Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Many wedding photographers dream of being hired to photograph weddings overseas - either on a tropical beach or perhaps in a romantic historic European town. It seems like the perfect escape from the humdrum routine of weddings shot at an anonymous venue in your home town.

However, before you say "yes" to that spectacular fly-away wedding in Tahiti, there are some practical considerations to take into account.

The Location

Do some research on the wedding location. Find out the answers to these questions:

  • How long will it take to get there?
  • Will I have to change planes or trains, or rent a car?
  • Can I stay at the same hotel as the clients, or will I need to stay somewhere else?
  • If I'm not at the same hotel, what's it like and how far away?
  • What's the climate like? Is it hot, cold, humid, dusty, sandy, wet or dry?
  • What season will it be? Are there weather risks such as hurricanes?
Sunset over the Bahamas on an American Airlines 737

Travel time in particular is something that's often underestimated. Flights can easily be delayed or cancelled, so you need to allow enough time to ensure you arrive even if there are hold-ups. And if you are travelling across time-zones you may be affected by jet-lag, so some acclimatization time before the job may be advisable.

In general, it's best to make your own travel arrangements and charge the cost to client. If they make the booking, they may not take into account the factors mentioned above - and are likely to pick the cheapest flight combination that means you have to travel at unsociable hours on a budget airline!

With airlines it's essential to check their baggage allowances and pricing carefully. All airlines are cutting back on free baggage allowances these days, and budget airlines often have draconian restrictions on both hold and carry-on baggage. It can sometimes work out cheaper to buy a more expensive ticket with a major airline than fly with a budget carrier and pay their baggage fees.

If the destination is very remote you may find that the last leg is on a "puddle-jumper" or light plane - don't assume that transatlantic baggage allowances will apply to all stages of the journey.

Is it legal?

In your excitement to book a wedding in some far-flung paradise, don't assume that you can just hop on a plane and go and shoot a job in someone else's country. Even if you are being paid by your client back home, so no money is changing hands overseas, you may find that it's illegal for you to photograph a wedding in the destination country. So check that out. Many nations are clamping down on what they see as illegal foreign workers, and an unpleasant "grilling" from immigration officers may be followed by deportation on the next plane out. Not only that but you could be banned from entering that country in the future.

Some photographers will tell you that "it's OK, I go in as a tourist and never have a problem" - but perhaps they have just been lucky. So do some research on that aspect as well.

Example: as a British citizen, I can work legally in any other European Union country such as France, Greece, Italy, Germany etc. - but I can't shoot a wedding in the USA.

if you are at all uncertain about the legality of working in a specific country, it's better to say no to the job, and refer it to a local photographer in that country. Not only will you earn some good karma (and maybe a referral back in due course) but you won't run the risk of a lot of legal hassle and a very upset client.

What gear do I need?

Well, the same as at home, probably! But you need to have backups for just about every bit of kit - it's probable that replacement equipment won't be available (or not at short notice) in a tourist destination.

The challenge of course is bringing enough kit to allow for mishaps while still keeping your baggage to a minimum. I shoot with two camera bodies anyway, but you'll need at least one spare, and ideally two. I know one photographer who was shooting a wedding in Miami during a tropical storm and had three cameras die on her one after another! If you want to conserve space and weight, take a smaller consumer body as your backup.

Prime lenses are generally small and lightweight, so if you are normally a zoom lens shooter you may want to pop a couple of primes (say a 50mm and an 85mm, or a 24mm if you shoot wide) just in case. I've dropped zoom lenses on sandy beaches in my time and it's amazing how easily and quickly the sand and grit gets into the mechanism.

Make a gear checklist so that you don't forget anything - either on the way out or on the way back. Don't forget battery chargers! When I worked in the Caribbean we regularly got calls from travelling photographers asking to borrow chargers...

You should also find out the voltage and plug requirements of your destination. Most chargers are multi-voltage, but you'll almost certainly need a plug adapter. I take a "power strip" adapter with four UK sockets and a French or US style plug - that way I don't have to take a lot of individual adapters and find multiple wall sockets to plug them into.

Insurance and customs

Make sure that your business and equipment insurance cover you for working overseas. If in doubt, call your broker or insurance company and ask. Better to pay a supplementary premium than to find out you aren't covered if your gear is stolen or damaged during your trip.

Find out as well if you need to declare your equipment either on leaving your own country or on arrival at your destination. Otherwise you may find yourself having to pay import duty, or even having gear confiscated. Some countries such as Mexico are hot on this to discourage people smuggling valuable camera gear in without paying import duties.

How much should I charge the client?

This is the tough one. it's very tempting to give destination wedding clients a hefty discount so as to secure the job, if the destination is somewhere exotic or interesting. I know some photographers who will do overseas weddings for just the cost of flights and accommodation. And some clients will assume that they can get you for cheap because the wedding's happening somewhere nice.

Resist the temptation to do this. You're not doing yourself or anyone else in the industry any favours. The client is likely to value your services at what they paid for them - so working for free or for a low price you are much more likely to encounter a demanding or fussy client.

Ideally, you should be paid for your travel time as well as for the hours you actually shoot - destination weddings take up several days once you factor in the travel and prep time. Being realistic there is some room for negotiation on this - but do work out how many hours you are going to be shooting on the day and charge accordingly.

Bear in mind as well that you may have to pay for food and beverages at hotel prices, so make an allowance for that if it's not included.

You will also find that some clients will expect you to be at their beck and call 24 hours a day on a destination wedding, calling on you to photograph boat trips, beach barbecues, or other excursions that aren't part of the actual wedding coverage.

It's up to you how much of this you want to do and whether you charge extra for it - but do discuss this aspect with the client up front, and make it clear that you will need some down-time to check equipment, download cards, charge batteries etc. as well as making sure you are rested and fresh for the wedding itself, which may be a long day in a hot climate.

Hope that's useful - in part two we'll take a look at the photographic challenges of shooting overseas.