Photographing a Yacht Wedding


Above, a reasonable facsimile of the Dandeanna, my 1st  and only yacht wedding.
Over the years I have photographed many weddings. This was officially the first one I did after I quit the newspaper.

Having survived the experience of photographing a wedding on board a yacht, I thought I might share some insight on what to expect if you were ever shanghaied to do one of these.

dandeannaIn Southern California, there are a few outfits that provide this service.

The yacht really goes nowhere except around and around the harbor or marina for the entire duration of the wedding.

Never attempt to shoot a wedding with just one body.

Even if you are doing it for free, please, please borrow or rent another camera body, preferably an identical camera.

Having 2 bodies that are identical makes it easier especially if you’re easily flustered and inexperienced.

If the unthinkable can occur, I’m the guy who will usually fall victim to such luck.

If I were an actuary, I’d probably bring a fake bomb on a plane, because that decreases the chances that there will be another bomb on the plane.That last line is from a job description list someone emailed, can’t give credit to the author on that since that list had no name attached to it.

The “mo” or modus operandi of the these companies should be similar.

There’s plenty of herding and shuffling, thankfully without cattle prods, as you can imagine since space is very limited.


Once the yacht leaves the dock, everything you need, as far as equipment goes, better be on board.

I brought way too much gear for one person:

  • extension cords
  • 2 light stands
  • 2 White Lightning flash heads 800 Ws (for formals)
  • 2 silvered umbrellas
  • quantum radio slaves: 1 transmitter & 3 receivers
  • 2 Canon Speedlites. I used one off-camera. 2nd was for backup.
  • 2 Canon 1D
  • 16-35 mm f2.8, 80-200 zoom f2.8, 50 f1.4, 100 f2.8 macro
  • plentiful supply of camera batteries, AA batteries & memory cards
  • gaffer tape, duct tape works too but they’re different


dandeanna_setupPreparation is always key. More so in this sort of wedding where space is very confined.

No doubt when I signed up to do this I had visions of pictures where the happy couple would be on the front of the yacht ala Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the Titanic.

Hello? Reality and make-believe can be so sobering. I didn’t have access to a helicopter or free rein on the yacht. The entire gig from the time I got on board to the time I had to be off was 4 hours!


Captain’s Lounge


Party Deck


Sky Deck

The Dandeanna had 3 decks.


Guests smile as a flower girl makes her entrance down the aisle on the Party Deck. Following the ceremony, guests are ushered below or above while the crew set up for the meal. After the meal service, most of the tables are cleared making way for the dancing.


The groom makes his entrance. This is the reverse angle so you can see what the Party Deck looks like. Because of the confined spaces, I had very limited opportunity to use my telephoto. I shot mostly with my 50 mm and my 16-35 mm zoom.

Of course they had fancy names for each: Sky, Party and Captain’s Lounge.

yacht_appetizerSo the lowest deck, Captain’s Lounge, is the one closest to the water is where you board.

The yacht is not wheelchair accessible.

If you are handicapped and can’t make it up the stairs, this is where you’ll stay the entire duration of the wedding.

It’s also where the bride has a cabin to get dressed.

When you first board, you hang out on in the Captain’s Lounge enjoy a cocktail and hors d’oervres.

When the Party Deck or middle deck is ready, the crew shuffles everyone upstairs.

There was one aisle between the rows of chairs.

I think the Dandeanna could accommodate 150 guests. Anymore than that would be very crowded.

Following the ceremony, the crew shuffles everyone either to the Captain’s Lounge below or upstairs to the Sky Deck.

Then they frantically bring out the round tables and chairs and transformed the deck into a banquet room.


Here’s the Party Deck converted into a dance floor. Notice the stairway in the background leading up to the Sky Deck. The picture below left shows my carefully taped orange extension cord leading up to the Sky Deck.


I arrived early and headed up to the Sky Deck to stash most of my gear.

I attached my studio strobes to the lightstands but laid them down on the deck until I was ready to shoot.

I chose to do the formals up there because that was the only area where I could keep the guests away for brief periods of time.

There was downside to this decision: no power.

I had to run an extension cord up there.

Anytime you have to do so, break out the gaffer tape.

You don’t ever want your gear to come tumbling down if someone trips over the cords.


Or worse you want to be sure none of the guests trip and hurt themselves because you didn’t tape down the extension cord.

Backgrounds in the other decks were just terrible and there were always people about in the background.

Formal portraits in the Sky Deck had their share of challenges. The wind made it tough. Hair was flying all over. I had to keep an eagle eye on my umbrella and lights. I had very little room and couldn’t do any full body shots.

When I was doing the formals on the top most deck, Sky Deck, I made sure I was within arm’s reach of my strobe and umbrella.

What I really needed was an assistant to hold the umbrella because every now and then, a gust of wind would come and threaten to topple my lights.

The Challenges

There were many obstacles to overcome. More so than a terrestrial wedding. The major ones to be aware of are:


Contrast is not a new challenge to most photographers. But when conditions change frequently, it can be a pain. It was broad daylight outside.

Anytime I pointed my camera inside the Party Deck and I included the windows, this became a headache especially when I wanted to use a slow shutter speed to convey some sense of motion or try a little bit of creative blur.

See the picture of the people dancing above.

Fill-flash was the only solution. Obviously on-camera fill-flash wouldn’t work whenever I was shooting perpendicular to any of the windows or shiny surfaces. I would get glaring hot spots.

Since the yacht was circling, it meant one moment the sun would be on my left and the next, it would be on my right.

I ended up using my radio slave and asking guests to hold my Canon Speedlites on occasions when I needed to shoot with my flash further and higher than an arm’s length away.

Limited space

Limitations of space or room to back off and shoot from means you have to use wide angle lenses.

Using wide angle lenses means cluttered backgrounds.

Having little room also means you can’t set up light stands which in turn limits how you can control contrasts.

If you’re a big person, you may have problems weaving in and out between guests.

A camera bag may not be functional. A fanny pack worn around your waist may be more manageable.

Even with my 5′ 6 frame, there were times I had trouble squeezing by the bodies on board.

It’s too bad I didn’t think to photograph some behind-the-scene type pictures. Hey, I was by myself and was super-busy those 4 hours.

Let me know if you have any questions. If I had to do this over, what would I do different?

  1. I’d speak to the skipper beforehand to see if he’d allow me to shoot at the very front of the yacht.
  2. Bring an assistant to help me haul all that gear.
  3. Consider some sandbags for the lightstands. More weight to my already heavy load.
  4. Consider shooting the formals in the Captain’s Lounge if there weren’t many guests using that deck.

See a virtual tour of the yacht.

4 thoughts on “Photographing a Yacht Wedding”

  1. Hello Hans!
    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

    Not sure I’ve ever heard the word “swinger” used with “camera” before, but it could be worse.

    I tell you what… Look over this post again and tell me which picture/pictures you want more info about and I’ll see what I can do.

  2. Hi Pixel Pete,
    Just wanted to let you know that I find your articles very interesting and they are written in a perfect non-formal way. Good to get some insights to the world of a real camera swinger even for an amateur photo-man like me. One small thing that would top the cake… a few examples with exif data, just the basics including what lens was used.
    Ta’da’ from Europe 🙂

  3. Stephen,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. Hopefully when you do book a wedding on a yacht, you won’t suffer motion sickness.

    I just made an assumption that you won’t need dramamine. If you do, you’ll be in for a rough time.

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