Planning a destination photo shoot can be extremely stressful, whether it’s a bridal session, a portfolio shoot or wedding. The devil is always in the details, and those details are even more important when you factor in the out-of-town and out-of-comfort-zone elements that go into planning these shoots.
How to Become a Destination Wedding Photographer
So, you want to travel the world as a photographer? Want to travel to cities, make beautiful images and have someone else pay for it? Destination wedding photography could be for you.
Make no mistake, not everyone is cut out to be a destination wedding photographer. Traveling for work to exotic locations around the world has its perks, but living in different hotels and going from airport to airport does have its downsides.
Here are my 5 tips for becoming a successful destination wedding photographer.
Tip #1: Tell your clients that you are a destination wedding photographer!
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.
Tip #2: Show off work from your travel shoots
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 wedding photography, both domestic and international.
Tip #3: Learn how to travel
Read more travel tips:
Sign up for TSA pre. It’ll change your life if you travel at all, because then you don’t have to take off your shoes. You don’t have to take off your belt. You can walk through the airport, and it’s a completely different experience than when you don’t have TSA pre, and you’re waiting in that cattle call line with a hundred other people. The TSA pre-lines are usually faster. Trust me on this, make the investment. You’re welcome.
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.
Tip #4: Find & photograph iconic locations
Tip number four, look for iconic locations. If a couple is bringing you to another city and they’re bringing you, they’re bringing you there because they love something about that city. So don’t go to a park. A park is a park, a tree is a tree. Go do something that’s iconic for that city so that anyone looking at these pictures can tell, whoa, that’s New York City. That’s the Chicago skyline. That’s the Roman Coliseum in Roman. You want them to be able to see this stuff and recognize it. That’s the point.
I just photographed a destination wedding in Tuscany. I’m just coming back from that and if I had taken my couple and just put them in a vineyard, is it a vineyard in Tuscany? Is it a vineyard in California? What’s the difference? So I needed some iconic images and we did. We went to Rome, we took some iconic images around the city of Rome. We were in Milan. So we had all these beautiful images that are somewhat iconic and at least look different and that’s what’s going to get people excited. Okay. So look for something iconic in that city.
Now, if that is your local city, like for me St. Louis is my local city, I’m so tired of shooting the St. Louis arch. But guess what? Photographers coming in from other cities are like, oh my God, the arch is amazing. (Try shooting it for 15 years. Not amazing.)
Tip #5: Charge accordingly for your time
The biggest mistake photographers make when doing destination work is not realizing how much more effort is required than if you’re just shooting a wedding locally. Look, if I’m shooting a wedding locally on a Saturday, maybe my timeline starts at 10:00 AM and I’m going till 6:00 PM or 8:00 PM. It’s a 10 hour day, whatever it is when I’m done, I’m done. I go home, pack my bags from the wedding. I go home. I take off my shoes. I relax. When you’re doing destination work, that is not how it works. Typically you’re going to shoot the rehearsal dinner the night before and also typically you’re going to shoot a bridal portrait session the day after. So there’s a lot more work involved on a destination wedding. So charge accordingly to make sure you’re getting your fair share. I mean, that’s very, very important. Here’s how I charge based on the type of 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.
BONUS TIP: Don't let the client book your travel
Book your own travel. Do not let your client book your travel. You will thank me 10 times over after you have your first client experience with booking travel. Why? Look, I love my clients, but nine out of 10 are always going to opt for the most cheapest option possible. They go cheap man. So what does that mean? That means they’re putting you on a flight that’s on just a miserable part of the day. Hey man, I don’t want to take a 5:00 AM flight out of St. Louis, because you got to save a hundred bucks. I’ll pay an extra hundred bucks so I can get on the later flight.
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.
The other thing to consider there is when your flight changes, for whatever reason, a cancellation occurs, you have to change your hotel. When this stuff is in your name and on your credit card, you have more control than if it’s under the bride and groom’s name and on their credit card or their itinerary because now you can’t change all that. You have to get in touch with them. It’s a bit of a nightmare that I’ve experienced. So keep that in mind.
BONUS: My favorite lenses for destination wedding photography
My three favorite lenses when I am traveling are the holy trinity. For my camera I am using the Canon EOS R5. Love it for weddings. It’s the perfect camera. I get asked all the time, what do I think about the R3? I don’t use the R3 for weddings – too much camera. The R5? Perfect.
My favorite travel lenses are the Canon RF 70-200mm lens, 28-70mm lens, and the 15-35mm. And then the fourth bonus lens, if your budget can afford it, is the 50 millimeter 1.2. You will love this for almost any wedding situation. Whether you’re shooting on a beach, whether you’re shooting indoors, this is a perfect prime lens for your kit.
So that’s it for now guys. Go out there and get started. Become a destination wedding photographer.
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