Photo by: Nicole Balsamo Photography

I'm Joelle, an international Wedding + Boudoir Photographer based in Bloomington, IN. I'm also an educator and podcaster!


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Education, Podcast

September 10, 2018

Episode 03: What I Learned From My First Destination Wedding

Earlier this year Lyndon and I photographed our first destination wedding in Norway. It was absolutely gorgeous! If you ever get the chance to visit Norway, do it! It’s such a peaceful and breathtaking country.

A lot of you have asked how we booked a destination wedding, and to be honest it feels like it just fell into my lap. I give God 100% of the credit for it.

But, to give you a little background story here’s how it all happened. Early last year, 2017, I decided that I wanted to begin marketing myself as a destination wedding photographer. I love to travel and wanted to test the waters of destination wedding photography. So, I added a destination wedding collection to my website. It was unique from the other collections I offered at the time because at the time I pitched that the couple would only have to pay for travel expenses for both myself and my second shooter. And by doing that, they would receive the highest wedding collection I offered complimentary.

Other than putting that little piece on my website, I don’t think that I promoted it very much – if at all! At the time Lyndon and I were engaged ourselves and I had recently gone full-time in my business. And I was just doing my best to balance planning a wedding together and stay on-top of my work!

Now we had actually gone to the same college as the couple who booked us, but had never met until she reached out. The bride had been following me on Instagram for awhile and after she got engaged, she looked up my info and reached out to me about working together. Her fiancé and his family were from Norway, but the two of them lived in the states. She wanted to be able to work with a photographer that was local for the sake of communicating easier.

I remember the day that she messaged me, I was working on some editing probably when I got the notification. I didn’t think anything of it, but when I began reading her message my jaw just dropped to the floor for about 5 minutes haha. It was a total God thing.

So anyway, they booked us for their big day and it was nothing short of incredible. They were amazing, the whole day was just absolutely breathtaking. But, as wonderful as the experience was, there were still definitely a few lessons that I learned along the way! I’m going to go through them for you guys, because if you’re interested in breaking into destination weddings then these will definitely be good to know! I’m by no means an expert, after all I’ve only done one destination wedding at this point and I have a couple more booked for next year, but these are definitely good things to be aware of!

Lesson #1: Make sure you are set to arrive to your destination at least 48 hours ahead of time.

When I originally booked our tickets, we were scheduled to arrive the night before the couple’s wedding day. I wasn’t factoring in the jet lag we’d have to combat, or potential travel delays. Both of which we experienced.

About a week before we were scheduled to leave, I checked our itinerary to make sure it was still the same and there was an alert that told me to call about a change in schedule. Turns out, our flights had been delayed to the point where we would not have arrived in time for the actual wedding. I spent a few hours on the phone (it felt like an eternity) between the travel agency and the actual airline getting everything sorted out and thankfully we were moved to an earlier flight that got us there a full day ahead of time. That gave us enough time to adjust (a little) to the time change and do some location scouting for photos the day before.

However, for my next destination weddings we’ll be booking flights that will get us there 1-2 days beforehand. There’s just too much that could happen and I’m the kind of person that would much rather be safe than sorry, especially in these kinds of scenarios!

Lesson #3: have your passport & travel documents up to date.

I still had not updated my passport to show my married name and for some reason I thought that I’d be able to travel with it. So four days before our trip, I found myself at the Passport Agency in Chicago getting my passport renewed for our trip. It all got worked out, but don’t do that. It’s stressful, takes up extra time and money, and you don’t want to deal with that if you don’t have to.

Lesson #3: Set boundaries

This is a really important one. And I get that it can be a little uncomfortable to do, but it’s super duper important.

Make sure that your couple knows how many hours you’ll be photographing for and stick with it. I would highly suggest setting a cap for how many hours you’re willing to photograph and making sure they know that once you reach the limit, there will be an hourly fee if they want you to stay longer. And, make sure that you are paid that hourly rate before you keep going.

We ended up photographing for about 13 hours on the actual wedding day, and it took a toll. It was fun and beautiful, but by the end of it we were both exhausted. I want to be clear that this was not the couple’s fault. I did not take into consideration beforehand on setting a cap for the day of. Now I know to let couples know ahead of time, and then to remind them, that we will only be there to photograph x amount of hours. And if they want us to stay past that limit, then there’s an hourly rate that needs to be paid before we continue documenting the day.

Another thing I would suggest is booking your accommodations away from where everyone else is staying. We booked an airbnb while we were there and it made a huge difference! It gave us time to re-set and not be “on” 24/7. It was definitely helpful.

Lesson #4: Know whether you can do this by yourself or if you need a second shooter

Personally, I will always bring a second shooter. It’s non-negotiable. There’s absolutely no way that I could have done this trip on my own; having Lyndon there was a huge help!

He would drive us to where we were going while I planned out the next photos, or if I needed to de-compress a bit. When I needed to take a bathroom break, he was able to still cover the events happening. I actually tripped up the stairs right before the reception from exhaustion, and ended up breaking my toenail and my 50mm lens. It was so embarrassing, but few people noticed and he was there to cover things while I sorted myself out and swapped out lenses to keep on going.

Some people work better on their own, but I know that for me I work much better with someone to come in clutch if things like that happen. I’d much rather be safe than sorry! And so far, all of my destination couples have completely understood and supported me on that, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

Lesson #5: Photograph a Day-After Session!

This is something I wish I would have thought about ahead of time and planned accordingly for. We didn’t plan a day-after session for Norway and we were both so beat that we took the whole day to recover and un-wind, which was so wonderful. But, moving forward all of my destination weddings will receive a day-after session, and here’s why.

If you don’t know what a day-after session is, it’s where you take the couple’s photos the day after their wedding day. It’s so nice because you have more time to visit a variety of locations, without feeling the pressure of trying to make the next thing on the itinerary on time. It’s just the couple, myself, and my second shooter. That’s it. No exceptions.

It’s sooo nice! You can get so many more photos of the two of them; they’re already married so they’re on cloud 9! And it’s just a really fun time.

It also relieves some of the pressure on the wedding day, because you can just focus on getting all of the other moments. You don’t have to worry about sneaking away for golden hour photos, or taking time away from other moments that need to be captured. You’re able to just be present and in the moment, and then the next day? You can go out and have all kinds of fun!

Lesson #6: Don’t Forget Your Card Reader!

Yeah…I did that. Oh, so embarrassing! I remembered everything except for my card reader, the one thing that I needed to import all of the photos so I could edit sneak peeks!

We looked everywhere for another card reader but no one had the kind that plugs into my computer, since I have a c-port. I felt so bad, but it was a good lesson for next time and I wrote up my equipment list so that for future weddings I won’t forget anything.

I created a free travel packing list for you to download, so you don’t have to forget anything important either!



Download My Free Packing Guide for Wedding Photographers

Speaking of travel prep, here are a few things that you should *not* forget to do before you leave!

  • Make sure you’ve alerted your credit card company or bank that you’ll be traveling out of the country, so that they won’t assume that your cards have been stolen.
  • Pack the clothes you plan to wear on the wedding day in your carry-on bag. Since there were two of us going, Lyndon was able to pack his backpack with our wedding-day clothes, toothbrushes & paste, deodorant, and our wallets, passports, etc. My carry-on was my camera backpack so that we had all of our equipment with us at all times!
  • Wear comfortable shoes & clothes for traveling and download plenty of podcasts (like this one right here!), and bring a good book for your flights! It’s really nice to have something to do while you fly or wait in airports.
  • Make sure that you have all of your equipment you need. And if you need to rent any lenses or equipment, do so ahead of time. If you’re not sure who to rent from, I highly recommend LensRentals!
  • Make sure you account for the exchange rate in other countries! Food in Norway is super expensive, which we knew going in, but because we were aware, we were able to budget for it. Also, if you’re staying in an airbnb go grocery shopping and make as many meals from the ‘bnb as possible!
  • Depending on the country, you might have to apply for a work visa. You just have to research for the country that you’re going to and make sure what you need. For Norway, we just told security that we were photographing a wedding and no one gave us any issues, which I was grateful for! Just make sure you do your homework so that you know what you need beforehand.

I know that’s a lot of information, but if you’re interested in pursuing destination weddings then these are all good things to be aware of!

I’m excited for a couple more destination weddings taking place next year, and can’t wait to share more on those soon! If you want to see photos from the wedding we photographed in Norway, visit

Thanks for tuning in guys! Don’t forget to join our community on Facebook – Heart to Heart Podcast Tribe – and submit a review on iTunes so that I can give you a shout-out in an upcoming episode!

Happy Monday!

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