Hiring a Destination Wedding Photographer – Pros and Cons

September 3, 2018

First of all, congratulations on deciding to go with a destination wedding! I couldn’t be a bigger proponent of couples saying ‘I do’ in a place that means more than anywhere else in the world. Being limited by home country should be a thing of the past with how accessible travel has become. Plus, having a destination wedding adds a great extra layer of story to an already incredible day. Nonetheless, destination weddings involve massive amounts of stress and choosing a photographer is hardly an exception. My goal is to pick apart the good and bad in going through the steps of hiring a destination wedding photographer, as someone who has been on both sides of the process. From finding a photographer to hiring someone local or international to staying affordable, here are the pros and con of hiring a destination wedding photographer!

Finding a Destination Wedding Photographer

destination wedding photographer

When it comes to the hunt for your destination wedding photographer, there are a few ways to start. Many brides find me through Instagram, which is a great way to check out someone’s portfolio. Although Instagram is a useful tool for doing a deep dive, it’s not always the best place to start. Whether it’s a Google search, a wedding directory, or hitting up your best friend who just had her wedding in Tulum, there’s plenty of better resources out there. Here are my recommendations on the first steps in seeking out a destination wedding photographer.

Destination Wedding Photographer Directory Pros

With a multitude of options, it’s hard not to see the value in being able to sort and filter through a huge list of potential candidates. The biggest benefit of an online directory is the organization of filtering in or out by price and location, two huge factors in choosing a destination wedding photographer. Being able to narrow down photographers to your budget is a great place to begin qualifying candidates. If you don’t find a wedding photographer you love, you can always raise your budget until the one right shows up at the best price. If you’re the kind of person who likes to have options A-Z at your disposal, a directory is the best place to start.

Destination Wedding Photography Directory Cons

Most of the big directories only feature US-based photographers, which is limiting if you want to hire locally. If you’re having a wedding in Cozumel, then looking for a Mexico destination wedding photographer is going to be a challenge. Directories can also result in decision paralysis, making it hard to properly examine all the options. Having to sort through a list of 50 destination wedding photographers could overwhelm even the best planners. If you’re the kind of person who takes forever to order at a restaurant when the menu is big, avoid a directory.  A directory can also be deceiving because it doesn’t show a photographer’s full portfolio, only a highlight reel of their best work which may be limited to 10 or 15 different photos. It’s best to examine a destination wedding photographer’s work one by one and do a deep dive rather than a shallow skim.

Word-of-Mouth Pros

Getting a referral from a friend can be the biggest helping hand in hiring a photographer. You get a fuller sense of their work by seeing your friend’s photos than a selected few portfolio shots. It’s best when you’ve attended a wedding where the photographer shot because you can tell how they capture what you saw. A good friend of mine hired her wedding photographer after attending a wedding in Playa Del Carmen. It ended up raining, but she was stunned by how spectacular the photographer made the day look. The venue seemed grand, the bride looked beautiful, and she would’ve never known it rained from the photos. The biggest advantage of word of mouth is trust. It’s not having to worry about whether you’ve picked the right person. After all, you already know how good they are at delivering what you’ve hired them to do. Consider a referral from a friend if you’re the kind of person who likes complete peace of mind.

Word-of-Mouth Cons

The only disadvantage of word-of-mouth I can imagine is having your photos look similar. The reality is, it’s highly unlikely that this would ever happen.  If you and a friend hire the same photographer, there’s still plenty of factors to differentiate the two weddings. If you care deeply about having a sense of distinction, seek out a photographer with a different style. Regardless, a good destination wedding photographer should be creative enough to create something that stands out. I’ve shot two weddings in Cartagena at the same venue for two couples who got the same wedding package. The photos came out completely different and both brides were thrilled. Nobody without a trained eye would be able to tell it was the same photographer.

Local vs. International Destination Wedding Photographer

destination wedding photographer

The choice to hire a destination wedding photographer immediately begets a crossroads: do I hire a wedding photographer in the town I’m getting married in, or do I bring one in from another city, maybe even another country? It’s a question my brides often tell me they struggled with before they hired me. I hope to shed some light on the decision with details on what may be the best option for you!

Local Pros

A local destination wedding photographer has an advantage because they belong to the area or town where the wedding is taking place. This comes with the benefit of added familiarity with the location that no amount of research could match. I could see that knowledge coming in handy for portraits and local advice in the months leading up to the wedding. Having insider knowledge could mean having a better understanding of the lighting at sunset, which is usually the best light of the day. It also usually means not having to pay travel fees to bring in a destination wedding photographer from a different city.

Local Cons

Having to select a local wedding photographer when you’re looking into a small destination is tricky. If you’re considering a small island like Santorini, your options are pretty limited. Having to compromise and then being dissatisfied is a major con of having to choose from a town of 16,000. It’s worth it to expand your search to a nearby large city, even if it’s not technically local. Plus, regardless of the size, there’s no guarantee you’ll find a great photographer who speaks your language fluently. When I’m hired for destination weddings, it’s often because the couple just couldn’t find a local photographer that was the right fit.  

International Cons

An international barrier between you and your photographer has the potential to present a few issues. If your wedding is in Barcelona, you probably want a photographer who’s going to be able to communicate in Spanish. Flying someone from San Francisco to Hawaii may have the flight time of an international destination but you wouldn’t have to worry about a language barrier. Generally, bringing in a photographer from a different place comes with travel fees as well. Expenses like flight, lodging, rental car, and food add up.  I’ve had a bride tell me travel fees were just over her budget so I ended up waiving the lodging fees and stayed with a friend in a city nearby. The right destination wedding photographer will be able to get creative with you to make your budget work.

International Pros

By expanding your choice of a destination wedding photographer to an entire country, you bring far more talented photographers into the fold of options. This may sound costly but it’s usually only the price of a plane ticket. Some photographers won’t even charge the cost of travel if it’s a destination they really want to shoot. I myself have a destination bucket list that I discount if a couple chooses to get married there. I wouldn’t think twice about waiving the travel fees for a destination wedding in Tulum, for example. Ultimately, hiring internationally can lead you to the best fit for your wedding. The assurance of hiring a wedding photographer who’s the best at what they do is invaluable.

How to Find an Affordable Destination Wedding Photographer

destination wedding photographer

There’s a lot of concessions a couple looking to stay affordable has to make with their destination wedding. Usually, it’s because weddings are so much more expensive than people outside the industry realize. I’m a destination wedding photographer and I was shocked by the quotes I got from vendors for my own wedding. It’s important to scale back on certain elements that may not be worth it if you’re on a budget. But what are the pros and cons of doing so?

Strict Budget Pros

It’s not easy to be disciplined with a budget, especially not a wedding budget. The obvious advantage of a strict budget is that you save money that you may have otherwise frivolously spent. Personally, I’m not a fan of strict budgets because it often means having to compromise. My advice is to be strict where it counts. For parts of the wedding that last forever, like photography, I’d say be willing to stretch the budget. Be less flexible with engraved napkins and silverware, which people won’t remember in a week. Being strict is important if your budget leaves room for options but if not, I’d consider being more flexible.

Strict Budget Cons

As I mentioned, having a budget that’s strict can lead to unfortunate compromise. When compromising with a destination wedding photographer, it can mean excitement for your wedding photos turned into disappointment. If there is a single place that I tell my couples to break their budget, it’s on the photographer. Think about the worst-case scenario with the other vendors in contrast to photography. If the catering is sub-par, then your guests have an unmemorable dinner. When you get fake flowers, maybe 10 people notice, then forget the next morning. If your destination wedding photographer isn’t up to par, it’s far more lasting. You and your spouse might regret who you hired, and that’s not worth saving a few hundred dollars.

Flexible Budget Pros

When trying to stay affordable, having a percentage you’re willing to go above budget is a good rule of thumb. That offers you the chance to choose the right destination wedding photographer, rather than the affordable option. My rule was that I wouldn’t go past 15% of my set budget for the vendors I wanted. Luckily, I didn’t have to compromise for any of the vendors I ended up going with! Usually, when someone comes to me with a strict budget, I’m less than 10% above the price they originally wanted. This is why I advise brides to be open about their budget with their photographer. In many cases, the right photographer is willing to meet somewhere in the middle, so don’t be afraid to ask! It’s so worth it to get the exact wedding photo you envisioned.

Flexible Budget Cons

There’s a very important difference between flexible and out of control. Doubling your catering budget because the chef is ‘high end’ isn’t always worth the extra money. If you’re too flexible, spending could easily get out of hand. Someone who I tutor was a bridesmaid at an Amalfi Coast wedding and had to console her bride after her photographer had run up the room service bill hundreds of dollars by the end of the 3-day trip. To give perspective, I request $30/day for food when I travel. The idea that someone else would spend 3-4 times that is ludicrous, but it happens. I encourage everyone to read the wedding contract carefully to avoid situations like this.

Destination Wedding Photographer Final Tips

destination wedding photographer

There are numerous factors to consider when looking at pulling the trigger on a wedding vendor. For photography, there’s more subjectivity which makes it even harder to decide. I myself had a destination elopement which isn’t nearly as involved as a destination wedding and it was still stressful! I’m thankful I did because I now have a better understanding of the chaotic process surrounding a destination wedding. At the end of the day, it’s about understanding what you value the most. What you value will be the biggest help in informing your decisions. With over 9 years of experience, I’m happy to answer questions for any bride in the midst of planning. Fill out a form submission or send an email to donnairenephotos@gmail.com and we can get started on a conversation about your destination wedding photography needs ASAP!

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