Maddie Mae is an international elopement photographer based out of Colorado. She started photographing big weddings in 2009 and continued doing that for six years. After she shot her first elopement in 2015, she got hooked – since then, she has photographed 130 elopements! Anywhere between a third to half of the elopments that she photographs annually take place outside of the U.S. To date, she has photographed elopements and couples in 15 different countries.
1. Documenting elopements can be more than just capturing the vows and doing a photo shoot. What can an all-day elopement look like?
We’re huge advocates of all-day elopements—in fact, almost all of the couples we photograph choose to hire us for 8+ plus hours ( we offer 8,10, and 12-hour packages and even multi-day elopement packages). An elopement day is more than just a few portraits and some vows—it’s a couple’s entire wedding experience. Is the story of the day they get married—just like anyone else’s—it’ll be the story they remember for the rest of their life every year on their anniversary. It’s that epic first look, the story of them hiking up a mountain together, it’s the private, intimate vows they read, it’s the entire adventure they’re choosing to go on. Elopements are the complete love story being told, and we believe elopements deserve just as much documentation as a big traditional wedding. We always advise couples to imagine the best day for the two of them, then we help craft that experience along the way—that can mean a sunrise or sunset hike; a day packed with exploring, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, kayaking, skydiving—whatever adventure a couple wants, that’s the day they should have, and that’s not something that can be packed into a 2-hour session. We want to be there to document every moment of their love story, to provide them with
2. You not only photograph elopements, but you also serve your clients by helping them plan their wedding day. What goes into crafting an amazing experience for them?
What we offer couples is way more than just a photographer to tag along on their day—we want to help them craft their ideal wedding experience. For us, that means being an elopement guide/planner—helping them choose locations, work out logistics, find vendors they’ll love, and so much more. Anything that affects a couple’s day, their experience, and their resulting photos is part of our job description. We’re a couple’s wedding planner, their adventure partner, their tour guide, their LNT council, best friends—we’re there to zip up their dress, show them how to best pack a bouquet in a backpack, celebrate with them & cheer when they say their vows—and hug them at the end of the day.
Crafting a couple’s perfect, epic elopement that’s wholly authentic to them begins the first time we ever talk to a couple (which often, is months, to over a year and a half, before they elope). We have a seamless workflow in place that starts at the first point of contact with a couple and continues all the way through their awesome elopement. Within this workflow we don’t just throw location lists and logistics at couples, we get to know them. We talk. We listen (a lot). We do our best to understand who they are, because, at the end of the day, the entire point of our job is to make sure each couple is having a wholly authentic and unique experience. Our job is more than just throwing any epic elopement experience at a couple and hoping it sticks—we’re there to develop THE epic elopement that makes sense for them.
The workflow we’ve developed keeps us in contact with our couples, helps us get to know them long before they say their vows, and ensures that we’re crafting the meaningful wedding experience they’ve been dreaming of.
3. In your experience, what do couples who choose to have an adventurous elopement value?
There are a lot of myths out there about eloping—one is that couples who choose to elope either don’t value their wedding experience or don’t want to invest in their day. In our personal experience, we’ve realized that couples who choose to elope simply have a different set of values. The average price of a wedding falls somewhere around $33,900—what we’ve realized is that couples who elope aren’t choosing to elope to avoid investing money into their day, they just prefer to invest money in an experience. Couples who elope are often less concerned with the tangible aspects that make up a big, traditional wedding—they don’t value table garlands, expensive gifts, or the perfect ballroom. Instead, they’re chasing after an intentional day that’s going to make them feel alive—they value an intimate, meaningful experience, an epic adventure together, and a day that’s entirely true to who they are. A lot of couples aren’t interested in the pageantry of a big wedding—ultimately, they’re after investing their money into a beautiful wedding day that’s all about their authenticity as a couple. For every couple out there who loves planning a big, traditional wedding with intricate, materialistic details, there’s a couple out there who doesn’t care about any of that. They want experience and adventure—they want to travel to a new exciting far away place together, they want to take a helicopter ride, or a 4×4 up a crazy road to say there—it’s not about not wanting to invest in their wedding day—it’s about valuing experiences over things.
4. What are the few misconceptions that some photographers have about adventurous elopements?
Adventurous elopements are incredible, epic experiences—but I think one of the big misconceptions from photographers about them is that they always just “happen” to be epic—and things mostly always go well. In our experience, most outdoor adventurous elopements come with challenges—things that need to be problem-solved—things that require spontaneity to roll with. We photograph so many elopements at “Plan B” or “Plan C” locations (and they end up being some of our favorites)! We’ve had a lot of “misadventure” elopements with lots of logistical issues like thunderstorms, white out snow, altitude sickness, falls, scrapes, wildfires, wildlife encounters etc. I have literally had to stop a couple in the middle of their vows because of an aggressive elk about to charge at us. We have had to move an elopement from Yosemite to Big Sur with 18 hours notice due to wildfires. A hiking elopement in Mt. Rainier ended up happening in a forest on the side of the road because half the park was closed for snow, and the other half closed for a wildfire. Being an adventure elopement photographer isn’t about being able to take photos in ideal outdoor conditions—it’s mostly a game of being able to think on your feet and problem solve—they certainly don’t always (or even mostly) go to plan. And that’s the beauty of them—and the couples who sign up for them are so flexible & go with the flow—but as a photographer, you have to be the point person to come up with the next plan and make it amazing for them.
5. What is the one big myth about pricing elopements that you want to break?
There are a ton of myths out there that play into pricing elopements and I think that (mostly) all of them revolve around one idea—that elopements are “less” than a big wedding.
Many photographers believe that couples who are eloping don’t have the ability or interest in paying for a full-day of documentation—and that thought stems from the photographer’s belief that an elopement day doesn’t deserve as much documentation as a big wedding (I mean, it’s just an elopement… right?).
This idea severely bums me out—because how a photographer prices elopements is a direct indicator of value provided to the couple. Pricing elopement less than big weddings says very clearly “the service I’m providing to you isn’t as valuable/important as the service I provide to couples having a big wedding” and “your day isn’t as valuable as a couple’s big wedding”—and why would you want to send that message?
Only offering 2 or 3 hour coverage for elopements also sends that same message. When I initially started shooting elopements, that was my biggest question—why are elopement photographers only offering 1 hour, 2 hour, or 3-hour windows? Why are there no photographers out there who are covering the story of someone’s elopement day like they would cover a traditional wedding? The industry standard for a big wedding is to be there to capture the entire day—so why wouldn’t that be the case with an elopement, too? This is still someone’s love story. This is their authentic day. Doesn’t it deserve the industry standard—if not more?
As someone who’s done both—photographed big weddings and elopements—I can personally say that elopements are way more work on the photographers part than just showing up and shooting a big wedding. If you, as an elopement photographer, don’t understand that each elopement deserves the attention and care that a big wedding does—not to mention probably more planning—it’s a missed opportunity. Not just for you, but for your clients too.
Pricing is about creating & communicating value—and should be based on what the client perceives—NOT the service provider. If a photographer thinks an elopement is “less work” to photograph than a big wedding (which it’s not, if you’re doing elopement photography correctly)—but even if that was true—pricing is an indicator of value. It’s not a direct 1-to-1 equation of more work (or higher costs) = higher prices. Photographers need to consider the value (tangible & intangible) of what they’re offering. It’s not about how much work you put in. It’s about what value the client is getting. And of course it’d be relaly great if elopements weren’t belittled anymore and couples weren’t given the message that their day isn’t as important and deserving of intentional documentation as a big wedding.
6. Can you speak a little bit about the relevance and importance of Leave No Trace principles as it relates to elopements?
Abiding by (and understanding) the Leave No Trace Principles is of paramount importance in everyday life—we believe that entirely applies to what we do. We’re the first to say that we’re not perfect here (no one is when it comes to environmentalism), but we’re entirely dedicated and committed to bettering ourselves every day—that includes being a resource and a guide for explaining and implementing LNT principles for eloping couples. Adventurous elopements, just by their nature, are these incredible experiences in the outdoors—but of course it comes with an impact. We’re striving to make it a positive one. Making every effort to minimize our impact and protect nature is crucial. Especially because, as elopement photographers, we’re typically the ones leading couples on a hike, picking locations, and implementing photo ideas—that puts us in a unique situation to not only give our clients and awesome experience but also to be a source of knowledge on how to interact with nature. That means it’s vital that not only we do everything in our power to abide by LNT principles, but also that we do everything in our power to prepare the couples we work to as well. Understanding the LNT principles—and understanding how they apply to the specific work we’re doing—is key. Further, we’re artists. If we can’t get that perfect shot while honoring the LNT principles, we’re simply not being creative enough. As photographers guiding others , we can’t take these LNT principles as a suggestion—we need to follow these and ensure we’re keeping our clients accountable, too.
7. What is by far your most favorite elopement until now? What made it stand out?
It’s truly impossible to pick a favorite elopement—each one is so incredibly special, unique, and filled with intimate emotion. But, if I absolutely had to pick a favorite elopement location, I would have to say—the elopement I shot last year in Namibia was just mind-blowing. It was my first time on the African continent and I was just blown away. I like to think of myself as well-traveled—I’ve been to a lot of countries and seen a lot of unique things, but I have never witnessed anything like the herds of zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions, and so much more—and gotten to take images of a couple with giraffes and zebras in their wedding clothes on the day they got married. And the landscapes in Nambia are so diverse and so wild from bright red sand dunes, and white clay flats—hands down the most vast and epic desert I’ve ever experienced. I’d go back in a heartbeat (shout out to any couples looking to have a safari adventure on their elopement day!)
8. In your opinion, what are the main skills that a person needs to succeed as an adventurous elopement photographer?
Passion for service is a huge part of it. You can be the best photographer in the world—have all the skills, training, and know-how in the world—but if at the end of the day you’re not truly passionate about giving these eloping couples the experience they’ve been dreaming of, you might not be as successful as you’d like. There are, of course, specific components that can help you become a successful adventurous elopement photographer. Having a compelling and genuine brand message that resonates with couples who elope is hugely important–so are things like setting up a kickass marketing plan, learning how to convert your elopement inquiries into real elopements, and building up real experience to be a knowledgeable resource. I think a big part of being an amazing elopement photographer is actually traveling, learning, and building up the real skills you need to become a knowledgeable source for couples who want to elope. At the end of the day, that authenticity matters. Real experience matters. All of that plays into crafting an unforgettable experience for your clients—that’s the true measure of success.
9. What advice do you have for photographers looking to make the shift from photographing traditional wedding to elopements?
One of my greatest passions—aside from the outdoors and capturing intimate elopements for couples—is mentoring. I 100 percent believe that the world needs more awesome adventure elopement photographers, and personally, I want to be a part of making that happen. My best advice? If you think that elopement photography is what makes you come alive and feel inspired, go for it.
Make a choice about what your dream is and go for it. Understand your why for doing this. Rebrand. Market your business toward your target audience (eloping couples) and make sure you’re positioning your business to cater to eloping couples.
You don’t have to ultimately stop shooting big weddings immediately when you make your decision to re-brand (in fact, you’ll probably continue getting big wedding inquiries for up to a year after you make the switch)–it’s all about curating your work and your portfolio, targeting the right couples, and knowing when to make the decision to switch over entirely.
Learn everything you can about it and understand what it’s all about at its core. At the end of the day, as elopement photographers, we’re capturing these epic, mind-blowing photos, and as great as that is, it’s vital to realize that that’s not what it’s about—it’s about helping a couple document their unique, beautiful, and intimate love story.
I am super excited to be launching the first ever, elopement photographer course in June of this year (2019) that literally teaches the entire step by step process for becoming an elopement photographer—whether you’re starting from scratch or transitioning from big weddings: adventureinsteadacademy.com