Getting Married with Claire: Destination Weddings

Oct 2, 2019

I’ve decided to make an illustrious (ha) return to blogging. Since engagement season is right around the corner I thought I would start a small series of blogs highlighting some fact vs fiction for our clients from a photographer’s perspective. There’s a lot of wedding education out there that I tend to believe is worthless. Mostly because it doesn’t come from photographers who end up documenting all these “standards” at the end of the day.

I’m here to set the record straight and *hopefully* give a bit of clarity to the overwhelming wedding industry. I am pretty open with my friends (perhaps you’ve seen), when it comes to my parenting short comings or hiccups. Since #parentingwithclaire seems to resonate, hopefully so will #gettingmarriedwithclaire.

We are inundated with wedding blogs and instagram posts showing us the highlights and best ofs. I’m guilty of it too. What we don’t see as much is an honest explanation of what could stand in the way of these shots every couple seems to gravitate to and want to duplicate.

Blogs and styled shoots like to make you believe that magazine cover- type work just falls out of the sky or that it can happen in any environment. What is left out, are the things that couples, who are for the most part, getting married for the first time, probably wouldn’t give a second thought to or think of. This is especially true, in my experience, for destination weddings.

destination wedding, Mexico wedding, first look, wedding portraits, destination wedding photographer, beach wedding, beach

There aren’t many things that I love more than traveling for weddings. Let’s clarify. What is a destination wedding, you ask? We bounce all over the country shooting weddings that are hours away from of our home. Every year we have a handful in Chicago, PA and New York, but those are usually the home turf for one or both of our clients. Those weddings are a destination for *us* but not for our couples. We love those weddings lots, but that’s not what I’ll be talking about today.

Destination weddings are, in this case, when our couples are getting married somewhere neither are familiar with or live. A lot of these are at the beach, but not all of them. (Hello Europe and snow covered destinations.)

Over the course of my career I’ve photographed quite a few destination weddings and feel like I have a good handle on a few things clients often over look or don’t realize. I mean, you don’t know until you know, right?

Here are my top 10 tips for rocking a destination wedding and getting awesome photographs along the way.

1.) Your photos will reflect your willingness to embrace the environment you’ve chosen.

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s by far the most important. Here’s the thing, if you are going to get married at the beach, there is a high likelihood of a pop up shower. There will also be things like water and sand. Likewise, if you are hoping for snow covered mountains in your pics, chances are, we are going to have to get into some snow.

This aspect is why destination weddings are some of my most favorite to shoot. I LOVE embracing whatever we have around, gorgeous coastlines, stunning mountains or incredible architecture from hundreds of years ago to add to the layers of our time together.

But as a photographer, it’s important to be on the same page as our couples. This means your dress may get a little dirty at the hem, your hair may blow in the wind a bit and there may be a bit of a climb at some point. You may be a bit hot or you may be a bit cold. Think through the realities of your environment and plan accordingly and line them up with your expectations of your images.

If you sweat, consider this when choosing your colors and fabric. (Hint: light fabrics show sweat. Satin may be your enemy.) If you get cold easily, think through incorporating some kind of covering into your look. (Or a shot of fireball before we battle the elements.) Also, footwear please. (Feel free to email me for suggestions based on terrain.)

I am wholly unable to get you in a field with with a mountain behind you if you do not want to step on that field. I can’t get you at sunset on the beach if you’re unwilling to remove your Louboutins. I want us to be on the same page so we can make magic and capture the joy you have in the location you’ve chosen.

Embrace it. Let the rain fall on your skin. Trudge through the snow. Get your hem a little dirty. Dig your toes into the sand. This is why you chose to get married somewhere besides your hometown, let’s get the most out of it.

2.) Fight for the wedding you want, but be willing to compromise.

This probably seems like a contrary statement, and in a way it is. There are certain limitations to having an outdoor ceremony and/or reception, which in a lot of cases destination weddings are. If there is dangerous weather in the area-venues are obligated to move indoors or to a different spot for liability reasons. As they should.

A pop up shower was not going to change the location of this ceremony.
5 minutes later. Nothing but sunshine.

That being said, what a lot of couples don’t realize is that they have to make this call HOURS before the ceremony/reception based on things like chair set up, music, electricity etc. Which in the case of tropical locations, is tricky since we know weather can change within minutes.

I’ve had weddings/receptions changed because of weather and still gotten killer pictures. So this is not a “if things change your life will be ruined,” bullet. However, going back to what you are willing to compromise. I have photographed weddings where a wedding has to be “called” because of rain and although the chairs are not out or the music can’t be played, the couple says- let’s do it anyway. Then they’ve had the wedding they had in their minds with zero regrets.

I’ve also had weddings where everything was set out and if they didn’t call it when it was going to rain they wouldn’t have the ability to move things to the “rain plan.” Turns out, the rain stopped 20 minutes later and the wedding AND reception went off without a hitch in perfect weather, regardless of the urging of the venue.

The moral of the story. Ask the question, ” What would I need to compromise to…. *insert whatever is the most important thing to you about your wedding.*” They may say ” you have no choices.” They may say, ” Hey that violinist can’t play.” or ” The wedding will be delayed 20 minutes.” To which you throw on some rain boots and carry on.

A lot of times, I see couples feel like they don’t have the same recourse as they would if they were home when rogue weather strikes at a destination wedding. Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not.

*Ducks as every wedding planner throws something at me.*

A wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen because of the weather.
100% rain at “go time.”

If your plans end up changing due to hurricane force winds, there’s not much to be done. But if you get a chance, grab a shot in the location you visualized. I promise the sun will come out and we’ll capture a moment that will make you remember why you picked the spot in the first place.

3.) Know your light.

Taken in the exact same spot, facing 3 different directions, within 20 minutes of each other

Something very few people think about when they plan a destination wedding is where the sun will be. This takes more consideration than just when that yummy light is going to hit. For the record, I don’t need yummy light all the time, but knowing where it is, helps us plan when and where we can make magic throughout the day.

Things to consider:

  1. Where are you in the world? Where does the sun rise and set in the city you’re getting married in? You want a sunset over the ocean? Well, then you need to be in place where the horizon faces west. Otherwise the sun will likely set behind whichever resort you’re at.
  2. What time does the sun set? If you’re a midwesterner like me, chances are you’re going to lose the light faster than you expect to if you’ve found yourself heading to the coast.
  3. Have you changed timezones? When planning a destination wedding from afar it’s easy to forget to consider not just the time, but what that will mean for your daylight.
  4. Where are on on sea level? Are we going to be in shadow from mountains at 3pm? Or are we going to be wearing sunglasses until 9pm.

NONE of these things are make or break, but discovering any of them a week out from your wedding could be a hard to adjust to.

Related: I need 10 minutes for sunset pictures. Literally. I can get what I need in that time. I shall yank you from whatever you’re doing.

4.) Not all that is pretty, makes for a great photograph.

This is one of the harder concepts for clients to understand since it’s really not anything you’ll know until you’re in the spaces of these destination weddings. Most of the “one stop shops” resorts are utterly gorgeous. Only one problem, they just leave something out of their website photographs. People. Not just your people. All the other people who will be vacationing and taking up space at the resort.

Want a romantic first look on their private beach? Nothing says romance like John Doe in the background in a speedo, sipping on that mai tai. Nothing can take away a special moment like all your guests in the background who you perhaps didn’t want to see you in your wedding finest, pre-ceremony. So how do you still get stunning shots when all the obvious spots you signed up for are occupied?

As a photographer, that means, getting a lay of the land and finding alternatives, a lot of which may not be something someone thinks of. Here are a few examples of us “making it work,” when peeps are everywhere you want to be. Moral of the story, we can make it work anywhere, but don’t expect it to look quite the way you thought it would. (Which lends itself to point 5….)

The very back of the resort. Like the back, back. No one goes back there, back. There were garbage personal.
Wall in the back of the spa, because the relaxed need pretty walls.
Walking path between restaurant and cabins. We waved to many.
The front entry. Main doors to the left.
Patio for a restaurant not opened yet. Barrett cleared off the chairs and tables.

5.) Go off location if you can.

This is not always a possibility. I get that. But there is a chance that something incredible is just around the corner from where you are staying, giving you the artistic freedom (and freedom of crowds) you may not have with all the people all around.

In the case that this is a possibility, allow for it in the timeline. Look, I’d like to tell you that we are “we’re just here to capture whatever happens, organically” photographers. But we aren’t, we know better. We know that things happen that change priorities and that especially on location, it’s important to cushion the timeline to allow for the possibility of traveling to things you won’t have the chance to be at again. This could be the ruins 5 minutes away, a la St Croix. Or a casual Palace for a first look, like we saw in Madrid. Or maybe taking the time to explore the snowy trails in the snow, as we did in Lake Placid.

We may have off roaded in our Jeep, but it was worth it.
Regal doesn’t begin to describe it.
Casual cliffs. Always a must.
Gimme the snow.

6.) Ask about utilizing roof tops/large suites/ common areas even if it’s just for a minute.

Remember in Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Peter got to stay in the Kapua Suite because no one but Oprah could actually afford it?

A lot of resorts/hotels have places like that as well. And while maybe it doesn’t make sense to buy it out for a week, I have found that most resorts are INCREDIBLY accommodating when you need a space to either do a first look, or put on your dress for a pic, or maybe just sit in for a moment. Social media rules the day, and usually they are just thankful to have the exposure and are incredibly accommodating. (please note: I am incredibly respectful in these spaces because our stay may be temporary. I never want them to feel like we were ever there/ taking advantage or an inconvenience.)

Regardless, so many hotels/ getting ready spaces for destination locations are cramped and have zero light for one or both of the clients. Take a risk and ask a question, you may be surprised what the answer is.

OK this is a bad example because Laura totally had the vision for this to be a part of her wedding and had this suite all week when they were in Madrid but, it is *goals,* right?
Quick roof top access for first look and getting in the dress.
common area turned mens lounge with such better light
getting ready outside, always an option
why yes, party on the sky deck.

7.) Do a First Look.

If you’ve worked with me in the past, or been in a wedding I have photographed, you know how important I think time together as a couple is on wedding day. Most of the time I don’t push first looks. As long as you carve out 45min / 1 hour with your spouse to be, and we’re not shooting in the dark, I’m a happy photographer. However, when it comes to destination weddings, I’ve found that first looks are best.

First of all, by design, if you’ve decided to get away from the hustle of normal life to get married, you’ve probably hand picked the people you don’t mind to be around ALL the time. And that is such a precious thing. However, that also means that you will probably have little to no time with just the person you have chosen to marry the entire week/weekend. It also means that as soon as you say, “I do” or “Hell ya!”, your time will not be your own as everyone descends to embrace and love on you.

It’s a beautiful thing to be loved by that many people. But 95% of us need a breath when we’re surrounded by everyone that matters in our lives at once. How wonderful is it that you’re marrying your breath of fresh air, right? Taking the time before, “I do”, before the party, before the cousins and wild Aunt Sue gets their hands on you, is a perfect way to set the tone for being truly present and available after the ceremony with everyone you’ve chosen to celebrate you both.

8.) Hire professional hair and makeup.

Look I know that one of the benefits to a destination wedding is the idea of cutting cost. I get it. But I also understand that my hair looks completely different in 100 degree humidity and that ‘melting face’ is a real look for me. Do I need to remind you of Monica from Friends in The One in Barbados?

That me.

Great. So we can agree that humidity is a thing. That being said, don’t underestimate how a change in weather can change how your skin/hair respond to the elements. If you’re a low maintenance person who genuinely does not care, more power to you.

However, if you do care, hire a professional that understands the weather you’re in and can guide you to make sure you’re glow-y not melty and voluminous not inexplicable.

Related: To my ladies: Wear sunscreen and/or the same silhouette bathing suit as your wedding ensemble. Sunburns and tan lines look good on no one.

Also consider you may need a hairdo change. We know all about the sweaty neck, let’s be real. The one below was done by yours truly, but I’d seek a professional out. 😉

9.) Consider an additional session.

In most cases, especially weddings we do out of the country, we are usually on location more than one day. This time of your life doesn’t happen often and more than likely you are going to be surrounded by all your favorite people every single moment of your trip. Which is both incredible and can be a bit overwhelming.

Consider slipping away, just the two of you, no stress, for a sunrise, sunset or an excursion session, away from everyone. It’s a perfect opportunity to cut loose, and just be together while you soak up the gorgeous location you’ve chosen to eternalize. This time is just for you two. Capitalize on it!

10.) Only hire super fun, awesome photographers.

I know I know, self promotion, but in all seriousness, be sure you have people you enjoy, along for the ride. It is very common for resorts to charge a fee to bring your own photographer.

Pay the dang money.

The resort photographers are rarely full time professional photographers. Photographers are with you almost every moment of wedding day and compromising on being comfortable with who is documenting one of the best moments/weekends of your life is just silly. No one has time for introductions on their wedding day. The relationship and trust you build with your photographers is directly related to the images you get back. We are relationship people. And we think you are too.

Let’s go.

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