Tips + Techniques

Destination Weddings: What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started

August 31, 2017

By Libby Peterson

Photo © Gabe McClintock

Celebrated destination photographers share what they wish they'd known before they started (but learned the hard way).

GABE MCCLINTOCK: Book Your Own Travel

“Many couples hope to fly their photographer out via travel or credit card points, but more often than not, those flight times are not ideal. It might save money, but you could get stuck with three connections and a monstrous travel day. Arriving tired and exhausted is not a good way to start your work. Also, never check your gear. My entire wedding kit (including two portable SanDisk 500GB SSD drives to back up photos) fits in a ThinkTank backpack, and clothes go in a Burton carry-on suitcase.”

Photo © Christian Oth for Harper’s Bazaar

CHRISTIAN OTH: Be Smart About Money

“I always bring a few hundred dollars in cash with me in case I get into a bind, and I withdraw money from a cash machine at the airport to get the local currency right away. Sometimes it’s hard to find an ATM—they’re not as ubiquitous as in the U.S. And if you’re only away for a few days, turn on the international plan on your phone—these days, it costs $10 a day to have the same level of service you have at home.”

Photo © Carmen and Ingo Photography

CARMEN AND INGO: Know Your Price

“Starting out, if a client passes on you, it will be tempting to offer to shoot for less money than you’d normally charge just to get the booking—‘no travel costs included,’ or, ‘I’ll do it for travel costs only.’ If you feel you have to compromise, be sure you get something in return, like enough shooting time in your favorite light or a voice in choosing where and when the ceremony is held. Otherwise, don’t stress about it—if you want to work and travel, the right client will come and hire you.”

Photo © Vinson Images

JASON VINSON: Fight For Time If the Venue is Ho-Hum

“While the destination city, town or village might be beautiful, it doesn’t always equate to spectacular locations for you to shoot during the wedding, as these places aren’t always part of the actual getting-ready time, ceremony or reception. You might be at a hotel or resort, and while it may be pretty, it will probably look oddly like most other hotels and resorts all over the world. In this case, be prepared to ask for some time with the couple. You may need to have a say in the day’s schedule, or make sure the couple’s willing to get dressed up again before or after the actual wedding day. Either way, have the conversation.”

Photo © Belathée Photography

DOROTHÉE + ANNABEL: Learn the Local Culture

“We were shooting film at one of our first destinations, in France, and carrying hundreds of rolls of film across security posed a challenge. Only after pleading and translating the word ‘wedding’ into French with a local Customs officer in Nice were we able to hand-carry it without getting X-rayed. Arm yourself with those keywords before you get to the airport. It’s also best to ask around in the photo community if anyone has run into particular issues, and definitely familiarize yourself with cultural norms. Coming from fast-paced New York City, destinations tend to operate a lot ‘slower’ for us. Take that into consideration, especially with transport.”

Photo © Charleton Churchill


“For a Saturday wedding, I plan at the very minimum to arrive Thursday morning if it’s out of the country or Thursday night if it’s in the U.S. I depart a few days after the wedding to make room for an adventure session with my couple, plus I have time if I want to personally explore. In the end, a weekend wedding will keep me out of the country for almost a week. Ask yourself: Is it really worth it to be gone that long? Could you have made more money just by being home? Calculate the cost of a destination wedding compared to a wedding locally. Make it worth your time, charge the proper amount and be confident in your decision.”

Photo © Corbin Gurkin

CORBIN GURKIN: Over-Prepare On Everything

“Camera batteries may be readily available near you, but don’t count on a resort in the Bahamas having that rare type you’re looking for in a pinch. Triple-check your gear before leaving and bring backup equipment. I tend to be more selective when packing lighting gear, given that many destination weddings are more outdoor and I can rely on natural light, but I always bring backup cameras. Also anticipate that there may be delays to your travel plans or even your luggage. I like to arrive at least two days before my first day of shooting to get settled, scout the location and photograph scenics.”

Photo © Tu Nguyen Wedding

TU NGUYEN: Create a Master Plan

“I have been shooting weddings full-time for two years, and now destination weddings and elopements are 90 percent of my total bookings, and I have quadrupled my rate. The only secret: I worked 100 or more hours every week last year. There is no success for a half-hearted attempt. You just have to dedicate yourself completely and do it right, at least until you’re in a position where you can afford to lean back. Two years ago, I made myself a very detailed master plan for what I wanted to achieve and how, over different time frames (three months, six months, one year). I stuck to it consistently and modified it when I needed to.”

Related articles: 

Rethinking Iconic Photo Spots to Break From On-Location Clichés

How to Prep For the Logistics of a Destination Wedding