Post Author: Eugene Nagawiecki

Reading time: 8 minutes

5 Top Tips to Improve your Destination Wedding Photography Experience

Professional wedding photographers often dream of traveling the globe to practice their craft.

Understandably so.

Heck, there’s no shame in being caught envisioning days of jumping from idyllic seaside resorts to tropical paradises to majestic mountains and fairytale cityscapes to get the job done.

Italian Wedding Photo by Sam Sacramento Photography

Artwork by Sam & Rayana Sacramento of Sam Sacramento Photography

Just remember there is a practical reality check involved with being such a traveled photographer. Not that it should dash your dreams or dampen your spirit, but keep it in mind so it doesn’t derail your dreams before you even leave the tarmac.

For example, we sat down with renowned destination wedding photographers Sam and Rayana Sacramento of Sam Sacramento Photography, and they shared 5 top things to remember before going on international shoots.

We should mention Sam and Rayana boast not only award-winning wedding photography but also over a decade of experience in the industry and more than 500 unique weddings and 1000 photoshoots in over 22 countries! So, they are more than credible to share some insight on this topic themselves. They’ve literally seen it all when it comes to international wedding photography.

So without further ado, when traveling abroad for a wedding shoot, be sure to….

1) Check Your Documentation and Bank Cards

First and foremost is the legality of it all, as well as the money situation. Yes, the dry and boring stuff, but certainly the most vital.

And, just when you think this is a no-brainer and it would never happen to you, remember a situation like this can happen to the best of them. In fact, it did.

Brown leather wallet on display

Artwork by Sam & Rayana Sacramento retrieved from Unsplash.

Sam and Rayana shared that they once had a shoot in Bali and forgot to look into their credit card situation to make sure they would work and be accepted. To their horror, they arrived to find out one of their cards didn’t work at all, and another wasn’t accepted in Bali.

Luckily for them, they were able to call on a friend to come to the rescue just in time to get them some of their money, but needless to say, it was a stressful moment they would have preferred to do without.


Travel Documents


Of course, it’s not only the money issues either. Make sure all your travel documentation is in order before your trip.

Especially these days, with the virus, make sure you are aware of any specific travel rules for your airline and destination. Be sure your vaccines and/or virus permits are up-to-date, valid, and internationally recognized.

An assortment of travel essentials

Artwork retrieved from Unsplash.

Remember, what flies in your area may not be acceptable abroad. So, make sure your documentation is acceptable in your intended destination specifically. The last thing you need is to miss the big day stuck in a foreign country’s quarantine.

Then, the usual suspects of being sure you have a visa in order (if necessary), an up-to-date passport, and a plan for your luggage and equipment.

2) Carry on Photography Gear

Speaking of photography equipment, Sam and Rayana recommend always carrying on your essential photography equipment.

Luggage can get lost or left behind. That’s just the reality of travel. The more you change connections, the more likely this possibility becomes.

Various lenses and tools for photography

Artwork by Jeff Hopper retrieved from Unsplash.

Don’t take the chances of your equipment not making the trip. Instead, keep it on you for your flights.

“Extra clothes you can always live without. Not your photography equipment,” Rayana reminds me.

The couple adds that, yes, sometimes all the equipment can add up, but they’ve never had issues carrying on the necessary parts to get the shoot done.

In that vein of thought, Sam says to pack equipment sensibly. Specifically, he advises not to take any big strobes. For one, they may not be usable or acceptable in your destination or their culture, and two, just keep it simple with equipment while traveling.

3) Always Arrive Early

At least two days before the big day, suggests Rayana. For wedding photographers shooting abroad, this is perhaps some of the most important advice.

Rayana reminds, “s**t happens.”

Ain’t that the truth. Be sure to leave yourself a big enough cushion that you can manage any minor setbacks and still make it for your client’s big day. Remember, this travel is about them, and their big day, so make sure you do all that is necessary not to miss it and execute it professionally.

You never know, your original flight might get cancelled or have a major delay. You may lose some luggage and need time to get more clothes; your equipment might need to be replaced; your hotel or place of stay may have an issue and cause you to need to book elsewhere upon arrival. The reality is there are many things that can ‘go wrong’ while traveling. Prepare for the worst and factor this extra time in to your travel itinerary for the wedding trip.

Silhouette of person during a sunset

Artwork by Mohamed Nohasi retrieved from Unsplash.

In fact, best case scenario, you leave early, and everything goes smoothly while travelling so you arrive with you extra time and then can get yourself more familiar with the lay of land and the area where the wedding will take place. Even if you explored the area weeks or months before, or it’s a place you’ve been many times, it’s always good to have a walk-through just before the big day as you never know what might have changed. Also, it doesn’t hurt to remind yourself of some great spots for extra shots.

The wedding day and time with your clients will fly by. Do as much pre-planning as you possibly can so you don’t have to waste too much time thinking about your next move or next location for a nice shot.

Arriving early is always better than trying to squeeze in just in time. As the experts suggest: at least two days early.

4) Research the Culture of the Wedding you’re about to Cover

It’s always important to know your clients, but perhaps this is most vital when taking wedding photos. Across nearly all cultures, weddings are viewed as important, monumental, sacred occasions, yet the rituals and customs that accompany them vary greatly from culture to culture and religion to religion.

Giant dolls dancing with spectators in a festival

Artwork retrieved from Unsplash.

As the photographer, it is up to you to research the background of the couple you will be shooting, their religious and cultural beliefs, and the customs and rules that come into play so as not to disrespect any one or commit any faux pas.

Don’t walk into a wedding thinking you can ‘wing it’ or treat it just like any other wedding you’ve shot either as often the guidelines can be quite specific.

For example, Sam and Rayana shared a time they were shooting an Indian wedding and Rayana had to be sure to, “cover my arms. I had to cover my face during the ceremony. We couldn’t wear shoes at some points.”

Sam then added during the ceremony, “you couldn’t turn your back at certain points. You need to face them.”

These details sound quite different to typical ‘western’ European / US weddings but are extremely important. And, to know what, when, and how can only come from research.

So be sure to do your research no matter what wedding you shoot, so that you'll know how to dress appropriately, act appropriately, and even execute your job appropriately.

Wedding Photograph by Sam & Rayana Sacramento

Artwork by Sam & Rayana Sacramento of Sam Sacramento Photography

As Sam cautions and reminds, “(in) some religions there are certain points that you are not allowed to photograph.” While with others, “the bride and groom allow us, but the pictures cannot be online; just with them.”

Just to reiterate, the only way to know all this is to research beforehand. Ignorance is not an excuse, nor is it professional or respectful. Research, and ask….

5) Ask your Clients Questions about the Details you Need to Know

Don’t shy away from going directly to the source if you have any questions or concerns about getting through the wedding day.

Often, we might feel awkward or as if it’s inappropriate to ask others about their culture and its rituals or that we should simply have all the knowledge, but Sam and Rayana stress, “It’s the opposite.”

“You show your clients you care,” Sam reassures when advising fellow wedding photographers to ask about the clients about their customs and rituals, “about their weddings, about their rules, their style, and everything else. It’s very important.”

Creating an open dialogue and asking about it will show your clientele that you have them and their interests at heart as well as ensure that you are as prepared as possible for the event.

Coworkers drinking coffee together

Artwork by Priscilla Du Preez retrieved from Unsplash.

However, I mention this part after the point about research as Rayana proposes a good middle-ground:

“I first research online about the culture and the religion. This way when I speak to the client, I know something and have a base and a background.”

The way you wish to go about it is ultimately up to you, but it is strongly advised to do your own research about different cultural weddings as well as speak about it with your clients themselves.

Thankfully we've reached a time again when international weddings and travelling wedding photographers will be commonplace. Such a life certainly has its perks. Yet, keep in mind these 5 tips from Sam and Rayana Sacramento of Sam Sacramento Photography to be sure it all goes smoothly, respectfully, and professionally.


For more insightful tips from Sam and Rayana Sacramento check out our full interview with them.

Watch FULL Live Chat with Sam & Rayana Sacramento


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