10 Tips for Planning Your Destination Wedding | A Photographer’s Perspective

The invitation.
The invitation.

Weddings are, by nature, stressful affairs. And destination weddings, for all the beauty and majesty that accompanies them, only add another level of anxiety to what should generally count among the most memorable days in the lives of the event’s central players. That said, a modicum of forethought can go a long way toward reducing the aforementioned tensions on the big day. Or at least so says photographer Joshua Kogan, an award-winning photographer whose work includes editorial spreads in magazines such as Glamour, Town & Country, Marie Claire, GQ, Conde Nast Sport & Style and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as collaborations with Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Billabong Surfwear, Dolce & Gabbana, and countless couples on the brink of wedded bliss across the globe.

A native of Maryland, Kogan grew up surrounded by art. His mother, an amateur photographer herself, and father shared a passion for photography that inspired them to collect the work of photographers like Man Ray, Diane Arbus, Jean Henri Lartigue and Brett Weston. And it was these black and white photographs by some of the 20th century’s most influential portraiture photographers that lined the walls of Joshua’s childhood home.

With photography in his blood, Kogan sought to capture the color of life beyond his experience. After University, he traveled the globe working as a top male model, backpacked around India with a disco dancing 7th generation Hindu Priest, spent a decade living and working as a fashion and beauty photographer in Paris, and devoted five years to photographing the behind-the-scenes world of iconic designer Valentino’s Paris fashion shows and private parties. Perhaps, most important of all, Joshua has traveled to the exotic, far-flung reaches of the planet with his camera in tow, documenting the textures and humanity of the world.

With that in mind, to say that Joshua Kogan knows a thing or two about taking a great photo would be something of an understatement. So who better to ask for tips on planning a destination wedding than someone who has mastered the world and photographed destination weddings in many of its more glorious corners? Here Joshua shares his ten top tips for planning the ultimate destination wedding:

The preparation.
The preparation.


  1. Choose the right team

If you’re working with a solid team of professionals (planner, photographer, caterer, etc…) and assuming you’ve done your homework and organization in advance, once you get to the destination just let go and have a great time! If the bride and groom are having a blast so is everyone else and that will show in the pictures.

Your photographer needs to have the energy, personality and communication style that’s going to vibe well with you, your family and your guests. In addition to stunning wedding day images you want your photographer to capture landscapes, architecture, interiors, wildlife, fauna, cuisine, portraits of locals, candids of you and your guests having fun around the pool, on the beach, at meals and on excursions. Look for a storyteller who sees and captures the connection between people, places, objects and emotions. An experienced photographer with a strong body of travel, lifestyle, portraiture and documentary imagery, in addition to solid wedding work, is best suited to tell the nuanced story of your destination wedding weekend.


  1. Take advantage of the best lighting for your ceremony:

If you’re getting married outside under the open sky, plan your ceremony to begin a couple of hours before sunset when the light is soft, warm, and flattering. An experienced wedding photographer knows how to get the very best out of almost any lighting condition, so if your blue sky wedding ends up cloudy and gray, just keep smiling and go with it, the pictures should still be great. On a recent summer destination wedding in Newport, Rhode Island, we had clouds and rain all day. Luckily for us, the venue was able to quickly transform what would have been a very wet lawn wedding into what became an ethereal wedding under the canopy of the venue’s reception tent. Whatever venue you choose, make sure they have a Plan B in case of bad weather.


  1. Plan enough time for the family photos

The best family portraits can take 45-90 minutes depending on the size of the family, the number of variations requested by the couple, and weather conditions like wind. Consider taking the family photos after the first look and before the wedding. This way, once the ceremony is over, your family can join the rest of your guests at the reception while you take 30 minutes or so for a cocktail and some fun newlywed portraits. Some couples, for religious or cultural reasons, cannot see one another before the ceremony. These couples should plan time for the family photos just after the ceremony, which means the ceremony should be early enough to allow enough daylight for those images. No matter how well you plan it, there is always an Uncle Mike or Cousin Susie who didn’t get the memo and is nowhere to be found at the appointed time. For this reason, it’s always wise to designate one family member from each family to make sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there.


The engagement.
The engagement.


  1. Plan an engagement photography session

If logistics allow, plan an engagement session with your photographer months before your wedding. Engagement shoots allow a couple and their photographer a chance to get to know one another before the pressures of the big day. It’s also a great way for you and your fiancé to get comfortable in front of the camera.


  1. Book your photographer for the entire weekend

You’re planning a rehearsal dinner, the wedding day, a day after brunch and a host of fun activities and outings for you and your guests over 3-4 days. Make sure your photographer is there to capture these events as well as unique environmental images which define the setting and story of your special weekend. On a recent destination wedding in Tulum, the bride and groom planned a surprise event for their guests; zip-lining in the jungle at night. It was a challenge following them and their guests through the zip-line course with camera, flash, and extra lenses but these images really added something special to their destination wedding album.


  1. Up dos for I dos

I always advise my brides to wear their hair up for their wedding day. Up-do’s will not only accentuate your neck and shoulder lines, most importantly, with your hair away from your face you become photographable from almost every angle. This is especially true for outdoor weddings where wind can be an issue. This also comes into play on the dance floor at the reception where down-do’s will inevitably be in your face for the majority of your Fred Astaire and Ginger Roberts moments.

I realize a lot of brides want to wear their hair down because they find it more modern and sexy. I get it. But having edited hundreds of thousands of wedding images over the years I promise you that an up-do will insure many (many) more usable images for your wedding edit and album. If you really want to let your hair down, try to do it after the first dance, toasts and cake cutting. This way you’ll insure that most of the day’s key moments are captured without hair in your face.


Capturing special moments is essential.
Capturing special moments is essential.


  1. Check the almanac

When planning your destination wedding always make sure to check the almanac for seasonal weather trends. This is especially true if you’ve decided on a tropical destination. They call it the rainy season for good reason. Some years ago, in late July, I was on a 4-day destination wedding in Mexico. It rained in biblical proportions all 4 days. It rained so much that the power went out and part of the hillside above the hotel collapsed causing several guests’ rooms to get flooded. Luckily the hotel had a restaurant large enough to hold the ceremony in. No sun. No beach. No activities. No internet. Unhappy guests. Plan ahead and NEVER assume you’ll get lucky working against the odds.  


  1. Hidden Treasures

You can have your ceremony at the resort or you can venture further for a truly unique experience. Working with a local coordinator or producer can introduce many interesting and little known location options for a destination wedding couple. Whether it’s a cliff-side that looks out over the vastness of the ocean or a candle and torch-lit forgotten fortress, be creative and make your wedding unique s time, budget, and logistics allow. Make sure you see the best options an hour or two before sunset so you have an idea how the light and backgrounds will look on the big day. Take photos and video for your photographer to get his or her input.


  1. Look up

I can’t tell you how many weddings I’ve shot where half the people walking down the aisle, including the bride, were looking down at their feet the entire time. Now, just before the ceremony, I always tell the families and the wedding party to walk slowly and look straight ahead, allowing their excitement to bubble over into some beautiful smiles. Most photographers will not mention this, so take it upon yourself to make this a point with everyone walking down the aisle just before the ceremony.

When I worked with Valentino, capturing the designer’s Paris fashion shows, I remember seeing a sign written in big marker. It was posted for all the models to see just before they hit the catwalk. It said, “You’re an Oscar winner and the world belongs to you!” Why not post a sign your participants will see just before the ceremony? It could read, “We love all of you so much!! Shoulders back…walk slowly…confidence…eyes up and let’s see that beautiful smile! Let’s do this!!!”


Find the hidden treasures in your destination of choice.
Find the hidden treasures in your destination of choice.


  1. Beware guests who sabotage your wedding pictures

I strongly urge my clients to request their guests REFRAIN FROM ALL PHONE USE at the ceremony and during key moments at the reception. The worst offenders will be clearly visible (in your wedding pictures!) texting in the background as you exchange your vows or reaching into the aisle with their smartphones (blocking your photographer) as you share your first kiss or make your exit.

Looking through your wedding pictures you will see them hidden behind their glowing screens as they attempt to capture your cake-cutting and first dance on video. Then they spend the next several minutes staring down at their device hash tagging and posting to their social media when they should be immersed in the experience you’ve worked so hard to share with them. The horror!

When did this become acceptable behavior? Phone-free ceremonies and receptions are strongly advised. A simple card left on the wedding ceremony chairs indicating your ceremony and reception are phone-free zones should get the point across in a tactful way.


[Bonus Tip] Plan fun and challenging activities

Of course the main event for any destination wedding is the wedding day, but the activities a couple plans before and after the wedding are integral to the overall success of the weekend and they provide countless memorable photo opportunities. Keep in mind, your friends and family have traveled a long way (and at great expense) to be there with you on this special occasion, so make sure to plan a variety of interesting, exciting and unique experiences for everyone. Some of the destination wedding activities I’ve captured for my clients include private sailboat charters in Tahiti, spearfishing excursions in Corsica, Berber musicians playing on the roof of a riad in Marrakech, horseback riding in Acapulco and swimming in Tulum’s mysterious cenotes.



See more of Joshua Lawrence Kogan’s travel photography at www.joshuakogan.com or check out his wedding photography at www.studiojlk.com for more tips.

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