Should I Bring a Photographer from Back Home For My Destination Wedding?

Finding great vendors for a destination wedding comes with its own unique set of challenges, from being able to verify their professionalism and reliability, to something as simple as communicating over different time zones.  Often, hiring local for most vendors is a matter of practicality.  Five-tier cakes and sumptuous floral arrangements don't take kindly to long-distance travel, so the chances are slim that you'll hire anyone other than who is locally available. 

But with photographers, their service is unique in that their "product" is essentially them - their creativity, personality, experience, and technical training - and the quality of those things does not change based on where they are shooting.  So, the thought may have crossed your mind "Should I hire a photographer locally, or should I bring someone with me from back home?".  

While both will be able to deliver technically accurate and aesthetically pleasing results, when making this decision, consider that a local photographer has a lot going for them that their out-of-town counterparts will not find so easy.

1) They know the roads and can lead the way

Photo courtesy of  Julien Borean

Photo courtesy of Julien Borean

A photographer who lives and works in the destination you're getting married is going to know the area geographically...without a GPS, without stopping for directions, and without the need for U-turns every few miles.  

They know the side-streets when traffic is jammed, they can give your mom directions when she ends up at the wrong location, they know who's going to tow you if you leave your car too long, and they've already heard about the impromptu parade down the main drag, long before Uncle Jim calls that he can't get through.  

And especially important on a wedding day when timelines are so important, they've lived there long enough to know exactly how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, so you can be pretty confident in their scheduling skills. 

If you're getting married in a cool destination, it's unlikely you'll stay in one place with your photographer; you want to get out there and incorporate the location into your photos.  Having a local photographer who can get you around town safely and efficiently, and get you back to the ceremony on time.

2) You get insider access

Destination weddings and destination family portraits often take place in small towns, and it's amazing what kind of access you can get to places that would normally be off limits or require a lot of red tape.  

No matter where you are, Locals like to take care of their own.  If you're wanting access at the fort that normally doesn't allow it, or maybe you've always dreamed of an Engagement photo on stage at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, or you passed that old abandoned Theater and wondered who you'd have to talk to in order to get in, you can probably bet that your local photographer knows someone who would be happy to make that happen.  

Sure, an out-of-town photographer can do some homework and reach the same end result, but pulling permits, registering with the film commission, and paying reservation fees seems rather silly when a local can whip out her iPhone and send a quick text.   

3) Your local photographer plays nice with others

No wedding vendor operates in a vacuum.  They all rely on each other to make your day a success, and when they work with each other every other weekend, root on each other's kids at soccer games, and run into each other at the grocery store, there's a level of comaraderie and symbiosis that doesn't happen otherwise.

That's not to say that an outside vendor is going to get the cold shoulder, but it's human nature to have more of a vested interest in those who are part of your regular network.  

The opposite can sometimes happen if your out-of-town vendor arrives with a slight chip on their shoulder, perhaps feeling a sense of privilege at having been 'flown in by the bride'.  While this is "back of house" stuff and should never affect your wedding day among accomplished professionals, the fireside chats about "difficult diva vendors" abound, and you don't need anything detracting from your day.   

4) Summoning support is no sweat

A Rainy Wedding Day Is No Problem For A Local Photographer With Quick Access to Specialty Gear, Alternate Photo Sites, and Vendor Contacts Who Can Redo the Bride’s Hair Before the Reception

We all like to pretend that nothing will ever go wrong and everything will be perfect on your wedding day.  

But the reality is that sometimes, things happen.  An accident can shut down bridges and make it impossible to get from island to island.  A thief on the beach can slip away with an entire bag of gear.  Your photographer can be randomly walking down some stairs and fall and twist her ankle (true story!).  

When these things happen, you want someone who can fix the problem, find a backup, and quick!  

If you're getting married in a major metropolitan area...sure, your out-of-town photographer can call the local rental house and have a new bag of gear delivered.  But in a destination like the Florida Keys or Key West, those services aren't usually available.  

Being part of the community means having an instant rescue network.  Whether it's an extra hand because the other one will be holding crutches, or an extra flash because your photographer just went for an unexpected swim, there's more of a safety net when working with a local professional.

5) Give That Unique Perspective

When your photographer has never visited a new place, they have to walk a fine line between explorer and tactician.  Traveling to a new location is exciting, but they have a job to do.  Everything is new, and because they haven't photographed something 37 other times, they feel good about even more "run of the mill" shots, simply because they don't yet have a frame of reference.  Because you're on limited time and they have limited knowledge of the area, they're going to play it a little more safe.  This isn't to say that those photos won't be beautiful, but you're not going to get that "level up" that a local can deliver.

When you live and shoot in the same destination all the time, you have to be constantly innovative.  A local photographer has a more limited palette of new places to work in, and therefore a much higher frequency working in the same space.  Any creative worth her salt is going to get bored shooting the same scene the exact same way every time, and if she is a quality photographer, her clients are going to expect that their wedding photos don't look like everyone else's.  Therefore, if a destination wedding photographer is going to stay at the top of her game, she has no choice but to think outside the box.   (For a great example, see ”So Many Ways to Get Photos In a Fortress”, my exploration of a single popular wedding venue shot from so many angles, you’d almost not know it was the same location unless I told you so!)

There are many things to consider when hiring your photographer for your destination wedding, but the ultimate decision should be which of the local professionals has the best personality, style, and credentials to be the perfect fit for you, not whether you should bring someone from out of town.  

If you're traveling for a destination wedding, consider the difference between bringing your own photographer and hiring someone locally. 

Local Key West Photographers

  • know the area

  • know the vendors

  • are familiar with weather patterns

  • can save time with secret shortcuts

  • have a network of support to call on should something go awry. 

Pros and Cons

With those benefits in mind, there are of course still a few considerations to keep in mind when hiring locally. Working the same venues for many years in a smaller city means destination photographers have to constantly stay creative to see the same venues in new ways. (See “Do Key West Photographers Ever Get Bored Shooting The Same Places Every Weekend?”) So definitely check out your prospective photographer’s portfolio and make sure you see enough variety to showcase their creativity.

Example: All Four of These Images Were Taken In the Exact Same Place

I love challenging myself to see the same location in new ways.

While you want your photographer to have a system and be able to work quickly under pressure (something that only comes easily when you’ve mastered something over much repetition), you don’t want them to be so cookie-cutter that they’ve stopped growing professionally.

Make sure to review samples of multiple weddings from the same venue to get a sense of how their creativity continues to expand even in a familiar space.

Conversely, bringing your own photographer means you get someone you can connect with before and after the wedding in person.  This is a valuable asset in that your photographer will be the one person you'll be in close proximity to the entire day, and you want to make sure you are comfortable with them.  On the other hand, they don't know the local area and will have to be extra resourceful in making all the logistics of the day work out, and you should budget one extra scouting day for them, which can hurt the budget between hotel, per diem, and hourly non-shooting rates. 

If you're considering a wedding in Key West, reach out to local planners, or you are welcome to comment here on the blog, shoot us an email, or message us on social media if you just have a quick question about a venue, vendor, or varietal.  Good luck!