground rules.
- Understand airline, customs and travel laws before flying out of the country! Oversized bins can be smaller and airlines may have different weight restrictions for bags.
- Unexpected costs when traveling can include taxis, food, checked baggage fees, hotel wi-fi (oddly NOT always included, even in business-based hotels).
- I highly recommend against traveling alone – bring an assistant or second shooter with you if possible
- Price according to your business model. If you want to travel, start with lower all-inclusive destination packages to start booking, and gradually increase your prices with your experience until you’re charging what you’d like to make.
- If the client is making your travel reservations, put in the contract (and discuss with the bride) that you must approve the accommodations before they’re booked.
- Fly non-stop when possible
- Have travel insurance and equipment insurance that covers you wherever you are shooting
- Location scout for the best location opportunities!
Kristen Weaver is an international and destination wedding photographer based out of Orlando, FL. Kristen has been featured in some of the most esteemed wedding publications and blogs, including Southern Weddings, Grace Ormonde Wedding Style and Style Me Pretty. She has started her own online social website, KWP Online, where she trains, discusses and shares with others. She has also started the international photography organization, Images for a Cure, which has raised nearly $30,000 for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.