Shooting a destination wedding sounds so glamorous… white sand, crashing waves, 24 hour room service…
However, the details of planning and traveling can be a bit stressful. I am not claiming to know all the tips and tricks about destination wedding photography, I am just going to share what I have personally experienced over the years while working with Destination Wedding Photographer, Amanda Blythe, and I hope it can benefit other photographers out there that want to get their feet wet (<–literally, heehee).
I Got An Inquiry From A Bride, Now What?!
I would highly suggest that you find yourself a good travel agent that can work with you and help you during your trip planning process. Hiring a travel agent will not cost you anything out of pocket. Over the last few years I have worked with Kristin at Beach Bum Vacations and they have been great to us. Once we receive an inquiry for a destination wedding I send over a questionnaire to the bride asking resort name, days of coverage desired and of course wedding date. After collecting all details I forward over to my travel agent that prepares a travel quote for myself PLUS additional travel companion. Whether or not you travel with an assistant is completely up to you and your comfort level. I personally would prefer to travel with a travel companion for many reasons, so I always quote for me + one more.
What Is Included In The Travel Quote?
First, I would recommend you start your quote with your photography service fees. We offer destination wedding photography packages that include up to 3 days of coverage, depending on what your bride wants/needs. Once your bride has narrowed down what type of coverage she wants you can discuss travel fees… lets start with Round Trip Airline Tickets. When quoting our bride we always quote the price of a “refundable/transferable airline ticket”. In the event that one of us would become ill or for whatever reason cannot travel we have a ticket that is either a) refundable or b) transferable. These particular tickets are going to cost more, however you never know when a family emergency or illness can strike. Something else we always add to our quote is Trip Insurance. Trip Insurance sometimes can take the place of you purchasing refundable/transferable airline tickets, you will have to check with your travel agent on specifics. Trip Insurance also will cover out-of-country emergency medical bills that may arise in the event of hospitalization while traveling. The average cost of our trip insurance is about $99 per person. Another important travel fee is Ground Transportation. Our agent always quotes and takes care of our taxi vouchers from airport to resort and then back again. Now lets talk about Resort Fees. Most caribbean resorts will require the photographer to stay a minimum of 3 nights to avoid paying the “non-resort” photographer fee. The non-resort photographer fee can range anywhere from $500-$2,000 depending on resort. Be sure to ask your agent to verify the rules when preparing your quote. When we travel we require a minimum of 3 nights so we can always avoid the photographer fee, just depends on what you prefer to do. Now lets cover your Food and Drink fees. To make our life easy, we require that we stay only at “all-inclusive” resorts that include the cost of all food and drinks. If your resort is not all-inclusive, do not forget to add the cost of food and drinks to your quote. An optional fee that you may consider adding into your quote is Child Care Fees. I personally have 3 children under the ages of 5 years old and I choose to pay a full-time Nanny to stay home with the kids when I travel for destination weddings. Lastly, don’t forget to add International Baggage Fees and Taxes to your quote.
Lets Talk Legal Stuff
I mostly shoot Destination Weddings in the Eastern Caribbean and have become comfortable passing through immigration and customs in Dominican Republic and St. Martin. When you arrive to Dominican Republic customs you are required to purchase a 30-day tourist card (US$10 fee) instead of a visa. By Dominican law, there’s also a US$20 departure tax, the cost of which is usually included in your airfare (verify with your carrier). Always be honest with customs when asked questions about your travel and remain respectful. If you have any questions about temporary work visas or tourist cards I recommend you visit that particular countries website and contact someone with your questions because I am not a legal specialist. 😀
Packing Your Gear
Yes, it happens…. airlines do lose your luggage! For that reason we NEVER check any camera gear. We cram everything into our rolling camera bags that are small enough to fit in the overhead compartment on the plane (Amanda uses the Think Tank International V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag). Between Amanda and I both we are able to carry on (4) full frame camera bodies, (8) camera batteries (most airlines only allow two camera batteries per camera), (1) battery charger, (2) large packs of AA’s unopened, (6) pocket wizards, (6) flashes, (2) collapsable light stands, (2) 70-200mm lens, (2) 24-70mm lens, (1) macro, (2) LED video lights, (1) external hard drive for backing up images, (1) laptop and a few other things. Sometimes we do check umbrellas and additional light stands in our checked luggage. Be sure to check with your airline carrier for the dimensions of carry-on luggage and battery rules/regulations.
Travel Day, Be Prepared For Everything
When traveling for destination weddings we always travel a minimum of one day prior to wedding day coverage. The reason behind this is to allow time for cancelled and/or delayed flights. Flights can be cancelled and/or delayed for many reasons: mechanical issues with plane, late arrivals, weather, etc. Also, be prepared for last minute gate changes. Even though your ticket may have a particular gate number on it, you should always check the digital flight info board in the airports for updated gate information. It is also a good idea to check your gate information sooner than later when traveling with connecting flights (sometimes they decide to push your boarding time up)! Once you are safely on your way to your destination and your plane lands, it is a good idea to always keep your camera bag with you at all times. Many times international airport workers will attempt to take your bags and bring them to the front of the airport for you, however, we never allow them. They may try to get a little physical with you and remove the bags from your hands, in that case say “no thank you” and get them back. In the past when we have allowed the workers to roll the bags for us and/or lift them they have accidentally let them fall, resulting in broken lenses from the fall. That is exactly why we always pack backup gear, thankfully we were not affected by the loss of one lens.
We Made It, Now What?
First things first, go to the resort front desk and purchase wifi! We always check-in with our Bride once we have made it to the resort. Some ways we have communicated with our Brides once we have arrived is Facebook Messenger, Email, FaceTime and/or Google Plus Hangouts. Find out which one is best for your Bride prior to travel date and plan on that type of communication while on resort. When checking in request a safe. Always keep your passport, memory cards, external hard drive with back-ups in your safe. It may cost an additional fee, however worth it.
Don’t Drink The Water
For real. Don’t drink the water. Always request bottled water. Also, carry a light snack with you at all times… shooting a wedding in the hot sun all day can be extra draining.
Prepare For Wedding Day
Make sure you work before you play. Be sure you know where all important locations are in relation to where you will be staying. i.e. bride and grooms prep location, ceremony and reception locations, any and all event related locations like rehearsal dinners and after parties. Wouldn’t want to get caught running behind because you couldn’t find a room. On wedding day pack a rag or cloth for sea spray and/or humidity on your lens. Also, pack umbrellas in case of the occasional island rain storm. And last but not least, prepare to sweat!
Time To Go Home
Even though you’re exhausted on the way home, still be the only one to carry your own gear. You still need cameras for future weddings! Backup, backup and backup your images in case one copy gets stolen or lost. Give your travel companion a copy of the images to place in their bag so you have copies of the cards in multiple places.