How to Choose an Elopement Photographer
In the last few years, elopements have emerged as a popular outdoor option over traditional weddings. It’s not because they want to runaway from their parents and marry in secret. That was the old meaning of elope when marriages were typically arranged. The definition of elopement has now evolved into a private exchange of vows in an adventurous location. Today, couples are choosing to elope, hike, and camp in the most remote and scenic locations either by themselves or with limited family members along.
The elopement photographer is hired to document the whole experience and capture the couple’s personal story with epic images to showcase at home. This is why you want a good elopement photographer. Do it right. As a pioneer in this adventure wedding photography movement, I was the first photographer to document a wedding couple hiking up to Mt. Everest base camp in 2015 and 2017. The bride and groom wore hiking boots and sported backpacks in their wedding attire, which was unheard-of at the time.
Now the movement has grown and couples are flocking to find adventurous locations for their wedding photos. Having a great photographer to capture it all is the reason for this post. Below I have outlined some questions and tips to finding and choosing a great elopement photographer. If you have any suggestions, or I’m missing something, please email me. If you enjoyed this post, please add a comment at the bottom of the page. Thank you.
10 Questions to Consider in Finding an Elopement Photographer
1. Experience – Does the photographer have experience?
Experience like any profession earns you knowledge, wisdom, and eventually expert guru status. The more experience a photographer has, the better they can capitalize on the potential available, even in challenging locations. When I began as a photographer, I thought I was good. I was creative. I submitted my work to top publications and they replied I wasn’t good enough. It hurt…BUT I pressed in harder. I learned more, reading and practicing new tricks, studying the masters. As I have grown in the years, made front covers of top magazines, and have been recognized for my style, I realize my early work had major flaws. I wouldn’t want the early me documenting my daughter’s wedding.
Typically for any seasoned elopement photographer, the more weddings you photograph, the more you understand the multiple elements of the business. For example, lighting specially on your couples faces, composition, capturing epic landscapes, guiding and directing your couples to look ridiculously awesome, camera lenses that work best, angles that don’t flatter, capturing sunsets and stars, safety awareness and outdoor survival skills (for mountain elopements) to name a few.
Of course, you can ask questions to photographers, like how many weddings have you photographed? How long have you been in business? Are you full-time? See if the photographer has any awards to show off. Usually their website has that information. If not, just politely ask them. This is one day of your life you don’t want to regret or redo. Be confident.
2. Wedding Albums and Galleries – Does the photographer have albums and online galleries to show off?
If they have experience, then this one is easy. Your photographer should have a wedding album or a gallery to show off, or both. An online gallery is the wedding or elopement images they gave the couple as their product of service. Most photographers have an online gallery for couples to view, download, and purchase prints. It shows how they process their images. You get a good feel of their work and style. This allows you to see the whole day, rather than just their best photos on instagram or their website.
Wedding Albums, on the other hand (the printed book versions), are the final edited print version of their wedding day that probably has more advanced Photoshop involved. This might be a better look at the final product. The online gallery is generally the images corrected in Adobe Lightroom for color and lighting, with minor touch-up. If you can see both the album and an online gallery, score!
3. Reviews – What is everyone saying about the Photographer?
Most of us look at reviews online before purchasing a product, visiting a restaurant, or going on vacation. Why should it be any different when searching for your wedding or elopement photographer? Look for reviews online, whether it’s on the Knot, wedding wire, or Yelp. Here are some examples of my reviews. You will be investing money and trusting someone to take care of you professionally. If the photographer doesn’t have any reviews online, that might be a little sign to be cautious. Maybe ask them permission to talk with a few past brides who would be willing to share their experience. I’m sure they won’t mind.
4. Insurance – Does the photographer carry insurance?
Hopefully nothing bad will every happen on your wedding day. However, if things go south, and the photographer loses the images, then they will need Insurance to cover the costs involved in redoing your images. Insurance isn’t necessary to create art, but it should make you feel better that your Photographer is serious about taking care of their business and the couples who book. Having insurance shows the photographer is responsible. Besides that, many venues require a proof of insurance from wedding vendors these days.
5. Camera Gear – Does the photographer carry back up gear?
Camera gear is essential. Obviously, this is a no-brainer. When you’re out in the elements of rock, trails, dirt, lakes, and yes unpredictable weather, it’s quite possible a camera or lens could fail, or worse you could drop it against a rock and it breaks. Yup, it happened to me in Colorado. I dropped my camera and lens and they both broke. A wedding was scheduled the next day. Fortunately, I had a backup camera. Unfortunately, I had to buy another backup camera for the wedding. Now I have 3-4 cameras when I travel. You also need backup memory cards. Ask your photographer if they backup the RAW images and where? The cloud? Another hard drive? How redundant is their backup? Again this is another sign of a photographer taking their business seriously.
What about lenses? A photographer should have a versatility of lenses. If it’s windy, you don’t want to change your lens because dirt may get inside the camera. I sometimes use a 24-70mm lens in those situations. What about Traveling and hiking with gear? Camera gear weighs a lot. Make sure you ask your photographer when they hike, what kind of backup gear they have with them.
6. Personality – Will I get along with the photographer? Will I feel comfortable?
You have to remember, you will be spending much of your day with this photographer. A photographer can make or break your photos depending on how you feel around them. Consider connecting over zoom or skype, to sense a connection. Fortunately for me, I’m an extrovert. I encourage my couples, cheering them on. It’s just who I am. I get along with mostly everyone. This helps in feeling comfortable around the camera, which in turn, allows those natural unposed vibes to exude in your images. Sometimes photographers aren’t expressive or they are introverts who are just quiet. This makes couples feel unsure about themselves. There is a psychology involved between the photographer and subjects that allows some powerful images to be unlocked. Don’t pass this key question up.
7. Directing (and Posing) – How does the photographer create their images?
Will the photographer be posing you or directing you, or maybe a little bit of both? First, let me just clarify, this is in regards to capturing couples together alone. Let’s be honest. Most couples just want their images to look real, natural, and alive. Couples want real smiles, not the canned robot smiles. Sometimes the photographer can guide and direct couples to get the real smiles, laughter, intimacy, closeness, quietness, etc. by their interaction with you. Sometimes the photographer will pose you and some couples like that; other don’t. Ask the photographer about their philosophy on directing/posing, and their style. Regardless, examine the images on their website, blog, or instagram. If you like their look, how the couples express themselves, that’s really all that matters.
8. Elopement Packages – How much does the photographer cost?
Every photographer is different, so wedding and elopement pricing ranges anywhere from $500 to $15,000. Will it take place out of state in some National Park? Is it a job that requires a few hours locally or a weekend adventure in some exotic location? A adventure that requires traveling to places like Norway, Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand may tack on more costs, but if you include it in your honeymoon, then that’s a bonus.
The average wedding in the U.S.A. costs around $32,900, both by the Knot, and WeddingWire. If you elope, you can shave off quite a bit. What I’m seeing however, is that couples are eloping; then they planning a celebration back home with everyone. When you hire a photographer, and specially an adventure elopement photographer, many times you’re not just paying for someone to take pictures; you’re paying someone who has experience in the outdoors, who can guide you, capture landscapes, and keep the pace. It’s hard to find good photographers who are also well-acquainted with the outdoors. Like any business, the more unique and experienced the photographer, the more in demand they are, the higher the price. That’s not to say there are exceptions. However, you have to figure out what you want and your budget.
9. The Adventure – What kind of adventures has the photographer been on? (For serious adventure couples)
Adventures are fun. When someone gets injured or even lost, the fun stops. Part of the definition of adventure is “taking a chance” and “uncertain outcome.” Sometimes emergencies will happen. They’ve happened to me more times than I’m willing to admit. 7.8 Earthquake in Nepal while climbing up to Mt. Everest base camp in 2015 killing thousands of people. I survived. That’s another story. I’ve been around many bears, taken care of many rattlesnakes. Another time I leaped for a person sliding down a mountain into a crevasse while I was roped up. Another time, my couple stepped into a hornets nest, with massive bee stings (20 stings in my bride and 10 in the groom). I now carry an Epipen just in case. Weather changes for the worse and suddenly one of my team members is hypothermic. We had to get him warmed up in a sleeping bag. I have many stories I could tell.
I say this not to scare you, but to prepare you. Again, this is for the serious adventurous couples. You don’t want someone who’s just a photographer.
So maybe before going some place adventurous with a photographer, maybe just ask the photographer where they have traveled or hiked? Top 3 adventures? What kind of mountain gear do they own? What kind of loads do they carry with lenses, cameras, lights, batteries, headlamps (if you’re out past sunset), plus water, warm clothing, etc. Maybe ask if they know first aid or have a WFR certification (Wilderness First Responder). That is not required, but when you’re in the mountains, and you lack communication and quick access to hospitals, it definitely helps have medical knowledge.
10. Details – How many images, and how long does it take?
It’s always good not to overlook the fine details before booking your photographer. Many wedding photographers return images within 4-8 weeks. I always tell couples 6-8 weeks return time for typical weddings and elopements. It could take longer if it was a bigger project. Some photographers require up to six months or longer. I know some who deliver images within a week or two.
Also, ask how many images you will receive from the potential photographer. For most, you can expect to receive anywhere from 50-100 images per hour delivered. Some photographers may shoot a little less than that, others more. It’s good to ask.
Copyright. All professional photographers, or most of them, retain the copyright as the creator of those images. The couple typically gets rights to print the images unlimited for personal use. Some photographers offer the full resolution digital JPEG files on top of the package for an extra cost. Some photographers build that into their packages. There’s not a wrong way. But it’s good to ask whether you need to buy them, or if it comes with the package.
Lastly, read the contract. Look it over. Most are pretty simple to read. Know that you will probably lose your retainer if you cancel your elopement or change dates. Or if you cancel your wedding within close range to the date, you will probably forfeit it all. Photographers book a date exclusively with a couple and therefore have to deny all requests for that exact date and even dates around that date if travel is involved. So just do your homework and look over the contract.
If you have any questions or you are interested in booking your elopement, please contact me above with more information.
CONTACT CHARLETON FOR YOUR ADVENTURE ELOPEMENT
About Charleton Churchill
Charleton Churchill is an award-winning wedding and adventure elopement photographer based near Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. He is known as a pioneer of the adventure wedding movement, who photographed the internationally viral Mt. Everest Wedding. It was featured globally in the news, talks shows, magazines, blogs, and popular tv shows, like the Kelly and Ryan show. In 2017, Charleton presented a TED Talk on Adventure weddings, has spoken for Nikon, Profoto, and other photo conferences, conventions, seminars, and adventure workshops. He made the Top 100 Wedding Photographers in the USA and Canada by SLR Lounge. Additionally, Charleton has written for and been featured on the covers of top photography and wedding magazines. While Charleton is known for his distinct footprint in the photo industry, he consistently pushes himself to deliver only the best, producing epic signature masterpiece work for his couples.
It is so true what you say Charleton about encouraging your couples. I felt very encouraged and also supported. It was never pressure and I never felt like an idiot. Such a relaxed day but my photographs are amazing! They are exactly how I remember my day, so special. So full of laughs and we will always remember you and your spirit!
Thank you Sheridan, you both were all fun and personality. I’m glad you felt relaxed, but I have to say, you took it to another level with your impressive and expressive behavior. Both of you can return, maybe for adventure couple’s session somewhere a little more daring and challenging. Come back anytime.