It wasn't long after I began shooting weddings (I've been a professional photographer for 14 years and shooting weddings for five) that I decided I'd like to do international wedding coverage. But cracking the international market is tough. A potential client wants to know you can handle the added layer of complexity involved in getting there and back. My chance finally came in late 2006 when a client booked me for their Atlanta wedding. During the consultation, they said they wanted to settle on the vendors for their July wedding because they had to travel to Africa in March for their traditional Nigerian ceremony. This really caught my interest, and I pushed to make this a possibility. Although the event was successful, there were definitely some things I'd like to have known beforehand.
Plan for a Passport
If you think you'd like to take on international coverage, and you don't have a passport, get one as soon as possible. The process takes a while and I've since learned that photography coverage of destination weddings are often planned at the last minute. Since covering the Nigerian wedding, I have had a destination wedding contracted about three weeks from the wedding date. If you already have a passport and it's close to six months from the expiration date, renew it. Nigeria, as well as many countries, will want at least six months of validity before the passport expires. Research whether you will need a VISA to enter the country. Countries whose residents are required to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. will likely require the same from U.S. citizens. Not only can they be expensive, they add another layer of paperwork to the process. When in doubt, check the travel requirements of the country's consular office.
Get the Shot
Get vaccinated. The Center for Disease Control's Web site (www.cdc.gov) lists all required and recommended vaccines for every destination. Your best bet in getting the right vaccines for your trip is visiting an office that specializes in travel medicine. They will recommend vaccines and prescriptions based specifically on your expected exposure.
Since my clients were originally from Nigeria, we had several planning meetings to discuss every possible contingency. One suggestion that turned out to be invaluable was that I have my phone unlocked so I could use any SIM card in it. I was given a prepaid SIM for one of the networks in Nigeria as well as phone numbers for the clients and their families. Good thing. The very first experience I had in the country was the arrest of my driver, leaving me in a hot car with no keys for well over an hour while I tried to relay my location by phone to my client. I had no idea where I was, and even my client asked I not leave the car to figure out my whereabouts. Having a way to call them was invaluable.
Power was a major concern. I was told not to expect much in the way of power where I was going to be shooting. So, enough battery power to shoot the entire trip was a must. The bulk of the time was spent in the small villages of Arondizuogu and Nri where power was virtually non-existent. Even in the larger cities of Lagos and Abuja, power was on and off frequently. People have generators, but it's an expensive way to produce power, so people go without it for the most part. It was vital for me to base my equipment decisions on the premise of not having available power.
Pack Light, Gear Up
To pack for the trip, I kept everything to the absolute minimum, while having backup gear. My goal was to take just enough equipment to carry just about all of it comfortably so I wouldn't have to worry about securing too much. I took two Nikon D2x cameras, a Nikkor 12-24 zoom, and 18mm, 50mm, and 85mm primes as well as a couple flashes and TTL cords. I brought a laptop and a Jobo GigaVu to do backups in the field when possible. Flights to and within Nigeria, place extra scrutiny on carry-on size and weight. I'd just purchased the Think Tank Airport International Roller for basic transport. Based on who was getting pulled aside to get their carry-on bags weighed and ultimately checked, I was glad I went with that over anything that is within the U.S. carry-on requirements. Since the Airport International roller conforms to international carry-on requirements, I got by without even a second glance. My bag looked unassuming as compared to what others were carrying on.
The ceremony was going to be a full-on, traditional Igba Nkwu Nwanyi ceremony. The fact that it wasn't going to be a blend of traditional and Christian ceremonies made me excited to capture it. Eventually, I would end up with two very different weddings from the same clients. I was given full access to the events and the couple even had an outfit waiting for me to wear on the day of the ceremony. It was a dream.
The ceremony was one of sensory overload. There was amazing color, tradition and music at every turn. Everyone was overwhelmingly kind, welcoming and genuine. Never once did I feel like I didn't belong among family and friends. This destination wedding was different than most because most involve couples looking for an exotic location. This couple was going home to be with family and get married in their homeland with the traditions and customs they grew up with. This added so much depth to the experience and the photographs.
I spent 10 days exploring all over Nigeria. It is a trip I will never forget. I couldn't begin to count how many times a perfect stranger came up to me to say, "You are welcome." There was great curiosity as to who I was and where I came from. A few people along the way even asked me to take them back to America. On the road, children in other cars would see me and wave feverishly like I was some sort of celebrity. Nigeria was the location my first destination wedding, and it will remain very special to me in so many ways.
For more on Climie's photography visit www.climie.com.