A Lucrative Business That Requires More Preparation
Destination Wedding Photography Tips – I am hardly the most qualified person to harp on about destination weddings but recent events have prompted me to write this article. This year, I have shot weddings in the UK, Spain and Italy so maybe I am a “little” qualified.
Destination Weddings – Why?
First of all, why would you want to shoot destination weddings? Fun? Fame? Fantasy?
I think one good reason would be the increasing saturation of wedding photographers in and around your area. There are so many wedding photographers sprouting up now it is getting harder to compete.
Secondly, you may just want the buzz of travelling and working abroad…nothing wrong with that but when it comes to destination weddings in unknown territory, you have to be prepared.
One reason for me is the desire to travel and see new places and get paid along the way. All being well I get to take my family with me too. If I end up coming home with a few pennies and we have had a great holiday paid for by a couple of days work…brilliant!
So, where do you begin when looking to start on destination weddings? With the money of course! You need to ensure that after taking all costs into account, it is actually worth your while taking the job on.
Destination Wedding Photography – Costing
Assuming you have marketed yourself well for the catchment area and got yourself a job abroad, you need to start planning immediately. Put a file together and work out times, routes, costs etc and keep it up to date.
What you charge for the wedding depends entirely on what your packages include but you absolutely must account for all the added extras when shooting destination weddings.
Things such as:
- Car Hire
- Toll Roads
- Baggage Allowance (More on that later)
- Tips/Bribes etc (Optional)
Obviously you need to make the trip worthwhile unless you are treating it as a “feeler” or “loss leader” for future jobs, so don’t be afraid to “up” your prices significantly.
People getting married abroad tend to spend a lot more so they expect higher costs.
Destination Wedding Photography – Why You?
Why would a couple want to pay for and book a wedding photographer that doesn’t already live in the area? It could be for a number of reasons including;
- You were recommended by a friend and they simply MUST have you…the power of referrals.
- The foreign country has few, if any, English speaking photographers
- They do not know you live elsewhere…be careful on this one otherwise you caught get caught out!
- Once you have shot a few weddings in this area, your portfolio will shine and they relax in the knowledge that you are worthy of the booking regardless of where you live.
Destination Wedding Photography – Plan, Knowledge and Research
From the moment you have been booked you should kick into gear and research everything you can about the couple, their family, the schedule of the day/s events, the venues and surrounding areas and make sure you can get there.
Once you have received your deposit, use it immediately to book flights, hotel accommodation and car hire.
Note: I managed to get all three for 1 week in Italy for 500 Euros so shop around.
Car hire is essential even if you don’t think you need it. I was asked on a couple of occasions to either drive the couple somewhere, meet up for unexpected rendezvous plus I simply wanted to check out the area for stock photography.
Make sure that your flight arrives at least 2 or 3 days before the wedding to give you time to fully plan the event, meet the couple at least twice, check out the venues and make sure you know the way and timings for all travelling.
Take meter readings and test shots from everywhere you will be going, get to know the whole lot as best you can before the big day. Plan the shoot in your head and on paper…write down shots that both you and the couple want or are expecting.
Look for nice, local areas that you can take the couple/wedding party for special shots.
I printed out endless and copious amounts of Google maps and plans to make sure I left no stone unturned. I printed off pictures of local landmarks so that I could navigate by recognition when things got tough.
Note: Not knowing which streets were one way from the maps was my biggest stumbling block.
Finally, use all of this research and knowledge to do one, big dry run of the entire day both mentally and actually. You have to get it right and knowledge is King.
Destination Wedding Photography – Kit to Take (Don’t Try This at Home)
Now…I may have gone a little over the top for my Italian wedding and I paid the price! I carefully thought about what I needed and then added a bunch of stuff “just in case”. I was going to be deep in the heart of Tuscany with no shops for miles…I had to cover myself.
Because I wanted to keep up to date with the website and do other work, I also opted to take my not-so-mobile and not-so-light laptop with me (a 17″ Sony Vaio).
Plus I wanted to film Ray Quinn and Girls Aloud (the wedding entertainment) as well as parts of the ceremony for the slideshow so I took along my high def video camera and accessories…in fact, here is the list of items I took and why:
- Two camera bodies – Always have a spare/second/back up camera. You never know what might happen to your main. Think about taking a good high end point and shoot too.
- 5 Lenses – Just to cover all bases/damage etc I like to cover all angles and situations. Not just for the wedding but stock photography also.
- 2 Speedlights (again, one as back up or use with second camera) – Back up, back up and back up!
- Video camera, lens, lights, mics etc. – To film entertainment and make short video clips of the country/area for stock footage in my spare time (which was minimal)
- Camera batteries, spare batteries and chargers – Back up, back up and back up. Power is good!
- 7 packs of rechargeable speedlight batteries (plus 3 chargers) and 5 standard packs as back up – This was a 3 day wedding held entirely outside in mostly candle light so I knew I would need plenty of power for the speedlights and 3 chargers to charge them up overnight ready for the next day.
- 9 memory cards for the cameras totalling 30 Gigabytes – Back up, back up and back up. Unless you have a way of “dumping” shots such as a laptop or Epson P5000 (e.g.), you will need plenty of cards.
- Accessories such as speedlight diffusers, cables, cleaning equipment and of course, my extremely heavy duty Manfrotto tripod – The tripod was absolutely necessary for both video work and night shots of the wedding and grounds. Maybe not the Manfrotto next time though!
- Laptop – I needed this to keep the website up to date and dump pics and videos as I went. The laptop was packed in its original box and surrounded by towels, airbags and foam to keep it solidly in place. It was then put inside a solid Samsonite suitcase and thankfully it survived both journeys in the hold!
Now, with the new regulations in place for flying, I could only take so much camera gear on the plane with me. I ended up with one piece of hand luggage and two suitcases which weighed a combined total of 36KG!!!!
I had to pay an excess of 150 Euros each way for extra luggage and for being well overweight! BIG lesson learned.
Weigh your gear before you leave and make sure you have the extra cost covered as part of your package. After this pricey lesson I thought about simply buying an extra seat on the plane in the future, which would give me extra luggage allowance. It would have worked out a lot cheaper so check with the airline if you can do this before flying.
Destination Wedding Photography – Arrive Early
Make sure you get to your destination with plenty of time to scout around and get to know the area. There is nothing worse than getting lost on the big day…very unprofessional.
I must admit I panicked when I got to Florence…the place was a nightmare for traffic and the one way system was completely crazy. Luckily after a couple of days I felt I knew it like the back of my hand but only because I had walked and driven most of it at least twice!
Getting there early also gives you time to visit the venues, meet the owners and staff and make it clear what you will be doing/need on the day.
It is also an idea, as stated earlier, to ensure you meet with the couple at least once or twice before the wedding to put them at ease and get to know you. This is an expensive and important business so act professionally.
Destination Wedding Photography – Check the Weather
For the Italian wedding, I was leaving Spain and traversing the globe to Italy in August, I assumed it would be sunny so took no jackets. Doh! As soon as I landed it was raining incredibly hard and did so all the way to Florence from Milan.
I checked the weather that night and made plans with the couple in case of rain as it was an outside, 3 day wedding. All was well in the end and the sun shone with no rain in the evenings but at least I was prepared.
Similarly, when I shot a wedding in London this year, the shots we had planned in Hyde Park fell by the wayside as it was raining heavily. So heavily in fact that the rain made its way into the ballroom basement of the Park Lane Hotel and flooded the lighting rig…mad!
Check the weather and plan accordingly for any events.
Destination Wedding Photography – Insurance
Shop around for good travel insurance for the duration of your trip and upgrade to the premium service. I covered all of my gear and travelling to the maximum for a measly but worth it £12. Considering the value of my kit I felt happy and safe throughout the trip.
Destination Wedding Photography – Timescale
Work out a timescale for the entire trip and all events. Add at least one hour to the beginning of each section to account for bad traffic and other “unforeseen” circumstances.
I try and arrive about 2 hours early and make up the time by shooting stock photos and video using spare cards and batteries that I have set aside purely for that purpose. Never do this unless you know for sure you have enough card space and battery power to last the day.
Shooting destination wedding photography can be fun and exciting whilst seeing bits of the world you may not have seen otherwise and not knowing where your next job might be is all part of the fun.
I am now featured in a few wedding brochures and wedding guides for many parts of Europe and I hope to expand this worldwide as time goes by.
I hope this helps you get started if you are looking to break into destination wedding photography and I wish you all the best.