I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of traveling. Not only am I a big fan, but I kind of need it! Maybe that sounds dramatic and VERY #firstworldproblems, but the truth is that as an artist, being inspired and refreshed is essential. And it just so happens that traveling and photographing new places accomplishes both of these things for me beautifully!
So, what did I do as a photographer? I figured out a way to get paid to travel! Now, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about getting paid to travel before. In fact, you probably are very skeptical if it’s actually possible or just a unicorn! That’s definitely what I thought. Thankfully, through a series of experiments and wonderful accidents, I’ve become one of those unicorns! And while it’s absolutely NOT as simple as laying on a beach and watching the cash roll in your bank account, it’s (in my opinion) far more rewarding than just that! Jamaica, Costa Rica, Sarasota, & Virgin Islands are just a few of the places that are in our recent travel repertoire. Today, I’m going to share my the four steps I took to get paid to travel as a wedding photographer! So let’s get started!
#1: Put it out there.
OK, this sounds too simple, right? The truth is, just PUTTING IT OUT THERE that you would love to travel to Italy, or Aruba, or Mexico is the essential first step to making it happen. Because if don’t tell people you do it, how will they even know you’re an option? Write a blog post about your dream wedding destination and tell your social networks that you are available to travel to that place. Talk about how much you love Tulum in your Instagram stories. Tell your vendor friends that you’re dying to travel to France for a destination wedding. You will be amazed at the response!
#2. Get involved.
Now that you’ve created a little bit of a buzz, it’s time to actually get involved in the location. What does this mean? Connect. Connect with the venues that most inspire you. Follow local wedding vendors & local couples on social media. Look up weddings that other photographers have photographed there and start dreaming. The more you get involved, the more opportunities you will create. A really practical way to do this is to search geo-tagged images on Instagram. Look up some hot spots in your favorite location, and then check out those accounts! It could be a ge0-tagged wedding venue or the local beach – you’ll find different varieties of accounts wherever you search! This is a super easy way to connect with locals, start conversation & create opportunities. For example: two years ago, I decided I wanted to shoot weddings in my cold, D.C. off season. It’s not busy at all here in D.C. in the winter (and I hate the cold!), so this was an obvious choice! I started following accounts that geo-tagged my favorite Florida beach, Siesta Key. Several months later, I got an email from a recently engaged couple who I had stared following and interacting with in those early stages of research. Actually, I didn’t even realize the girl I followed was dating – I just really loved her style, she lived at my favorite beach and I thought she could potentially model for me in the future if I did a styled shoot in the area. But sure enough, she had a boyfriend-turned-fiancé! They were finally engaged, loved my work, and saw that I loved traveling to Florida in the winter! She booked me for her February wedding, and Evan and I had a FANTASTIC time making an extra-long Valentine’s Day weekend out of the trip. And the best part? That bride became a wedding planner and has referred several couples to me! Now, I get regular business in the winters in that area – all from a simple follow on Instagram!
#3. Build a portfolio.
This is where the work really comes in! There are a lot of ways that you can build a portfolio for destinations that you’re interested in shooting but the best way is to actually make a trip to visit that place! You don’t have to have a wedding there to go and shoot there. Reach out to those vendors you found on social media, plan a little styled shoot, or go take advantage of an already-planned vacation and snap a few images at some local venues. If you’re able to showcase actually being there, couples will have an easier time also envisioning what it would look like to work with you. This is also a great opportunity to geo-tag images in the area, meet professionals in-person that work in the area and network with them, and find the venues and locations that most inspired you. So your next question is probably, “but wait, isn’t this going to cost me money? I thought this post was about making money traveling?” This is why my next point is so important – keep reading!
#4. Be specific.
The best and most cost-effective strategy in actually marketing to couples that you shoot destination weddings is to be very specific about destination locations. If you’re like me, you’d probably be excited and willing to travel to hundreds of locations around the globe! However, sometimes being really broad means that instead of reaching everyone, you really reach no one. Couples planning a wedding in Amalfi, Italy are way more likely to remember a photographer who mentioned how much they LOVE the beauty of the Amalfi coast than they are to remember a photographer who likes shooting weddings in Europe. Choose a few places that are your very favorites and focus on building your brand around these locations. This also will make it easier to build a portfolio – if you’re focusing on a few of your very favorite places, you may already be planning a trip there or even have images from that location for a previous trip you took! It will also be far more exciting and inspiring to plan another trip to build your portfolio. Regardless, choose those locations you love the most and make them a part of who you are!
#5. Make it easy.
Equally as important as the previous steps, you have got to make the process easy for engaged couples! More than likely, if it’s a destination wedding, this couple is planning their wedding from afar. They are already stressed about figuring out logistics and putting the day together, so the last thing they’re going to be interested in is a complicated process for booking a photographer. If you make the process easy for them, they’ll be way more interested in working with you! So, how do you make it easy? Research & educate. Think about all of the things that might be hard for them in the planning process, the potential roadblocks they might face, the big questions or concerns they have with hiring a non-local photographer, and then create solutions to all of these issues. Imagine how much trust you will build with a couple who has their questions answered before they ask them and fears relieved before they can worry! Additionally, this immediately sets you apart from every other photographer. Now that they see what an expert you are, how could they book someone else? You can even make PDF downloads or an FAQ section on your website where couples can find this information easily, before reaching out. By making it easy for couples, they’re way more likely (and excited!) to book you!
#6. Decide what it’s worth.
Lastly, you need to be some thought into what it’s worth to you personally to travel & shoot a destination wedding. If you go online to Facebook groups & community chats, you’ll probably find a lot of posts about how you should never discount and always charge for full travel expenses, even in your dream location. I will be the first person to tell you to not devalue your work. It’s important to charge what you’re worth! But sometimes, what’s more important is what the wedding is worth to you! For instance: I traveled to Jamaica for a wedding at an all-inclusive resort this year. After learning more about the couple, their budget, and their needs for the day, I realized that 1) they didn’t need a full day of coverage, a second photographer or other extensive offerings and 2) they didn’t have the budget to pay for my flight, accommodations AND one of my regular wedding packages. Additionally, they absolutely loved my work and were a the sweetest people. After having a few phone conversations with them, I realize that it made sense to price myself differently. If the cost of the wedding package covered all the travel expenses for me & a friend to spend 4 days at this beautiful all-inclusive resort AND I got to photograph a wedding in a beauitful location, I didn’t need to make a huge profit. Honestly, I didn’t need to make a profit at all! It was more than worth it for me to work one day and vacation three other days and not make a profit. As an added bonus, I had already reached my financial booking goal for 2018 when I booked this wedding and the weekend was free. What’s crazy is that the only thing holding me back from booking the wedding was fear of what others might think about not making a huge profit! But when I stopped worrying about what other people think and considered: is this worth it for me? the answer became crystal clear. I ended up booking the wedding, traveling down to Montego Bay with one of my best girlfriends, and we had the time of our lives! It was such a joy to be a part of this couple’s day, and I have gotten several inquiries for Jamaica since then because of my blog post of this wedding. Was it worth it? 100% YES!
I hope these for tips for booking destination wedding have been helpful and insightful for you! Working in beautiful locations that inspire and refresh me are essential to being in this business. It is absolutely a luxury, but it is a luxury that I’ve created for myself through hard work investment and thinking through things carefully.
Are you ready to start booking destination weddings? Get started with these tips today or get in touch with me about one-on-one mentoring to grow your destination wedding business!