The Ins and Outs of Destination Weddings

When we think of destination weddings our minds always dream up beautiful locations in a tropical setting. The Caribbean and Mexico are popular spots for out-of-country weddings. Other popular locations for weddings include beautiful countries such as Italy or France. I just returned from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where I shot a wonderful wedding for a Wedding Planner friend of mine.

complete guide to destination weddings for professional photographers

While I am not a destination-wedding photographer per se – I have done my share of these weddings and have mixed feelings about them. Here are my top five pros and cons of shooting weddings away from your hometown.

The Benefits of Photographing Destination Weddings

  1. Beautiful locations. As mentioned above many of these weddings are held in stunning locations around the world. Who doesn’t want to take photographs with awesome backgrounds? Not all weddings are held in exotic locations. I recently captured a wedding weekend in my home country of Canada. The festivities took place in Niagara on the Lake in Ontario, Canada (considered to be the Napa Valley of Eastern Canada). Here is an image of the bride and groom on the steps of the local City Hall.

complete guide to destination weddings for professional photographers

  1. Take a vacation. Since most of your trip will be paid for by your clients – why not spend some extra time and enjoy a little vacation time. My wife and I just did that in Cabo Mexico – staying an extra four days. I know some wedding photographers that earn most of their income shooting destination weddings. It seems they are always on vacation.
  1. Get your creative juices flowing. Your senses will be on overload with all the new sights, sounds and scents. Use this to your advantage by thinking out of the box and creating some new imagery.

complete guide to destination weddings for professional photographers

  1. Add the images you create while away to your portfolio. Add them to your website, especially if you want to do more destination weddings. Better yet – create a sample wedding showing images. Maybe you could include images from numerous weddings in a single album. Here is a cool photo of my bride in a black wedding dress. This was shot on my recent Cabo trip.

complete guide to destination weddings for professional photographers

  1. Extra time to develop referrals. I always like to arrive a day early to avoid airport delays etc… Since I am already at the destination, I may volunteer to photograph the rehearsal dinner or post wedding day brunch. This gives me an opportunity to develop relationships with those in attendance and hopefully earn some referrals for future weddings. Here is an image from a Miami, Florida wedding I photographed in December.

complete guide to destination weddings for professional photographers

The Drawbacks of Photographing Destination Weddings

  1. Your Gear. Deciding what to bring with you and how to pack it can be daunting. Only bring what you can fit in an airline approved carry-on camera bag. You do not want to be checking your camera gear. This is the time to get creative and maybe not bring every lens you own. I recently discovered theses brackets from Tether Tools Inc. for mounting off camera Speedlights directly to walls. No light stands required! If there is something you absolutely need, but can’t bring it, look into renting at your destination.
  1. Getting around and knowing your locations can be tough if you have never been there before. This is another good reason to arrive a day or two early and scout your venue.
  1. Hidden costs. Although your clients are probably paying for travel, lodging and some type of per diem expenses – get ready to spend. Like most things we plan and estimate for, there will be cost overruns. Extra food, local cab rides, tips, misc. purchases can all add up. It’s just part of doing business.
  1. General health. Be careful what you eat and drink on the road if you are not used to foreign food fare. Even minute differences in water, spices, and bacteria are enough to make you miserably sick. You cannot afford to be like that because you have a job to do. Be careful what you eat and be sure to travel with Pepto-Bismol and Imodium.
  1. Missing Income. I am not a big fan of photographing two or more weddings over the span of a weekend, but often the money is just too good to pass up. If you are out of town photographing a wedding, any opportunity to photograph additional weddings is off the table.

The above only covers a few of the pros and cons of destination weddings. I still think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and I hope to continue shooting 2-3 weddings out of California every year. How else could I have visited my favorite Hawaiian Island of Kauai twice last year?


William Innes is a wedding photographer based in Los Angeles California.

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