Destination Wedding Advice From a Photographer

Martha Stewart Weddings, Special Issue 2009

Jose Villa, Photographer 
Solvang, California 
What he does: Voted one of the top-10 wedding photographers in the world, Villa has an artful knack for capturing eye-catching snapshots in exotic locales. 

Where to find him: Jose Villa Photo, josevilla.com.

Is shooting a destination wedding different from shooting a regular wedding? 
In most cases, the guest list is a lot smaller -- only the closest friends and family attend -- so every interaction becomes much more meaningful. The emotional energy is higher, too. Everyone is so happy to be there, which makes for some amazing photo opps. 

Are destination brides more relaxed? 
Surprisingly, no. You'd think they would be, because it's usually like a vacation, but if you're not familiar with a location, certain things can be limiting. The only relaxed destination brides I've seen are ones who have a wedding planner who knows the area well, or at least knows the language, to avoid confusion. 

What's the first thing you do when you land in a location for a wedding? 
I always plan to arrive a few days before the event. That way I'm rested, hydrated, and ready to go. With the extra time I have, I walk through the ceremony and reception sites with the client, so I know what to expect and have a mental image of all the possible backdrops I want to shoot against. 

What makes a good picture? 
It has to be both emotional and technically right on. You have to be in the right place at the right time, and the easiest way to do that is to be aware of your surroundings. The more you practice, the better you become at anticipating the next moment.

What would you tell couples trying to get good pictures on their honeymoon? 
Start off with a great camera that you know how to manage. If pictures are really important to you, take a quick photography class at a local college. Then you can learn about lighting and perspective and all that technical stuff. A few of my clients said this was a great way to ensure nice photos with less editing. 

You travel all the time. What has been your favorite destination? 
There are many, but I have to say there's no better place than Italy. It's so easy to get good pictures there because the lighting, the people, the food, the surroundings -- everything is stunning. They just have a different way of life. And having all that wine around tends to make people really, truly happy.

What's one gadget you can't live without while traveling? 
I love my Contax 645 camera. It's so easy to shoot, and the images have such depth to them. But I also love old-school cameras, like Holgas and Polaroids. They give the pictures such a different mood. 

How do you prepare for a long flight? 
I wish I could say flying has gotten easier over time, but I'm still not a big fan. I just do my best to make it more enjoyable with books and movies, or I sleep. If a trip will be longer than eight hours, I'll book an overnight flight and make sure I don't sleep well the night before -- I'm usually up packing anyway. 

When is your least favorite time to travel? 
I definitely avoid traveling in June and July. Most people do their vacationing then, and cities and airports become overrun with tourists. I'd rather get an authentic experience in a location, especially an exotic one, at other, quieter times of the year.

Top Tip 
"The perfect location for your ceremony or a perfect photo opp won't just appear before you. You have to do some prep work ahead of time. Research the area before you take off, explore the location for a few days on foot once you arrive, and talk with the locals -- they'll have a unique take on where to get the best of everything. I especially love to explore. I look for beautiful light and wide-open fields -- they're like blank canvases."

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