By Christina of FunkyTown Photography. Christina is based as a Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica wedding photographer. Visit the Costa Rica weddings blog and the Costa Rica weddings gallery. In Winter & Spring 2010 Christina was ranked as one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world by the prestigious International Society of Professional Wedding Photographres. She photographs weddings all over the world.
Booking Your First Destination Wedding – What you should know
When I first began as a destination wedding photographer I thought of part of my pay or reward to be the vacation itself. Naive? Yes. Now I know, after some agonizing lessons, that it’s really a ton more tough to photograph weddings abroad and there are some risks involved. However, I am glad that I have been able to carve out my own profession and I’ve had the chance to travel all over the world to photograph destination weddings. I wouldn’t change my career path; however, I’ve learned some priceless lessons along the way.
1) The trip is usually all work and very little pleasure. Personally, I am far more inspired in a brand new place than staying home and photographing the identical thing over and over again. However, a brand new spot also means I need to devote a day or two doing considerable site scouting to find perfect locations for the wedding portraits. Even if the wedding is all in one spot, I will devote a lot of time analzying light at various times of the day, taking photos and making notes, analyzing locations of the resort or town for backup plans in case of rain, and going over these details with the bride.
Often, the bride and groom will ask me to their welcome dinner, which is often wonderful because a solo traveler like me likes the company and it’s a wonderful chance to get to know all the guests. They will relax more around me if they are used to my presence. I also normally show up at the rehearsal and the dinner. Then there is the wedding – generally an all day occasion. Many couples choose to spend their wedding day primarily with guests, only getting a few directed portraits on the wedding day itself. That means probably spending the next day doing a long trip, traveling to different spots, to take post-wedding portraits or doing a trash the dress session.
Now, do the math : One day site scouting + one evening welcome dinner + rehearsal & rehearsal dinner + wedding day + post wedding session = you’ve now spent five days of your trip devoted to some aspect of the wedding. Don’t misunderstand . I don’t regret it… but you really should know that many of your days will be invested doing some sort of work. You will not have time to book an all day excursion, a sunset cruise, or most of the other pursuits you may do on your personal vacation. You’re still in a gorgeous and inspiring place, spending time with some nice people, so it is definitely a lot better than a desk job! But a local wedding usually only requires one day – the wedding day. Ask yourself what’s less complicated?
Get paid appropriately for those five days of work. And remember all the hours you’ll spend on post-production after you get home.
2) make investments in off-camera flash equipment. This is useful for either full-sun or post-sunset portraits. First, off-camera flash equipment (I use a pocket wizard and have two SB800 flash units and two lightweight tripods) has taken my photography to a new level. Second, it will allow me to take intriguing pictures in full bright sun.
3) You won’t have time on the wedding day for a break or a snack . carry lots of water. I bring along an additional “overnight” style bag stuffed with water, chips and granola bars. I also bring a change of clothes in case I get too sweaty or in case I get the bottom of my dress or pants sandy/wet when the tide rolls in unexpectedly while I’m shooting (this has happend three times). I bring the overnight bag to preparations and unload a bottle of water or two. Then, during a slow period of the preparations, I usually sneak over to the reception site and take some detail photos and leave the overnight bag under one of the tables. That way I have the snacks and water waiting for me in case the dinner doesn’t start right away. If you’re their only photographer you don’t want to pass out from hunger or sun stroke!
4) If you don’t have wheels on your camera bag purchase a set of wheels! If you are heading through customs lines it’s useful to put your camera bag on some wheels. The wheels I have are a tiny bit clunky but it’s really worth saving my back in case I’m caught in a super long lineup. I Often use the wheels on the wedding day too.
5) Bring two cameras . You never know.
6) Some resorts DO NOT permit outside photographers. Verify with the couple and make certain they have asked the resort if they are allowed to bring in an outside photographer. Some don’t, even if you have a work permit. I was booked to photograph a wedding in Mexico and the couple had already signed the contract. They changed venues and the new hotel told the couple they did not allow outside photographers with out a permit. I was in touch with both the Mexico Embassy and the Mexico Consulate and the staff told me I didn’t need a permit if I was performing the work for a couple based in the US and the work itself would be done in Canada (where I was living at the time). I even applied for the work permit anyway and was turned down because the Mexico Embassy doesn’t grant work visas for wedding photographers (for one wedding). So… that meant a lot of nervousness because the bride said she was willing to take the risk. It turned out the resort didn’t kick me out… but they weren’t happy either. They sent along one of the resort photographers who harrassed me by positioning herself in front of my camera all day (intentionally) and almost knocking me to the ground (a shoulder check) when the couple was walking down the aisle. From now on I will never photograph a wedding at a resort that doesn’t allow outside photographers. It’s not worth the problems.
I hope some of this guidance was useful. Being a destination wedding photographer is a satisfying and inspiring job, but bear in mind it is a job and that means you should be paid adequately! Never work for free or in lieu of the trip. You’re worth more than that!