Getting Started in Destination Wedding Photography with Sal Cincotta
Do you like to travel? Do you like adventures? Do you love different cultures and cuisines? Do you want to see the world? Then maybe you, like me, will love destination wedding photography.
Sure, you have to work and you are not going to spend your time tanning, but if you are going to work, why not have the world as your backdrop? That’s pretty much been my philosophy for the last seven years. Seeing the world is one of the single most enjoyable things I do in my life. I just love it—the culture, the food, the people. Knowing that I have made new friends all around the world is such an incredible feeling.
I say it all the time: We have the best jobs in the world. Destination photography is an incredible gig if you can get it. And make no mistake, it’s not merely about international travel. Domestic travel is equally as rewarding.
In order for any of this to happen, there are some basics you need to achieve your goals. These are some tips and tricks I have learned along the way. Avoid the mistakes I’ve made, and your travels will be safe, secure and, most important of all, rewarding.
Show it to sell it.
You are probably so tired of hearing things like this, but just like with any sales, you have to show exactly what you are selling. Do you think people are going to hire you for a destination event if you don’t have a single picture showing your work? Good luck with that. Destination work is grueling: long hours, lots of travel, lots of improvisation. I am not trying to dissuade you from this life, but I want you to enter it with eyes wide open and prove to your clients that you can deliver on an event like this.
Your website needs to be a showcase for your destination photography, both domestic and international. If you don’t have any work to show, that is a problem I address later in this article.
Book your first destination shoot.
I’ll never forget my first big break. We had a bride and groom getting married in Europe. It was a dream come true. I was dying to shoot overseas, and this was my first chance.
So what’s your first destination wedding worth to you? To me, it’s priceless. But you’ve got to work on that portfolio and reach out to the right people to get there. Do whatever you have to do in order to book that first destination wedding. For my first one, I broke even after the costs of travel, hotel, time away from the office and the significant discount I offered the client.
We realized that getting that first wedding under our belt was priceless. You need this for your portfolio, experience, website, etc. If you can end this first job breaking even, then you have won, my friend. If you can do it and turn a profit, more power to you. I was happy to get all this knowledge and experience and do it without losing money. It was the beginning of what would end up being a huge part of my business—and the most rewarding.
Let the world know.
You need to let everyone know by any and all means necessary that you travel and love doing it. Let them know on your social media channels, website, blog, everywhere.
Website. Set up a separate page that talks about destination photography and showcases your destination work. Talk about each trip you have been on and what you loved most about it. It is a dedicated gallery of destination work. Be blunt about it: “We travel the world. Wherever you go, we go.”
Blog. On your blog, you should have a dedicated post for every place you have traveled. Make it personal. Don’t just show wedding work. Showcase the architecture and the streets, and tell me a story about why you loved this place and what you enjoyed most during your adventures there. This presents you as an expert to anyone looking to travel there. Of course, your blog should contain SEO for these key terms so you get some traction.
Social media. This is where I like to show my personal side: behind the scenes, funny moments, food, sightseeing, touristy things. Not everything we do has to be so formal. We need to show that personal side of ourselves. The couple that hires you to travel around the globe with them on their special day are signing up to have you be part of their family for a day. Your personality is a big part of the equation. Never underestimate the importance of your personality to the final decision.
Knowledge is power.
Do your homework. I cannot stress this enough. Think it’s going to be as simple as “have camera, will travel”? Think again. This is hard work. There is a lot of preparation that goes into every destination shoot. Domestic and international travel require the same level of preparation.
Permits. Every country and every city is a little different. In NYC, put a tripod down, and you need a permit. Same location, no tripod, it’s a public place? Have at it. Traveling to China? Better not point your camera at a government building. You will be in jail. Los Angeles? You need a permit to get off the plane. Seriously, that city is not photography friendly at all. You get my point. Do your research to avoid looking foolish with your clients.
Local customs. You need to understand local customs and traditions. In Iceland, people just don’t care where you shoot, which is great for us. In certain states in the U.S., if you see purple stakes or flags, that means you will be shot if you trespass. In Japan, they take security very seriously, and you will be chased out of public spaces very quickly.
Language. Learn at least some of the basics in any language. Want to piss the French off when shooting in Paris? Speak to them in English without ever trying to speak a word of French. I have shot in Paris over 10 times. Never once have I had an issue with a Parisian. I find them to be very helpful and friendly, but then again, I at least attempt to be courteous and speak some very bad French. They usually appreciate the attempt and have always been friendly back and very helpful.
Location scouting. Use the Internet—yeah, that thing you spend half your life on liking pictures of cats and watching dumb videos. Use it to help you make money. Google travel blogs in the city you are traveling to. Ask your clients if there are any local landmarks they want incorporated into their shoot. Use Google Maps and Street View to get a better lay of the land.
Cover your costs.
How much should you charge? That is always the million-dollar question. Everyone does it differently. Here’s how I do it. First, never let your client book your travel and hotel. You will regret it almost immediately. One time, I had a client book an international trip for me, and what would normally be nine hours of travel was now 23 hours of travel. Why? Because he saved $300 on the ticket. I guess my time was worthless to him. That was the first and only time that ever happened to me. After that, I took control over my travel.
Domestic travel. I add $1,000 to any package. This is usually more than enough to get me a night’s stay in a hotel, rental car, food and airfare on Southwest. Remember, this is work, not a vacation. This makes my clients very happy because they don’t have to worry about any of the details.
International travel. I get a quote from the airline for airfare, a hotel close to their location and basic food and travel fees (rental car, etc.). I am transparent with the costs and let them see everything—but I still will not let them book it. If there are delays or flight changes, you cannot make these changes without involving them since it is on their credit card. Own your own travel, and you also get all the travel points and frequent flyer miles.
Keep your costs down. Travel costs for me are a break-even. I am not looking to make it difficult for my client to book me versus a local photographer, so keep costs reasonable. Stay in an average hotel. You are not there to vacation. Keep costs low and make your money on the actual wedding.
That said, I like to add personal time to every trip. I have to absorb the cost of this. Here is my thought process: If a client pays for me to travel halfway around the world, adding a few extra personal days where all I have to cover is the hotel is a no-brainer. This gives me time to be a tourist or even schedule some personal projects to work on. This is how I have built such an extensive portfolio of destination work.
Where do you want to go?
Every year, we pick a country we want to shoot in and we make it happen. All I need is one client to bite, and the trip is usually paid for. Once you have the tools, you will be able to make it happen, and the only question will be: Where do you want to go? You will have a network of clients who will want to travel with you or even coordinate their trips around your schedule.
The rest of that time is mine to shoot other clients, build my portfolio or just enjoy the place, the people, the cultures, the food. This is my favorite thing. Life is an adventure. Get out of your bubble and enjoy this incredible planet we share. You will soon realize how similar we all are. Everyone should travel and learn that most vital of lessons.