Destination weddings can sometimes be large, enchanting, expensive events. The stuff that impacts us in a deep way, however, tends to be pared down to the basics.
We’ve been much more drawn to intimate destination weddings, elopements and vow renewals because they let us focus on the bare bones—human relationships, moments and the natural beauty of the location. It’s much easier and, frankly, more fun for us to document stories like that.
We started shooting weddings about four years ago, driven largely by a desire to document interesting people in larger-than-life locations while still maintaining our aesthetic. In the beginning, we scratched our heads and asked ourselves the fundamental questions: How does one start shooting destination weddings? Do we have to start by doing it for free? Is there life on Mars? Sorry—back on topic.
We received a lot of advice in the beginning, and the concept that stuck with us the most had to do with motive. To us, that meant making sure we wanted to shoot destination weddings for the right reasons.
It’s glamorous, to be sure, but really, would we be doing it just to seem accomplished?
The meaning and purpose behind the work is huge for us, and if we were going to shoot across the country and globe, we had to do it with a kind of honesty that fell in step with the no-frills character we’re known for.
We had the fortunate opportunity to shoot our first destination in Kauai, Hawaii. Some friends of ours decided to fly their families to the island instead of hosting a traditional wedding celebration in their hometown, and they asked us to document the festivities. We knew it was an opportunity to tell a real story about an adventurous couple, and it allowed us to dive right into the “style” of shooting we knew we would enjoy.
Throughout the week we captured hikes on the Na Pali Coast, cliff-jumping into the Pacific and capped it off with a ceremony on the beach under the Hawaiian mountains. We agreed to shoot it for the cost of the travel and photographed over four days, which provided us with a beautiful story that we could show the world. As a matter of fact, that wedding is still in our portfolio. Looking back, it’s clear that our experience in Hawaii set the tone for the type of celebration we enjoy documenting: simple yet adventurous nuptials.
Granted, “simple” and “adventurous” seem like opposing ideas. To us, it boils down to this: The couples we want to photograph focus their energy and time into experiencing once-in-a-lifetime moments instead of grandiose perfection. This usually means letting the natural beauty of a destination speak for itself so they can focus entirely on their special time with family and friends. We often find ourselves documenting weddings with less than a hundred people in attendance.
Don’t get us wrong; we admire big, superbly executed celebrations with huge amounts of detail. That’s just not what we connect with emotionally, so we don’t push ourselves to attract those couples.
Potential clients naturally draw close to what they want for themselves, so the more we shared what we truly enjoyed shooting, the more it brought in similar destination work that we loved. “Do we feel inspired to shoot this kind of wedding again?” That’s the question we ask ourselves every time we share photos online. If the answer is yes, it goes up. If not, we keep it stashed in our archives.
This type of intentionality even extends to the words we write online. We’ve focused on communicating in ways that come more naturally to us, without any “sales fluff.” Every single word on our Instagram, Facebook page and website speaks to our values, and we portray ourselves in a straightforward, cheeky way.
On our website, we say things like, “If you plan on keeping our relationship a business one, there are a lot of photographers out there who can do that. Honestly, we’re not one of them. Let’s be friends.” It creates an understanding that goes beyond the transaction to make it an interaction instead. If a couple doesn’t like it, they will probably steer clear. If they truly resonate with it, they’ll reach out.
A recent intimate celebration brought us to Provence. We spent the morning lounging in a beautiful old apartment documenting the couple’s morning of preparation before they exchanged vows under a 17th-century windmill, just the two of them. Last year, another couple brought us to a mountaintop in Vermont for a small gathering on private property, high up in the northern Appalachian ridge. They were visually extraordinary, to be sure, but at their core, logistically simple and emotionally meaningful. Our every approach to building our destination photography business has led us to this point. And business is bliss.
The Do’s and Don’ts to Getting Started
DO reach out for inquiries. Make it explicitly clear to your audience and those that follow you on your channels that you’re available for travel. Your social networks, especially Facebook and Instagram, are great places to make direct offers to couples traveling for weddings.
DON'T have a stiff upper lip on price. In the beginning, it’s important to at least be willing to do the work for less than it’s “worth” to get a destination under your belt. A more robust portfolio of beautiful travel work will be pay off down the line.
DO disseminate your work everywhere. Submit to destination blogs, promote on Facebook, and direct as much traffic back to your blog posts or galleries on your website as possible. With an honest vibe and work that speaks for itself, you’ll find that more leads will follow.
DON'T get burned out. As you travel more, take some time to yourself and experience the world. Arrive a day earlier to explore a town or eat local cuisine. This is especially important for married photographers. Making time for each other will allow that positivity to pour into your work as well.
Brea Marie and Alexander Lefler are the people behind The Wayfarers Photography. They shoot weddings, elopements and vow renewals around the world.