Choosing a destination wedding photographer is not for the faint of heart. Planning a Destination Wedding is really a work of art somedays, really. Photography is often one of the biggest items in your wedding budget. For local weddings, photography is usually 12% of your overall wedding budget. With destination weddings, it can often take an even bigger bite! You definitely want to consider your options.
Photography is an incredibly personal decision. You don’t want to make the wrong decision by choosing based only on numbers. There are definitely unique factors to consider when choosing a Destination Wedding photographer that you shouldn’t overlook though! If you are wondering where to start when choosing a Destination Wedding Photographer – you are in the right place!
Pssst: For More Advice about Outside Vendors and Tips for Planning your Destination Wedding, we created a guide for you:
To make things easy, you have three options for photography. We break your options down below but here is the summary: you have the choice to use your resort photographer, hire a local-to-your-wedding photographer or fly a photographer down with you! With each option, there is pros and cons and really it will depend on your priorities which option is best for you. Like any past bride who has regrets about photography, we are going to urge you to really consider your options. This is not an area that you want to be frugal and remember it every time you look at your wedding photos.
Using the Resort Photographer
Let’s get this out of the way – this is not our favourite option. Resorts are good for a lot of things (we are usually a fan of their catering, rentals, and florals!) but you’d be fine to skip photography from their preferred list. The resorts preferred photographer tends to be priced mid-range and you avoid paying outside vendor fees (more about that in the section below) which is a major perk. They also may be very experienced with your specific venue/resort. This is actually the option Kara (one of our destination wedding planners here at Love at First Travel) chose for her own wedding and we 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 corporations with many photographers working for them. The advantage to this, is that you can book last minute and they will almost always still have availability. The disadvantage is you won’t get a chance to talk your specific photographer before hand. You won’t talk to your photographer about what you like and don’t like in wedding photography until after the wedding when you are choosing our photos. They also work from clear shot lists they had to go with and often can’t/won’t skip some shots regardless of if you tell them you aren’t interested in the shot where the groomsmen are carrying the bride (question: does any bride enjoy this??).
Kara’s Experience Hiring the Resort Photographer
You can probably tell that we didn’t hit it off. Since I am awkward in photos anyway, I SERIOUSLY underestimated 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 one for drama and I do NOT wake up every day thinking “I can’t believe I went with the resort photographer”. But looking back, I wouldn’t do it again.
Literally all my wedding photos look the same (complete with a cheap filter). I have seen incredible photos taken at the same resort I was married at (Sandos Caracol Eco Resort) so choosing the resort photographer that was “preferred” and “knew all the hotspots” was actually not a guarantee. The company was “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. PS: They use a different preferred photography company now.
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? We 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. If you are getting married at an off site venue (PS: we wrote a 3 part series about this), this is a fantastic option. There are almost never any fees and your wedding planner should be able to refer you to fantastic local photographers. If you are getting married at an all-inclusive resort, you may need to factor in outside vendor fees into your budget.
Outside Vendor Fees
First, what are outside vendor fees? Almost every resort has a preferred photographer. If you choose to hire an “outside vendor” (either someone locally or bringing someone down with you), your resort may charge an outside vendor fee. This fee can range from $200USD to $1000USD. Usually this fee is non-negotiable because resorts have contracts with their preferred photographer.
Wondering if the outside vendor fee is worth it? You often can’t negotiate with the resort but you may be able to negotiate with outside vendors! Don’t be afraid to ask a local photographer if they help with the outside vendor fees. Especially if you are opting for one of your 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 professionals) but it doesn’t mean that you can’t try to negotiate. With that in mind, you also don’t want your vendors to feel under-appreciated so ask respectfully.
The resort will usually waive this fee (or reduce it) if the photographer is staying at the resort a minimum of three nights. Always confirm this with your travel agent or wedding planner so they can best advise you based on your resort’s particular policies. This is not something you want to be unsure about.
Bringing a Photographer With You
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 for their services on top of the travel expenses. With that in mind, they also may be open to less than 7 days. Please never fly them in the day before the wedding. They should arrive a minimum of two days before in case of any flight delays.
If photography is really a high priority (and/or if you are not naturally comfortable in front of the camera) you should consider engagement photos as a “trial run” which is a lot easier to coordinate when you are hiring someone local to you. Plus, engagement photos make great Save the Dates! Depending on the airline/ tour operator you reserve your group travel rates through, you may also be able to get a “free passenger” which can help you pay for your photographer’s travel. This can be a great perk if you are on a tight budget!
Photography “for the cost of travel”
You might get lucky and be able to find an established local-to-you photographer that is willing to do it for just the cost of travel. This is often because they’re looking to build up their destination wedding portfolio and they might not realize how much work it is yet (we didn’t). Keep in mind, this is less of a guarantee than hiring a professional. Make sure you trust who you hire because without the income guarantee, they may not take the commitment as seriously. This is a frequent problem with “not getting time off your day job” or other life events that take priority over your wedding trip.
Kara planned her first wedding (her first “full-planning” package) for the cost of travel. So you can find a hidden gem if you look hard enough 😉.
Having a Friend or Family Member Take Photos
We are not recommending this!
If you are really on a budget, you may consider asking a friend or family member to take your photos. In this case, we 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 so important. If you do go this route, make sure your “friendor” is taking the job seriously. We 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.
Ready to get started planning your own destination wedding? Please fill out the contact form and someone on our team will respond within 24 hours. Curious about what service you might need? We would love to chat with you but you can also read about our services here OR read this blog post about “who you need to hire”.
Happy Wedding Planning!
Not ready to reach out yet? Or already working with a destination wedding travel agent and planner? We have ALL the questions you should be asking your destination wedding photographer (or any outside vendor) & so much more planning goodness in our Planning Guide:
[PSSSST: So glad you found us here! It can be so frustrating to spend hours searching for wedding planning information when a majority of what you find online is either *so old* or completely geared toward all inclusive resort weddings. WE MADE THIS FOR YOU. In this 70+ page guide, there is information about all inclusive weddings (of course) but there is also PAGES & PAGES of budgeting, hiring vendors (when they aren’t all put in a nice little package for you), choosing a destination, arranging travel for your guests OUTSIDE of an all inclusive and so much more]