The turquoise waters of the Bahamas, the dramatic Rocky Mountains, the vistas of Iceland- endless romantic images pop into our minds when we think of destination weddings. And that is why, almost every wedding photographer at some point wants to give them a go.
So we’re going to tell you how to find them, book them, and prep for them.
The #1 challenge is finding clients. We’ve chatted with seasoned pros to find out how they broke into the exclusive destination wedding photographer club. Most say they got their start by simply putting the word out that they are available for destination weddings (yep, that cousin’s wedding in Miami counts). If a bridesmaid mentions her upcoming nuptials in Mexico, they speak up. At bridal shows, they display exotic images with palm trees, mountain ranges, and the Italian countryside. On their website, they have a special tab for destination wedding work. Any chance they have to inject a little “destination wedding” vibe, they do it.
Now let’s say you don’t have any images to show. No problem. You could attend one of the many great workshops put on at tropical locations. Or, see if your brother and his girlfriend will don a suit and white dress and model for a romantic beach photo shoot with you. Or, one photographer, told us she started by lining up her vacations with client vacations and shooting engagement sessions at unique places. She would obviously charge more to do this, but most clients were thrilled to have their engagement sessions somewhere amazing. And once she had some engagement destination work to show, it quickly parlayed into wedding destination work.
Another photographer told us she booked her first destination wedding when a client that was going to get married locally opted for a destination wedding instead. So she jumped on it, informing the client she would be thrilled at the chance to document their destination wedding. And just like that, she was in. It only takes a few destination weddings to have work to show, and then this segment of your business will start taking on a life of it’s own once you can post destination wedding images to all your social media channels and on your blog and website.
The next step is making it easy for clients to book you. Start by offering one flat rate that includes all your wedding services, and all travel expenses. Don’t make your client book your flight, car, and lodging. They have enough to manage, and adding more tasks to their list might kill the sale. Figure out how much your travel will cost, in addition to your wedding services, and that will be your total price.
Now, let’s be honest. Those of us who have shot destination weddings knows that it is not all sunsets and rum punch. There are some real hurdles when shooting abroad. The first is the travel itself. Make sure you have all passports, visas, work permits, health requirement checks, and travel documents well before the wedding date. Also collect enough of a deposit (if not the full amount) well in advance of the wedding in order to cover your travel expenses. We recommend a 50% deposit at booking, with the remaining balance due one to two months prior to the wedding.
The next thing to consider is giving yourself a bit of a time buffer. Don’t cut it too close. Most destination wedding photographers book their flight to arrive 1-2 days before the wedding, just in case there are any travel snafus. This provides a chance to scout out potential shooting areas (Keep in mind that many resorts may host several weddings per day, so that quaint, private spot you have picked out might be swarming with wedding guests tomorrow. Give yourself some options.) One other advantage to arriving early is that you can pop over to the rehearsal dinner and introduce yourself. The happy couple will be relieved once they know you are on site and ready!
Now you might be thinking, if we’re in this paradise, then we’re going off-resort for most of the portraits. And it’s true that off-the-beaten-path is where you find all the best locations. But make sure your bride and groom are comfortable with this, and that it’s safe. Exploring in Hawaii is something different than wandering off in Mexico. If you are all seasoned travelers and you know exactly where you‘re going, and what you’re doing, then it’s a fantastic idea. But, never go too far, unless your couple insists. Even if you are super-pumped to go to the top of the volcano for THAT shot, remember it’s still their wedding day. They might not really care about volcano pictures. Heck, they might have decided on a destination wedding to get as far away from annoying Aunt Susan as possible. Many couples are not interested in trekking on their big day, and prefer a day-after add-on option with more exotic locations. They’ll be more relaxed, have more time and you will be able to capture those once-in-a-lifetime portraits.
Once you return home, we recommend sharing your destination wedding on your website and social media channels. Create a complimentary set of thank-you cards for your couple with your favorite image. Send an email to all the vendors you worked with at the venue and an extra-special vendor marketing packet to the wedding coordinators. We have a feeling you will be stamping your passport again soon....
Every photographer has their own unique style. Some like to blend in and shoot in a more photojournalistic way. And others prefer to choreograph every image. But most land somewhere smack in the middle.