DESTINATION WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS PART ONE: PREPARATION + RESEARCH BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
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I’m exciting to share my advice and experiences about one of my absolute favorite things in the world… traveling! Over the past few years, I’ve photographed couples from the Caribbean to the West Coast all the way across the Pacific. My camera has taken me to some truly incredible places and I’ve learned so much along the way!
We’re going to kick off my Destination Wedding Photography series by discussing how to prepare for photographic travel and the research you should do before you go! Today’s post is jam-packed with information so hang in there! It may be the most intensive of the entire series!
Let the Adventure Begin!
Before you even book a Destination Wedding, you have to do your research! One of the biggest issues that many photographers face when breaking into Destination Wedding Photography is to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes their way before properly assessing the overall cost, necessary preparations, and risks they may face along the way. From the first moment that you receive that inquiry, before you even reply, I recommend doing a quick search and researching the following before responding yes to that exciting inquiry:
– Will a Work Visa Be Required? If you will be working abroad, many countries have become increasingly strict regarding photographers entering the country for business. You may not be able to claim that you are traveling as a tourist if you are bringing thousands of dollars in gear or if you have evidence that you have been working abroad (business cards, payments received, etc.) – Certain countries are notorious for maintaining strict policies and you risk being detained if they suspect that you entered the country without a proper visa.
– Will my Equipment Endanger Me? Some countries in turmoil are very strict regarding press and the photographers that often accompany them. Although it is rare that you would be shooting a Destination Wedding in a war zone, severely impoverished country, or nation in conflict, you should always do your research! Be aware of places where writing “Photographer” on your Entry Declaration or carrying thousands of dollars of camera equipment could put you at risk.
– Does the Venue Allow Foreign Photographers? Some venues and resorts charge an additional fee for the couple to bring in an outside photographer and a rare few do not allow foreign photographers all together. Small Fees are common for All-Inclusive Resort Weddings in the Caribbean that want to limit couples to using their on staff photographer. I’ve had two couples pay to bring me in and both times they were notified of these fees during the planning process so it wasn’t a surprise.
Once you feel comfortable with the facts regarding that particular location, you can make a decision! And if you’re unsure, consider reaching out to other Destination Wedding Photographers who have photographed weddings in those countries. They can serve as amazing resources to make your experience go as smoothly as possible!
Just like you have a process to prepare for a local wedding, it’s important to be intentional about your planning process for destination work as well! There are a few tips that I recommend considering before traveling and many of these have been discovered in “live and learn” situations… So please, please, please take note!
– Contact your Insurance Agency: Be sure to extend your Business Liability and Equipment Insurance Coverage Internationally. Many policies are specifically outlined to only cover you domestically and you don’t want to break a lens on a great adventure only to discover that you aren’t covered!
– Submit Travel Notifications: To ensure that you’ll have access to your accounts, remember to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling! If you forget, your bank may flag any charges that seem out of character for you and freeze your card due to suspicious activity!(This applies to all Domestic and International Travel!) And most banks allow you to do this online, so it only takes a few minutes!
– Prepare an Itemized List of your Equipment: Before leaving the country, be sure to have a full list of your gear with serial numbers for proof of purchase in the United States. If you’re especially concerned, you can print and complete a Certificate of Registration from the Department of Homeland Security and take more formal steps.
– Make a Copy of your Passport: Although you should always guard your passport and keep it safe, in the event that it is lost or stolen it is important to have a copy printed along with your other travel documents + itinerary. You can also enter the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) with the U.S. State Department to receive Alerts and Locate the nearest Embassy in any given country!
– Outline a Communication Plan: Discuss how you will get in touch with your client internationally before you leave the country! Because most foreign travel means that you will be without cellular coverage, remember to pre-determine meeting locations and consider finding an alternative method for communication. (I generally use iMessage in Wifi hotspots and it operates very similar to texting while on resorts!)
Be sure to check in with your Doctor before doing any travel out of the country to ensure that you have all the necessary vaccinations and are aware of any outbreaks in the region where you will be traveling. Even when traveling to the Caribbean, there are certain mosquito born diseases (like the chikungunya virus) that can be avoided by bringing and using insect repellent. If you use daily medications, make sure to bring enough to last you throughout the trip as you may not have access to a pharmacy abroad unless in emergencies. For flights lasting overnight (or stretching on for many hours) consider bringing a pair of compression socks to help prevent DVT and remember to drink plenty of water throughout the trip. Also, remember to pack all medications in your carry-on bag!
Scheduling + Booking Your Travel
This is the area that I often get the most questions about and these tips are going to vary from situation to situation. I generally travel from Thursday through Sunday when shooting Destination Weddings, although I have needed longer trips and also managed shorter ones!
Typical Destination Wedding Schedule:
Thursday – Travel Day (Depart for Destination).
Friday – Settle in, Location Scouting + Rehearsal Dinner.
Saturday – Photograph the Wedding, Upload Memory Cards + Securely Backup in Two Locations.
Sunday – Travel Day (Return Home).
*Add one more buffer-day for drastic time-zone shifts to prevent shooting while jet lagged!
In general, I recommend leaving at least two days before the wedding to allow atleast one buffer day to scout the location and get familiar with the venue! For destinations with drastic changes in time-zone, consider leaving a few days prior to ensure that you won’t have to shoot the wedding jet-lagged! It can take a day or two to fully acclimate.
Having that buffer day also ensures that should there be bad weather or a problem with your flight (like the time our plane froze on the runway and our flight had to be rebooked on a different aircraft… yes, that happened…) — it won’t force you to miss the wedding or cause any stress to your couple! The piece of mind is absolutely worth an addition night in the hotel room and any costs associated with it!
I also recommend booking all of your own transportation. Although I have had couples arrange flights and lodging for me in the past, I don’t always recommend it! It’s important that you are able to arrange the best flight options for your gear to ensure that it can fit in the overhead compartment and won’t need to be gate-checked. (For example: I always pay the early check-in fee for my Southwest Flights to ensure that I board the plane first and that my gear always has a spot! And certain small regional jets don’t have enough space above to fit my camera bag – which I learned while island hopping in Hawaii! Yikes!)
Also, if you have a business credit card – booking your own flights and hotel lodging is also the best way to rack up points or take advantage of your travel miles + any perks! A little bonus for the hard work of planning and purchasing!
I recommend staying at the hotel where the bride, groom, and bridal party will be staying whenever possible! This will make photographing getting ready moments a breeze and makes it easier for the bride to get in touch with you throughout the trip! And also remember to book your rental car or airport transportation in advance as well.
If you are going to be driving abroad, be sure to add on a GPS to your rental car agreement BEFORE you arrive! Without an International Phone Plan, you won’t have Data Coverage and you’re like me – you likely use your phone to route you from place to place! Rental Car Companies only have a few GPS devices on hand at any given time and you don’t want to get stuck without one! Also be sure to research which side of the road you’ll be driving on… New Zealand and Jamaica surprised me a bit for that reason! Hah!
Ready to keep reading? Click here to read DESTINATION WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS PART ONE: WHAT TO PACK + TRANSPORTING YOUR GEAR.
If your not already following Natalie be sure to add her to your list! Natalie and I have a lot in common and her passion in helping fellow photographers is just as big as mine. She has a lot of great articles and her work is absolutely beautiful!