As wedding photographers, we are usually hired just for the wedding day, with the occasional client adding on coverage of a few other events. A destination wedding, however, often presents a unique opportunity to capture not just the day itself but to tell a long-form documentary story where we capture the ephemeral essence of the wedding weekend.
By documenting the bride and groom over multiple days, I am given the opportunity to get to know them better and approach the weekend as a documentary, travel and portrait photographer all rolled into one. Staying either with or nearby the couple means we can capture those in-between moments like lounging at the pool or exploring the streets of the town that make our coverage multi-dimensional.
I craft my stories with multiple layers for a more in-depth story of a celebration unfolding over multiple days. My approach begins by establishing wide landscape shots with my lens, then mid-range shots—like portraits and documentary moments—and, finally, moving in tight for details and still-life images.
My establishing shot was of the staggering cliffs of Positano, a village on the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. It immediately gives visual context to every image that follows. This was taken on the first day of the wedding as the guests were arriving. The bride and groom shared an intimate afternoon in Positano where we did a mini-engagement session. (Positano is 45 minutes from where we stayed in Ravello, and having an extra day was essential to capture these landscapes.)
When it came time to shoot detail shots of the guests’ welcome packets, I employed thoughtful styling using their vision for the wedding. The wedding focused on black velvet with lush greenery and the lemons and Limoncello that Ravello is famous for, so the day before the wedding, I foraged for those items in the hotel gardens and incorporated those elements in the detail shots to pin down both the wedding concept and their color story.
The couple arrived in Ravello a few days before me, but thinking like an art director, I wanted an establishing shot of them arriving at the hotel. One afternoon, we went for a walk through Ravello together, where I had the opportunity to photograph them in the medieval streets. I captured this image of them walking to the hotel to kick off the narrative of their nuptials.
I had just finished shooting the couple around Positano on their private getaway before their guests’ arrival, and right before I was about to put the camera away, I saw the bride having a beautiful introspective moment. I captured one of my favorite portraits of the weekend, of her fiddling with her engagement ring and thinking of everything to come in the days ahead. I find the magic often happens after we take our last “official” shot and our subject lets their guard down. Shooting over multiple days and getting to know my clients better allowed them to feel more comfortable doing this in front of me, and it allowed me to delve a little deeper with my camera to capture these genuine moments.
By staying at the same hotel as the guests and creating a custom package that allowed some flexibility in my coverage, I was available to capture the couple during the often overlooked in-between, coming-and-going moments. Here, they took a quiet moment to pose for me along their walk down from the hotel’s pool to the welcome dinner on the lower lawn.
Dinner was held on the lawn of the Belmond Hotel Caruso, where all the guests were staying, with an incredible view of the cliffs of Amalfi and the ocean below. The shot of all the wedding guests mid-cheers during golden hour shows the merriment of the evening, and the landscape shot of the full table with the view of Amalfi below gives context to where we were. Capturing not just moments but the mood of the evening flushed out the story of the weekend. Because I was staying at the same hotel, I was able to scout the location the evening before and determine exactly when the dusky light would be perfect for the exposure I wanted, with the city lights and blue ocean in the background.
I always tell my clients during interviews that I want their photos to feel uniquely them and not like “Couple A” dropped into “Background B.” The bride and groom were fashion-forward and wanted their photographs to feel more editorial and moody, which worked perfectly for them but isn’t the right style for everyone. Never try to force a laughing bride to be serious or vice versa. My goal is to let my couples be themselves. By the time the wedding day arrived, I already knew the wedding party well, and they had a deeper level of trust as I was directing and posing them during portraits.
The ceremony was originally supposed to happen on a lawn outside but got moved to the crypt because of rain. I attended the walk-through the day before and helped consult on where within the crypt everything should be set up from a photographic perspective to best capture the couple and the beautiful architecture of the venue. As photographers, we don’t want to overstep our boundaries, but chiming in about what angles and lighting will look good in photographs is always helpful. Just be sure to do it in the planning phase, not at the last minute when things can’t be changed!
I picked out this spot for a post-ceremony portrait during the venue walk-through the day before, knowing we would pass by it on our way from the ceremony to the infinity terrace where we were taking portraits during golden hour. The lush greenery and Italian architecture brought multiple design elements of the day, furthering the visual cohesion of the weekend narrative. I’ll often scout with my compass so I can get a sense of where the sun will be at the time I want to shoot and ascertain whether or not the spot I have in mind will be good. Doing the walk-through with the couple also gave me a chance to see first hand why they fell in love with the venue and decided to have a destination wedding there, which set the tone for me to shoot frames that I knew they would love.
Rebecca Yale is an international fine-art wedding, lifestyle and fashion photographer based in L.A. who’s won numerous awards for her destination wedding photography.
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