Before we begin, you may be asking yourself who is actually behind this article and do they in fact have the credibility to be sharing such insights. The last thing anyone wants is some “wannabe” telling everyone what the supposed “truth” is. Well, I hope we don’t come off as such because we, Melli & Shayne, have been shooting weddings all over the world for the past few years – so much so that we genuinely miss local weddings.
When we started, we always looked up to destination wedding photographers, believing that that was the end goal to success. Being paid to travel around the world to shoot gorgeous weddings was our utter direction with everything and we’re pretty proud to say that we achieved this. But it wasn’t easy getting there nor is it easy to stay here.
And the goal of this article is to shed some light on the challenges that come with shooting Destination weddings. Some you may know just by simply thinking about it, others may come as a surprise.
There are, however, an immense amount of good things about shooting weddings abroad which I firmly believe pales that of the challenges. But an article about the good things of these weddings isn’t as ‘catchy’ as the bad things 😉 #honest.
What is a Destination Wedding?
There are a few ways one can define what a destination wedding is, but most commonly it’s a wedding being held in a place that is not local to your couple. Not so much you. Heck, your couple can come to your neck of the woods and it’d still be considered a destination wedding since your couple is the one that travels.
However, in our context, we’ll refer to it as when you, the photographer, have to hop on a plane/train/boat/car and travel across country/continents to get to the wedding. Think “shooting a wedding in the Serengeti” or something. I’m pretty certain most of us aren’t actually living there, and if you are, then “Mambo vipi kaka! Habri sa leo? Poa poa.” (I lived in Zanzibar (Tanzania) for a couple of years and picked up a bit of Swahili).
Okay, Shayne, stop side-tracking…
Here are, what we think, the hardest things about destination weddings in their full, unrestricted honesty:
It’s god damn exhausting.
When you get to a point where you’re traveling every weekend, man, it gets tiring. Check this out – you first have to sort out your logistics (Rental car & hotel) which can sometimes be easy, other times a pain in the ass to try and find things relatively close to the venue.
Then start the packing & traveling. Let’s say Thursday you spend the day charging equipment, packing bags, running over the plan for the wedding, and making sure everything is where it should be. Friday you travel. You arrive. You location scout. You shop for dinner (or go out) and then Saturday is the wedding. You shoot the wedding. Spend Sunday backing up and packing equipment and then either the same day or on Monday you up and leave to go back home.
You get back home. You unpack, clean up, download/backup all your data, and start charging equipment. You then do your galleries and what on Tuesday (perhaps) and catch up on missed emails.
You then only have the rest of Tuesday, Wednesday, and a bit of Thursday to do whatever else you need to do before doing everything all over again.
The first few times you do this it’s absolutely a rush. It’s so much fun. But it starts to get exhausting. We’ve been doing this for a few years and we can confidently say that the excitement of traveling has definitely worn off. We still love it to pieces though – but it’s all “a job”.
There’s no guarantee it’s portfolio material
Just because the wedding is a “destination wedding” does not automatically mean it’s something that should land in your portfolio. We learned this the hard way. In fact, one wedding we shot in a specific country that we only imagined was full of gorgeous mountain ranges, stunning backdrop, and epic locations (as that’s all we saw on Instagram) ended up being in the garden of the couple in the middle. of. nowhere. It could have been a wedding next door to us in Germany and no one would have known the difference. Not to say the wedding was bad or anything – it was really beautiful. But, it wasn’t going to land in our portfolio.
You can find yourself getting all excited to be shooting in a new country & location, only to feel that the project won’t actually find a home in your portfolio and that can be a little heartbreaking. But, hey – it’s what happens. And if you’re not sure what I mean about landing in your portfolio, then please, just take every successful photographer’s advice and only show what you want more of. Simple. Not every project you shoot should be in your portfolio.
Lots of Moving parts. Lot’s can go wrong.
Let’s cycle back to the points on logistics. We brushed over that a bit earlier. Logistics is all things getting you from A to B and back to A. There is so much planning on your part in order to pull off a successful shoot abroad that it’s absolutely normal to make a few fuckups here and there. Hopefully, none that cost the success of the wedding shoot though.
Here are a few things that we ask ourselves when planning the logistics and it just goes to show you how much thought and planning goes into it all:
- How much are they per person?
- How many kilos can we bring?
- How long is the trip?
- What time do we arrive?
- When will we arrive in relation to when the wedding will be?
- How far away is the airport to the wedding venue and our potential accommodation?
- How much does it cost for the time we’re there?
- Do they have a big enough car to carry all that we need?
- Is the country/area dangerous in terms of car theft/damage?
- How do we return the car if it’s outside of opening hours?
- How much can we afford to spend on accommodation?
- Should we be closer to the airport or the wedding venue?
- How far away is it to get to either of them?
- Does it have basic things that we would need (believe me, we’ve been wrong before)?
- Is it a safe area?
- Is there a place to park?
- Wifi speeds?
- What are the reviews like?
- Is breakfast included (always a plus)?
- What power sockets do they use and do we have an adapter?
- Where is this happening?
- The times and all that (see pre-wedding questionnaire post to get all the info on this).
- When do we do the location scout?
Generally, the wedding part of the trip is the ‘easiest’ as it’s just like any other wedding.
- All batteries charged?
- Including flashes and what not?
- Lenses cleaned?
- Cards wiped?
- Hard drive packed with cables?
- Bags packed and ready?
- Emergency bag included?
- Are you within the allowed weight range for the flight?
- Is the laptop ready?
- Batteries packed separately from your checked-in luggage?
You’re away from home.
This may not be such a problem if you don’t have a family or you’re new to the whole traveling game but eventually, it’ll catch up to you and you’ll start to miss your own bed. Your own shower. Your own kitchen. Your friends and especially your family. It’s all good fun to explore new hotels & AirBnBs around the world but there’s nothing quite like coming home to your own bed and waking up without having to pack bags and catch a 6-hour flight back home.
Fewer things are in your control
Things like the flight being canceled, pandemics causing things to be more complicated and just generally being a dick to society, and political situations that could cause trouble. Sure, this can happen even locally but it’s even more difficult when it’s a country that you’re not used to and/or have no connections in.
Ultimately, there are just more things that can go wrong that simply are out of your control and it’s important to know this. It’s important to be aware of such situations so that you can plan for them. Have backups. Make sure your couple knows the risks too.
Immigration & Visas
Not every country is going to warmly welcome you through their gates and pat you on the back to go make money in their land with them seeing nothing of it. Unless you’re doing things under the table in terms of your reasons for traveling (we don’t judge), visas and immigration can be an incredible pain in the ass & bank account.
This is something you’re going to have to decide for yourself; whether you’re willing to go through the annoying, long, legal route or to just slip under the radar, pretend you’re a passionate hobby photographer there to shoot wildlife (which justifies the expensive equipment) and take a chance on the risk of being caught, deported & possibly banned from ever entering again. Yup. We’ve heard stories. Especially to the US from abroad.
May not have the biggest budget
We’ve noticed that a lot of destination weddings simply don’t have the biggest budget. We totally get it though – things are expensive no matter where you go, and then throw in the cost of travel for the couple and all that – it makes their budget quite tight. So, generally speaking, these weddings are not ones for the bank account, but for the portfolio (hopefully).
What we mean is that the margin for profit is probably not the highest. It’s just important that if you’re going this route, you make sure you’re at least covering all your costs and you’re not losing money by doing this job.
Surprise. Surprise. In fact, not. Destination weddings are incredibly sought after because, as mentioned earlier, it seems to be the “pillar of success” in our industry. Which is fine if you believe it be. Everyone has their goals. But with so many people sharing the same ideology, it’s easy to see that there is going to be competition. And I mean, HUGE competition.
You and your work are going to have to stand out from the crowd, consistently, in order for potential clients to see you and consider you. Not only do you have to align with their own taste & style, but you’ve gotta get in front of their eyes and come off as so professional, so talented and so good at what you do that the couple would be willing to fly you to their wedding instead of going with a local photographer.
So there you have it, folks. A handful of hard truths about being a destination wedding photographer. These are all written from my own personal experience with having been shooting weddings abroad for the better part of 7 years. This wasn’t meant to discourage anyone from aiming for this ‘level of wedding photography, not at all. Its goal is to just shed some light on things that you’ll eventually discover along the way. There’s no harm in being prepared and planning in advance.