Destination: Vacation Photography

by Sarah Kinbar

June 14, 2013

© Mariah Milan

Last summer, in the article “Don’t Forget to Pack a Photographer,” The Wall Street Journal noted that families are increasingly hiring photographers to shoot the best moments of their vacations—not only because mom or dad were too often missing from the picture, but because when parents are fussing with a camera, great opportunities for shots get missed. There’s also the level of sophistication some of us have grown to expect from shared images; the iPhone is fine for some things, but when the whole family is finally together, interactions and relationships unfolding in a beautiful, relaxed environment are best captured by an on-location photographer.

And with the popularity of vacation photography growing, why shouldn’t photographers living in beautiful tourist destinations cash in?

A family’s comfortable, relaxed vacation mood is key to Brooke Mayo’s “A Day in the Life” vacation sessions. The Corolla, North Carolina, photographer shoots weddings and vacationing families throughout the Outer Banks. “We go to their [vacation] home for two to five hours, depending on the package they choose, and show them in their normal routine, like waking up, brushing their teeth, making breakfast, having surf lessons, underwater in their pool, reading and getting ready for a nap or bed. We’ll pose shots as well, but the emphasis is on capturing the freedom a vacation brings to a family,” she says.

© Brooke Mayo

Mayo moved to the Outer Banks from New York City, where she worked with Joyce Tenneson and photographed dancers and nudes. Because the market in North Carolina is completely different from New York, Mayo decided to focus her lens on couples who chose the area for destination weddings and families enjoying sandy vacations.

“Vacation photography is what started my business and is where my business has evolved from,” she says. “It’s so different from other photo studios, since I only see some families once a year, but they refer us as if we were their hometown photographer. Over half of our revenue comes from photographing families while they are on vacation.”

©Brooke Mayo

Mayo’s business has grown to include associate photographers and a partnership with Sanderling Resort, which offers a “Picture Perfect” room package that includes a photo session, as well as stand-alone rates for those who recognize the opportunity for vacation photos once they arrive.

Wendy Murray, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, says, “families that travel to the Outer Banks often want beach, engagement, pregnancy and other special occasion photos, so we created this package to serve those needs. We added a photo package at Sanderling Resort because people were asking for photographer recommendations.”

The hotel markets Mayo’s photography services, but she also gets press coverage for the quality of her photography. She’s been featured in Brides magazine as well as Destination Weddings & Honeymoons. Her most active marketing takes place on her blog and on clients’ Facebook pages. “When our images get posted, their friends see it and become potential clients,” she says.

© Brooke Mayo

For Maui-based photographer Mariah Milan, marketing herself online and gaining clients is all about “the search.” “Google is definitely my friend!” says Milan. “Adwords has been my biggest ally in helping people find me while planning their Maui vacation. I am also very blessed to get a lot of repeat and referral business.”

In the Maui market, digital photography was a game-changer in terms of family portrait packages. According to Milan, the demand for vacation photography grew along with clients’ desire for access to digital files from the shoot. While a portrait session once resulted in a beautiful picture of the family to be framed for the living room wall, now clients could document their vacation and use the pictures in many ways: self-selected prints, photo products like magnets, mugs, cards and calendars, social media sharing, albums, etc.

© Mariah Milan

Photographer Andrea Richburg takes advantage of her sunny home in Orlando by showing off work on Facebook and her blog. “Blog posts about previous vacation sessions are a great way to show a potential client visiting the area what you have to offer,” she says.

Richburg was a self-described “MWAC” (mom with a camera) after she had kids and left her flight attendant job. Her passion for making pictures turned from a hobby into a business, thanks to the area’s plentiful opportunities.

© Andrea Richburg

Her clients don’t tend to come to her with a long list of desired shots—they just want to capture memories and get at least one amazing picture of the whole group. This leaves room for Richburg’s creativity and personal style to shine through. “Everyone wants the ‘money shot’ where everybody is looking at the camera and smiling,” she says. “You know that’s the one that’s going on the wall somewhere. But my favorite shots are always the candid ones, when someone might not even know I’m shooting.”

© Andrea Richburg

Most of Richburg’s vacationing clients are large groups, often more than ten people who have traveled great distances to be together. With clients coming from as far afield as London and Israel, the goal is to reflect all extended family members’ personalities and connections to each other through the photos. Chances are this is one of very few photo sessions they’ll have together in their lifetimes, so the vacation photographer’s role is central to capturing the special moments that will be remembered, discussed and passed down through the generations. RF

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