Is Shooting Destination Weddings Really Worth It?

August 18, 2017

By Jason Vinson

The majority of wedding photographers seem to want to shoot destination weddings. And who can blame them? All over social media we see the rockstar photographers traveling the world to jaw-dropping locations. Their Instagram Stories are filled with plane rides, beaches, mountains, a woodsy alcove off the beaten path—you name it. It’s no wonder that so many people find it so appealing.

One little problem: The grass is always greener on the other side. Here are some things to take into consideration before fully committing to the field of destination wedding photography.

Photo © Jason Vinson

Traveling with gear kind of sucks.

When shooting local weddings that are a mere 10-minute drive away, it can be a hassle to decide what you want to bring. Do you need your big studio light? What cameras, lenses, light modifiers and other miscellaneous items will you need? Since the wedding is close and your driving your own vehicle, more times than not, you will simply pack more than necessary in your trunk, just in case.

For destination weddings, you don’t have this luxury. Most destination weddings require you to fly on a plane, and with this comes the restrictions to carry-on luggage and checking precious cargo. You have to really consider what gear is important, which of it is fragile and needs to be in your carry-on, and what gear can hopefully make the journey in a checked bag. Truthfully, you should avoid checking gear at all costs. Checked baggage is constantly getting lost, being put onto another plane or doesn’t make your connecting flight (if you have one—you can always book direct, but sometimes connections are unavoidable). So, anything you decide to check also needs to include items that you can realistically work without.

When it comes to your carry-on, not only does it need to be within the size limitations, it should also be of a size that can be stowed under a seat. Although most airlines allow two carry-on bags, you’re not guaranteed to have that overhead space available to you by the time you get on the plane. If you have all your gear packed away in a nice carry-on roller bag, you still risk the chance of the plane running out of room and forcing you to check the bag anyway.

That’s happening more and more often these days. “Gate check” is what airlines are calling it, and it also happens when a plane’s overhead space can’t accommodate roller bags or luggage that’s larger than a backpack. In this instance, the bags are dropped off as you board the plane, and then they leave your sight and are placed with all the other checked bags. The upside to this is that you get the bag back when you leave the plane, rather than having to fetch it in baggage claim where it’ll get more of a jostling. Even so, gate check bags will still get their fair share of being tossed around.

So what’s your best bet? In order to make sure your bags don’t risk the chance of getting stowed into the belly of the plane, make sure the bag is small enough to fit under your seat. Things like shoulder bags, sling bags and even backpacks work perfectly for this type of situation. It drastically limits what you can carry on the plane—after packing your camera, back-up camera, lenses and flashes, there isn’t much room for anything else—but at least it’ll give you good practice in minimalism.

All Photos © Jason Vinson

Sometimes the venue itself isn’t all that spectacular.

I’ll be the first to admit that traveling to a foreign country to shoot a wedding is pretty awesome once you’re there. You get to experience new places, people and have interesting adventures you might not have at home, but when it comes to the day of the wedding, it doesn’t always equate to beautiful and spectacular locations to shoot. Yes, you get to see and experience all these fantastic locations, but these places aren’t always part of the actual getting-ready time, ceremony and reception. Several destination weddings take place at a hotel or resort, and while these locations are beautiful in their own right, they look oddly like most other hotels and resorts all over the world. While this isn’t always a bad thing, you could technically get the same shooting experience by booking a local wedding that’s taking place at a hotel you have never shot before.

There are a couple different things you can do to take full advantage of your location:

  1. Make sure there is enough time on the wedding day to do some exploring with the couple. This can cause the guests to wait for you and the couple to have to hurry back in order for the rest of the day to resume, so be aware of the overall timing of the day for this option.
  2. Have a shoot with the couple the day before or the day after. This gives you ample time to explore the location, without interfering with the wedding day, but the couple will have to get ready multiple days in a row, which not all couples are willing to do. If the shoot is the day before, you have to worry about keeping clothes clean, and if it’s the day after, you run the risk of having an exhausted couple that has already dealt with a very long and stressful few days.

It will always cost more than shooting local.

One of the biggest factors that comes into play when shooting destination weddings is the price. In general, most destination wedding photographers have their normal rates and charge these rates plus the cost of travel. The cost of travel varies but usually includes transportation cost and two to three nights at the same location where the couple is staying. Some photographers make this easier on the couple by offering to sleep on couches or share rooms with people, but that sort of practice isn’t really something that would work for a prolonged amount of time. And if you decide to stay at this awesome, amazing location a while longer so you can enjoy some downtime while you’re there, the cost of those extra days fall on you. Add in food and miscellaneous expenses that occur when traveling, and it can easily become a pretty hefty price. The outcome equates less money you get to put into your pockets at the end of the day.

Not only are you making less money now, but you are also spending more time. There is time used to plan the trip and then the actual time it takes to travel. You also need to be at the destination at least two days before the wedding, because if there are flight delays and cancellations (which we all experience), you need to be able to have an extra day to get there. You can’t simply go home after the wedding, but rather fly out and travel the entire next day. If you add in the extra days to stay and explore, then you are quickly approaching a week of not working. Of course, you can work on the plane, in the airport and at the hotel, but all this time will never equal the amount you would have done if you were working in your normal conditions.

You’ll eventually miss home.

As amazing as destination weddings are, you may grow tired of them. Similar to a photographer that shoots on Miami Beach every day, doing the same thing over and over can become repetitive.

Being away from home may not be a factor for some people when they start, but at a certain point, being home becomes an added bonus when accepting new clients. Things like meeting or being with significant others, having kids and missing your friends will catch up to you. The more your family and relationships grow, the more it exasperates the desire to be home.

You start to look forward to those close-to-home weddings that are right down the street. Don’t get me wrong, shooting a destination wedding is a complete blast, but there is something nice about being able to pack up, drive home and sleep in your own bed after being on your feet for 12 or more hours. Not to mention the very real phenomenon known as the “wedding hangover,” complete physical and mental drainage after an exhausting wedding. When this feeling greets you in the morning, spending the day at home sounds way better than an entire day traveling.

In the end…

Yes, destination wedding photography is awesome—exploring the new cultures and adventures is beyond what words can describe, and you get paid to do it.

I don’t want to steer people away from doing this type of work because some of the advantages can easily outweigh the disadvantages. I mean, hey, you may not be getting as much work done but you are soaking up absolutely unforgettable, even once-in-a-lifetime experiences! To me, it is a simple no-brainer to shoot destinations.

Yet, the more destination weddings you shoot in a year, the more the disadvantages start to peek into the equation. So like most things in life, I believe the key is moderation. By all means, pursue destination wedding photography if you’re keen to it, but keep your wits about you and remember it isn’t always paradise.

Jason Vinson runs award-winning Vinson Images based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife Chasnie. Together they shoot both local weddings and destination weddings worldwide.