A destination wedding can be both the easiest and most difficult way to have a wedding. It’s easy because you and your guests get to leave town and celebrate while on vacation. It’s difficult because you’re organizing everything from a distance, including hiring a photographer. That’s why it can be daunting to find the right fit for your wedding.
I travel almost every month for destination weddings in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. I’ve seen lots of people have weddings that were perfect for them and their guests… and I’ve also seen a lot of frustration from couples when things don’t go as planned. With this in mind, I created this handy guide to help you have the most fabulous destination wedding photographs ever.
Shauna & Craig had a post-wedding shoot in Soufriere St. Lucia
Check to make sure you can hire an out-of-town/country destination wedding photographer
Some places require your photographer to have a permit while others are more relaxed. Mexico, for instance, doesn’t require a permit for out-of-country photographers if they are only photographing one event and are staying in the country for only a few days. Turks & Caicos, on the other hand, has strict rules and require photographers to have a $500 permit to work in the country and the permit can take up to four months to obtain.
Unfortunately, even in countries where it’s easy for your photographer to obtain a permit, a handful of venues may not allow outsiders, or they will charge you an extra fee if you bring your own photographer. I know of one larger resort franchise in particular that won’t permit any outside photographers whatsoever. That’s because they have a staff photographer who will photograph your wedding for “free” (and then they simply increase your package and hope you will buy lots of prints).
I once had someone book me for a smaller private resort and, even though I had permission to work in the country, the venue had a strict policy that outside photographers are not allowed (I then had to decline the job). The client was upset that she had already paid her retainer with the venue only to find out that she didn’t have any control over her wedding details. They told me that photography was the most important part of their wedding day but they were locked into only being able to choose the resort photographer.
That’s why it’s a good idea to ask your wedding coordinator about policies for hiring outside vendors (photographers, videographers, decorators, etc.) before you pay a retainer or sign a contract.
Don’t be afraid to venture away from the resort to get some local scenes in your pictures (like Keisha & Garett did in the Barbados)
Find a photographer who is a good fit for you
While it’s important to find a destination wedding photographer who has a style that appeals to you it is equally important that they are a good fit with you and your guests. If your photographer doesn’t live in your city see if you can meet with them over Skype. After all, they will be spending a large part of your wedding day with you! Finding someone who matches your temperament means you’ll have a better time and mostly likely better results.
I took this photo about 10 minutes before guests began to arrive. The sunbathers stayed in their deck chairs throughout the ceremony. Some beach-goers also paused to watch.
Find out whether your ceremony site is truly private
Ask your wedding coordinator if you can see photos of the ceremony site from all angles. Some marketing brochures will make a venue look private and secluded, then you find out that your wedding is on a public a beach with thousands of people in their bathing suits, watching every moment of your ceremony.
This beach is in Haida Gwaii and the tide only splashes like this at very specific times of the day. We planned our photo shoot to ensure we were at Naikoon Park to get a photo with the splash.
Pick the right time of year for your particular location
Don’t forget that it is the rainy season from June to September in many Caribbean and Central American destinations. Some people will tell you “it only rains for a few hours – no big deal” but, unfortunately, some of those rains lead to flash flooding, heavy winds, and other elements that can ruin your wedding. If you’re getting married during the rainy season make sure your venue has a walled and roofed (real walls, not just canvas walls) indoor location in case of heavy winds or flooding.
Shelise brought her own hair and makeup artist from Chicago to the Turks & Caicos. Her preparations went perfectly.
Request extra time for hair and makeup
While I’ve worked with some phenomenal stylists at destination weddings (people who know exactly how to interpret your look and can work efficiently), I’ve also seen situations where the clients weren’t happy and asked for hair or makeup to be re-done. This usually results in styling taking longer than estimated – sometimes by a couple of hours.
It’s a great idea to have a trial hair and makeup done before the wedding day and to pad in at least an extra hour of time so if things run over it won’t make everything else late. The best case scenario is that you are ready early and get to have more pictures taken while your makeup and hair is fresh.
If you time your portrait session for sunset you’ll have the best light of the day (even if it’s overcast)
Have a plan in case your dress gets wrinkled
Ask your airline if they will allow you to hang your dress on the plane. If your dress gets squished it may cause wrinkles. Steamers are an excellent investment or ask your resort if they have one (many will have industrial steamers). Have your dress steamed at least one day before the wedding so you’re not worrying about it on the date itself. It’s unfortunately not always possible to take out the wrinkles with Photoshop.
Nikki Beach Resort, Turks & Caicos – Perfect sunset lighting for the wedding portraits
Schedule the timing of your ceremony and portraits
Many tropical destinations are closer to the equator and have shorter days with the sun setting at 6 p.m. in January and 6:30 p.m. in June. Most coordinators will suggest getting married at around 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. if the sun is setting at 6:30 and this is great advice.
A late afternoon ceremony is win-win for you and the photographer. It’s a win for you because it’s not as hot and it’s a win for the photographer because the lighting is more dramatic. If your ceremony ends at around 4:45, it allows more than an hour of fantastic light (and cooler temperatures) for pictures.
The Crane Resort Barbados – Consider how late you want your reception to run – after all, the celebration involves guests who have traveled far to be at the wedding.
How late do you want to party?
Every resort is different and some will let you party all night long while others will end the reception at 9:30 p.m. Decide how long you want to celebrate with your out-of-town guests and don’t forget to consider keeping your photographer through the reception to cover everyone enjoying themselves (or hiring them to cover additional events like your rehearsal party).
Casa Santo Domingo in Guatemala – The lighting adds a lot of drama to the room
Confirm the reception lighting styles
Ask your DJ or wedding coordinator if you’ll have special lighting (strobes, disco lights, spot light, etc.) for the reception. Lighting is one of the best ways to give your party some extra drama – and you’ll see that extra visual drama in the photos.
Maria had her bridal session at the 16th Century ruins of the Capuchinas Monestary. I researched ahead of time to ensure we would be permitted to take photos at the heritage site.
If you want to visit other locations for photos, make sure photography is allowed
One of the best things about a destination wedding is that you’re in a location that’s vastly different from home. Consider booking time with your photographer to visit sites away from the resort so you get lots of variety. If you do decide to leave the resort, work with your photographer to come up with a plan and make sure you have permission before you spend the time and money on transportation.
Many UNESCO heritage sites (the Maya ruins in Mexico and Belize, for instance) will not permit any commercial or wedding photography at the ruins. Some locations are private and you may need to pay a fee to have photos taken. On the other hand, I photographed a bridal portrait in 16th century monastery by simply paying $3 each for admission. I checked out the location in advance and made sure we were allowed to take photos at the location before I brought my client spent the time, effort and money on the trip (wearing her full wedding attire).
Melia Santa Maria Cuba – Some couples like to hire photographers for an extra day to do a trash the dress session or post-wedding portraits
If you are at the location for a few days, have an additional photo shoot
Oftentimes couples will stay at the resort for an extended time. If you’re not flying off right away, consider hiring your photographer for a day-after or post-wedding shoot. After all, how often will you be in an exotic location with beautiful settings and landscapes while wearing a wedding gown? Take advantage of the time for some truly once-in-a-lifetime images.
Cabo Real – Cabo San Lucas , Mexico – Consider booking your photographer for night-time portraits if your resort has interesting lighting.
Make time for night photos
If your resort has spectacular lighting at night it might be worth scheduling extra time with your photographer for additional night-time portraits. If your reception ends at a reasonable hour you can always take extra pictures while you’re walking back to your room.
Enjoy your destination wedding!
Check out the ISPWP Wedding Photographer Directory for photographers serving your area.