Shooting Destination Weddings: Part I - Costs and Quotes

Currently it’s 2am and I’m sitting in our living room on a papasan chair that has so much of a lean to it I’m convinced this blog will end with me upside down on the floor.

I’ve been up for an hour, ever since Adam rolled over in bed and asked, “Do you think we should move our flight out a day earlier in case the hurricane hits?”

Next Wednesday at 10am, we’re flying to the Bahamas to shoot a destination wedding and, if it does come through, the latest forecasts state the storm should reach the Hawaiian Islands by 10am Wednesday. Ha.

So what do we do?

We already booked the flights to arrive two days ahead of the wedding to allow for travel delays, but what if all flights are grounded and we can’t leave Hawaii? It’s too big of a risk to take – in the morning, we’ll probably call American Airlines, suck up the change fees and leave for the first leg of our flight another day early – just in case.

Wedding photography - travel, costs & quotes

Destination weddings are amazing. You can actually travel to a part of the world you would have never before seen and shoot a wedding for a couple who chose your services above others.

But while it’s easy to get lost in the romance of shooting a destination wedding, it’s important that you don’t lose your business sense when you sense a new adventure.

In Hawaii, you see it all the time. Photographers are flown in from the bride’s hometown for the cost of their flights and accommodation for the chance to photograph an island wedding. I’m not going to lie, it’s sort of a blow, because it takes business away from local vendors, and we decided that if we were to shoot weddings away, we would do it right by our business, our brides, and ourselves.

So, the e-mail arrives. A bride getting married at a beautiful destination asks if you’re available and how much it would be. But how do you charge for a destination wedding? We’ve trialled a few methods, and have finally arrived at the perfect formula.

First, assess if they’re “your bride”. Yes, this is a screening process, and it should be, really, for every wedding you take on. You want to click and love this couple, and they want to know they can trust you to do the best job possible. 

Destination weddings are a huge time commitment so you want to be sure the couple you’re working with are on the same level to make sure you are both happy with the services you provide.

You need to make sure the day will work for you and them, as you’re devoting a lot of travel time, likely to give up other business while you’re away, and they’re investing in your quality services.

Ask for more details on their day, the type of coverage they’d like, and the budget they have in mind. Once you have a bit more information, you can decide if you’re a good match.

After you’ve learned more and both of you feel it’s a go, consider your costs. Here are some expenses to consider when creating your quote:



I highly recommend booking with one carrier and signing up for a flight rewards program – travel can add up to good things!



You must have insurance for both emergency health and equipment – contact your health plan to see if they offer coverage at your destination for emergencies.



You’ll want to make sure to keep your camera and your glass in your carry-on, but checked luggage costs can add up quick!



Consider local laws and permit processes, which can often add hundreds of dollars to your travel costs. It cost us around $400 each for work permits in The Bahamas.



Both at your origin and at your destination!



A lot of carriers no longer offer free meals, and those $15 sammie snack packs add up!



Don’t forget to include the cost of tip either.



Don’t skimp here! You want to stay in the same hotel as the bride. Yes the accommodation down the road is much cheaper – probably for a good reason. You want to stay somewhere safe and close to the couple.

This also cuts out a lot of unnecessary travel stress, especially if you’re travelling alone. Once we quoted a bride marrying in Fiji who said her travel agent could book us accommodation 20 minutes down the road for $200 less per night. She didn’t mention it was at a hostel sharing a room with 10 other guests. It never went ahead, and that’s okay.



Budget a realistic amount to feed yourself for the duration of your stay, and keep in mind that you’ll probably spend more on food than you’d suspect, especially if the dollar isn’t very strong at your destination.

Wedding photography - travel, costs & quotes


Ok, so you’ve gone through the list above, and you have your travel costs calculated. So you send that number over to the bride, right? Well, you could… but what about paying yourself? Yes, you could try to justify not charging because – hey, it’s a holiday! (Not really – more on this later) – but wouldn’t you rather charge for your services and be able to take a holiday when you don’t have to work as well?

When calculating destination costs, instead of offering free coverage, we offer brides an 8 hour package for the price of 6. Why? We’ll be there anyway, they get more coverage, and we aren’t at a loss financially. Everyone wins!

I then tack on the estimated travel costs which include all of the points above, add tax, and arrive at the final number.

Yes, this number may be scary. It’s okay. Because even scarier is the thought of not paying yourself for your time. I don’t care if you’re excited about the destination – travel is stressful and draining – add a wedding on top of that, and you have the perfect recipe for exhaustion.

In the end, if you don’t charge appropriately for a destination wedding you are doing a disservice to yourself and your couple.

When it comes to collecting for services, always be transparent with a client with regards to contracts and payment. For destination weddings we charge 50% of the total quote cost up front as we want to be able to buy the tickets, book accommodation and arrange travel immediately.

Be sure to outline in your contract what happens in the case of delays, when final payment is due, and which party is responsible for which costs.

So you send away the quote, the contract and booking form and the bride is all in – what happens now? Plenty. But more on that next time!

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