A learning curve exists with every new challenge that we take on. I’ve found this to be true in photography, in business, and in life, regardless of our level of experience. Photographing destination weddings is no exception, and despite having hundreds of weddings under our belts, there are lessons we learn every time we pack our bags and travel from our backyard of Orange County, California to a tropical location.
Here are a few of the things we at Lin & Jirsa Photography have learned over the years and some valuable tips to help with your upcoming tropical shoots.
First and foremost, be prepared for anything, and always give yourself more time than you think you need for travel, scouting, and preparation. Nothing will make your life (or your career) flash before your eyes like almost missing a flight, or arriving to any location just moments before you’re supposed to begin shooting. We like to arrive at least one full day before the actual wedding.
With that said, here are some itemized tips.
Pack Light – Avoid certain items
This will be hard for some photographers who suffer from “decision paralysis,” but your objective when packing your gear should be to only bring an amount of gear that can fit entirely in the carry-on luggage that never leaves your sight. Putting a couple compact light stands and an extra/backup flash, lens, or camera body in your checked luggage is OK, but everything else should stay with your person.
Your primary camera body and 1-2 most-used lenses, plus one on-camera flash, should fit in a backpack or shoulder bag that fits under your seat. The rest of your lenses, any wireless flashes, backup cameras, and other essential accessories should go in the rolling case that fits in the overhead compartment.
Under no circumstance should either of these items be checked, even at the gate. If you find yourself in a situation where the plane’s overhead compartments are 100% full already, or the plane is small and your luggage will not fit, personally I would rather wear it around my neck onto the airplane, then have it checked.
If you’re the type of photographer who usually brings the “kitchen sink” to every wedding, you may have to take a practical look at your gear usage, and ask yourself which items you honestly don’t use very much. If you have not used something more than once at your last 5 weddings, leave it at home. If a larger item that you sort of need can be interchanged for something more compact, consider making an investment in that smaller item, especially if you plan to make a habit out of traveling to exotic destination weddings!
Switch Lenses Carefully to Avoid Lens Fog
If you live in a relatively dry environment, one of the most frustrating discoveries you’ll make when you first shoot in a tropical location is just how important humidity and temperature equalization is. Here’s how it works: if you’re in a cool, air-conditioned car or hotel room, and you run outside quickly with your cold, dry gear, then the warm, humid air of the outdoors will immediately fog up your lenses. Even if you wipe the fog off, it will keep coming back until the lens itself warms up to the same temperature.
How do you avoid this? By getting your camera bag to “equalize” about 20-30 minutes before you start shooting. Take it outside, and if the bag has a relatively airtight closure, open it just a little bit to allow the air to circulate. This allows the camera gear to acclimate to the temperature and humidity so that when you’re ready to shoot, your lenses are fog-free.
Timing – Golden Hour isn’t Always Ideal
One of the great things about being in tropical destinations is that, with the right creative eye, any time of day can be an ideal time to shoot. Ocean water appears to change color throughout the day, depending on the lighting. The water is often the bluest midday!
Also, if you have a circular polarizer filter, use it for detail photos to add even more pop to both foliage and water. However, be careful of using a polarizer on skin tones as it can cause unnatural results.
A second portrait session can allow you more creative freedom. This “complementary session” is more for you, in the sense that you are allowed more freedom and time to play around without the pressure of being paid for that time.
See the full Cancun Wedding Photography Gallery
Bring Rain Protection
Many tropical destinations have weather that can change rapidly no matter what the weather forecast says. Even if the prediction is for sunny skies during your entire trip, bring rain gear! You never know what could happen at the last minute.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid of a few raindrops. Your professional camera equipment can take it! A weather-sealed, professional camera body and lens are ideal, however, even semi-professional equipment with minimal or no weather sealing at all can still survive a brief foray out into a light drizzle. Most flashes are not weather-sealed, of course, so having some clear Ziploc bags handy can be a lifesaver. (Remember, small portable flashes are often ideal for destination weddings.)
Protect Your Images at All Costs
After you have finished photographing a destination wedding, take extra precautions to protect the images you’ve captured. You and your team should all be using cameras with dual card slots and shooting full-resolution raw images to both memory cards, but if not then back up your images immediately, even before you leave the wedding venue. Both a laptop and an external hard drive would be ideal.
If you go out to grab a late-night bite or drink after the wedding, or the next day, or any other time before your departure, …do not leave all the copies of the images in your hotel room! Always have at least one copy of the entire wedding with you at all times. You can fit a small portable external hard drive in most pockets, or if you want the ultimate in low-profile backups, most weddings can fit onto a single 128GB SD or CF card.
The same level of security applies while you’re traveling home: don’t just put your memory cards, laptop, and hard drive into the same bag! Split primary and backup memory cards between you and your 2nd photographer or assistant, and/or keep your primary memory cards in your pocket at all times. If you want to take it a step further, to ensure against accidents while you travel home, you can mail yourself that small memory card in a padded envelope.
Post Production – Go Vibrant
Tropical weddings are usually the types of scenes that you want to post produce with a vibrant pop. Bump the vibrance, saturation, or contrast as is fitting for your personal style. Be careful not to over-do it, however. Often times a basic “crank” to the saturation slider will make skin tones appear very unnatural; it is often preferable to manipulate colors either locally, for the enhancement of a warm sunset or other warm colors, or selectively for things like greens and blues.
Of course, it is extremely important to discuss the style, the “look” of the final images, with your clients long before the wedding day. If your style is normally a more muted, or even “faded” – “vintage” look, then make sure you are on the same page with your clients before photographing their tropical destination wedding in one style or another!
Photographing an exotic, tropical destination wedding can be a thrilling, rewarding job, but also an intimidating, complicated undertaking. With each destination you travel to, always remember to be ready for anything, pack smart, keep your images safe from any imaginable risk, and deliver a consistent product that your clients will love! Above all else, be open to learning something new every time, and always keep your creative, artistic eye sharp.
For comprehensive wedding photography education, we hope you take a moment to visit the SLR Lounge Store.
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