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Destination Wedding Photography Guide

Some things to consider when planning a destination wedding. Photography!

A destination wedding can be both the easiest and most difficult way to have a wedding. It’s easy because you and your guests get to leave town and celebrate while on vacation. It’s difficult because you’re organizing everything from a distance, including hiring a photographer. That’s why it can be daunting to find the right fit for your wedding.

I travel every few months for destination weddings all around the United States (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, California, Montana and Idaho) Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

I’ve seen lots of people have weddings that were perfect for them and their guests… and I’ve also seen a lot of frustration and stress from couples when things don’t go as planned. With this in mind, I compiled a list of things from various sources as well as from personal experience and put together this handy guide to help you have the most fabulous destination wedding and photographs ever.

Check to make sure you can hire an out-of-town/country destination wedding photographer

Some destinations require me to have a permit while others are more relaxed. Mexico, for instance, doesn’t require a permit for out-of-country photographers if they are only photographing one event and are staying in the country for only a few days. Turks & Caicos, on the other hand, has strict rules and require photographers to have a $500 permit to work in the country and the permit can take up to four months to obtain.

Unfortunately, even in countries where it’s easy for your photographer to obtain a permit, a handful of venues may not allow outsiders, or they will charge you an extra fee if you bring your own photographer. I know of one larger resort franchise in particular that won’t permit any outside photographers whatsoever. That’s because they have a staff photographer who will photograph your wedding for “free” (and then they simply increase your package and hope you will buy lots of prints).

I once had someone book me for a smaller private resort and, even though I had permission to work in the country, the venue had a strict policy that outside photographers are not allowed (I then had to decline the job). The client was upset that she had already paid her retainer with the venue only to find out that she didn’t have any control over her wedding details. They told me that photography was the most important part of their wedding day but they were locked into only being able to choose the resort photographer.

That’s why it’s a good idea to ask your wedding coordinator about policies for hiring outside vendors (photographers, videographers, decorators, etc.) before you pay a retainer or sign a contract.

Find a photographer who is a good fit for you

While it’s important to find a destination wedding photographer who has a style that appeals to you it is equally important that they are a good fit with you and your guests. I meet with my clients over Skype. After all, they will be spending a large part of your wedding day with me! Finding someone who matches your personality means you’ll have a better time and mostly likely better results.


Find out whether your ceremony site is truly private

Ask your wedding coordinator if you can see photos of the ceremony site from all angles. Some marketing brochures will make a venue look private and secluded, then you find out that your wedding is on a public a beach with thousands of people in their bathing suits, watching every moment of your ceremony.

Pick the right time of year for your particular location

Don’t forget that it is the rainy season from June to September in many Caribbean and Central American destinations and freezing cold from November through April in the northern parts of the US and Canada. Some people will tell you “it only rains for a few hours – no big deal” but, unfortunately, some of those rains lead to flash flooding, heavy winds, and other elements that can ruin your wedding. If you’re getting married during the rainy season make sure your venue has a walled and roofed (real walls, not just canvas walls) indoor location in case of heavy winds or flooding.

Request extra time for hair and makeup

While I’ve worked with some phenomenal stylists at destination weddings (people who know exactly how to interpret your look and can work efficiently), I’ve also seen situations where the clients weren’t happy and asked for hair or makeup to be re-done. This usually results in styling taking longer than estimated – sometimes by a couple of hours.

It’s a great idea to have a trial hair and makeup done before the wedding day and to pad in at least an extra hour of time so if things run over it won’t make everything else late. The best case scenario is that you are ready early and get to have more pictures taken while your makeup and hair is fresh.

Have a plan in case your dress gets wrinkled

Ask your airline if they will allow you to hang your dress on the plane. If your dress gets squished it may cause wrinkles. Steamers are an excellent investment or ask your resort if they have one (many will have industrial steamers). Have your dress steamed at least one day before the wedding so you’re not worrying about it on the date itself. It’s unfortunately not always possible to take out the wrinkles with Photoshop.


Schedule the timing of your ceremony and portraits

Many tropical destinations are closer to the equator and have shorter days with the sun setting at 6 p.m. in January and 6:30 p.m. in June. Most coordinators will suggest getting married at around 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. if the sun is setting at 6:30 and this is great advice.

A late afternoon ceremony is win-win for you and the photographer. It’s a win for you because it’s not as hot and it’s a win for the photographer because the lighting is more dramatic. If your ceremony ends at around 4:45, it allows more than an hour of fantastic light (and cooler temperatures) for pictures.

How late do you want to party?

Every resort is different and some will let you party all night long while others will end the reception at 9:30 p.m. Decide how long you want to celebrate with your out-of-town guests and don’t forget to consider keeping your photographer through the reception to cover everyone enjoying themselves (or hiring them to cover additional events like your rehearsal party).

Confirm the reception lighting styles

Ask your DJ or wedding coordinator if you’ll have special lighting (strobes, disco lights, spot light, etc.) for the reception. Lighting is one of the best ways to give your party some extra drama – and you’ll see that extra visual drama in the photos.

If you want to visit other locations for photos, make sure photography is allowed

One of the best things about a destination wedding is that you’re in a location that’s vastly different from home. Consider booking time with me to visit sites away from the resort so you get lots of variety. If you do decide to leave the resort, work with me to come up with a plan and make sure you have permission before you spend the time and money on transportation.

Many UNESCO heritage sites (the Maya ruins in Mexico and Belize, for instance) will not permit any commercial or wedding photography at the ruins. Some locations are private and you may need to pay a fee to have photos taken.

On the other hand, I photographed a bridal portrait in 16th century monastery by simply paying $3 each for admission. I checked out the location in advance and made sure we were allowed to take photos at the location before I brought my client spent the time, effort and money on the trip (wearing her full wedding attire).

If you are at the location for a few days, have an additional photo shoot

Often couples will stay at the resort for an extended time. If you’re not flying off right away, consider hiring me for a day-after or post-wedding shoot. After all, how often will you be in an exotic location with beautiful settings and landscapes while wearing a wedding gown? Take advantage of the time for some truly once-in-a-lifetime images.

Make time for night photos

If your resort has spectacular lighting at night it might be worth scheduling extra time with me for additional night-time portraits. If your reception ends at a reasonable hour you can always take extra pictures while you’re walking back to your room.

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