This is the story of how I was flown to Jamaica to photograph a destination wedding by someone I had met on a backpacking adventure two years prior in Sicily.
One of the best parts of traveling is meeting people. When I was backpacking throughout Europe, I ended up in Sicily, which was not on my original list of places to go by the way. (NOTE: always leave room for adventure on your travels… flexibility and going with the flow is key.)
The olive orchard farm I stayed at offered cooking classes to groups. A group of girls visiting their friend (who was stationed with her husband at the US Naval base nearby) decided to do one of these classes. I helped with the prep and cooking, and of course photographed the whole ordeal. It was a great afternoon with these ladies. We exchanged contact info and thanks to the ease of social media, were able to stay in touch long after that sunny day in Sicily.
One of those ladies decided on a destination wedding about two years after our initial introduction in Sicily. She was going to get married in Jamaica and wanted a photographer to capture that weekend. She didn’t want to hire someone she’d never met or rely on someone the resort provided. She knew me, she knew I liked to travel. She asked. One of the easiest yeses I’ve ever committed to.
I’d never been to Jamaica before and had some ideas in my head of what it might be like, but was thrilled at the chance to be surprised. The plane landed in Montego Bay and was followed by an absolutely gorgeous car ride to Negril, hugging the coast for hours.
The next three days were spent inside the compound of one of the many resorts taking up prime property in Negril. The resorts are amazing. They have everything you could possibly ask for at your fingertips. And when photographing a destination wedding, spending a few days with your clients is a fantastic way for everyone to get used to you, your cameras, and constant picture-taking. It’s the most important people in the bridal couple’s lives coming together, drinking, lounging in the pools and sun, and having a great time before the couple even says I do.
By the time we got to the wedding day, everyone feels completely relaxed. The nerves and tension often associated with the wedding party is no where to be found. You’re already in vacation mode, so the whole affair is less stressful than normal.
If you can’t tell, I highly recommend having a wedding like this. It was a joy to photograph and the vibe was completely different than other weddings I’ve either shot or been a part of.
For me, the only downside was not seeing the town and country as much as I wanted. The days were packed with photographing the family and editing photos, and I never had a chance to do anything else. I knew this going into the trip, so I planned on extending my time in-country after the wedding, but at more low-key accommodations.
Through HostelWorld, I found an amazing place, The Judy House. It was about 20 minutes from downtown Negril and the beaches, in a small community at the top of a hill on a dirt road. Exactly what I needed after the resort.
It was comprised of guest houses and bungalows, as well as mix-matched sleeping quarters for backpackers. Little huts made out of ply wood and sheet metal. All different colors and very eclectic. It was almost empty the whole time I was there, and I got to spend some time with the proprietor, Judy, who knew all the best local spots.
My first day there, she invited to the bottom of the hill to Miss Janice’s, a little restaurant and convenience store of sorts. Men were playing dominoes on checkered table clothes outside while Miss Janice cooked a meal in her one-room building. We sat down with some Red Stripe and had cooked whole fish. The way it worked is you could buy a meal but you didn’t order, you ate whatever Miss Janice was going to cook for you. I went there most meals my week in Negril. Fried plantains and porridge for breakfast. Fish or curried goat for dinner. Always plenty of Red Stripe to go around, of course.
Judy had motorbikes anyone could borrow to ride along the coast, explore the neighborhoods, and see the town. It's such a colorful country. Music is always blasting, there are fantastic aromas everywhere, and the people are amazing. Those were some carefree days. Sure, the water truck didn't come to the hostel for two days and no one could shower. And there were short, intense thunder storms in the middle of the day. It was all part of the charm.
If you ever get the chance to go to Negril, and I highly recommend you make it a priority, definitely check out the Judy House and see what Miss Janice is cooking up that day.
Danielle Desnoyers is a traveling freelance photographer with a focus on humanitarian, travel, and family photography. She currently splits her time between the United States and Vietnam with travels to other countries as well.