How should a wedding photographer prepare to travel?

How can they make sure they're never late?

This past Sunday, I woke up at 4 am to drive from my home in Burlington, VT, down to Boston for a 9 am engagement shoot.

The drive is only 3.5 hours on a good day (on a Sunday morning, it’s pretty much a given there won’t be traffic). But as with any photo shoot or wedding that I work, I leave enough time in my travel schedule for a wrong turn and a flat tire - 60 to 90 minutes.

The drive was gorgeous - a new sun marching over the Green Mountains after the previous day’s thunderstorms, summer blooms glistening roadside with overnight drizzle. The highways were empty and my french jazz playlist was putting in good work.

I pulled into one of the many empty parking spots along the Boston Commons at 7:50 am. I was over an hour early and definitely sleepy, but I’ll never miss a job by being early.

At least once a month I see a horror story on some wedding blog or get into an argument in a vendor community with a photographer who didn’t take proper precautions and f’d things up for their clients.

There was the photographer of a national park wedding who failed to scout a convoluted travel route, missed some turns, got lost, and was over an hour late - missing almost the entire portrait time. There was a videographer for a downtown Chicago wedding who couldn’t find parking, missed all the prep and the first look, then had the audacity to make the couple redo it TWO times while the stifling summer afternoon had them both sweating (you know who you are).

I almost got into fisticuffs with that one; it’s deeply offensive to me as a wedding professional, that someone can accept the money and the trust our clients’ give us, then not take every precaution to assure their experience is positive and fulfilling, God forbid, disrupt the emotion and flow of the day in such a jarring way.

A good wedding professional has had enough things go wrong in their career, and seen enough looks of disappointment and frustration on clients’ faces to recognize the necessary steps to prevent them in the future. Unfamiliar routes, unavailable parking, you name it. It happens, but not to us.

Even for newer professionals who may not have those experiences, there are some easy habits that can prevent all but the global-pandemic level stuff from ruining the day. So how can a wedding photographer best prepare?

  • Plan to get to the event ONE HOUR early (for events over 30 miles away), or double the expected travel time for closer events. Grab a coffee. Watch some IG shorts. Have a leisurely poo. Being early is so much better than being late.
  • If driving, reserve parking ahead of time with an app like SpotHero. You never know when that street parking that no one ever uses on a Tuesday afternoon will be full up for that Saturday afternoon ceremony.
  • Test drive the route if you haven’t taken it before, or recently. This means taking the mode of transportation you plan to take on the event day along the exact same route and time that you would. Pay attention to any notices about road closures, planned construction or events.
  • Visit the venue in your off-season. Consult your clients so that you know exactly where the prep, ceremony, cocktail, portrait and reception locations are. Take the time to walk between them in order, noting how long it takes. Communicate those in between times to your clients. You are helping them with the timeline, right?
  • Account for all the extra prep in your pricing. It takes me between 4-8 hours to complete my route practice and location scouting. I’ve done the math and built in an hourly rate for this part of my service into my package pricing. Preparation is critical to doing our jobs right, but anything we do with value should have a price.

By being better prepared, we are well-positioned to properly advise clients, navigate wedding day snafus, and establish ourselves as the couple’s go-to, the vendor they knew they could count on. Preparation doesn’t end with travel though.

A well-run photography business is rife with helpful redundancies and precautions from shooting on dual memory cards to RAID configurations on work computers and cloud mirroring. We’ll save all that for next time though~