Shooting Destination Weddings in Your Own Hometown

June 17, 2015

By Laura Brauer

When most photographers think about destination weddings, they picture flying around the world to shoot in exotic locales, but the truth is that anywhere that isn’t home to the couple is a destination for them. If you live in or near a place that couples flock to get married then you can become a sought-after destination wedding photographer without ever leaving town. Let’s look at the most effective ways to build your hometown destination business according to successful photographers who’ve done the same. 

1. Build Relationships 

When photographer Melissa Musgrove moved to Santa Barbara in 2001, a much sought-after wedding location, she knew that creating relationships with local planners and catering managers would be the only way to get herself established as a destination shooter in her own backyard. 

Photographer Melissa Musgrove captures the laid-back elegance of Santa Barbara destination weddings in these natural light portraits of a couple with a classic Ford station wagon. Photo © Melissa Musgrove Photography

“I took a risk and designed a postcard from a photo I had taken of a pitbull all dressed up, sitting behind the steering wheel of a classic car,” Musgrove says. “I sent the postcard out to Santa Barbara’s most influential wedding professionals with a greeting that said, ‘There’s a new bitch in town.’ It wasn’t my usual refined style, but I got a great response from local wedding professionals who loved the bold presentation and they reached out to me.” 

Photo © Melissa Musgrove Photography

More than 70 percent of the couples who get married in Santa Barbara come from out of town, according to Musgrove, and many choose high-end resorts like San Ysidro Ranch, The Four Seasons, and Bacara Resort & Spa. Working at prestigious locations like these with the area’s top planners, designers, florists and caterers, Musgrove has befriended many of her peers whom she calls her  “second customers”—a description she uses to explain that providing them with usable images for their portfolios is just part of her workflow.  

Photo © Melissa Musgrove Photography

Taking the same approach to creating relationships within their markets, Tom Munoz of Munoz Photography in Miami Beach and Zofia Crosby of Zofia & Co. on Nantucket Island, both acknowledged that shooting the details and decor for the wedding professionals involved, as well as for their clients, is an important ingredient in their success.

If you are new in town, or just want to create more relationships within your own market, introduce yourself creatively and think outside the box about beneficial collaborations. Plan a shoot with a fashionable bridal store or popular catering company, create great headshots for local wedding planners, or help a florist build a blog post of the last wedding you did together. 

Note: Having worked in the wedding industry for over 15 years, I know that one thing no photographer wants to talk about is paying commissions for referrals. However, top planners and locations in popular places often charge them and multiple commissions can eat up to 40 percent of your profits. Be aware and prepared to respond to and negotiate if possible when it comes to requests for these payments.

2. Get Published

In addition to building referral business through your professional relationships, you can also use the power of publishing to attract your ideal clients. In the Hawaiian Islands, where, according to The Wedding Report, more than 22,000 weddings are photographed each year, homegrown photographer Anna Kim focuses on getting published in the magazines and blogs her clients use. 


Anna Kim shoots a classic destination ceremony, and a bride running barefoot on the beach on the lush island of Kauai. Photo © Anna Kim Photography

Among the most popular photographers in Hawaii, Kim keeps herself and three other photographers busy shooting all year round both weekdays and weekends, and 70 percent of her inquiries come from online sites that her clients love, like The Knot, Style Me Pretty, Pinterest and Junebug Weddings.

“I love working at the area’s top hotels, but I also love photographing couples eloping on the beach all by themselves,” Kim says. “I want to reach a wide range of people who really care about their photography, and getting published allows me to do that.” 

3. Search Like Your Client

To find out how you look to your ideal clients compared to your competition, put yourself in their shoes and ask, “What would I search for if I was planning a wedding in my hometown?” Then make a list of five relevant search terms you think your potential clients are using and that you would like to be found for. 

Photo © Anna Kim Photography

Keep in mind that while many couples will search for “[your hometown] wedding photographer,” they may also search for, “weddings in [your hometown],” or, “best places to get married in [your hometown].” In fact, searching for terms like those is how I found the photographers I interviewed for this article, as they all came up on the first page of my search for wedding photographers in their area and for several other queries as well. If you don’t find first page results for your business right now, that just means it’s time to get your website and blog optimized to increase your search engine traffic.

Zofia Crosby visits a lighthouse to shoot the quintessential New England portrait of a bride. Photo © Zofia & Co.

4. Optimize Your Website/Blog for Search Engines

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be quite complex, so I am going to stay to the basics for this article. Start by focusing on these items to create a search-engine friendly site that will attract local and out-of-town clients.

  • Optimize Your Titles 

Your title tags are the most important piece of your SEO. Search for your own business and be sure your homepage title, which appears at the top of your results, is 58 characters or less and get’s straight to the point. Anna Kim’s homepage title says “Anna Kim Photography – Maui Wedding Photographer”, so it’s no wonder her site shows up in the search engines for those terms. Once you’ve optimized your homepage title, be sure every other page of your website has its own unique title based on the content and keywords your clients are searching for. Be aware that going beyond 58 characters can get you docked by the search engines, and be sure to capitalize the first letter of each word to make it easier to read.  

  • Optimize Your Meta Descriptions 

Your meta description appears below your URL when your website or blog shows up in search. It is irrelevant to the search engines, but still very important to your clients because it describes your content and acts as a mini sales pitch. Good meta descriptions have an ideal length of 156 characters or less and use important keywords without overusing them. Anna Kim’s current homepage description is 148 characters long: “Maui wedding photographer Anna Kim blends artistic photography and photojournalism to create stunning wedding photos and portraits throughout Hawaii.” 

  • Optimize Your Content  

Here comes the fun part! When you’re creating blog posts for your clients, think about how you can be found along with the top venues and other leading wedding professionals in your area. Write a blog post about your hometown like the one on Melissa Musgrove’s blog showcasing the top ten reasons to get married in Santa Barbara, or devote a whole category of posts to the wedding professionals you work with like the posts that Zofia Crosby does on the best vendors and wedding venues in Nantucket


Mario Munoz Jr. of Munoz Photography uses a Lowel ID Light to illuminate this couple for their portrait at the Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel in Florida. Photo © Munoz Photography

Once you get several ideal locations in your portfolio, consider creating a separate Venues page that can be accessed right off your toolbar, or make it a drop-down option in your Gallery/Portfolio section. Munoz Photography makes the most of this idea on its blog with a venues gallery that shows off hundreds of wedding locations in South Florida, a feature that makes the website a great resource for both local and traveling couples.