Do you elope to Vale do Lobo, Portugal despite COVID or cancel your wedding? Here’s how one couple answered that dilemma.

As Ireland oscillates between warning levels, so do the numbers of your wedding congregation. How do you halve the number of wedding guests at the drop of a wedding hat? And can we even dream about destination weddings in the time of COVID, let alone make them a reality?

Maybe you’re wondering, ‘Is this the year to get married or should I cancel my wedding?’ Despite coronavirus limiting our new normal, it is possible to plan and have an incredible wedding. If restrictions are seriously squeezing your options, talk to your suppliers and postpone. And whatever you do: keep your wedding somewhere on your calendar because we all need confetti, love and light at the end of this tunnel.

From the handful of weddings I’ve shot this year, the best advice I can offer is to plan your wedding appropriately, be open to last-minute tweaks, and adjust your expectations. Plus, it’s imperative you take precautions.

In this wedding story, I share how my gorgeous couple Maurice and Heidi planned their destination wedding in Vale do Lobo, Portugal from their normal lives in The Netherlands. We’ll look at how they switched things up and made the restrictions part of the day.

How love brought us together despite borders and COVID

How does a wedding photographer who’s based between Ireland and Portugal wind up shooting a couple from Holland? In January, I got a call from Dario at Dream Day Weddings asking if I was free to meet with Maurice and Heidi. They were looking to get married at São Lourenço Church with a post wedding dinner plus sunset couple shots close-by Maria’s Restaurant and Beach Bar.

Sometimes it takes only a moment to connect with your future wedding couple, and I know every wedding photographer’s website says, “It’s about the chemistry. We have to ‘click.’” This is because it’s so true. The moment you click with your photographer and it’s reciprocated is the moment you know your wedding is in safe hands. More than safe hands. It’s a sure sign you’re going to have fun.

With Maurice and Heidi, our click happened instantly. I was so thrilled by their love and excitement. Here were two people who knew what they wanted and why they wanted it: joy, sheer joy, and love, pure love. Despite what the world was—and is—experiencing, they were clear: this was their dream and they were going to do it, no matter what.

Maurice and Heidi’s Love Story

Heide and Maurice met across a border. While they were only fifty miles apart, it took the magic of technology to bring the pair together. At the time of their wedding, they’d been together all of one year. Their philosophy was, “Why wait another day when it took us so long to find one another?”

But would the borders between their native country and their dream wedding location prevent them from realising their dream?

The best way to plan a destination wedding? Hire a wedding planner

Maurice and Heidi went all out on throwing the wedding they so desired with the help of the ever-so lovely, connected to everyone who’s anyone in the wedding business, Dream Day Weddings. Thanks to Dream Day, despite the distance, the church was booked, the restaurant was set, the cake ordered the convertible was pencilled for collection, and they even arranged the bridal bouquet.

Then along came an unprecedented international mega-event that put some Algarvean sand into the gears.

We conversed, we liaised and we adjusted.

From 30 guests down to the two witnesses. They were still determined to have their dream day at their dream church on their dream beach.

Finally, lockdown across the various borders ended. Regulations came into effect that meant wedding suppliers would have to wear masks. And that was it. Not quite daring to believe it was going ahead, we approached the day with due care.

The slight matter of travelling to your destination wedding

As for the borders that stood between Holland and Portugal? Maurice and Heidi hit the road. With Europe’s extensive network of motorways, the bridal party sped the distance, safely sealed within their own little travelling unit of joy.

We were set. Everything and everyone were in place, ready for the day. And boy, what a day your wedding will be when it’s done on a smaller scale, parsed down to the absolute essentials. Over the course of the day, I was going to gain a precious insight into the brilliant gleaming essence of what lies at the heart of weddings, especially during trying times.

Heidi, A Dream Bride

I don’t know. Maybe I have a problem, but I fall in love just a bit with every couple I shoot. And Heidi and Sweety (no, they weren’t getting married) wooed me from the moment I landed with them at their apartment. The mood was merriment and hi-jinx between these best friends.

Conran Hotel, Vale do Lobo

One of the many things that’s wonderful about my job is dropping into sumptuous locations. Now, I know my life is blessed, yet there are days when I swan around 5-star hotels (mask on, hand sanitizer drying between the cracks of my fingers) and I take a moment to absorb a whole other way of life.

It turned out the hotel was the perfect location for Maurice, whose impeccable taste in clothing and shoes (excuse me while I tuck those into my camera bag) had me rather wishing he’d take me shopping and be my style guru for an afternoon.

Wedding car and no driver?

You’ve got your ride, but you don’t have a driver. Ah yes – that classic wedding day problem. Well, between Dream Day Weddings and myself, we’d already taken care of the fact that the car hire company wouldn’t supply a driver to take the couple to the wedding.

Yep, that’s right.

When you have to improvise your wedding day, you’ll discover there’s an abundance of alternative solutions you can draw on. In this case, I lent my partner Anna (also discovering second-shooting while carrying my bags and making sure I drank enough water) to do the driving. (I’ll add that Anna, in her line of professional activities, has genuinely got “driver to the stars” printed on her CV.)

And it was with the skill of a professional Driver to The Stars, that we arrived at the church. And waited. Then waited some more. Igreja de São Lourenço runs a tight ship and sticks to schedule, even if you are early to your own wedding!

Igreja de São Lourenço – What a Backdrop!

Inside this extraordinary church of delicate blue and white, there was hardly a ray of sunshine available to light up the tiles or golden altar. Here was my chance to shoot a church that only permits photography during weddings. Any other time, photographs aren’t allowed. Although I was concerned by the amount of natural light available, bride, groom and their witnesses were luminescent and lit up my shots.

And if you thought that Igreja de São Lourenço was a fabulous backdrop, wait until you see the coastline and beach setting of Maria’s Restaurant and Beach Bar.

Beachside Restaurant with Ocean Views for Your Drinks Reception

By now I’d shot one million photographs of Heidi and Maurice, Svetlana and Uli and the wedding party was ready for a change of pace. 

When the convertible rolled up at Maria’s Restaurant and Beach Bar, as grateful as we were for the Champagne reception, it seemed the band that was playing (a regular Saturday afternoon occurrence) got Heidi’s toes tapping.

The views from the rooftop restaurant were delightful. The hilarious and spontaneous passing of the bouquet from Heidi to Anna (We improvised the throwing of the bouquet. Anna’s mum was over the moon) were awesome but something was missing…

…And that something was music. It was calling to the couple.

Final Reflections on My Only Covid-Era Destination Wedding

Clearly some people would prefer a professional chauffeur to drive them to their wedding and rightfully will want to celebrate with generations of family, but when the times we live in insist we keep on changing, there is a lot to be gained by letting go of resistance and saying, ‘Yes, our wedding will go ahead.’ 

Taking every social distancing precaution possible and perhaps putting a wedding meal into an open-air location (or opt for a marquee, if you’re in Ireland), you can make your wedding dreams happen. You simply have to adjust your ideas, talk with your suppliers, and set about your day with gusto.

Heidi and Maurice may not have had exactly the destination beach wedding they planned, yet in one another’s company, as the dusk settled upon them on a stroll along the beach, I could see that thing, that reason, why people choose to get married. That thing doesn’t know borders or restrictions. It knows only union. 

And finally a few outtakes from the day! One of the best part of having your girlfriend as your second shooter, chauffeur, honorary bridesmaid, helper & bag carrier is she is able to get a few behind the scenes shots from the day of me hard at work! 😉 I have the best job.

Thank you to all the couples that ask me to there with them on their special day. It is a privilege and an honour.