You’ve probably seen it before: The impeccably dressed wedding couple perched on a ledge above a 500-meter drop as the sun sets behind them. As the wedding industry continues to boom and grow, some couples are turning away from the high priced and high-stress traditional weddings and instead, turning to small ceremonies that better reflect their lives and values.
The term elopement, which once conjured up feelings of shame and escape, has become a hot wedding trend that gives couples a wedding to remember without all the hoopla of a big ceremony. No seating arrangements, no flower girls, no elaborate matching wedding party outfits. Elopement ceremonies are going against the grain but one thing these adventurous couples are not willing to sacrifice? World class photography.
We chatted with Elopement Photographer Tori Ware, one of the photographers that make up Adventure Instead, a trio of photographers taking the elopement industry by storm, on what’s it’s like to break off the conventional wedding photography path and make a living in her own way.
An elopement is an intentionally small, intimate, meaningful, and authentic wedding experience that is a true reflection of a couple’s relationship where the focus of the day really is just about them. It’s about stripping away every ounce of pressure, anxiety, or obligation associated with weddings. An elopement grants a couple the absolute freedom to commit their lives to each other however and wherever they choose. Elopement photography is documenting this unique wedding experience.
I work with two other incredible, inspiring, passionate elopement photographers; Maddie Mae & Amber. By working as a team, we are able to provide so much more when it comes to our couple’s experience. So many more amazing ideas can actually be brought to life! We work together to improve and grow this business and the elopement industry as a whole, bounce ideas off of each other, challenge each other, and encourage each other. Teams rock!
Before I began capturing elopements, I photographed weddings. And before that, I photographed fashion. I moved away from fashion because I did not enjoy the lifestyle that came along with it. I wanted to be in the mountains, hiking, backpacking, exploring...not working in a big fast-paced city where I couldn’t breathe. I fell in love with photographing couples which then evolved into photographing weddings— before finally finding my passion for capturing elopements.
I photographed a couple of elopements while I was primarily photographing big traditional weddings and shifted to only photographing elopements full time this past December 2018 when I officially joined Maddie Mae & Amber at Adventure Instead. Maddie Mae began capturing elopements back in 2015, well before it was a “thing”.
I think elopement photography is trending right now due to the misconception that photographing elopements is “easier” than photographing big weddings. That it is simply a 2-4 hour fun portrait session with a couple in their wedding attire in a beautiful place.
I can tell you that that is certainly not the case, at least not for what we do at Adventure Instead. We are more than just our couple’s photographer, we are their guide and more often than not, just shy of their wedding planner. We are typically the first people our couples contact, we help them with everything from picking a location(s), picking their wedding date, recommending vendors, to truly making their epic elopement experience reality. We also believe elopements are just so much more than “fancy photoshoots on mountaintops”—they are about the moments—the emotion. They are someone’s REAL wedding day that will be their anniversary date for the rest of their lives. They deserve just as much respect and effort as documenting a full-size wedding. We work our butts off for our couples because we know how important that day is.
Sunrise is often the best time of day to get the most privacy on any trail or at any scenic outdoor spot, so a typical elopement day for us can often begin well before the sun comes up...hiking in total darkness with just a headlamp lighting the path beneath our feet. There is something so magical, so incredible about hiking in the dark—not being able to see anything more than what is captured in that narrow beam of light in front of you.
Then when we arrive on the shore of an alpine lake, or up on the ridgeline between two mountain peaks, or wherever the couple decides...they each pick a spot to change into their wedding attire so the other doesn’t see, so they can have that beautiful teary-eyed first look moment just as the sun is lighting up the mountains behind them. They read their handwritten vows to one another with the sun warming the earth. Explore around the lake, enjoy a picnic brunch on its shore, before enjoying the amazing hike back— seeing it truly for the very first time. Honestly, elopements are “peak existence” for me—I can’t imagine anything I’d like to do more.
Each elopement IS so different, so unique. There are no rules, no traditions that must be upheld, no formula to follow when it comes to eloping. It’s just you, your partner, and the very best day you could possibly imagine, whatever that looks like. That’s what is so wonderful about documenting elopements for me; seeing couples in their element, being their true selves and enjoying every moment of their “just us” day. Our couples are our inspiration—and their day is 100% about them—not us—not photos—just them.
Some couples that inquire have a general location that they are interested in “We want to elope in Colorado!” or “We want to elope somewhere in Europe.” Others are much more open to truly anywhere in the world, and we help them narrow down their vision into a more general location, like, “the Pacific Northwest”, that we can then help them find a location in. Based on their vision for their day, we create a customized location idea list, filled with the best trails, scenic spots, and epic off-the-beaten-path locations we can possibly find. From that list, a couple typically finds their perfect elopement spot.
To find these epic locations we both scout in person during our travels and digitally scout locations using intensive research and awesome online tools and resources such as Google Earth Pro. If you haven’t checked this out yet, it’s a must!
Unpopular opinion here when it comes to wedding photography—your photographs are not main the reason people hire you. Of course, there is a level of skill required to compete in this market, but I believe the reason couples hire one photographer over the other, is due to the connection they feel with that photographer. Whether they feel like the photographer truly understands and “gets” them or not. This client/photographer relationship building starts in our marketing (website & social media) and continues throughout our entire workflow from the instance a couple inquires with us, until long after we’ve photographed their day. We love the Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Relationships are everything.
As introverts ourselves, we all 100% understand what it feels like to not feel comfortable in front of a camera. Honestly, it is a really brave thing for a couple to show up and be their true selves and connect with each other in front of a camera. Alleviating fears about photos and helping a couple feel safe to be themselves is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding parts of my job. It starts with me being completely myself and creating a space where my couples can be themselves too. Their day is not a photo shoot, I am not putting them into uncomfortable poses or using weird prompts to get some sort of fake emotion out of them—I let them be themselves.
I observe how they naturally interact, encourage those beautiful moments. I ask them about how they normally walk together, for example, and ask them to do that rather than assuming how they are as a couple. I let them create real memories on their wedding day, rather than posing them like props. Because after all, their elopement day is not about me or my portfolio—it’s about their experience and their memories.
We are continuously improving our workflow and overall client experience. Adding, improving, and changing things in our client workflow that will provide our couples with the most wonderful elopement experience possible—long before we photograph their day. We are also going to offset 100% of our carbon costs this year in order to be carbon neutral, one of many steps we are taking in order to become a Certified B Corporation—which is a huge goal for a small business, but we’re stoked to get there!
That just because it is going against the grain, that just because it is not considered the “norm”, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done, that it won’t be a success. Take those risks.
You can check out all of Adventure Instead's work at their website www.adventureinstead.com or on their Instagram @adventureinstead. Thanks to Tori Ware for sharing her insights with us. All photos by Adventure Instead.
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