Destination Wedding Photographers: Are You Breaking the Law?

How many photographers do you know who travel to different countries and photograph weddings in beautiful and exotic locations? The question is: are those wedding photographers legally allowed to work outside of their home country, or are they rolling the dice on having their equipment confiscated and them being blacklisted from entering that country again?

Taylor Jackson is a Canadian-based wedding photographer who shoots dozens of weddings a year, and he has a question for professionals who make their income from destination weddings around the world. How are you legally photographing these weddings in these exotic locales? Are you really getting work permits to photograph your weddings or are you “taking a vacation” and just so happen to be photographing a wedding as a friend of the bride and groom while possibly accepting pay in advance?

I’ve seen this among some USA-based photographers for a long time with them traveling into Canada, where Jackson is from, where they are photographing engagements, weddings, and elopements in areas like Banff National Park, which itself requires its own specific permits for Canadian residents working in the park. Canada takes its work permits very seriously, as does the USA and many EU countries, as they want to protect work that can be fulfilled in their respective territories by their own citizens. The issue is some photographers flout those laws and do so at their own risk.

Do you or someone you know who works as a destination wedding photographer do so legally? If so, share the process that you have gone through to legally be able to travel from your home country or territory and work around the globe. 

JT Blenker's picture

JT Blenker, Cr. Photog., CPP is a Photographic Craftsman and Certified Professional Photographer who also teaches workshops throughout the USA focusing on landscape, nightscape, and portraiture. He is the Director of Communications at the Dallas PPA and is continuing his education currently in the pursuit of a Master Photographer degree.

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Sheesh....jesus sweet christ

Canada does care. If they suspect you are here to work in any capacity they will deny entry. They search bags and cell phones alike especially now with human trafficking entering the spotlight.

I know a few fellow German photographers that announced how excited they are to shoot a wedding in the US publicly ob Facebook. Totally ignorant of that this might get them into a lot of troubes.

I mean basically if you see it from a different angle it becomes more obvious. For the US (or any other countries) immigration it does not really matter if you come to work to deliver mail, sell burgers or shoot weddings.

At the same time it is ridiculous that carrying professional gear makes you an illegal worker by default. I did travel to Hawaii or other places with all my gear just to shoot landscapes for my portfolio.

There is a grey area though. If I come to let's say NYC to shoot a TFP or even paid shoot (I pay the model) in a wedding dress and I use those shots for my portfolio. What is that? Illegal work as I use it to promote my business? Or am I actually rather the client (of the model)? :)

I totally understand what TJ is saying. Plus I have a colleague that I work with who was going from EU to shoot a wedding in the USA and got turned around at the US immigration at the airport. A panic phone-call to a US photographer that he knew to cover the wedding.

Here is a thought, what happens if I am going to a business meeting in a difference country? Technically I am now working in the foreign country without a visa...

I traveled extensively all across the world professionally as an Electrical Engineer, and everywhere I had ever gone looks at business meetings differently than actually "working", its allowed without a work visa.

I was asked to fly down to Huntington Beach to film fitness influencers for a client here in Canada and I refused without them obtaining me the proper immigration papers and VISAs. Consequences could be being banned from the US for several years so I didn't budge on that requirement. Would have cost about $15k (according to several different lawyers) to make that work so the client opted instead to fly all the talent up to Canada. But yeah, I see a fair amount of local guys giving bogus advice and heading South to work, which I imagine is not all by the book. That being said, the rules for videographers seems more strict than photographers when we looked at the fine print with the lawyers.

If I were in the place of these photographers, I would definitely not take pictures of someone if we did not have permission to enter some protected area. Yes, beautiful shots somewhere in the forest, where there is no garbage and a lot of fresh grass - this is good, but they are beautiful because people can not go there. Because the territory is protected for animals in reserve.

Some countries do offer a digital nomad visa that is for remote workers, self employed, and freelancers. I wonder if this would apply to destination wedding photographers.