To make her day extra special, a bride-to-be will search high and low for the perfect location to hold the event. And, as important as that day is, finding someone to capture those wonderful moments on film (or media card) is just as important. So what is a bride to do when the perfect locale is thousands of miles from home in, let's say, Guatemala? Hire a destination photographer, of course!
That's exactly what Kathryn Humphries (nee Malcolm)did. When she was having trouble finding a "local" (Guatemalan) wedding photographer, she decided to call a "local" (Virginian) wedding photographer to ask for a favor.
Humphries had worked with Broadlands, VA-based photographer Genevieve Leiper on a number of projects over the years. So Humphries called Leiper and asked if she would shoot her wedding. Leiper's response? "Would I fly to Guatemala for a wedding? Of course!"
Leiper had some experience as a destination photographer, having shot her first one when she was just 22 years old. "The first wedding I ever photographed was in Costa Rica," she recalls. An acquaintance from Costa Rica was getting married and was tired of seeing the same old stuff. She asked Leiper to fly down and cover the wedding in a photojournalistic style.
"There I was, in a room of some 250 guests who would not get out of my way," she reports. "To them, I wasn't a ‘wedding photographer.' I was just a girl with a camera."
Nonetheless, Leiper enjoyed the assignment, and the bride loved the pictures.
The question for the Humphries wedding was: Why didn't she just hire a Guatemalan photographer? Leiper explains that planning a wedding in a foreign country can be nerve-racking enough for the bride--she shouldn't have to worry about getting her pictures as well.
"It's just a better idea to hire a ‘hometown photographer' and fly the person down," says Leiper. "You can have peace of mind knowing that you have a trustworthy photographer with a style that you love. If you hire a ‘foreign' photographer who doesn't come through for you, what recourse do you have?"
A bride hiring Leiper also gets an added bonus. Leiper partners with makeup artist Victoria Stiles, who works with the bride prior to the big day. The two actually have a separate business together called Leiper Stiles Studios.
"For destination weddings, Victoria holds a class with the bride to teach her how to do her own makeup," explains Leiper. Stiles works with the bride to create the perfect look, then orders all of the products the bride will need to create the same look for her wedding day.
That's what she did with Humphries. "Kathryn actually did a very good job with her own makeup," muses Leiper, "and she never wears makeup."
Leiper says that with most of her destination assignments, the bride will take care of the majority of the planning. "She's already dealing with the hotel and the location, so the bride will set up my room as well," she reports.
Most people who do destination weddings try to have everyone stay together in the same place. Depending on the size of the hotel, they either try to book the entire place (as was the case in Guatemala) or reserve several floors for the wedding guests. The hotels respond in kind by charging a base price to do so. On occasion, the hotel will refund money for unused rooms, saving the newlyweds some cash, as was the case here.
The Humphries' actually saved enough money to reward Leiper with a bonus. "My husband and I took a side trip after the wedding, and when we got back, there was a little thank-you card," says Leiper. "It indicated that while Kathryn was just supposed to pay for three nights, she ended up paying for six nights and our food--everything, which was a wonderful surprise."
Leiper regularly flies in a couple of days before the wedding to plan her shots. "I like to have time to look at the site and get a plan in mind so we're not doing it on the day of the wedding, especially in a different country," she says. "We want to adapt to everything there and see everything."
The actual wedding was in the city of Antigua in Guatemala, which added to the beauty of the images. "The whole city is made up of walls, and it's all cobblestone," says Leiper. "You're walking down these long roads and you just see doors. Then you knock on the door and go into this beautiful Spanish-style hotel or restaurant. I'd never been to a city like that before.
"The hotel was gorgeous, and it had a five-star restaurant," she adds. The ceremony itself was held on the site's rooftop garden.
"We got so many beautiful images there," states Leiper.
Leiper stresses that it's all about choosing the right location, "and Kathryn really did her research. She's a very experienced traveler, and has been all over the world, so she had a really good idea about how to get the information that she needed."
With the destination weddings that she's photographed, Leiper notes that the brides have usually had a site in mind by the time they contact her. This was the case with two upcoming assignments she has scheduled: one in Stockholm, Sweden, and the other in San Antonio, Texas.
Leiper will also make suggestions, especially if a couple is looking for a beach locale on the East Coast. "I can offer some advice, especially in North Carolina--I lived on the coast for a year," she says.
In foreign countries such as Guatemala, there are generally no restrictions for shooting weddings, according to Leiper. There was one restriction for this wedding, however, which was in the old restaurant where the reception was held. "They didn't allow flash photography during the performances," she notes. The performer at the reception was Ignacio Perez Borrell, one of the original band members of the Buena Vista Social Club, and the bride wanted photos taken. Leiper knew how important these photographs were to the bride and relayed that sentiment to the restaurant. The response: ‘Well, just keep [the photography] very minimal,'" laughs Leiper.
While the photo restrictions may be relaxed, the atmosphere can be a bit more tense. "It definitely is more stressful to go into a different country," admits Leiper. "My stress level was huge before I left; worried about the safety of my equipment. Once I got there and settled in, however, I was fine."
Leiper took her husband Charles along with her for added security. "He's a former Marine," she laughs. "It isn't exactly safe in the city at night, so you just have to be smart." She wouldn't walk around the streets with her camera out "because someone may follow you back to your hotel," she remarks. "We just took our little point-and-shoots instead."
Leiper had called ahead to make sure the hotel itself was safe. "I knew the room was secure, and that they have a safe in the room," she says. "I put the bulk of my equipment into the safe right away."
In fact, she reports that she always calls ahead to make sure there is a safe in the room. "I won't stay in a hotel that doesn't have some sort of security or safety for my equipment."
One of the benefits to destination weddings is coming home with some incredible stories--and this wedding was no exception. After the wedding, Leiper and her husband went on a two-day trip to Lake Atitlan, "which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen," she says. "It's a lake surrounded by volcanoes, and we stayed in this little villa."
The villa, which is actually owned by the hotel where the wedding took place, featured a chef who cooks traditional food and wears traditional garb. The woman had her granddaughter, Mayelyn, with her at the villa.
"Mayelyn's father had been killed during a roadside robbery six months earlier, and her mother, who is actually the chef at the hotel in Antigua, only gets to see Mayelyn on the weekends," explains Leiper. Mayelyn stays with her grandmother because the family can't afford to send her to school.
"We immediately fell in love with this little girl," she says. "She really melted our hearts."
When Leiper and her husband met the woman in charge of managing the property, it turned out she was also the principal of The Life School, "a very nice school in town. After a very long conversation with the woman and a many emails back and fourth, Leiper and her husband--along with the newlyweds--decided to sponsor Mayelyn. "We split it 50-50 and paid for her schooling for the next 10 years," beams Leiper.
Now that is an image to remember.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON GENEVIEVE LEIPER'S WORK, GO TO WWW.GENEVIEVELEIPER.COM
BEST TOOL FOR PRODUCTIVITY:
The most important tool for productivity for me is not a technique or a "tool" but rather my personality. A wedding photographer needs to be a calming presence. It's one of the most important things for a destination wedding photographer...remaining calm, because it can be a very different atmosphere. I'm a people person, and I absolutely love doing weddings. What can I say...I'm a romantic.
-- Genevieve Leiper
Genevieve Leiper's Gear Box
• Canon EOS 5D & Canon lenses
• Canon 580 EX II Speedlight
• Profoto studio lighting
• 20" iMac (for editing images)
• custom built PC computers
• 5 terabyte networked RAID array for long term storage
• Adobe Photosohp CS2
• Adobe Lightroom
• Picto Book; Renaissance; Vision Art Book