Logistics: A Destination Wedding Photographer’s Quick Guide

At last! You’ve done it! After months of well-researched Instagram hashtagging and a year (or three?) of hard-earned five-star client reviews, you’ve received:

THE INQUIRY.

You know the one. The email from the couple getting married in the most amazing destination EVER. The inquiry you’ve dreamed of since you got yourself into this crazy wedding business!

Maybe it’s a safari wedding in Kenya. Maybe it’s on a sprawling ranch in Argentina. Maybe it’s in a graceful vineyard in France, or a city-view pier in New York, or a lush garden in Japan.

Wherever this dream destination wedding is taking place, you know: you have to book it.

Now what?


Don’t Lose Your Cool

First and foremost, as you begin wooing and negotiating with this dream client, remember this:
The destination may be dreamy, but the work is very, very real.

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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

The only thing that separates a destination wedding from a local wedding is distance.

Don’t get so caught up in the excitement of the inquiry that you neglect the basics of doing business. You still need to earn a living, take care of your other clients, and set yourself up for success.

CARLA TEN EYCK – carlateneyck.com
“Every day I’m gone is a day I’m not earning income for my business. If I travel for a three-day event but I take two extra days to travel, the money I earn needs to compensate me for the travel days. If you don’t charge appropriately, it could be smarter to stay home and book something local.”


Contracts PLUS

Destination wedding contracts should read just like your other wedding contracts – with travel-specific clauses that will protect both you and your client should anything go sour.


Pro Tip: If you don’t already have an attorney-drafted contract, visit the Marketplace inside your ShootProof account to purchase lawyer-approved contract templates!


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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

For the purposes of this blog post, we won’t even pretend to speak Attorney. But we WILL say: you should have a lawyer review your contract before you send it off for signatures – especially if you’ve made revisions to a contract template.

CARLA TEN EYCK – carlateneyck.com
“If it doesn’t feed my soul and it doesn’t feed my family, I’m not going to do it. But if it’s a place I’ve always wanted to travel to and it’s not going to cost me money, I’m in!”


Structuring A Destination Wedding Package

There are three standard methods for pricing out destination wedding photography:

  1. Create a pre-priced, flat rate package that includes both photography and travel.
  2. Invoice the photography package separately from the travel. Your clients will reimburse you for your itemized travel costs.
  3. Combine methods #1 and #2, with a portion of the travel included in your package, and some items left for reimbursement.

#1: Flat Rate Packages

Think of Flat Rate as “Destination Wedding Photography for Dummies.” Flat Rate packages save you the stress of calculating every single destination wedding’s costs over and over again. To establish a series of Flat Rate packages, estimate a few standard destinations – The Europe Package, The South America Package, The Asia Package – and set a flat rate for destination based on the anticipated cost of travel to each destination plus the value of your photography.

Photography Package Price
+
High Season Travel Cost To Destination
=
Flat Rate Package Price (The only number your client sees!)

Flat Rate pricing requires some research up front, but when you do finally get that inquiry for the wedding in Bali, you’ll know exactly what your fee is.


Pro Tip: Flat Rate packages should be calculated for the high season – not the least expensive time to travel. You can always offer an inquiring client a discount if their celebration is taking place in the off-season. It’s much harder to charge more if you realize you’ve drastically undercharged for a peak-season soiree!


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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

#2: Itemized Rate Packages

Itemized Rates can be awkward because they require you to submit single expense related to your travel to your client for reimbursement. This can get sticky if your client thinks you should have booked a cheaper hotel or eaten at cheaper restaurants – and you never want to be pestering a client for reimbursement, or holding their photos while waiting for a check that’s “in the mail.”

Itemized Rates work best in all-inclusive situations, where your client knows up front exactly what everything will cost. In an all-inclusive scenario, the travel agent or resort has pre-packaged the travel experience, and there are no financial surprises.

Photography Package Price
+
Itemized Travel Expenses (submitted to the client as they’re paid)
=
Total Invoice


Pro Tip: An Itemized Travel contract should specify precisely what your client is paying for. It shouldn’t just say “Hotel.” It should say, “One room for three nights at the Super Fabulous Magical Good-Times Resort at 123 Wedding St. on Marriage Island, check-in June 1st, check-out June 4th.” Especially if your client is doing the booking, leave nothing to chance!


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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

#3: Combo Rate Packages

If you’re a go-with-the-flow type, or you’re not yet sure which structure works for you, a Combo Rate gives you the safety net of the Flat Rate, with the flexibility of the Itemized Rate.

Here’s an example of a Combo Rate:

Photography Package Price
+
Itemized Flights (to be booked or reimbursed by the client)
+
Pre-Priced, Flat Rate Travel Fee (to cover all other travel expenses)
=
Total Invoice

Combo Rates allow you to collaborate with a client who wants to pay for your flights using frequent flier miles or book your hotel room with member vouchers. These concessions save your client cash up-front, while still providing you with the travel considerations you require.

NATALIE JACKSON | FOUR CORNERS PHOTOGRAPHY – 4cornersphotography.com
“I don’t accept client-booked travel except in very rare circumstances. In order to make sure I arrive on time and have secure lodging, it’s all in my name, on my card.”


Pro Tip: Think long and hard before you let your client make travel arrangements for you. What’s comfortable for one traveler may be unacceptable to another! If you do permit your client to book portions of your travel, establish comfort and safety standards early on to avoid any issues later.


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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

Transportation

Getting to and from the wedding can be the most expensive (and complex) element of a destination celebration! Consider these transportation possibilities when building your itinerary:

Flights

If you’re traveling more than a few hours from your hometown, flying is likely the most efficient way to get to your destination. But flying isn’t without its challenges! From long layovers to delayed (or canceled!) flights, to lost luggage, there’s a lot to consider when flying to a job.

DAWN PIEBENGA – dawn-photo.com
“I prefer to book my own flights instead of my client booking it for me. That way I have full control over changes. For example, I had a shoot booked in Arizona, then later got booked for a job in Minnesota immediately after. Instead of returning home, to Oregon, I was able to change my flight and go straight to Minnesota from Arizona. Having full control over my flights keeps things simple.”

Questions To Ask

  • Can you fly nonstop to your event destination?
  • How far from event lodging and venues is the airport?
  • What sort of luggage fees might you incur because of the type/amount of gear you’ll be transporting?
  • Do you need to purchase any special baggage to transport your gear via aircraft?

DAWN PIEBENGA – dawn-photo.com
“I’ve had issues bringing my gear through TSA in certain airports. Many times I’ve been asked to take out each lens, open up each cap… It takes forever! So I go to the airport at least three hours ahead of time when I’m traveling with my gear. You never know what might slow you down, so it’s better to allow extra time.”

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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

Ground Transportation

Some cities have a fantastic public transit system, with well-connected trains, subways, trolleys, light rails, and buses. In other places, a rental car may be your only option for getting from point A to point B. In rural areas, calling a taxi may not even be an option!

Questions To Ask:

  • When traveling internationally, what permits and insurance do you need in order to drive a rental car? (In New Zealand, for example, additional insurance should be purchased to avoid extremely high penalties in the event of an accident.)
  • Are your destination’s driving laws different from your home laws? How comfortable are you driving on the opposite side of the road?
  • If you’re relying on public transportation, are you equipped to lug your gear on and off trains and trolleys?

BRANDON RUSSELL – minaretphoto.com
“When I was first starting out, my partner and I booked one wedding for Friday, then another for Saturday – about seven hours apart by car. We stayed at the wedding venue on Friday night, and it was a wild goose chase to get to the Saturday wedding in time! I would never do that again. That Saturday wedding worked out fine, but we probably would have done a better job had we not been driving since 5:00 A.M. That’s not setting yourself up for creative success. When you’re first starting, it’s hard to turn down the opportunity for two weddings in one weekend, but seriously: it’s worth turning down the money if the logistics don’t fit.”


Gear Up & Travel Light

When you’re loading your car for a trek across town, you may not think about the sheer quantity of the stuff you’re transporting. But fly halfway around the globe, and you’ll quickly notice every pound, every inch, and every extraneous item!


Pro Tip: Some international airlines impose a weight limit on your carry-on luggage that’s much stricter than domestic flights. To spare space, pack irreplaceable essentials in carry-ons, and less critical items in checked baggage.


CARLA TEN EYCK – carlateneyck.com
“When I started traveling more, I bought new cameras! I’m a Nikon shooter, and now I shoot with two Nikon D750s. They are the lightest, smallest, most amazing cameras – I don’t even use the battery extender grips! And guess what? My body is not complaining anymore. My hands don’t hurt. My neck doesn’t hurt. And they’re so much easier to travel with!”

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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

Carry-On Checklist:

  • A lightweight carry-on bag for holding your irreplaceable, can’t-shoot-without-it camera gear. Add a camera insert to any backpack to make storage secure!
  • Two camera bodies – one primary, one backup. If you have more, that’s fine, but carry two on the plane with you.
  • Your must-have lenses.
  • A charger and batteries for each camera.
  • Flash cards (or film!)
  • Your laptop (or some sort of backup system for your cards – or secure storage for used film!)
  • Your photography outfit! Bring one change of clothing you could wear to shoot in. You don’t want to find yourself in a strange place trying to buy wedding-appropriate attire at the last minute because the airline lost your luggage!

DAWN PIEBENGA – dawn-photo.com
VINTA makes a super-compact backpack that can carry almost all my gear – two full-frame cameras, five lenses, batteries, chargers, and my laptop. (I pack my flash in my suitcase to save space.) A lot of people take a roller case that they check, but I’d rather have my gear in a small bag at my feet. I couldn’t care less if someone stole my clothes. Just leave me with my gear!”


Pro Tip: Check your airline’s guidelines for transporting spare batteries. Checking them may not be allowed at all!


CARLA TEN EYCK – carlateneyck.com
“I pack my empty camera bag in my checked baggage – the bag I’ll wear on my body when I’m shooting. But I keep my gear itself with me. I wrap my lenses in lens bags and put those in a backpack, and I keep my cameras on me – the 750s are super light. I have my Hold Fast strap, my two flashes, and my MagMod system – and I’m set!”


Lodging

When you arrive, travel-worn and gear-laden, you’ll need a safe, comfortable place to rest and secure your belongings. Sometimes this is as straightforward as booking a room at the resort where your clients are already staying. Other times, logistics can be a bit trickier.

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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

Hotels, Motels, & Tents By the River

NATALIE JACKSON | FOUR CORNERS PHOTOGRAPHY – 4cornersphotography.com
“I set the fee for lodging then book it on my own, because I’ve arrived at client-booked places in the past where I felt unsafe or the accommodations weren’t clean. I’ve also had clients book me into locations that were too far from where they were getting married, and transportation became a challenge. Handling my own lodging ensures I have exactly what I need when I arrive.”

Maybe you’re a free spirit who’s happy to camp out with your adventurous clients on their woodsy wedding weekend. But more than likely, you’d prefer a warm bed, a clean bathroom, and reliable wifi!

Accommodations Checklist

  • Is the hotel convenient to the shoot location?
  • Does the hotel provide an in-room safe or other secure storage for your gear?
  • Can you choose early/late check-in/check-out to work around your travel and shooting schedule?
  • Are there restaurants near your hotel? Room service? You’ll need to eat!
  • When traveling in a foreign country, sites like TripAdvisor can help you determine whether your potential hotel’s neighborhood is safe and convenient to the amenities you need!

BRANDON RUSSELL – minaretphoto.com
“I always book my hotel for at least three nights: the night before, the night of, and the night after the wedding. (Two nights before, if I’m leaving the country.) I make sure there’s no overlap with other events, and no potential that a flight delay could cause me to miss the wedding itself.”


Pro Tip: It may cost more to book the city-center hotel or stay in the same resort as your clients, but what you spend in lodging you may save in transportation, convenience, and sanity! Sometimes the up-front expense for a better location is worth every penny.


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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

Prioritize Your Portfolio

Destination weddings aren’t always held in mind-blowing venues. You might book a celebration halfway around the world only to arrive and find that the entire event will take place in a ballroom that – honestly? – could be anywhere.

Make the most of your travels by prioritizing your portfolio! Plan in advance for photographs that will enhance your body of work and attract even more adventurous clients to your life!

DAWN PIEBENGA – dawn-photo.com
“If my clients only want to shoot in one certain spot, I’ll tell them, ‘I really want to shoot at this park or that national forest. Are you guys down to shoot the next day, also?’ Because it’s more beneficial to me if I shoot somewhere that inspires me. And if those clients aren’t interested, I’ll see if I can book someone else for that location while I’m in town. I’m always looking to add something amazing to my portfolio.”

NATALIE JACKSON | FOUR CORNERS PHOTOGRAPHY – 4cornersphotography.com
“I’ll also arrange a styled shoot whenever I travel to a new place. It’s fun getting connected with vendors local to that area who might recommend me later!”


It’s the Little Things That “Trip” You Up

When you’re planning travel, the obvious stuff is, well… obvious. You know you need to get there. You know you need a place to stay. You know you need your gear.

But what about the stuff you just can’t plan for? What are the pitfalls you might not anticipate?

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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

In Sickness & In Health

Getting sick is never fun, but it’s even less fun if you’re in a foreign country and can’t find the pharmacy – let alone communicate which medication you need to soothe your upset tummy!

Pack a thorough medical kit with you before you leave home:

  • Your everyday Rx medications (if any)
  • Cold and flu medication
  • Sinus and allergy medication
  • Pain medication
  • Motion sickness medication
  • Upset stomach medication
  • Bandages and cleansing wipes
  • Feminine products (not all countries will carry the products you prefer)

Prepare for serious illness by investing in travel insurance. It’s not especially cheap, but it will cover the cost of medical care should you need to be hospitalized, and even pay to fly you home in the event that you’re really ill. And that’s priceless.


Pro Tip: You can always contact your home country’s embassy and ask for physician recommendations – or help! Tell them you’re (for example) “an American traveling in Brazil,” and they’ll help address your needs or concerns. Look up your nearest embassy before traveling, and store that number in your phone! They’re also the folks you’ll contact should your passport go missing, or if you’re the victim of a crime.


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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

Communication Chaos

Will you need adaptors for your plug-in electronics in your travel destination? Would a portable charger be helpful?

Other destinations may not have the level of cellular service you’re accustomed to! Check with your cell carrier to find out how you’ll connect when you’re on the road, and whether you need a special data plan for that destination.

BRANDON RUSSELL – minaretphoto.com
“When you’re traveling in a different country, your GPS may not function like it does at home. To work around this, download a cache of maps in your Google Maps app before you leave. Then, when you’re driving, you can use navigation without relying on cellular or data networks. Type in your destination, like normal, and the GPS will reference the cache of maps now stored on your phone!”


Pro Tip: Make sure you have multiple client-contact options available to you when you land in your destination – especially if your client is also traveling from another locale! If their cell phone isn’t working, you’ll want their hotel number or email address.


Go Local

Just as your hometown shoots sometimes require assistants and co-photographers, so, too, will your destination weddings often call for another pair of hands.

Don’t let cost concerns prevent you from openly discussing these needs with your client. If they aren’t prepared to pay travel costs for another photographer, look into hiring a local – someone local to the destination wedding, that is!

If shooting solo will diminish the quality of what you can deliver, just say no!

CARLA TEN EYCK – carlateneyck.com
“I was flown to England to cover a two-day event for 65 guests, which seemed totally doable! What I failed to take into consideration was that it was a $5 million event. With $5 million, can you imagine the details involved? I would never do that alone again! It was the hardest work I’ve ever done! I later booked another $5 million wedding with the same planner – also about 65 guests – this time on an island in Scotland. I brought a second photographer that time!”

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CARLA TEN EYCK photographing in Scotland


Know Your Rights (& Wrongs)

Foreign travel can introduce uncertainties regarding work visas. The internet is full of advice: “Yes you can.” “No you can’t.” “Pretend you’re a tourist.” “Never travel with more than one camera.”

There are three resources that can help you prepare to work on foreign soil.

  • The wedding planner. If your clients have a wedding planner, the planner may have worked with foreign vendors in the past, and be prepared to offer guidance.
  • Your accountant or attorney. Either of these professionals should have some insight into your rights as a foreign citizen traveling for a small contract job.
  • Other photographers. The internet is a marvelous thing! Tap into your social media networks and photography communities to ask other destination wedding photographers how they’ve handled travel to your target destination!

CARLA TEN EYCK – carlateneyck.com
“When I was in England, the planner took care of the legalities, instructing me on how to complete forms and what terms to use. When I visited Jamaica to teach, the organizers handled any legal matters and picked me up at customs. But in Barbados, I got brought in by the tourism board. Thankfully the coordinator stepped in and handled that! It’s good to know people and have those connections in advance – just in case.”


Have the Time of Your Life!

Once the logistics are hammered out, you can breathe easy. Destination weddings are an incredible opportunity to see new places, meet new people, and experience new cultures.

Oh – did we mention making incredible new photographs?

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Photo by CARLA TEN EYCK

What are YOUR photography travel tips for new destination shooters? Leave them in the comments below!

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