I couldn’t be happier to have the privilege of calling myself a destination wedding photographer. My work has taken me to several countries across 3 continents but I still get excited whenever a bride reaches out to me for a destination wedding. That being said, all weddings are complicated to plan, local or not. Whether it’s Cartagena, Santorini, or Puglia, every location comes with a set of unique challenges. There are enough details packed into one day to make any bride’s head spin. I decided to create this guide to help all the brides out there looking for advice. From choosing a location to finding the right destination wedding photographer, here is my guide to a destination wedding!
Why Have a Destination Wedding?
Naturally, a lot of couples are on the fence about having a destination wedding. Their main concern is usually guests or a handful of family members. Considering all the reasons not to have a wedding abroad will probably lead you away from the idea. With anything untraditional, there are always drawbacks, but in this case, it’s 100% worth it. Here are a few reasons I think you should consider going ahead with a destination wedding.
Variety of Options
In any given city, there are a limited number of options for where to get married. I grew up in Miami, where summer lasts 300 days out of the year. If a Miami bride came to me asking where we could take autumn portraits, we couldn’t find a place within 500 miles. On the other hand, a destination wedding lets you expand your options to anywhere in the world. The amount of variety within the United States alone is enormous. Feel like a tropical beach wedding? South Florida and Hawaii are a direct flight away, depending on which coast you’re on. If you want to go abroad, Tulum and Baja California are great candidates as well. The point is, you can have any type of wedding you envision if you expand where you’re willing to tie the knot.
Quality Time With Guests
It’s one of the most common regrets I hear from brides. “The day went by so quickly, I barely got to spend any time with my guests!” Destination weddings are usually more intimate than local weddings. For a variety of reasons, not every guest can make it to an out-of-town wedding so fewer people attend than normal. This means more quality time with each guest instead of rushing through the tables saying hello and thank you for coming. A destination wedding also turns a one-day event into a two or even three-day celebration. Whether it’s an evening on a boat the day before the wedding or a party on a Chiva bus in Colombia, a destination wedding is an invitation to enjoy a vacation together. It’s an opportunity to make once-in-a-lifetime memories with your closest friends, how could anyone pass that up?
Believe it or not, destination weddings are usually more affordable than traditional weddings. It may sound counter-intuitive but it makes sense when you consider that the number one cost associated with weddings is the number of guests. Fewer guests, even in an expensive location, means a smaller bill. If you’re getting married at the most expensive villa in Italy, this doesn’t apply. I’ve also known a lot of couples to tie in their destination wedding with their honeymoon. For example, getting married in Greece, and honeymooning in France. Planet tickets from Athens to Paris are a lot less expensive than from anywhere in the US. If you’re looking to save money on your wedding, check out my guide on budget destination weddings!
Where To Have a Destination Wedding
You can fit most destination weddings into 3 main categories: Beach, City, or Historic Town. Some places fall outside those categories like Yosemite but those are few and far between. A few of these places do crossover like Cancún which is a city but primarily a beach destination. Most couples aren’t torn about the type of place they want to get married. They just may not know which beach or town to choose. Here are a couple of suggestions for each kind of destination I’ve personally been to and recommend!
I grew up in Miami, so I love beach weddings! I don’t blame any couple for wanting to get married to the sounds of waves crashing and sand at their feet. Sounds like the perfect way to start a marriage to me! There’s so much variety within the category of beaches alone, so don’t feel confined by the idea of getting married on the beach. Here are a couple of places I recommend if you’re interested in a beach/coastal wedding!
World-renowned for its gorgeous beaches and great surf, I recommend Oaxaca for anyone who wants to take the road less traveled when it comes to a Mexico beach wedding. Largely undiscovered by Americans, Oaxaca remains unspoiled by large crowds and expensive resorts. What’s left are authentic towns with chill surfers, amazing food, and wide-open shores. I’d choose Oaxaca to elope as well, its crashing waves and intimate beaches make for a lovely background for any couple to say ‘I do’. If you haven’t heard of Oaxaca or have yet to visit, check out more resources on where to get married in Oaxaca.
Don’t let the cliché steer you away from this state. Any of the Hawaiian Islands would be a lovely choice for a beach wedding. In my opinion, it’s the best destination you don’t need a passport to get to. Although it’s a bit trickier to get to from the east coast, Hawaii undoubtedly has the best beaches in the country. It’s the quintessential tropical destination and a place most people have on their bucket list. As much as I love Hawaii, the only downsides are price and accessibility. It’s not a quick or affordable flight and it’s not affordable when you arrive either. If you’re on a budget, I recommend looking for alternatives but, otherwise, Hawaii is an excellent option!
For those who don’t feel the allure of the beach and prefer the hustle and bustle of a city, you’re in luck. I’ve had the privilege to shoot weddings in major cities which ended up among my favorites I’ve ever shot. Big cities are full of creatives, from event designers to florists to venue creators, which presents some great choices for weddings. Here are a few suggestions for those opting for a more traditional wedding in a city!
I lived in Mexico City, so I’m more partial to it than the average destination wedding photographer but I think it’s one of the most incredible cities on earth. There are 16 municipalities, each with several colonias that all have their distinct personalities. I live in Roma but I also have a strong affection for places like Coyoacán, La Condesa, and Juarez. Mexico City is not only bursting with life and culture but is far more affordable than a comparable popular destination in the United States or Europe. Not to mention, the best Mexican food in the world for less than you’d spend at a Chipotle. For those who are more traditional, options for churches that are hundreds of years old with unique history are abundant. Choose Mexico City for your destination wedding if you love huge cities, and of course, tacos.
Urban, beachy, mountainous, Los Angeles has it all. In one city, you could have your ceremony at a vineyard in Malibu, a downtown loft, or a trendy rooftop in West Hollywood. LA is at the forefront of a lot of design trends, with innumerable venue options for couples who prefer chic and stylish or classic and timeless. Similarly to Hawaii, LA is a place most people want to visit at some point in their life, allowing your guests to see the sights and soak up that famous SoCal sun. Another similarity to Hawaii is that it’s an in-demand destination with a moderately high price tag. Unless your venue is one-of-a-kind, have an open mind for nearby alternatives too! All of California’s coast is beautiful, so don’t feel you have to confine yourself to LA proper.
Historic Town Wedding
The allure of a small historic town. It’s not for everyone, but those who opt for this path are rewarded with rustic architecture, cobblestone streets, and friendly locals. Small towns allow you to disconnect and be present for what’s happening. There’s no distraction, so you can truly enjoy time with your guests and make the most out of your destination wedding. Here are two options for small historic towns that would enchant any couple!
I had high expectations for my first destination wedding in Santorini, Greece and this stunning little town exceeded every one. If it wasn’t already, my experience in Santorini solidified Greece as my favorite country in Europe. The whitewashed village which sits atop rugged cliffs creates some of the most beautiful photo opportunities in the entire world. It’s charming, it’s simple, it’s everything people look for in a historic town. What’s unique about Santorini are the unbelievable views of the sea from countless vantage points. There’s nothing like this island, so if you’re searching for the classic Santorini look, you’ll only find it here.
Technically, Cartagena, Colombia is closer to a city than a town. Although the entire city has nearly a million people, most people would describe it as a small town. That’s because most people get married in the walled Old Town, a small portion of the city known for its colorful walls and narrow cobblestone streets. It’s the definition of a charming colonial town, almost built for a wedding. Not only is it special because of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it’s also where I shot my very first destination wedding! Choose Cartagena if you love Salsa, lots of Bougainvillea, and romantic streets.
Finding a Destination Wedding Photographer
It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to finding a wedding photographer. Thankfully, the internet, especially Instagram, has made it easier than ever to find talented candidates. There are also online directories like WeddingWire with lists of dozens of local vendors. Still, even with all the resources for finding photographers, it’s not easy. For those struggling with finding the right destination wedding photographer, here’s some advice on where to start.
Whether it’s social media or Google, searching online is a fantastic way to find wedding photographers. You can usually find a photographer’s best work on their website or Instagram and even get a sense of their personality. You can also use wedding directories to find huge lists of various you can sort through. The only drawback is, whoever you find is a total stranger. That’s why, for couples who find me online, I always have a FaceTime call to get to know each other better. I take on a limited number of weddings a year and like to make sure that I’m a good fit for the couple. Trust me, you want to spend one of the most important days of your life with someone you get along with!
With 2.4 million weddings happening every year in the United States alone, you probably know someone who was recently married. Whether it’s a friend or a family member, getting referred can be the best way to find the right destination wedding photographer. Close to half of the brides who hire me found me through someone in their network whose wedding I shot. Having a photographer referred to you is great for two reasons. One, you see an entire gallery of someone you know so you can picture what your full wedding might look like. Secondly, you have a stamp of approval from someone whose opinion you trust, who can give you insight into their photographer. Just make sure they’re willing to travel and you could have found your photographer!
Should I Hire a Local Photographer?
Whether you should hire a local wedding photographer is a question every bride asks. Advantages and disadvantages shift based on the destination. In many cases, hiring local has a lot of upsides. You’ve got someone who knows the location, charges zero travel fees, and won’t have logistical problems. On the other hand, it’s hard to beat the convenience of bringing a photographer from back home. What you pay in travel fees you save in peace of mind, knowing you’ve got the photographer you trust the most. Plus, lots of destinations have a limited pool of options. Mykonos has a population of 10,000, making the options for qualified local wedding photographer somewhat slim. At the end of the day, you should hire the photographer you feel the most comfortable with. Start by weighing the pros and cons of the destination and go from there!
When To Have a Destination Wedding
It’s one of the first things a couple has to decide on before making the rest of their plans. “When should we get married?” The exact date usually depends on the availability of the venue you’re choosing but every couple has control over the season in which they decide to get married. Each time of year comes with pros and cons and strongly varies based on location. Since I’ve shot a wedding every weekend of the year, I thought I’d review some of my favorite seasons for a destination wedding and what makes them so great. Here’s the breakdown of each season for a destination wedding!
My favorite season for destination weddings could very well be Autumn. From September through November, tropical places cool down and the number of tourists starts to dwindle. Plus, depending on the location, you have the chance to get portraits while the leaves change colors. Some of my favorite bridal portraits I’ve ever taken have been in Autumn. I grew up in a place with eternal summer, so I’m enamored by the oranges, yellows, and reds of Fall. Upstate New York, the Pacific Northwest, Northern Europe, are all great choices for an Autumn destination wedding.
For me, Winter has always been peak season for weddings. Lots of northerners love getting a chance to escape the cold of New York, Boston, Seattle, etc and see a full day of sun, even just for a weekend. You’ll get a lot more RSVPs from guests if you go with a winter destination wedding almost anywhere except Iceland. In tropical climates, the warm but not sweltering days are perfect for an outdoor ceremony. Nearly all of Mexico has water warm enough to swim in, perfect for a beach wedding. Tip: if you’re getting married anywhere near Christmas or New Year’s, advise your guests to buy airplane tickets far in advance because they will be pricey.
I got married two days into Spring and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Everywhere that stops during winter restarts in Spring and that whole theme of rebirth and renewal is perfect for a wedding. Trees and flowers and blossoming and are at their most vibrant, so if you’re into flowery portraits, this is the season for you. Keep in mind that as Spring progresses, most places get more and more rain. You know the saying ‘April showers bring May flowers’ right? You’re likely to be fine in March and April but as you get closer to May and June, renting a tent may be a smart choice. Ask your venue for their recommendation or consider joining a Facebook group of brides who had their wedding at the same venue!
For the majority of places, Summer is a great choice for a destination wedding. Although, if you want an outdoor ceremony, anywhere remotely near the equator may not be the best option. I’ve shot weddings in Cartagena in August and the guests were constantly fanning themselves, even in the church. On the other hand, my associate shooter Marco shot an August wedding in Western Germany and the weather was perfect. Still, summer is when most people have the chance to take a vacation, and will go anywhere with palm trees. Just remember that summer is when most popular destinations are at their busiest. If you care about seclusion, pick a less sought-after destination for a Summer wedding!
What To Look For in a Destination Wedding Photographer
Once you’ve narrowed down a handful of photographers, it comes time to decide who you’re going to hire. There’s plenty of skilled wedding photographers out there but not everyone has what it takes to shoot a destination wedding. I know several photographers who even turn down destination weddings! Talent aside, you want to look for a few key characteristics that lead to a successful wedding. Here are 3 key aspects to keep an eye out for when hiring your destination wedding photographer!
Knowledge of the Location
Whoever you end up hiring to be your destination wedding photographer should know the area. This includes crucial elements like knowing when the sun starts to set, how to get to the venue, and local spots to take portraits. Not every destination is easy to navigate. Tulum is a perfect example. Their hotel zone is a single narrow road with one way in and one way out. I can’t imagine how many inexperienced photographers have been caught in traffic heading to a wedding which was supposed to take 10 minutes but instead took over an hour. When a photographer is familiar with whatever destination you have in mind, you can trust they’ll have insight that no amount of research can match.
I bring this up because, throughout the years, I’ve found compatibility to be one of the most important factors of a successful couple-photographer relationship. This is especially true for destination weddings. The photographer you choose is going to be spending 15+ hours with you throughout the weekend. When you’re comfortable with the photographer, not only do you feel better, but the photos come out so much better. I do everything I can to make my couple feel relaxed when taking photos because, most of the time, I’m not working with models but regular people! I can only do that with couples who feel at ease with me, so make sure you feel like you can get along and feel comfortable!
Experience with Destination Weddings
I know plenty of amazing photographers who don’t like taking destination weddings. They know that they’re more intimate, there’s more pressure, and some just worry about going to a part of the world they’ve never been to. This is why you want to hire a photographer who has experience with destination weddings. Part of why I started booking destination weddings was my love for travel. Then I realized how special destination weddings are compared to at-home weddings. I’d already been to 30 countries before I booked my first wedding abroad which is one reason it went off without a hitch. With the number of weddings I have under my belt now, I can anticipate any challenges, have a plan B, and be able to improvise when something goes wrong. That only comes from previous experience, so make sure to hire a photographer who can say the same!
Final Thoughts from a Destination Wedding Photographer
If you’re planning on having a destination wedding, I hope you found this helpful! I created this guide to provide couples with as much of the information I’ve learned through my experience as a destination wedding photographer as I can. In the end, if you’re having a destination, it’s hard to go wrong. Just about every location has something to appreciate, from the small remote town to the biggest city, Although, it’s tough to make a guide for the entire world. Every destination wedding is different so I encourage you to get in touch if I wasn’t able to answer any specific questions you have. Make sure to reach out by filling out a form submission for anything related to destination wedding photography. I can’t wait to hear you and your fiance’s story and where you’re deciding to go for your destination wedding!