All photos in this post were taken by Elaine, because this continues my series of “My computer is still sick” posts. It is currently with the Geniuses at Apple, they got the part in yesterday, and it should be ready tomorrow, hopefully. Maybe Friday. Either way, we’re going on two weeks without my machine, and it has been hard to deal with. I’m missing my album software and templates, Lightroom presets, and Photoshop actions that I use constantly. Ugh. But that is also what inspired this post.
You see, everyone thinks being a Destination Wedding Photographer is so awesome. Ok, who am I kidding? It *IS* awesome. But it isn’t always as easy as it looks. There are a LOT of things you have to take into consideration. It is not your typical vacation, and you must have respect for the responsibilities you are taking on. The wedding last week in Belize was our biggest Destination Wedding to date, in part because Caye Caulker is so remote – an island that you can walk from one end to the other in probably 20 minutes or so, and it is only about 5 blocks wide. This lead to some realizations over the months of planning. I’m hoping if I share some of this wisdom here, it will help someone else along the way. If you’re planning a destination wedding, be sure to discuss these things with your photographer to make sure they are prepared for what you need from them – I’m hoping this will help you out with your own planning as well!
- Part of your trip may be vacation-like, but you’re still working. Behave accordingly.
- You have to bring *everything* you need with you. There is no Best Buy down the road to grab something if you forgot it when you’re at a remote location.
- You have to bring backups of everything critical with you as well.
- Be sure to bring all of your chargers for batteries, phones & laptops, an extension cord for when outlets are hard to find, and any converters and transformers as needed.
- You might have to carry all of this a long way, and the conditions might not always be optimal. Plan accordingly. I had to take a 45 minute water taxi ride in a boat that didn’t have a roof. I have always been a huge fan of my Think Tank bag (Airport International, in case you wondered), but even more so knowing it has rain gear just in case I needed it. I didn’t, but I was still glad.
- Talk to your clients about every last detail of the trip. For example, mine told me about the cab ride and water taxi ride in advance, so I knew to prepare to possibly get wet. I’m glad I had that information so I was able to plan.
- Verify some of the key details on your own as well – for example, does your destination require a visa? Not a work visa, just a visa to visit. How about shots? Do you need anything special? (Brazil requires a travel visa, and most people get shots before going to India.)
- Be sure to negotiate who pays for what when you write up your contract. I like to handle my own flight & room reservations normally, and include the price in the total amount. Also take into account any food and other travel allowance you might need and want your clients to cover – taxis, buses, trains – they all add up! (Personally, I pay for my own food. I would be eating at home anyways.)
- Estimate travel costs, especially plane tickets, based on the average price, not the cheapest fare. That fare may not be available when you go to book, and you also don’t want to get stuck flying a red-eye that will leave you tired when you arrive. Have a provision in your contract to cover fare adjustments if you feel it is necessary.
- Arrive at least 24 hours before you need to be there, if not more. If you’re shooting a wedding on Saturday, fly in on Thursday to give yourself a buffer in case there are any flight delays or anything unusual comes up.
- Be sure to have an emergency fund – cash, savings or an emergency credit card with a balance – in case something crazy happens and you suddenly need to access a lot of cash. Airlines can close down (it happened last year) or a disaster might reroute you, and you might suddenly have to book a $2000 plane ticket to get to the wedding or to make it home.
- Consider what type of plane you will be flying in as you plan your trip. Rolling bags will not fit into the overhead of a Continental Express Jet, and they will make you gate check it when you get on the plane. It is not optional. I always try to avoid the Express Jet flights for that reason, and when I can’t avoid them I pack all my gear (or at least the most essential stuff) in a backpack that I will be allowed to put under the seat. I use the Surge backpack by The North Face, placing my lenses in my ShootSac and then placing the ShootSac into the main compartment of the bag. (Props to this post for tipping me off to the Surge – just look at what all he packs in it!.)
- Keep all of your gear in your carry on bags. Don’t check your gear.
- Talk to your insurance agent about your coverage on your gear. Verify that if something was stolen by baggage handlers, they would pay the claim. Some companies will insist that the airline should cover it, and the airline will point out that they take no responsibility for your bags. If you’re leaving the country, make sure they will pay on losses from outside of the country as well.
- Have a backup plan in case something happens to you and you can’t shoot. (Yes, I worry about these things.) When I shoot in the US, I know people in most areas where I’ve worked, so if something happened to me on a trip that Elaine wasn’t on with me, I could call them for backup. Uhm, not the case in Caye Caulker, Belize. Originally, I was going alone – but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense for Elaine to come along too. I was so glad she was able to do it! And I did fall on the boat dock and banged my knee up pretty bad the day before the wedding — I was ok, but what if I hadn’t been? Having Elaine there meant that if something had happened to me, I had a backup plan. Important when you’re going somewhere off the beaten path!
- Think about what you are going to do to back up those photos before you head home. I made a point of keeping my cards full of the photos when we left, plus backing them up to two external drives. I then packed the cards with my gear, one external drive in my other carry-on bag, and one external drive in Elaine’s carry-on bag. You can never be too safe.
- My latest lesson – think about what you’re going to do as far as a computer as well. Bring *lots* of memory cards – several more then you think you will need. I’m also considering a Netbook or an Epson 5000 type of device for backing up cards. Since Elaine was there, we had her laptop along so fortunately, I was able to use hers to backup our memory cards. For the rest of the trip, with the exception of posting photos to Flickr and the blog posts, I did everything else using WiFi and my iPhone, and I was fine. If she hadn’t been there, I could have had a problem, since in the end I used every last memory card I have, and I would have been nervous traveling without backing up the images before my flight.
- To use your iPhone and WiFi without all the crazy fees for data roaming, set it up so you can get online, check email, Twitter, the day to day things. If you have an iPhone, turn off Data Roaming by placing the phone in Airplane mode so it won’t ring, turning on WiFi, and turning off Data Roaming (under Network in General Settings). Works perfectly!
- Remember to take it all in and enjoy it. Then take photos of it all for your clients.
- You will end up being involved in a lot more things then at a normal wedding, almost like you’re another guest – it is a huge honor to be a part of a destination event because of that! Don’t be a stick in the mud and distant, hiding in your room when you’re not shooting – spend time mingling with them and getting to know the other people on the trip. (Of course, still be professional.)
- At the same time, do be mindful of your own needs – if you’re like me and you like an hour of quiet time before you go to shoot, explain that you’re off to prepare, and leave. You were hired to do your best.
- Think about who will keep an eye on things for you at home while you are gone? Do you have someone that will check your messages and make return calls for you? Mike was willing to check my voicemail, send me emails about messages, and call people back for me. Brittany kept other things running smoothly for me. Having a team at home that you can rely on is really important.
- Be prepared for something to fail. Some part of your plan won’t work out perfectly. For me, not only was my laptop down, but Skype doesn’t work in Belize. While I had planned to be able to call home daily through Skype, I couldn’t even connect. Thank goodness for Twitter and email!
All of this is, of course, just my opinion. What do you think? Do you have any tips or advice to share? Anything I’m overlooking here?
I want to give props to Gene Higa, Ann Hamilton, Tomas Flint, Regina Holder and Jose Villa for all of the information & wisdom they have shared with me about destination weddings – it has truly helped me at each one along the way. I’m so blessed to have such supportive friends!
Also a wonderful resource – and the inspiration behind several of these tips – check out Flying with Fish. “Steven Frischling, aka: Fish, is a self employed photographer, and founder of The Travel Strategist, who has flown approximately 1,000,000 miles since he began to track his mileage 2005.” Yeah, he knows his stuff.
Todd Todderson was a fantastic traveling companion, but he wasn’t willing to carry any of our gear for us and he was completely worthless behind the camera. Thank goodness he is so cute in front of it!
14 replies on “So You Want to be a Destination Wedding Photographer?”
Fantastically useful article Christine. Thanks for sharing, as ever. It reminds me of when a friend of mine became a producer of television travel shows. She quickly shattered the myth that it was all fun and no … constant hard slog! :~) Still, we concluded that a change is as good as a rest and constant hard slog somewhere exotic can make a good change from constant hard slog amidst the familiar and humdrum.
Make sure your clients are not already married. 😉 I learned that one for sure!
Well, it is ok if they are married … to each other!!! (I still think that is the *craziest* situation ever, Corey!)
Good post Christine. You mentioned having a transformer. Do you use one? Which one do you use? That is always a concern when travelling to other countries.
We do have a transformer that came with travel adapters, but I’ve never had to use it. It is one I bought years ago, at a travel / luggage store, and I think it was branded Samsonite.
Great advice Christine! I’d like to get in to destination weddings very soon.
Very nice write-up…full of many details! As young photography business in Houston, we need all of the tips we can get. Thanks again – Ben Watson
Great tips, I can’t wait doing my first destination wedding!
Are there issues with working permits, tourist visas, and taxes? I am exploring an opportunity in Central America.
Margaret, you would need to check with each individual country to find out their requirements.
Thank you for sharing this, Christine! These is very helpful!!!
Did you need to apply for a work permit to shoot in Belize? If so, how did you go about doing it?
My parents have a house down in Placencia Village, Belize & I have some leads for weddings I may be able to shoot down there, but the venues are asking for a work permit.
Any insight would be greatly appreciated!
Lin, we did not — however, I do not recommend that. Contact the consulate and ask them what to do so that you’re doing it legally. Especially if you are going there repeatedly. You don’t want to be unexpectedly banned from entering the country. It is best to know that you’re doing it the right way!
This article is so insightful and one of the best resources I’ve found so far with planning for destination weddings as a photographer! Thank you so much for this, Christine!!
Do you ever consider taking your spouse with you? Obviously we are there to work first and foremost, but I feel guilty experiencing beautiful places and leaving my husband behind!! lol