Destination Wedding Photos & Tips from a Destination Wedding Photographer

August 23, 2021
Destination Wedding Photographer | Destination Wedding Locations | Destination Wedding Photography

What could be better than having your wedding on a tropical island, on a mountaintop with a magnificent view, or just in a completely different place than wherever you live? I’m a destination wedding photographer who has photographed locally, nationally, and internationally—and one of my specialties is destination weddings.

If having an adventure and getting married in an exotic location sounds like you, then these destination wedding photos (plus tips) from around the world should be the perfect inspiration.

As the owner and lead photographer of Kathryn Cooper Weddings, I capture elopements and weddings everywhere from Indonesia to Arizona, and the Dominican Republic to Vermont. I’m a California and New York-based wedding photographer, but have also lived on several different continents and several different states. As I write this article, I photographed weddings in the past 10 days in Connecticut, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York, and Vermont. In a few weeks I’ll be in Yosemite, California. I definitely travel all over as a destination wedding photographer, and getting creative in each new location is what keeps my photography unique and fresh. As soon as people find out that I’m a traveling photographer, they want to see my destination wedding photos from anywhere and everywhere.

While assume that everyone wants a destination wedding on a tropical island, it’s the rule, but not every time. There are many other options for destination wedding photos than just the Caribbean or Hawaii.

Question: What’s the meaning of a destination wedding?

A destination wedding is any celebration where the couple and majority of the guests have to travel in order to get married.

To some, this may in fact be a tropical island, like Koh Samui or Abaco, Bahamas. But for others, that may be a location in France, or New York City, or a small town in Tennessee. It isn’t the type of location or weather that’s important, but the fact that it’s often new and/or different for those involved.

For destination weddings, it’s the experience of a lifetime for everyone. Destination wedding spots are often new for not just the couple, but most guests—so it’s often a fun foray into being together, discovering as a group, and really getting to know each other (as opposed to 5 hours in normal weddings).

A destination wedding typically means that instead of spending part of 1 day together, you’re vacationing with a small group of your closest friends and family over at least a few days. (Don’t worry—you can honeymoon right after and have time to yourselves.)

As a destination wedding photographer, my clients want the experience of a lifetime: Epic destination wedding photos, a great time had by all, and often a destination wedding and honeymoon all combined into an amazing couple of weeks.

Don’t want to plan a huge destination wedding for everyone? Hire a local planner who knows the right areas and the right vendors. They’ll have connections that will save you money AND time in the long run. Still not into all of that? Have a destination elopement instead! You can very easily elope to a beautiful location, and make an incredible adventure out of it. I started photographing weddings as a destination elopement photographer in the Caribbean, and love photographing adventures with 0 guests. Destination elopement photos allow us to do ANYTHING we want, whether it’s a hike, horseback riding, jet skiing, or just saying vows on a beach!

Whether my couples are planning a large destination wedding or a small destination elopement, every once in a while people come to me and ask: Where should I have my destination wedding?

Destination wedding photos ADK mountain

Dream destination wedding locations

So, where should you have your destination wedding? It truly depends on what you’re looking for, your budget, and who is coming.

That said, some of my favorite locations and popular/dream locations to photograph destination weddings are:

U.S. Virgin Islands: St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix

Italy: Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast

Thailand: Any island, really!

Iceland: Various waterfalls and secret spots on the island

California: Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and the coast

New York: Ithaca, the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and NYC

Arizona: Sedona, Page, and a few secret adventure spots

Utah: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse State Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and secret spots in the south

Malaysia: Perhentian Islands

Greece: Kefalonia, Symi, Meteora, Santorini

Mexico: All over (not just Cabo and Baja)

Namibia: Deadvlei and Etosha National Park

Canada: Banff National Park; Jasper National Park

Hawaii: Big Island and Kauai, plus secret locations and waterfalls

Croatia: Hvar and Plitvice

Indonesia: All the islands, especially Raja Ampat

Chile: All over Patagonia

Of course, many of these are more common spots, and there are equally amazing spots that just aren’t as popular. I could list out 100 awesome spots of the top of my head that I haven’t included here, but ain’t nobody got time for dat!

Some of my personal spots I’d love to photograph a destination wedding on include Cyprus, on a reserve somewhere in Africa (I have experience photographing in wildlife parks in Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, and more, but never a destination wedding); The White Desert in Egypt, anywhere in Nepal, in the mountains of China, in Sri Lanka’s countryside, and so much more.

Investing in and finding an amazing destination wedding photographer

The important part of having a destination wedding is having an amazing time in a unique location, and getting memories that help you remember one of the most important days of your life. I’m biased, sure, but your memories and your wedding photos are all you have at the end of your celebration, so invest wisely. Many people spend tens of thousands on an experience, only to hire a local resort photographer who doesn’t know you and has a style you don’t care for. Don’t make the mistake my friends made: They hired a local who took very cheesy, canned, tilted photos of their wedding, ruining a good chunk of their memories.

This is me, dressed for the outdoors, photographing my adventurous couples on their destination weddings! (California, Kauai, Adirondacks of New York, and Arches National Park, Utah)

So, what should you look for in a destination wedding photographer?

Experience: Make sure that the photographer you’ve hired is extremely experienced, and knows how to shoot a wedding in the type of location you are headed to. They don’t need to have visited that particular location, but if you hire a photographer from Colorado who has never photographed a beach wedding, well, for your destination wedding in Cabo, they may not understand how light bounces off of sand, or how to photograph in full sun, or the right filters to accurately catch the colors of the water.

Cost: Good photographers won’t come cheap. In many worldly situations, finding the best price is smart. But when hiring a destination wedding photographer, going for the cheapest option is generally a bad idea. Why? Beginning photographers will jump on the chance to be flown out to a location, have room and board, and enjoy time relaxing and photographing. Experienced professional photographers, however, know that a heck of a lot of time and planning goes into a destination wedding. In fact, I earn a lot less money photographing a destination wedding than staying local in New York or California and photographing here. One destination wedding will involve several days of travel and a few events, whereas if I stay local, I can book two or even three events for that weekend—and spend a lot less time in a car or in the air.

(I’m not complaining, but explaining that a destination wedding photographer is not actually profiting all that much from a destination wedding.) Newer photographers won’t know exactly what shots are most necessary, won’t know the legal permits and paperwork to get, and will not necessary know how to go above and beyond to scout out that epic shot. Consider, for example, all the planning, flight paths, and previous knowledge needed to get this perfectly-timed photo? It wasn’t an accident (and no, it’s not photoshopped).

Creative Wedding Photos Maho Beach wedding

So, what does a destination wedding photographer tend to cost? You’re generally looking at a minimum of $4000 up to $8000 or more for several days (and the clients either pay a lump sum and have the photographer book everything, or pay for the photo package on top of room, board, transportation, etc.).

Personality: When hiring a destination wedding photographer, make sure you love not only your photographer’s style, but personality and compatibility with your guests as well. Chances are you’ll be spending time with them over a span of several days, and often traveling with them in the car, so make sure you…well, enjoy them!

When I’m traveling with guests, we talk about everything from travel to food to funny stories, and I often show my clients hidden spots along the way. That brings me to my next point: Scouting.

Scouting locations: Many times, you’ll want to use your beautiful location for more than just your wedding day. Many of my clients do adventure sessions (LIIIINK), and it’s often my job to scout out incredible locations that will make for darn cool destination wedding photos. Sometimes it’s going underwater. Sometimes it’s finding a beautiful vista. Other times, it’s hiking or landing on a pristine piece of land inaccessible to most. So, when hiring your destination wedding photographer, make sure they’re adventurous individuals and want to find spots that will make you happy.

How to get amazing destination wedding photos

First off, you having an amazing time at your destination wedding is the first way to guarantee amazing wedding photos. What if it rains all week? What if your wedding venue isn’t ready? What if half the guests are on a delayed plane? Look, things go wrong at weddings all the time, but if you can have fun anyway and make the best of your situation, your wedding photos will still reflect your joy in a cool new place.

And remember: Most destination weddings are in tropical locations, and while rainforests are beautiful, they’re green because of RAIN. Don’t expect sunshine 100% of the time, and perhaps make sure you have activities (the shoe game, board games, indoor buffets and festivities) in case showers come.

Destination wedding photographer Gujurati Indian celebration photographer Hard Rock Punta Cana

Take photos that show off your environment. That may sound silly, but you’d be surprised at how many people have destination weddings, and due to hiring a photographer who just didn’t get it, received photos that could be basically at any resort in the world. You want to really share your experience, and the feeling, and the ocean breeze, or the blue glacial ice, or the epic views. So unless you’re getting married at the world-famous Kualoa Ranch (which has incredible scenery and massive grounds that scream Hawaii & Jurassic Park), make sure you leave your venue/hotel/resort and get a real taste of where you are. (This is where an experience photographer who knows how to scout locations comes in!) Not only will you get better photos, but you’ll actually get to experience the place you’ve traveled to see.

If you’re having a destination wedding, you’re probably inviting fewer people than your average 150-200-person wedding. That said, your friends will be really, really keen on seeing your wedding photos—especially the ones who couldn’t come. One way to get even more epic destination wedding photos is to do an additional adventure session.

As I mention in this article, adventure sessions are ways to have an incredible photoshoot in your wedding outfits, typically one or two days after your actual wedding. Why? First, because it’s fun. Second, because you’ll finally get to spend time together in your wedding outfits, and most couples barely do that due to having to greet every Great-Aunt Josephine and friend’s friend’s cousin’s dog at your wedding. (Heck, most couples barely eat on their wedding night.) And third—and perhaps most importantly—you get epic photos in a location you just wouldn’t normally be able to go to in the short time frame for portraits on your wedding day. Want to go boating? Love adventure, and want to slackline in your wedding attire? Looking to do a photo session while scuba diving? Want to get photos on a top of a glacier that’s only accessible via helicopter? You can do all these things—but probably not on your ACTUAL wedding day, unless you elope. So yeah, if you’re already traveling for your wedding, do an adventure session!

Even if you don’t do an adventure session, I’d suggest that you plan an activity or something out of the ordinary that gets you out of your resort and into a different part of your surroundings. Beautiful destination wedding photos can be taken at a nearby vista, on the beach, in a rainforest, at ruins, in a local garden, on a boat, etc.

Here’s my list of 55 ideas to make your elopement (or wedding) special, and a lot of them involve travel.

Want an amazing destination wedding?
Have fun and explore.

Essentially, getting the most amazing destination wedding photos from your destination wedding photographer (and guests!) means not just having a great tie, but doing it over several days in some amazing locations. Presumably you’re all there for the location/view/experience, so don’t have your celebrations inside a white ballroom if you’re in St. Lucia! Get out, explore, have fun, plan some group snorkeling/hiking/snowshoeing trips, have drinks in a beautiful place, do something wacky, have an adventure session, go into the rainforest/ice cave/water, and have the time of your life. With the right vendors in place in a gorgeous locations, priceless destination wedding photos will follow. ~

Hawaii Wedding Photographer | USVI Wedding Photographer | Destination Weddings

Destination wedding photos destination wedding photographer Kathryn Cooper

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Amazing tips for anyone interested in a destination elopement! The possibilities are endless!

What an incredible guide and some gorgeous photos to go with it! I love how you shared your experience with us! Definitely makes me want to have a destination wedding! 🤩

Thanks so much, Meaghan! They’re just such amazing experiences for all.

This is so awesome! Yes! There are so many incredible places out there for destination weddings and your photos are so beautiful. 🙂 Love how you share your expertise in this wonderful guide! Love it!

Some of these shots! Really makes you wanna travel. Great guide!

First I aspire to be a destination wedding photographer. I had my first destination wedding in May and I fell in love and learned a lot. This article is pure gold and I definitely am saving it to help me in my goal to be a full on destination wedding photographer on day soon 🤞🏽