Destination weddings offer stunning scenery and exotic atmosphere, providing the conditions needed to enhance those fabulous memories. However, since these types of weddings are often at resort locations in foreign countries, they’re subject to the unusual and the unexpected, creating logistical and scheduling factors that can affect your entire agenda, including the photography. A few of our most traveled award-winners have weighed in with their own experiences and advice for ensuring a smooth and wonderful event.
It’s hard to imagine a more picture postcard-perfect wedding location than Haiti. Few islands in the Caribbean rival its beautiful beaches, mountains, rain forests, rich culture…or political upheaval. Even though the present government is stable, two centuries of bloodshed over politics and power should make you cautious about making wedding arrangements there.
No matter what idyllic wedding location you might choose anywhere in the world, popular attitude and local politics can shift. So when you plan your destination wedding, WPJA member David Murray of Kennebunkport, ME, suggests you scan the news to make sure the country you choose isn’t experiencing instability. The last thing you need on your wedding day is to be rescued from a political revolution.
“Having worked as a photojournalist in Haiti, I know things can change very quickly,” says Murray, who has spent many years in the Caribbean shooting for newspapers and now photographs destination weddings there. “Google the place you select and do your research. Obviously if you are going to be married in Bermuda, it’s not a problem, but in many foreign countries it pays to talk with a concierge or other knowledgeable person at your hotel before venturing off the grounds of your resort into uncharted territory.”
Tod O’Driscoll, a WPJA member from Phoenix, AZ, says if he is going to photograph a wedding in a country unfamiliar to him, he researches it on the Internet and in travel books. “I also speak with people who have extensive experience traveling or working in those countries,” he says. “This really helps me to be as prepared as possible, and helps me deal with logistical issues, like language, culture and customs.”
O’Driscoll and Murray agree that it’s also important to have a contingency plan for any potential disaster. That’s especially true if you are planning on getting married during the Atlantic hurricane season (June through November), but it can be a lifesaver when a rainy day washes out your outdoor ceremony. “I shot a destination wedding in Kauai, Hawaii, last year,” says O’Driscoll. “I had been planning on getting some great portraits of the bride and groom at the beach. Unfortunately, Kauai had experienced about six weeks of rain so the ocean was an ugly-looking brownish gray. Then on the day of the wedding, it rained pretty much nonstop the whole day. Fortunately, the bride and groom knew that there was a very good chance of rain so they had secured a church to use for the ceremony.”
Peter Van de Maele, a WPJA wedding photojournalist based in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, caught a rainy moment at an outdoor beach ceremony on Playa del Carmen. In his award-winning photo, a lone, colorful umbrella held aloft by one of the guests contrasted beautifully against a threatening gray cloud, giving the picture an ominous feeling. “It was raining and the bride was freaking out as she was getting ready,” says Van de Maele, because she had no alternative place selected. When he got to the beach for the ceremony, the rain had stopped and the guests closed their umbrellas, except one. That picture tells the story of a nervous beginning to a ceremony that ultimately stayed dry.
Murray advises Caribbean-bound brides and grooms to be prepared for the tropical climate. “It’s hot and it can be humid,” he says. “I strongly suggest that couples wear comfortable clothing. It’s also a good idea to give yourself a couple of days to get acclimated to the climate and the area. Get to know the staff at the hotel and make sure they know you. And stay a few extra days so you can really enjoy it.”
A couple Murray photographed at the Yucatan Peninsula just south of Cancun definitely got into the island spirit when they kicked off their shoes after the ceremony. “I’m always looking to shoot something different,” says Murray about photographing the couple’s feet. “As they walked down the stairs toward me, I noticed the cool lights. I panned their feet with my long lens and stayed in sync with the camera as they took each step.” The resulting image is a whimsical representation of tropical wedding casualness.
Wedding photojournalists are charged with recording the day’s events, of course, but they also strive to visually represent a wedding’s atmosphere. O’Driscoll captured the mood during a reception held at the exclusive resort of La Loma in Cuixmala, Mexico, on the Pacific coast. Originally built as a familial compound by the late British billionaire Sir James Goldsmith and surrounded by the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, La Loma has a sophisticated elegance in an all-natural environment. “The reception was held on a thatched-roof patio overlooking the ocean,” O’Driscoll remembers. His warm, sunset photo beautifully represents the peaceful, private affair.
Even though the couple O’Driscoll photographed was married at a resort, they still had to adhere to Mexico’s marriage laws. “In Mexico you must have two witnesses, and blood tests for the couple are required,” says Elena Lynch, supervisor of destination weddings with The Wedding Experience, a Miami-based wedding consulting company. Laws vary from country to country, she says, so those couples that want destination weddings should know the marriage requirements well in advance to avoid last minute scrambling.
Some countries have laws against using photographers and other professionals who aren’t locally based. It’s not a problem in Mexico, Lynch notes, and it isn’t typically a concern in other Caribbean countries either. However, she advises keeping your hired photographer’s presence low-key, a tip David Murray also recommends. “I skirted the issue once in Anguilla,” he recalls. “When I arrived on the island and was asked by an official the reason for my visit, he hesitated when I told him I was photographing a wedding. So I hastily added that the bride and groom were friends of mine, which made it OK with him. When I go to Mexico to photograph a wedding, I take only two cameras and try not to appear like anything other than a tourist.”
It’s helpful if you know a little of the language where you intend to marry, especially in remote locations. That’s not a problem for Peter Van de Maele, a native of Belgium who speaks five languages and travels with an assistant who speaks six. Van de Maele advises that if you are unfamiliar with the country or language, it’s a good idea to hire a local wedding consultant. However, he recommends working with an independent consultant rather than a coordinator at the resort where you plan to marry. “For resort wedding coordinators, it’s just a job,” he says. “You are just wedding number three or four on a single day. But an independent professional wedding coordinator can help create an exclusive, easy-going wedding tailored to you.”
Van de Maele and Lynch both advocate purchasing traveler’s insurance. In fact, Lynch advises couples to invest specifically in wedding insurance, which typically covers such unforeseen events as severe weather, illness or no-show vendors.
“Good insurance is a must because strange things can happen during special events,” says Van de Maele. In Mexico his assistant nearly died because of an incorrect diagnosis. “Our insurance sent him to a Paris hospital and then to Belgium. The total bill was $60,000! Medical care can be critical, even in a beautiful, exotic paradise.”
Taking these kinds of precautions, whether purchasing wedding insurance, or familiarizing yourself with a country’s customs, laws and climate, will increase your chances for a successful, stress-free wedding, no matter where in the world the ceremony takes place.
—by Lorna Gentry for the Wedding Photojournalist Association