Business + Marketing

Life in Paradise For Three Local Photographers

August 3, 2018

By Jacqueline Tobin

Photo © Helene Havard Photography

While many brides and grooms choose beachy, lush or exotic destinations for their nuptials and pay to bring photographers from home with them, these three “local” shooters are already there and ready to go.

Photo © Helene Havard Photography

Photographer: Helene Havard
Destination: Papeete, Tahiti

After a few years of taking photos on the island of Bora Bora, Helene Havard moved to Tahiti, where she carved out a successful wedding photography brand. “We don’t really have photographers coming from the U.S. in Tahiti, as it is a very expensive destination and very few people can afford to bring their own photographers,” she says. “Plus, there’s already plenty of photographers in French Polynesia and couples can find anything they need here.”

In 2015, shortly after being named an Rf 30 Rising Star, Havard, to stand out even more in a crowded marketplace, started taking photos by drone with her associate and husband, Samuel from Flying World Pictures. “In spring of 2016, we gained international recognition for our drone wedding photography,” she says. “Since then, we’ve incorporated it as an upsell to our customers, along with video.

“Our ability to find new spots to shoot in also makes us more competitive—we know the place we live in extremely well, which benefits our clients greatly.” Some of her favorite locations to shoot include the island of Moorea and Huahine—“they are the most connected with nature,” she says.

Another point in her favor, she adds, is that she is totally independent and not under contract with any hotels. “I shoot in resorts but as an independent vendor. Couples find me through the Internet and mostly word of mouth.”

The secret to thriving in an exotic location and staying competitive as a destination photographer in your own backyard boils down to three mantras, Havard sums up: “Always innovate, stay creative and use the knowledge you have as a local shooter about your home base to your advantage. Someone coming in from afar will never know everything you know.”

Photo © Prinsz Photography Aruba

Photographer: Sergio de Cuba
Destination: Aruba

Blue-turquoise water, bright blue sky, miles of white beaches, a cool windy breeze and friendly people are just a few of the reasons many people from the U.S., Canada and Europe choose Aruba as their favorite destination spot to tie the knot, according to local photographer Sergio de Cuba of Prinsz Photography Aruba, who was born and raised on the Dutch Caribbean island. “Aruba has become a very popular wedding destination in the recent years for couples wishing to have their wedding ceremony on the beach decorated with a backdrop of sunset and creating an ambience of love, serenity and joy.”

De Cuba continues: “For local wedding photographers, there’s good opportunities to make a living in an island economy with a high cost of living, declining market and growing competition­—the key is marketing and branding, that is essential.” Plus, he adds, Aruba’s laws prohibit foreigners to work on the island. “The few wedding couples bringing their wedding photographer are mostly a family friend or acquaintance doing this as a gift or a favor.”

De Cuba’s initial dabbling into the photography realm involved shooting family and work parties, sports and cultural events, first communions, baptisms and then local weddings. “The way I grew my business and have stood out from competing local destination photographers is largely due to education (WPPI, workshops, books), investment in equipment and portfolio building with images that follow my favored approach of storytelling and photojournalism.”

One major benefit to being a local, says De Cuba, is knowing whereto find the best photo ops on the island, including, he says, places like Eagle Beach, the Lighthouse area, Boca Catalina coast, Bushiribana Mill Gold Ruins, Frenchman’s Pass, Seroe Colorado, downtown Oranjestad and Arikok National Park.

In terms of marketing to destination clients wanting to get married in Aruba, De Cuba says there are three ways to do this:

First, he says, “Web presence is very important, if not the most important branding tool you can have. Take time on your website’s SEO, or if you don’t have the time, outsource this to have your website rank higher. I am active on Facebook and Instagram, continuously posting recent work.”

Secondly, he says, make good friends with successful wedding planners or venues. “These wedding planners can be either independent business owners or work with venues such as resorts, private clubs, etc. This may be your best source to get steady clients. You want to be on their selling list of wedding photographers. I work indirectly with most of the wedding planners and venue operators, however most of my clients contact and commission me. Still, maintaining a respectful and humble relation with people in the industry is very important, even if they are not selling you all the time.”

Last but not least, rely on word of mouth. “Referrals are one of the best ways to get clients. Even better, add their glowing testimonials to your website or any online advertising you do. And post their favorite images, especially if they are your favorites as well.”

Photo © Weddings By Qay

Photographer: Qay
Destination: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

For Malaysian wedding photographer Qay, a 2017 Rf 30 Rising Star, success is rooted in doing a mix of both local and destination work—60 percent abroad and 40 percent local, he estimates. “My first wedding was in Selangor, Malaysia,” Qay says. “I knew the bride previously from when I worked with her for a runway event. At first, they were thinking of hiring someone else, but when they saw my work, they fell in love with my dark and moody tone, and my reportage style.”

His ideal client, he explains, is willing to put their trust in that style and hire him without bargaining. And it works more often than not, he adds, because the clients who seek him out already love that he “creates stories and takes more candids and less posed images.” Most of his clientele, local or abroad, he says, gets familiar with his work via Instagram or previous client referrals.

One of his favorite shooting spots includes the busy city of Kuala Lumpur. “It is a hidden gem that needs to be explored,” he says. “It is adventurous and challenging for me to create an excellent story there. I still remember the first time I brought a couple to do a city session; they were doubtful—especially with all the grit and old, decaying buildings. But when they saw the results, they were very happy.”

Beyond the imagery, Qay’s services include editing with an online gallery; everything else is à la carte. “It creates an affordable pricing range, more on the medium-range side. When other local photographers go lower, it doesn’t bother me as I believe that my clients are paying for the experience and signature voice I offer them.”

Related: 21 Travel Tips for Wedding Photographers

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How to Prep For the Logistics of a Destination Wedding