Destination wedding photography part 2
cjmannphoto | Pro Photography | Published Feb 23, 2013
Photography at a destination wedding
In part 1 we looked at the practical and legal aspects of shooting a wedding overseas.
In this second part we'll consider the photographic aspects of the job.
Location and climate
How much the destination will affect the way you approach the photography will of course depend on how different it is from where you normally shoot.
But let's take the most common situation which is a photographer from a temperate climate (Northern or Central Europe, North-East or North-West USA or Canada) travelling to shoot in a tropical or sub-tropical location, such as Hawaii or the Caribbean.
The first thing you want to check with your client (after you get the wedding date and venue) is what time of day they plan to have the wedding.
I have photographed weddings on a Caribbean beach with no shade at 2pm in July, and the heat is brutal! :)
And apart from the heat, the light is hard and unflattering, nobody will be able to keep their eyes open without squinting or wearing sunglasses, and the contrast will be excessive. A typical on-camera flash won't be up to the job of providing fill in those conditions either.
Generally this happens either if the clients have no clue about the potential issues, or they are getting married at an all-inclusive resort where multiple weddings are scheduled throughout the day.
If you can, persuade the client either to have the wedding in a shaded location, or (better still) to move the wedding time to an hour before sunset.
Sometimes you will have a bride tell you "I want to get married at sunset, just as the sun touches the horizon."
This is usually a bad idea. First of all as you know every wedding starts at least 15 minutes late, and secondly in the tropics the sun sets at a steeper angle than it does further north or south, meaning that the period of twilight is very short. If the wedding ceremony happens at sunset, all your subsequent photos will be taken in the dark, and the beautiful location will not be visible.
So "sunset weddings" need to start an hour before sunset, so that the best light happens after the ceremony just when you want to be taking pictures:
Not only will the light be nicer but the day will be cooling off so everyone will be more comfortable.
Exposure-wise the light levels change quickly at this time of day so keep an eye on your shutter speed; shooting manual usually makes sense as the camera's meter is easily fooled by the direct sunlight, the couple's light clothing, and often the reflected light off the sand. I always shoot RAW so have a bit of extra leeway in post, but if you are a JPEG shooter you'll need to be careful.
You may feel a bit stuck for ideas if you are on an open beach without the usual props of trees, doorways, walls etc., but there is lots you can do with just the light, shooting from different angles, creating side-lit or silhouetted images, and using fill-flash to balance the sunset can look good too. If you do have some open shade that you can use, such as an awning, a beach hut, or a veranda, go for it - you'll get some beautiful light coming in but your subject will be comfortable.
Once the sun has set, stick around. Although tropical twilight doesn't last long, it gives you amazing soft light that's great for gentler, more intimate portraits (such as the image above with the couple in the dunes).
I often keep shooting until there's virtually no light at all (or until the clients say they've had enough!):
|3200 ISO 1/25th sec F2.8 - well after sunset; the groom is illuminated only by the light remaining in the sky.|
I hope this article's been useful - ask questions in the comments below!