Destination Wedding Advice: Dos and Don’ts for wedding photos.

So you’re engaged and you’ve decided to get hitched in a gorgeous tropical paradise? Rad! I mean who wouldn’t want to hang out on the beach where the beer is cheap and the wind is…windy! I did the same thing (in Cuba, which is my fave) and I couldn’t be happier for you.

However, before you take off running for the plane with your wedding dress and insulated sippy cup in hand, I would like to share some unsolicited but extremely helpful advice that will make your wedding photos 100x better and make your photographer want to high-five you no less than 22 times an hour. Had I known any of this when I got married in Cuba in 2007, my photos would have been much less nightmarish and much more wowzas! Hindsight, eh!

1) The time of day is key to photo success!

Busy resorts (especially popular All-inclusives) have A LOT of people who get up and start milling around early each day (by 7:30 in the morning there are people at the pools, people at the beach, people on the walkways, people people people…and it just gets more crowded as the day goes on…until around 6:00 in the evening when everyone makes their way back to their rooms to get ready for dinner. Also, midday light (anywhere from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is shit light if you’re anywhere near the beach or out in open areas. Close to the resort or under cover is okay during those hours, but down at the beach is NOT a good place to be.

The two hours before sunset (which vary depending on the time of year) and the sunset hour are THE BEST time of the day to do portraits and have your ceremony because there are barely any people wandering the beaches AND the light is fantastic. That is the time when the light is nice and even, it doesn’t create brutal shadows under people’s eyes (like midday light does) and there isn’t as much contrast so it’s easy to get the people and the gorgeous backgrounds nicely exposed in the photos. Good light makes EVERYTHING easier for EVERYBODY. Trust me on this one. This ain’t my first rodeo.

If you Google the sunset times for your area for the time of year you will be there and plan accordingly, you will end up with amazing photos, even if your photographer is not ridiculously skilled. It’s best to start your outdoor portraits 2-2.5 hours before sunset and hold the ceremony approximately 30-45 minutes before sunset. That’ll give your photographer 2-ish hours to shoot portraits before the ceremony and that’s plenty of time. You can also schedule your Getting Ready pics inside approximately one hour before you head outside to shoot portraits. Again, plenty of time.

2) LOCATION is also RIDICULOUSLY important for rad photos!

Try to choose a ceremony location where people are not out in hordes or you’ll end up with unwanted people in your photos. Unwanted people and objects can cause a huge obstacle for your photographer and potentially lead to extra charges to do the extensive editing required to remove them. Even worse, if you choose a photographer who is not a skilled editor, they may not even know HOW to remove people and objects from photos. Regardless of who you choose as a wedding shooter, the issue can be mostly avoided by choosing a suitable time of day and location for your portraits and ceremony.

The last thing I want to talk about is that many resort guests and locals are oblivious and don’t pay attention to their surroundings so they do all sorts of stupid shit during wedding ceremonies. They will stop to watch or take photos (and selfies with the wedding in the background) or sit within the line of sight of every shot your photographer is taking without even noticing they are in the way. The better the location and the less people around, the better for everybody.

NOTE: You don’t HAVE to get married where everyone else gets married at the resort. If the coordinator shows you the usual spots and you don’t like any of them, find a few other spots you will like and just ask if you can have your ceremony there. People do this all the time and most resorts are quite accommodating. You are paying for the privilege of being married there, so you should be happy with the location. I’ve only heard of one instance where a couple was given a flat out refusal to move their wedding where they wanted it and it was because there were free-roaming alligators right behind where the couple wanted their ceremony. (It WOULD kinda suck if you were about to say “I do” and your leg was ripped off by a hungry alligator…). In addition, if you want a ceremony later in the day and your coordinator says no, just tell her that you will find your own wedding commissioner. There are SO MANY of them in destination places that will come to the resort to marry you for a small fee. Your coordinator is either going to figure it out for you OR you just go talk to a bell hop or the concierge and ask them to hook you up with someone who can marry you. Again, these are things that most destination couples don’t know and they often just let the coordinator tell them what to do and never question it. Most resort coordinators want to please you and are very accommodating. Just ask. 🙂

And now, to illustrate all this shit I’m babbling about, here are some classic examples from an 11 a.m. beach ceremony I recently shot in Mexico. The light was already harsh by 11 a.m. and the people were out in droves.

Just to the left of all these pics was a long line of yellow caution tape that would have been very time-consuming to edit out of all the pics. I took a few shots with the left side of the beach showing, but after thinking about how much extra editing it would be, I chose to keep my angles tight to avoid the yellow tape. I knew that I would still have to edit out a lot of people and objects to make the photos look more professional. I also removed the buoys in the water and the flag from most of the photos because they were distracting.

Here’s another couple examples showing how the time of day can drastically affect the photos from second to second.

These two shots were, literally, separated by ONE step. This is what midday light does – changes from second to second. There was NO way I could have changed my settings fast enough to get both of these shots to look right and, in the second shot, look how the dark circles appear around their eyes. This not only hides eye color and makes it difficult to see emotion, it also accentuates wrinkles and makes people appear older than they are. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

These two shots were taken approximately five seconds apart. In the second shot, the sun shot out from behind a cloud just as I was clicking. Drastically different photo, same settings in the same place. Midday light is a challenge for the best photographers, but it’s hellish during a wedding when everything changes so rapidly and we don’t always have time to set up our couples for “perfect” shots.

Lastly, after seeing all of those photos, check out the difference between those and photos done at a good time of day in a good location.

We shot this Day After/Trash the Dresh Sesh a few days later near sunset and just down the beach from where the wedding was shot. We banged out the entire shoot in less than 30 minutes because of the even light and the lack of people wandering around on the beach.

Light and location are EVERYTHING!

So if you are planning to have a Destination Wedding, please consider all this before you start shooting. I promise that the little bit of extra thought and planning you put in will make a huge difference in the quality of your pics.

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To see this full wedding and Day After photos, go to https://www.jojohnsonphoto.ca/weddings and look for Kristin & Kyle.

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