Having been a professional wedding photographer in Hong Kong for many years, I’m now getting booked for more and more destination weddings in far flung and exotic locations such as India, Thailand and the USA. Preparing for any wedding is a big job, but shooting a huge event somewhere unfamiliar requires a whole new level of attention to detail. It’s an honor to be chosen as someone's destination wedding photographer, and of course you want to do your couple proud. Here are my seven top tips to help you do just that.
Go in eyes open
It’s very tempting, especially when you’re new to destination wedding photography, to say yes to every client. However, every destination wedding is different, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re in for before you sign on the dotted line. The first step, of course, is to find out what the couple want, E.G. how many events/days they would like covered and what sort of turnaround they’re expecting in terms of processed images. I’ve photographed plenty of four-day+ Indian weddings, for example, and putting the final touches to that much great material takes a whole lot of time. I, for one, would rather do just 3 to 4 big weddings a year than stretch myself too far over too many. If you can’t fit it in with your other commitments, you have to say no. It’s not fair to the couple and their families otherwise.
Leave nothing to chance
Once you’ve committed to photographing a destination wedding, you need to prepare like never before. Firstly, meet with the couple and nail down as many details as you can about the style of photography they’re looking for, the schedule and any special requirements. Then figure out your visa situation and make sure you’re fully covered for both health and equipment insurance. If you already have insurance on your gear, make sure it covers the destination you're traveling to. It’s also a good idea to make a list of everything you’re taking, plus take photos and take proof of purchase if possible. It’ll save you a whole lot of hassle and heartache if you drop your favorite lens off the side of a yacht. Obviously, back up, back up and back up immediately all the photos you take on each day of the wedding!
Carry on carrying on
It’s dangerous to part with your gear when you're flying, so maximize your carry-on allowance. Most airlines allow for a small wheelie bag and another piece of carry-on luggage, neither of which are usually weighed. It’s also a smart idea to put whatever you plan to wear when you photograph the wedding into one of these bags. If the worst happens and your checked luggage gets lost, you won’t have to shoot the wedding in your jogging bottoms and T-shirt.
Have a communication plan
In the wonderfully convenient modern world we live in, it’s easy to forget that some of our communication devices stop working as soon as we leave the borders of the country in which they’re registered. When shooting a destination wedding, therefore, be sure to have a communication plan with your couple. Designate a time to meet at their hotel or arrange to swap your local numbers online when you arrive. This will save you, and most importantly them, a great deal of stress.
Be the early bird
When booked for a destination wedding, I always arrive at least one or two days early. This allows for weather and flight mishaps as well as a bit of catchup sleep if jet lag is a factor. Most importantly, it gives me time to go scouting for locations before the big day. I always do lots of research months before even stepping foot on the plane, but nothing compares to actually seeing the destination with your own eyes. There are always so many amazingly photogenic scenes that are overlooked by travel guides, Google images and even the locals themselves.
Explore the venue with the couple
Destination weddings are huge feats of planning and organization, so you can’t just expect to turn up on the day and do your thing. I always meet with the bride, groom and wedding planner (if there is one) at the venue the day before to go through the order of events and exactly where they want me and when. You’ll probably have already figured out the balance between candid and posed shots the couple seek in your previous conversations, but this final meeting will allow you to discuss a few on-site features and even have a say in the direction the ceremony faces. Light is obviously a massively important factor in photography and you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of it at the all-important moment.
Preserve the family legacy
Weddings are essentially about being reunited with old family members and welcoming new ones, so I always try to get some nice captures of different generations when shooting weddings. The kids grow up fast and the older generations aren’t with us forever, so these are often the pictures that are cherished the most (other than those of the bride and groom, of course) for years to come.
In summary, it's a privilege being a wedding photographer because clients are trusting you with their happiest and most intimate family moments, other than the birth of their children of course. Therefore, you have a responsibility to be at your professional best and make sure you do the best job possible! Thanks to all the wonderful couples who've allowed me to be part of their beautiful destination weddings. It's truly been an honor.
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A big thanks to Phottix for the professional lighting equipment provided to Ali G Studios.
All photos are © Ali Ghorbani and Ali G Studios