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As with any wedding weekend, things don’t always go to plan. When you buy a killer pink dress, the caverns forget about your reservation, and you only have 10 minutes for photos in a pitch dark cave (instead of 90 minutes with ambient lights), you make the most of it. When the shuttle runs late, and the wedding day is delayed, you roll with it. I could name several other instances of when we all had to be flexible, but I have to give Felicia + Jon props for going with the flow.

They hosted one of the most unique weddings I’ve been to in my 11 year career. I’ve never photographed in a cave before, nor under a natural bridge. Natural Bridge, VA, has some of the most beautiful rock formations that I’ve seen on the east coast. It was fun to play and photograph in a different environment than I’m used to in the mountains.

Even with plans running amiss, everything turned out in the end. They were happily married. The weather was beautiful. The celebration was fun.

Special thanks to Lucy for helping me out with this one.

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I leave every year with excitement and anticipation for the new year and memories from the previous 365 days. By far, the most significant life event for me was becoming a mom. Kittredge made this one of the most wonderful years of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed and cried so much, nor felt so alive. Oh, and tired ;)

I had a truly fabulous wedding season, and I celebrated with many incredible people. I enjoyed every hike, every beautiful conversation, every photograph, every sunrise + sunset, every adventure, and every ounce of honest emotion that I was honored to witness.

With the addition of our sweet baby boy + maternity leave, I was fortunate to book most of my work closer to Asheville this season. However, I thoroughly enjoyed our travels to Colorado, Michigan, South Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and all over North Carolina for various sessions and weddings.

I have to give major props to my interns this year. Mor + Lucy helped carry me through the season with sleep deprivation and hours behind the breast pump. They were an invaluable part of my 2017 team, and I couldn’t have made it through 25 weddings without them. I also want to give endless thanks to all of my couples this year. Everyone was incredibly understanding and supportive of my maternity leave and pumping breaks.

And, of course, the biggest thanks to my husband for holding down the fort at home. For helping me through labor, long editing days, late nights, weekends away, diaper changes, chores….I could go on and on. I just adore sharing this life and being parents with you.

Sitting 40+ weeks pregnant at the beginning of 2017, I was concerned that becoming a mother would overtake my desire for this work, this art. However, it has only solidified the significance of what I do. Time is precious. Fleeting. It restructured my priorities and helped me say no to so many unfulfilling things that wasted time (read more about my 2018 goals here). I want to fill my days with my family and friends that bring an incredible amount of joy to my world. I want to spend my days pursuing this career that I love so much. Making photographs of moments that matter. Of laughter, love, honesty, creativity. Chasing sunsets, mountains, and purpose. These are thing things that set my heart ablaze.

2018, I’m ready for you.

Without further adieu, here are my favorite memories from 2017.

 

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  • jenny - these are breathtaking. every. single. image. and you are the slayer of black and white editing!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren Cooley - Megan these are beautiful!! All of them make me smile! Happy 2018!ReplyCancel

  • Dee Stecco - You are so talented, beautiful!!!ReplyCancel

maui-elopement-photographer

This is part two in a series about photographing destination weddings. See part one for tips about flying first class for free, building loyalty with airlines, and more.

After photographing destination weddings for the past 11 years, I’ve learned the ins and outs of traveling. Traveling for fun and traveling for work are quite different. Learning how to pack, price, and prepare are completely different than planning for a vacation. Here are a few answers to questions that I regularly receive from other photographers. Hopefully they will help those of you that want to shoot more destination work.

If you are interested in learning more, I offer mentor sessions locally and online. Here is a link for more info.

Should I discount?

There are many photographers that will discount packages so that they can book destination weddings. However, if you’re new to destination weddings, know that it is two extra days of work (at least), and a lot of extra stress…especially if you’re traveling out of the country. I’m not raising this point to cast blame or start a pricing debate. Ultimately, I believe that you should do what is best for your business and your family. But, it can become exhausting and expensive very quickly if you don’t plan a proper budget and time for destination weddings.

Early in my career, I discounted rates (and covered my expenses) when I really wanted to photograph in a particular place, but I rarely do this anymore. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do in life, and I find that shooting in new locations is inspiring. After 11 years of photographing destination weddings, I find that more often than not, I’d rather take on an extra wedding and use that money to book a vacation vs. book a discounted destination wedding and have to work the majority of the time. This is especially true with a baby, when every minute of time away is limited.

In summary, destination weddings do not equal vacation. If you’re looking to build your portfolio, it can be worth it to discount, but this is not sustainable for a profitable business long-term.

How should I charge the travel fee?

Custom Quote
List the type of expenses that you will incur (flight, hotel for two nights, rental car, per diem for food/parking/gas), and confirm rates with your clients before you book. If I go this route, I will usually offer a range so that they have an idea of the expenses for their budget. The benefit of this method is that your client will be covering every single itemized cost instead of having to pay out of pocket if you budget incorrectly*. If you’ve never travelled to a particular city before, it might be hard to gauge what to charge a year out when rates will certainly change over the following months. I’ve found that it can also be less of a sticker shock when you quote words (flight/rental car/hotel) vs. a number ($2000).

*I have a clause in my contract that my couples are responsible for travel costs no matter what. However, I feel like it is bad business to quote a flat fee and then go back on your word a few months out from the wedding.

Quote a flat fee
This is a great method if you travel to a place frequently. For example, I travel to NYC fairly often and know how much expenses run for a weekend. The benefit of charging a flat fee is that you can book at your convenience without having to confirm details with your couple. I’m really picky about which airline I fly (see previous blog post about building loyalty) and about schedules, especially since having a baby. I know that I will not be the best photographer if I have to wake up at 3:00a and fly for 12 hours with two layovers. I would much rather pay $100 more to have a better schedule and a direct flight. Thankfully, my couples are usually on board with paying for a better experience, but I’ve had to sometimes cover that extra expense when they didn’t want to pay for it.

Should I book my travel? Or, should my client?

Always book your own travel. I had many uncomfortable experiences early in my career when I let my couples make the arrangements. I know that they were only trying their best to fit the expenses into their budget, and they meant no harm whatsoever. However, I’m sharing these examples so that you can see that best intentions don’t always work in your favor and can even be dangerous in some situations:

-I’ve was stuck at the hotel desk, trying to get a hold of my couple the night before their wedding because they needed to confirm their credit card info (couldn’t charge it to mine because reservation wasn’t under my name). I felt awful. This has also happened with rental cars.

-Having to ride with a questionably intoxicated guest because they wanted to save on a rental car. (My couple had no clue, of course!) But, I was in the middle of nowhere (this is before Uber), and I didn’t have any other option.

-Shady hotels from lack of research. Not the greatest option when traveling alone.

It is also important to book travel in your name for liability reasons and for travel delays. If a client books your flight, you will not be able to access your reservation with a flight cancellation/delay. I’m sure that the last thing they would want to do the night before their wedding is to be on hold with United, trying to get you on another flight! I like to make it my responsibility so that they don’t have to worry about a thing.

Last, the other benefit of booking travel is to build loyalty and rewards with airlines and other companies. See previous post for more info.
 

When is the best time to book flights/rental car/hotel?
 
Domestically, I’ve found that flights/rental cars are the lowest three to four months out. For some destinations (particularly California), it can be beneficial to look five to six months out, but you have to get lucky. Hopper is a great app to track flight patterns. Internationally, it’s best to book four to seven months in advance.

For hotels, it entirely depends on the location and time of year. If you are traveling during spring break or peak tourist season, expect higher prices. Otherwise, hotel prices generally don’t vary too much, unless you are booking the week of travel.

I like to use Kayak to shop around for flights, as it is a good gauge for most airlines (minus Southwest). It’s also great to use for rental cars. Sometimes Hotwire has cheaper rates for rental cars.

Hotel Tonight is a great site for last minute hotel bookings.
 
 
What are some ways to prepare for travel delays?
 
Let me just say, you will have flight cancellations. You will have delays. It’s inevitable if you travel enough. For this reason, I always make sure I have at least an hour layover. A 1.5 hour layover is my sweet spot. Anything less really stresses me out, especially flying through big airports like ATL, LAX, DTW, JFK, ORD.

Don’t book the last flight of the day. I’ve had flights cancelled mid-day and was able to jump on a later flight and make it to the wedding.

Always fly in the day before and leave the day after. I want to give myself at least 24 hours before the wedding on the off chance that my flight is cancelled. I tell my couples that will give me enough time to drive if I had to (for east coast weddings, at least!).

Try to book seats towards the front of the plane, and try not to plane-side check bags if you have a really tight layover. These two things can save you 15 minutes, which can be make or break if you flight is delayed, and you’re trying to make a connection.
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Should I check my gear?

Do. Not. Check. Your. Gear. I should preface this advice by saying that I don’t bring a ton of lighting equipment. I know some photographers will check light stands and unnecessary pieces. However, I don’t check anything. And, I will not let my gear bag ever be plane-side checked. Why? I’ve seen (on multiple occasions), bags dropped from 10 feet off of the conveyor belt. This is obviously not good for glass and electronics. Sometimes, plane-side bags are checked all the way through for weight/balance issues or random airline problems.

Don’t let your gear out of your sight! This includes keeping it under your seat. I’ve heard horror stories of people dropping bags from overhead bins on accident, bags being stolen, etc.
 
Which bag(s) do you recommend for carrying on gear?

Ah. This a great dilemma. I have yet to find the perfect travel bag. I’ve gone through rollers and backpacks, and both have pros and cons. Here are a few that I’ve used over the years that have been reliable:

Roller Bags
+Better for your back/shoulders
+More storage
-Will always be flagged by flight attendants to be checked, even if it will fit under the seat
-Tough for destinations that don’t have paved roads (think beach weddings or third world countries)
-Heavy to lift for overhead bins

Backpacks
+Can always fit under the seat on a plane.
-Can’t fit as much gear
-Rough on your back

Currently, I use a Langly backpack, and I bring a roller bag (from TJ Maxx) for my personal things. Sometimes I will throw unnecessary gear in my roller to limit the weight on my back (camera straps, battery chargers, etc.)

How do you pack your gear? What do you bring?

I always shoot with two bodies, so I will bring my two main cameras and a backup. I will pack these with my lenses, CF cards, and flashes in my backpack. I also bring a laptop for backing up files and writing emails on the road. The rest (card reader, video light, camera strap, extra batteries), I will throw in my personal bag.

Other necessities:  two pairs of shoes, layers (especially for cold destinations), extra clothes if rain is forecasted. In general, I try to pack as light as possible. I also recommend bringing an AUX cord and car charger for the rental car.
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Do I need to obtain a visa for international weddings?
 
In short, it depends.

Do your research before booking international weddings. Some countries are very lax about wedding photographers, and others are strict. For example, Canada is extremely rigid about U.S. photographers (especially in BC). I’ve heard stories of friends being banned from the country, having their phones searched for email records, being detained just because they had camera gear for a personal vacation. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it to your couple to not have a wedding photographer, and it’s not worth the stress on your end!

Some countries will require a permit/visa fee to work in their country. The Caribbean islands are notorious for this (Anguilla, Turks & Caicos require permits that range from $700-1000). Yes, you can lie and say you are on vacation. But, illegally traveling/working in another country can get you in serious trouble and negate your contract with your couple.

I will do a lot of googling before booking a destination wedding, and I’m in several destination Facebook groups that have lots of experienced travelers for asking questions.
 
Other Tips:
 
Have multiple backups
I will carry around a hard drive with me at all times so that I always have a copy of the files just in case. Backup at least three times. If you’re going to be gone for a long time or are traveling really far away, it might be worth it to ship a hard drive home for safekeeping.

Don’t leave your gear in the car. Take it with you.

Insurance is essential.
Make sure you have insurance that covers your gear in rental cars, other countries, other states.

Book directly with the airline/rental car/hotel.
Try to avoid third party bookings, as their warranty and reservations are not as reliable. I will usually look up rates with Kayak and then book directly. Nine times out of ten, it will be the same price.

This is part one in a series about photographing destination weddings. Next week, I’ll be covering everything about pricing, packing, and preparing for destination weddings.

Brendan and I travel frequently for our careers. We’ve learned how to work the system to make our time away from home enjoyable. Even better, we’ve learned how to make the most out of our work trips and credit cards so that we can travel for (almost) free when we book vacations.

One of the most important things that is allocated in our annual budget is traveling. I would rather spend $2K on a trip than buy new cars, furniture, clothes, etc. There is no right or wrong, and everyone has different priorities. We believe in experiencing and exploring the world as often as we can. Having a baby has limited our dispensable income. So, we save points to make these experiences a possibility.

How do you fly first class for free? It’s simple. Build loyalty with companies that you want to support. By working with the same business repeatedly, you will gain more perks. I sign up for every loyalty program with every travel company, just so I can build up points.

Delta

For flying, we have committed to Delta’s medallion program. We chose Delta because they seem to be one of the better budget airlines. While they are far from perfect, their planes are typically newer, they give upgrades often to medallion members, and their staff is (usually) kind. Living out of Asheville, we connect through Atlanta often, which is Delta’s biggest hub. I recommend supporting an airline that flies frequently out of your city. As much as I love Southwest and JetBlue, it doesn’t make sense in Asheville, since neither airline flies out of our regional airport.

A few perks that I’ve received since becoming a medallion member:

// Free upgrades to first class and comfort+ (even at the lowest level!)
// Free bags for myself and companions
// Priority with rebooking if there are delays
// Priority boarding (integral for carrying on gear)
// Priority line for ticketing (if Gold or higher)

Because of the above, it is almost always worth it for me to book with Delta. Even if it is $50 more to book with, say, American Airlines, the perks more than pay for the price difference.

Delta Amex

Because we wanted to accelerate our milage accrual, I chose to get the Delta Amex. The platinum card gives you one free companion ticket a year, zone one boarding, and a free bag any time you fly. You also get a signing bonus of 50,000 miles. There are extra perks at certain spending thresholds, which makes it easier to climb up the medallion program and build miles. I want to make this clear, do not sign up for any reward credit cards if you cannot pay them off every month. Reward cards have incredibly high APRs, so the bonuses are not worth it if you build interest.

Since I’ve had the card, we’ve easily booked at least 2-4 free airline tickets a year.

 

Chase Sapphire

I use this card for business expenses because it has a fabulous rewards program. This card is great if you want to book through various travel agencies vs. one business. I use my points with Chase typically to book rental cars or hotels. You can also cash in on points, but the points are worth more if you trade in for travel. I also like this card because the annual fee is low, the signing bonus is wonderful (50,000 points), there’s no fee for international purchases, and they also have coverage for rental cars (sometimes better than car insurance policies).

 

Marriott

When Brendan is in tournament season, he stays at hotels way more than I do. Because of this, he has signed up for Marriott’s credit card, which enables him to build loyalty and points for free nights. Depending on the card, you receive a certain number of free nights, perks during your stay (free water/free wifi), and extra points for hotel purchases.

 

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I remember meeting Lindsey and Ross for coffee when I was 9+ months pregnant on a cold winter’s evening. They were like a breath of fresh air and two of the kindest people I’ve met.

I loved that their wedding vision was not wrapped up in details but in the people that were celebrating with them. Since they are the type of people that don’t like to be the center of attention, they were most looking forward to the dancing + music, where they could be with their people. Lindsey + Ross are two incredibly talented musicians, and their taste in music was beautifully integrated throughout the day. They recorded a CD for each and every one of their guests, and selected Ross’s brother’s band to serenade the newlyweds and their family for the evening. It was a lovely, laid-back wedding celebration.

I had the pleasure of working with some of my favorite vendors:

Dress: Wildflower Bridal
Flowers: Flora
Planning: Events by Kiera
Officiant: Howard Hanger
Bridesmaid dresses:  BHLDN
Catering: Black Eyed Susan Catering

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Danielle + Reece are troopers. You probably can’t tell, but it was at most 10º on this day. The wind was bitter, and the atmosphere was gearing up for two feet of snow over the next week. However, these two made it look like summer and never complained for a minute, even when I asked them to lie in the snow.

At least it should be warmer for their wedding in August. I cannot wait!

engagement photos with a golden retriever

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