Choosing a destination wedding photographer is not for the faint of heart. After all, it is one of the biggest items in your wedding budget. You don’t want to make the wrong decision but you also don’t want to feel like you overspent. There are unique things to consider when choosing a Destination Wedding photographer that you can’t overlook! If you are wondering where to start when choosing a Destination Wedding Photographer, trust me you are in the right place!
Basically, you have three options for photography. I break it down a little further below but you have the choice to use your resort photographer, hire a local photographer or bring a photographer down with you! With each option, there is always going to be a list of pros and cons and really it comes down to where your priorities are. It’s okay if you are on a budget for photography, we all have budgets we need to work with! Of course like any past bride who has regrets about photography, I am going to urge you to consider splurging on this a bit. I won’t make you though!
Using the Resort Photographer
This is probably the most popular option! As long as you know what you’re getting into this may or may not be the best option for you. The resorts preferred photographer tends to be reasonably priced and you avoid paying outside vendor fees (more about that in the section below). They also have likely shot many weddings at your resort before so are likely more familiar with the resort. This is actually the option I chose for my own wedding and I want to take a second to share my period so that future brides know what they’re getting into 😉
Resort photographers tend to be big companies with many photographers working for them. The advantage to this, is that you can book last minute and they will probably still have openings. The disadvantage is you won’t get a chance to talk your actual photographer before hand. We didn’t talk to our photographer about what we liked and don’t like in wedding photography until after the wedding when we were choosing our photos. Literally as we were choosing photos, our photographer said “I took a variety of shots because I don’t know what you like”. Uhhh, you are right. He also had a clear shot list he had to go with and I kept trying to get him to skip some shots I wasn’t comfortable with (and therefore wouldn’t choose) but we had to do them anyway. Yuck.
My Experience with the Resort Photographer
You can probably tell that we didn’t quite connect. Since I am awkward in photos anyway, I SERIOUSLY underestimate how important it would be to choose someone with the right energy. It would have made such a difference if I was a little more relaxed. I am not trying to be dramatic either. I do NOT wake up every day thinking “I can’t believe I went with the resort photographer”. You can probably tell this is my least favorite option but I am not trying to be biased! I am just trying to share my experience. If you have had a different experience, I would love to hear from you! Shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, literally all my photos look the same. And they all look like they have the same filter slapped on them. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad. I just don’t love them. I have seen incredible photos taken at the same resort I was married in (Sandos Caracol Eco Resort) so obviously choosing a resort where the photographer was “preferred” and “knew all the hotspots” was actually not a guarantee. Again, I really want to reiterate that my photos aren’t bad – I just don’t love them. They were “cheap” as far as photography goes (I think I spent about $1500USD) but I definitely feel like I should have splurged just a tiny bit more and got what I actually wanted.
Hiring a Local Photographer in Your Destination
There are so many talented photographers all over the world – why not start the search in your destination? I have had the luxury of meeting a few absolutely incredible photographers so feel free to ask for help if you are planning on going this route. Vincent Van den Berg of Pixan Photography is one of my absolute favorites. His work is INCREDIBLE and his packages were incredibly reasonable considering he just won first place in Mexico’s Top Ten Wedding Photographers (and ranked #10 in the WORLD). Seriously, I would almost never send you off my website on purpose but you should probably take a second to check out his page here: https://pixanphotography.com/
Which brings me to my next point: local doesn’t need to be the same city. If you love a photographer in Mexico, they more than likely will shoot your wedding in the Dominican Republic. Santiago Gabay has rave reviews (although I haven’t met him yet) from past couples and has built his business from his love of traveling. Let me level with you, I should have hired him myself. I am going to just say the typical past bride thing and say “you’ll regret skimping on photography”. I seriously considered choosing him for my own photos and I am still kicking myself about not loosening my purse strings (Santiago, if you are reading this, hello! my name is Kara and I should have hired you for my wedding because I have been admiring you from afar for years). Weddings are expensive though! I totally get the struggle to want it all, and I know if you are like me you are sick of hearing “don’t skimp on photography” but seriously, don’t!
Outside Vendor Fees
First, what are outside vendor fees? Every resort has a preferred photographer. If you choose to hire an “outside vendor” (either someone locally or bringing someone down with you), they may charge a fee. This fee can range from $200USD to $1000USD. You usually can’t negotiate this fee, because this is an agreement the resorts have with their preferred photographer. The resort agrees to refer every couple to them (the preferred) in exchange for a kickback or commission or whatever you want to call it.
Wondering if the outside vendor fee is worth it? You can’t negotiate with the resort but you can usually negotiate with outside vendors! Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer to help with the outside vendor fees especially if you are opting for one of the photographer’s highest packages! Photographers pay resorts up to 50% of their package cost to be considered preferred. Many photographers aren’t willing to offer a 50% discount on their services (at least, not if they are professionals doing this for a living!) but it doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate! That being said, don’t expect to choose the lowest package and negotiate extras in (It is COMPLETELY okay to choose the lowest package though)
Bringing a Photographer With You
Real Talk Alert: Although you might find a Photographer who will shoot your Destination Wedding for “just the cost of travel”, most professional Destination Wedding Photographers will charge a fee on top of the travel expenses. You may be able to find an established photographer that is willing to do it for just the cost of travel because they’re looking to build up their destination wedding portfolio but keep in mind Destination Wedding Photography is a specialty and there are a few things to consider that you may not need for a “local wedding”. If you are bringing professional equipment, you need to legally have a license to work in your destination. Otherwise, you risk having your equipment confiscated at the border. I am not saying this is a regular occurrence, but it is a risk they should be aware of.
You may need to pay outside vendor fees even if your photographer is staying at the resort with you (more about that in the section above about hiring a local photographer). The will usually waive this fee (or reduce it) but not always. If this is something that you are considering make sure that you let your travel agent or wedding planner know so they can best advise you based on your resort’s particular policies. This might be something you want to think about even before you choose a resort! . Because policies vary from resort to resort, so if this is a high priority, let us know! After all, you don’t want to commit to a resort and then discover a $1000USD outside vendor fee.
A Middle Ground?
There are also many wedding photographers in the southern states that you may want to consider. Although you will likely have to cover their travel costs, it will be somewhat lower than flying someone down from Canada. It really depends on what your priorities are. Like I said earlier, if your photographer stays for three nights, the outside vendor fee is usually waived. It is harder (and riskier!) to get a photographer from Canada down for three days. Please do not plan on flying ANYONE down the day before your wedding!! Flights get cancelled and delayed and you just can’t risk that for something like this.
The negative of course is that even though you can talk to them in advance, you don’t get to meet them beforehand. It really depends on what your priorities are (or how awkward you are in photos – like me – where I really should have placed a higher value on their energy). So this may or may not be something that is worth it. There really is no alternative to meeting your photographer before hand. That’s why engagement photos are so popular! If photography is really a high priority, you really should consider flying someone down that you have met (and used for engagement photos!) before.
Having a Friend or Family Member Take Photos
If you are really on a budget, you may consider asking a friend or family member to take your photos. If you are considering this, I highly recommend an engagement session to make sure you have the right energy. It can be awkward to take photos (for both of you) so having a “trial” photo session is important. I also recommend taking photos around the resort during the couple days before your wedding. If you are getting married at 4pm, make sure to pay particular attention to the lighting at that time! I am not recommending this instead of hiring a professional Destination Wedding Photographer! If you go against my advice and do it anyway, make sure to take some practice photos.
Don’t Skimp On Photography! Don’t Skimp On Photography! There, I said it. Now go make good choices. If you are looking for a Destination Wedding photographer, feel free to send me an email or message me on my contact form. I am happy to send you a few referrals of photographers that I (or a few close colleagues) have met. You can also google “wedding photographer” + “your venue”. Google should be able to help you photographers who have shot weddings at your venue before. Don’t forget about Instagram! I constantly search by location and look at the wedding photos (and who shot them). I have even reached out to brides before to see how the wedding went. Couples usually love talking about their weddings so it’s a win-win. This is good practice anyway so you know what weddings at that resort really look like 😉
PS: Are you considering planning a destination wedding but haven’t quite started the process yet? I created a 9 Step Guide for Canadians Planning Destination Weddings specifically to give you a jumping off point. Sign up for my email list below and I will send it over right away! Or head on over to our “Work With Us” page and read more about why we might be a good fit for you set up a consultation!
Happy Wedding Planning!