The Ins and Outs of Shooting a Wedding Abroad
By Brett Florens
In the past decade or so, there has been a remarkable increase in the amount of destination wedding photography work available. In my opinion, there are a few factors contributing to this increase. Global travel in general has been on the increase for a number of decades – in 1980, it was estimated that 227 million people crossed international borders on airplanes, by the end of 2015, that figure reached 1.2 billion people. Clients getting married abroad are able to search online for their dream destination, and are able to browse for the proposed wedding packages at these destinations at the mere click of a button. In the same manner, they are able to search for service providers that really resonate with them, whether these are photographers, florists, or DJs.
There are still vendors who are not willing to travel, however more and more realize what a golden opportunity this is and are making “Destination Weddings” a specialty. 80% of my work is out of town and I have made destination work a very important part of my business. I have shot in some amazing destinations and had the privilege of seeing parts of the world I would not have the opportunity to see had I not been a destination-wedding photographer. Airfares are relatively reasonable in comparison to the total budget of the wedding, and therefore the cost of flying someone in to do hair and make-up or the photography isn’t as debilitating as the idea would initially seem. When couples compare the cost of getting married in their own hometown for 150 guests, it could very well be the same expense as getting married in a beautiful Tuscan village for around 50 close friends and family, those that are close enough to the couple to go to the trouble and expense of travelling to be with them on their special occasion. At the end of the day, the feeling tends to be that a more intimate wedding in a dream location will be far more memorable and romantic.
When quoting for destination weddings, the clients know that you need to include travel, accommodation and a few other expenses, such as local assistants, car hire, taxi, visas, gear rental and food. You also need to find out about the costs of delivering the final product if the client lives in a different city or country to yourself. I firmly believe in custom-made quotes for my clients as they will know exactly what they are in for and don’t have to do any nebulous calculations themselves. It also avoids any potential for conflict where clients dispute the final expenses.
KEEP IN TOUCH
As a photographer you need to ensure that you reply to emails and queries in good time, make sure you have answered all the clients’ questions with clarity and offer extra knowledge that will help them with their wedding. I believe that if a client likes your work and finds value in your product, your brand and likes you, they will book you. However, being pushy and harassing your client makes you look desperate and clients either see it as annoying, in which case they’ll probably look for another photographer, or they’ll perceive you as weak and may ask for a discount.
Once it’s confirmed that you are the official photographer, email them to say thank you for entrusting you with their photographs. Then, I suggest you befriend your clients on Facebook if you can. This can give you a wealth of knowledge about them, which will help you to prepare for what they will aspire to for their wedding photographs. Look at all aspects of their lives, where they eat, what clothing brands they like to wear, what movies, music and TV programs they like and what they do for a living. This may seem like stalking (and please stay within the parameters of what is socially acceptable research!) – but as we all know, these days most people are happy to share their likes and ideas on Facebook, giving their friends an open-book to their personalities (and vital clues into the aspirations that they would have when it comes to a perfect wedding day, for the photographer that knows how to interpret what he sees and reads!) After you have gathered the information, it will be really easy to create a “mood board” for their engagement, wedding and post-wedding shoots. These you will want to have organised in time for your second meeting. When creating mood boards that I am going to physically present to clients, I create a collage in Photoshop and print them out as A3 (40cmx60cm) size prints. This comes from my experience of fashion and catalogue work. I feel that it perpetuates my brand as a fashion-inspired wedding photographer and gives the client a glimpse of how fashion photographers approach shoots. It also makes my clients understand that I am approaching their wedding uniquely and that I have put in effort to make their wedding photography truly representative of their personalities.
MEETING THE CLIENT
Once the client has agreed on the quote, you need to have your first meeting. It’s preferable to meet face-to-face, but if this is not possible, the alternative is to set up a Skype call when it is most suitable for the client. When choosing a meeting place that is not in your hometown or even if you prefer to meet your local clients at a venue that is not your office/studio/home, it is important to choose a venue that is going to make a great impression. Although it may seem like a safe, easy option, I would stay away from mainstream coffee chains and look for something trendy, classy or luxury corresponding to your clients’ profile. You want to meet them in their comfort zone, not only to relax them, but this will give the impression to your client that you are of a similar mind-set to them. This will facilitate a connection that you can build on.
It is really important to listen to your clients’ vision for their wedding and to take notes during the interview. You will be using this information later to reassure the client that you listened closely to them and that you share their vision for their wedding. It will also give you the information to follow up on and give you a reason to communicate with them after the meeting. Always affirm details that your client has already chosen and offer advice when asked. Often clients look to me as an industry insider and I perpetuate this notion by offering advice and opinions when needed. This information gives me a profile to work with and enable me to bring the contract to a closure.
This meeting is primarily about their wedding and my vision for how I will interpret their relationship and wedding. I would be presenting the mood board ideas and need to make sure that I am spot on with my assessment of their personalities, lifestyle and expectations. If the client is not happy with your interpretation, you need to come to an agreement on what would be more suitable – always within the boundaries of your photographic style – after all, they have booked you for this reason.
FIND A CONTACT
One of the main objectives at this stage, is to find a contact in that particular destination. This person needs to have a thorough knowledge of the area, as well as the logistical ins and outs of the permits perhaps needed for working and shooting. It is possible that you have to “work for them” for the job, as this may be the only legal way around the work-permit issue. This person could also be your assistant for the shoots, which would save you from flying your own assistant to the destination, which might cut into your profit line too much. They can also advise you on a good hotel that would not be too far from the Wedding reception. I suggest that you post on Facebook or Twitter that you are looking for an assistant in that location. Failing that, you’d have to do some scouting on the internet for a suitable individual. Searches would include photography studios or camera clubs.
DO MORE IN THE DESTINATION
When booking your flights for the engagement shoot and then later for the wedding, it is a good idea to arrange additional work, or do a styled shoot whilst you are there to ensure that the cost of the flights are diluted with other business. When arranging a styled shoot, it’s advisable to be in touch with a local modelling agency. They will be able to send you head shots of available models and advise you on make-up artists and hairstylists. You should also source a good florist to make up a bouquet if you are doing a mock wedding shoot. Whether you want to shoot fashion or wedding, it’s the perfect time to contact a designer, preferably even from your own country or home-town. They would love to have photographs of their designs in an exotic location, and would probably be more than willing to lend you few wedding gowns or outfits in exchange for the images. Give yourself a day or two extra to do this work. Keep your communication up with your clients in regards to your flight confirmation, just so they are reassured that all is on track.
VISAS AND PASSPORTS
Do a thorough search to find out whether you will need a visa for the destination with your particular passport. Some countries even require a transit visa when making a connecting flight at their airport. This can be a laborious process, so you need to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. Most agencies need to see your plane ticket first, so this should be taken care of already. Obtaining the Visa is never really in doubt, but it is a reassuring feeling to know that you have all of your travel documents sorted out and that your passport is in order and all your ducks are in a row in good time! It’s always advisable to make sure that your passport has more than six months to go before the expiry date. Some countries are very sticky about this, and may refuse your entry. Make sure you apply for a new passport a good month or two before you fly. Sometimes countries suddenly have an overload of passports to process, and the usual five-day turn-around can be seriously delayed.
PACKING YOUR GEAR
I’d recommend that for the big, cumbersome gear such as light stands, studio lights and tripods , you find out where you can hire the equipment. Apart from remote, exotic islands, you can almost always hire photographic gear and this will make your baggage a fair bit lighter and much easier for you to travel with!
I like to pack two days before, not necessarily my clothing, but definitely my camera gear, making sure that all the batteries are fully-charged, memory cards are ready to go, and then I go through the process of packing my camera bags. Every time I fly, I follow the same process, this pretty much ensures success every single time and I have a travel checklist that I created to make sure that I pack everything that I need. I simply print it out, and tick off each item as it is checked and packed. So, to go through the travel checklist, I start off with my main camera body, which would by the Nikon D5, spare batteries and charger. My backup body is the Nikon D750 with batteries and charger. Then, I carry the Nikon 1AW, this I use for behind the scenes or if the bride and groom want to do a “drown the gown” session, which could involve some underwater photography at a later stage, and I take that with me with the charged batteries.
In terms of my lenses, I start off with my 55mm macro lens, it is a very old lens with the aperture ring on the outside, it’s manual focus and it was the first Nikon lens that I ever owned. Then I take the 10.5 mm fisheye lens, the 14-24 mm F2.8, the 24-70mm F2.8, the 85mm F1.4, the 70-200mm F2.8.
I take two Nikon speed lights – at the moment I’m using the SB910s and I take a TTL extension cord with me as well that is the SB29. With that, I pack different coloured gels for the speed lights.
I pack my memory cards, taking 3 XQD Lexar professional cards with me, the 64gig x2933 cards, as well as SD memory for the Nikon D750. I make sure that I take card readers with me, because I need to either back up on-site, or use them for the same-day slide show, or for when we shoot pictures of the guests arriving and then do printing on-site. I take backup hard drives – I use the G-technology hard drives with an all-weather case. This case is really good, especially in bad weather conditions because it’s dust-proof, water-proof, shockproof – all in all, a really good product to have with you.
In terms of lighting, I take two Rotolight LEDs with spare batteries. They take AA batteries, so I make sure that I’ve got enough batteries for that. I also have the Lowel GL1, and my charger that I take with that, and then just a small flashlight that I can use either to illuminate tricky situations or just to look for things in my bag during the reception where there’s not too much light around. For my ambient lighting, I have the Manfrotto tri-grip reflector –it collapses in to a very neat, compact item. I take a prism with me so that I can “play with light” in certain shots. I do this by placing the prism in front of the lens to diffract the light and create interesting images. And finally, I pack the Quadra ELB ranger from Elinchrom with the HS Skyport.
In terms of artificial lighting I really enjoy the portability and light quality of the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra lighting system, I have a Lastolite Octa softbox that fits onto the head and I pack a small handle to hold the head rather than a light stand. The next item of lighting gear is the Lowel GL1 Tungsten balanced LED light. I love the power and control it offers. Other essentials such as batteries and filters usually stay in my bag, make sure that you have them with you too.
Then I look further down the list and I see that I need my passport and Visas and I’ve got those. Then there are my credit cards, travel cards, my Nikon professional services card, which is really important to get service abroad with regards to camera gear. If I had to have a situation where a lens went down or a body went down, Nikon professional services are very good at support and backup for photographers who are registered with their NPS (Nikon Professional Service) project.
Next is my cell phone, its charger, and SIM cards if you are changing countries and you do have a SIM card for that country. If you don’t, they are quite easy to buy at the airport when you arrive. Travel adapter – make sure that if you’re going to a country that has a different electricity socket that you have a travel adapter. Also be aware that some countries have different voltages, which might end up damaging equipment – I had one incident where I was charging a battery for a flash and it literally exploded because I was using the wrong voltage – so be very aware about that! Then I take along my HDMI or a VGA adapter from my laptop, this is going to be used for the same-day slideshow. Headphones and my airplane adapter are also packed – I think it’s really important that if you’re traveling a lot, you have good quality sound when you’re listening to the movies or the music on the aeroplane and it’s just part of my checklist.
Then I have a Hoodman loupe, it’s called a Hoodloupe and I use that to look at my LCD in very bright conditions, it gives me a very good opportunity to view the image by magnifying it as well as cutting out any stray light, which enables me to look at the back of my LCD without any influence from available light. And talking about available light, that brings me to Sunglasses – it’s essential when you’re traveling to countries that have a lot of sun to protect your eyes.
My wallet – it is useful to carry a small amount of the local currency with you if you can get this before at a Bureau de change. It’s not always possible, but if you can, it may be of use at the airport if their exchange offices are busy, already closed, or nowhere to be found! Also remember, that the Bureau de Change at the airport tends to take the largest percentage commission. You might need a quick coffee or to pay for transport. For bigger purchases, Visa or Mastercard credit cards are accepted practically anywhere.
Protein bars – it’s important to have some sort of sustenance on the day of the wedding, so I take protein bars in my camera bag, which allow me to relax about sudden pangs of hunger! Also if you are traveling into a foreign country, perhaps the local food might not agree with your stomach, and on the day of the wedding you really need to be focused on the wedding, rather than any potential problems you might have from eating the wrong food.
Finally, I pack my MacBook Air with its charger. What am I packing them in you may ask? I have two favourites at the moment. The first is the Lowepro Protactic 40 AW backpack camera bag. I opt for this camera bag when shooting on the beach, or needing to do a bit of climbing, as it is really easily portable. My next option is the Lowepro roller, it’s the Pro Roller X200AW, and it’s the biggest camera bag that is still within the regulations of the airlines for carry-on baggage. The reason I would take a roller camera bag instead of a backpack, would be if I will be predominantly in hotels and the airport and easily accessible venues, having the roller will be a lot more comfortable than carrying a backpack around with me.
TIMING ON THE DAY
I’m a complete stickler when it comes to good timing, as you may have already gathered! And when you are in a foreign location, it’s even more important to get your timing pre-planned. You’ll need to know how long it takes to catch a taxi or Uber, or how long you need to drive your hired car in order to get to each location. Get information on the traffic on your route at that certain time of day and if you’re driving, it’s definitely advisable to hire a Satnav and in addition to this, give yourself even more time. Being in a foreign city can be a bit daunting when getting from A to B. A timeline that is by and large adhered to on the wedding day, will ensure that everything runs smoothly, and most importantly, it relieves most of the stress on the bridal couple who would like nothing more than to enjoy their special day and have the fondest memories of it. To this end, I think that it is vital to talk about timings early, so that all relevant parties can get on board to ensure a well-run event.
I would imagine that it almost goes without saying that when you are shooting a destination wedding, you ought to be shooting a “Day After” shoot. For one thing, you are in a beautiful location that would be different to the standard wedding venues, and it’s a chance to capture some really extraordinary images. The bride and groom will not likely be rushing off to another location for their honeymoon, so they will be available the following day or so to spend a few hours on a creative shoot. If you are on an island, “drown the gown” sessions are popular. Photograph the beach session first and then progress to the sea! Once the couple are wet and wild, there is no going backwards! I’m also a great fan of underwater sessions. You don’t even need an expensive underwater housing for this. I use the Nikon1AW for this which produces magnificent images. If you are in a Tuscan village for example, use the beauty of the surrounding landscape for some beautiful photographs, or even fun images. Hire a donkey! If you’re near a desert, definitely shoot in the dunes and look at hiring a camel. In the mountains, look into the hiring of a helicopter for an hour and capture some spectacular imagery atop a mountain. The sky is the limit and it is advisable to think about all the options possible before you quote for the wedding, so that you can make the suggestions and add these costs to your quote.
DELIVERY OF THE ALBUM
When it comes to the design of the album use the Pixelu Smart Albums 2 software and I find it to be so user-friendly that I no longer need to outsource the album design, which I had to in the past. It only takes me around an hour or so to create the album that I envisaged when shooting the wedding. Once a template album has already been made, the program is particularly easy to use when creating further albums, for example for each bridesmaid, each groomsman, each set of parents and/or grandparents. Once the album is designed, I send the layout to the client for approval via the Smart Albums web proofing system. It is great for the client to give me their feedback and approve the design. Once approved, I send the document to my preferred printer. In my case, this is Loxely Print. I then ask them to courier the album/s to the client directly, if they are not living in my city. If they are, I do prefer the personal service of delivering the album by hand and sitting with the clients as they look through it for the first time. Having it couriered is second prize. Also here, be aware that some countries charge import duty on these deliveries, so it is also wise to have calculated this cost into the original quote.
All in all, Destination Weddings are a great opportunity to broaden your photographic horizon. You may be a little nervous for the first one, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll really relish the chance to be in an environment that challenges your creativity. Your portfolio will start to look beautifully varied and clients will be eager to have a destination experience of their own.
On behalf of the PPANI, I would like to extend my warmest thanks to Brett Florensfor contributing to our blog. Brett is an amazing photographer, speaker and educator. I cannot wait until he visits our association again. - Shea Deighan, Honorary Secretary of the PPANI.
Visit Brett's website at: www.BrettFlorens.com