First, let me start this post off with a disclaimer: I think there’s a tendency among photographers to seek out destination wedding/portrait opportunities because it’s become somewhat of a status symbol, and I can say that because I’ve totally done so. It’s absolutely ok to want to shoot wedding in the Virgin Islands, or in Salzburg, Austria, or wherever it is your heart beats faster just thinking about! But I also think it’s really important to know WHY you want to shoot in that location- wanting your clients to pay for your next vacation, or simply wanting the feather in your cap of calling yourself a destination wedding photographer aren’t solid enough reasons on their own for someone to hire you over someone else. Again, I can say that because I’ve BEEN that photographer, the one who wanted the feather in her cap. (PS, let it be known that I DO think it’s a good idea for folks to bring their own photographer to a destination wedding- I wrote about it here!). A destination wedding or shoot should first be an opportunity to serve your client WELL, and then an opportunity to further your career/portfolio/brand/whatever. Does that make sense?
If your clients are going to consider paying hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on TOP of your normal wedding or session fee, there needs to be a good reason they’re doing so. I’m hoping that for you, it’s because the couple is hopelessly in love with your work and the experience that only YOU can provide your clients, and they can’t imagine anyone else capturing these particular memories in that particular location. For me, that reason is that my work is just plain better when I travel. My destination and travel work is some of the best photography I’ve ever produced, and so my clients know that a travel fee is going to result in even more amazing photographs!
Ok, so now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about you guys! Let’s say you really, really want to start shooting outside of your immediate area. Maybe you really want to shoot a wedding in Sequoia National Park, or an anniversary session in Paris, but you have NO connections in either location and don’t know how to get started. I’ve been there! I’m sometimes still there- for example, I really, really want to shoot in the south of France. I would kiiiiill to shoot a wedding in Provence, around the calanques in Cassis, throughout the old port in Marseille. But since I don’t have any friends planning to get married around there, it’s up to me to make it happen.
Here are my top five tips for finding work in a place you’ve always wanted to photograph!
- Book your travel first. I know that sound nuts, but you have to be willing to sacrifice for this dream! I take a yearly Europe trip, during which time I visit and photograph in places I’d love to one day be hired to shoot.
- Put the word out THAT you’re going, and where you’re going! Remember this Anniversary Experience in Chianti, Italy with Zach & Lindsay? That session came about because I posted online that I’d be in Rome in April. Zach & Lindsay are huge Italy-lovers, so when she found out I’d be there, they booked travel for Italy as well so that we could do our session in Chianti.
- If you have any friends in the places where you’re going, ask to photograph them while you’re there. You need to make sure to ask at least a month in advance, though! A friend of mine who lived in Paris expressed frustration over folks emailing the week, even the day before they’d be in the city to ask if she and her husband could model for them. Make sure you’re being considerate!
- Don’t know anyone? Start by searching for vendors online, Instagram or Facebook a few months ahead of time, follow their work, and connect with them over email. See if they might have a couple in mind that would be interested in allowing you to photograph them!
- Promote the heck out of those images! Blog them, be strategic in how you title the post and talk about your experience within the body of the post, and tag tag tag with keywords. The Palm Shop has some great posts on metatagging and optimizing for Google, make sure to check those out!
Having the opportunity to work internationally is amazing, but it’s important to know and expect that traveling for photography work can be exhausting- it’s often an anxiety-ridden hassle getting your expensive, bulky equipment to your destination. And if you’re in the beginning stages or are looking to book your first destination wedding/shoot, the temptation’s going to be to shoot it for free or close-to-free because you just really want to book that gig! And that is totally your call. There are some photographers out there who will tell you to never ever ever ever discount EVER, but if the opportunity means enough to you? That’s your decision to make!
Just a word to the wise as you’re pursuing new location opportunities, though- destination weddings and shoots are often more time-intensive, you’ll spend more time away from home, and if you’re not making much (if anything) from the wedding itself, definitely take some time to weigh the pros and cons. It may be that shooting this one destination wedding could open you up to more new locations in an area you feel is really cohesive with your brand/aesthetic, and if that’s the kind of life you desire for your business, go for it! But if you have a family at home that needs you, or a partner who’s counting on you to bring home a consistent paycheck, you’ll need to think quite a bit harder about what this opportunity is going to cost you out of pocket.
For me, the trouble of traveling is so worth it because, like I said above, my work is just plain better when I’m inspired by new surroundings, whether that’s an island off of Puerto Rico, a European city, California’s wilderness, whatever. But you have to make that call for YOU and your individual situation. However you choose to make decisions about traveling for photography, just make sure you’re doing what’s best for you and your loved ones, instead of what you necessarily see other people doing! You never know what someone else’s situation is, so do what’s right for you!
After all that, I would LOVE to hear from you guys- where’s your dream location to shoot? If money were no object, where would you drop everything to go?