How to Choose an Elopement Photographer | 10 Questions to Ask

choose an elopement photographer


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.


epic cliff wedding yosemite glacier point and waterfalls


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!


millers wedding album


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.


big sur elopement wedding near bixby bridge


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.


yosemite wedding elopement at taft point


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.


candid elopement photos with national park wedding photographer


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.


posing and directing wedding couples to look natural

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.



backpacking wedding couple in snowy mountains


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.






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.


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How to Plan an Elopement Adventure | 10 Steps

adventure elopement photographer in snow-capped mountains with eloped couple

Minutes after their elopement around snow-capped peaks, raw romantic emotion.

 How to Plan Your Elopement Adventure


What’s the elopement definition? What is the elope meaning? What comes to your mind when you think of an elopement? Probably two people sneaking away in secret to get married without anyone else knowing about it. Or maybe you believe people elope because they can’t afford the wedding they want. That may have been true years ago, but no more.


An elopement is another word for exactly the kind of custom wedding you want without all the production, checklists, and timelines.


The clients that hire me for adventure elopements want weddings that go beyond the traditional and are 100% personalized to what is important to them. They want an intimate wedding that is free of checklists and productions that society puts on a wedding day. Further, couples can invite the people who matter most to experience it together. That being said, there is nothing wrong with a traditional wedding, but for those who want to something personal, private, in the woods or on some adventure together, this is what an elopement allows.


Want to have just the two of you there? It’s your day; you get to decide.

Want to have immediate family there? You bet! There are no rules, invite whomever you want.

Don’t want to wear a white dress? You don’t have to.

Want to have your dog be your best man?  Bring on the four-legged friends!


My clients opt for an adventure elopement because it’s what makes them feel alive; the adventure is an experience and part of their story.


Starting your life together with intention and choosing an adventure elopement can be freeing for so many reasons:


  •         You don’t have to “prove” anything to anyone, or make concessions to make others happy on your wedding day
  •         The focus is on the two of you, the vows and the commitment you are making
  •         You start your life together in a place that brings you both life
  •         You are going into the unknown together, hand in hand
  •         The photos that result are your first shared adventure…how cool is that?!


Yosemite elopement photographer at glacier point with half-dome during sunrise

Wedding couple eloping at Glacier Point yosemite park, ca.

Does an Adventure Elopement Save Money?


The answer to this is: Yes and no.  With the average wedding in the US costing $38,700, it’s safe to say that most of the times it does save money. However, many couples will incorporate a honeymoon trip alongside their adventure elopement. Additionally, many of my couples opt to have a reception back home with friends and family at a later date, so costs vary.


Most couples who are planning an adventure elopement are doing it not as just a way to save money, but because a traditional big white wedding is just not for them.


Wedding couples don’t want the stress, the planning, or dealing with the tricky family dynamics. They want a day that is focused on them and their commitment to each other.  They see this day as a way of investing in each other in a place that is meaningful to them, whether it’s at the base of Mt Everest or under a starry Kauai sky. And it allows freedom to be creative with the photography more than the 15 minutes or 30 minutes photographers are given on a traditional wedding day.


My Role as an Adventure Elopement Photographer

The experience and adventure of my clients is my top priority. I can’t stress this enough; this is a team effort. Documenting an adventure elopement means that I need to get to know what is important to you. If you dislike being the center of attention, or if you feel like you aren’t photogenic (a common concern) that’s not a problem. We work together to form a vision, discuss locations, and talk through adventure plans, start to finish. My goal is to create the most EPIC and romantic photos to hang on your wall that does not exist on any Pinterest board.


I will guide you through the entire process, so you feel relaxed and confident. This will not be like one long staged photoshoot! The timeline and itinerary will be custom designed to your comfort level. We’ll enjoy the process of the adventure together, taking photos along the way but also allowing for the two of you to simply enjoy the experience, and each other.


On a more personal note, I’m deeply humbled to be able to be there when people commit to marrying each other. As a Christian, a husband, a father, and as an artist, it fills me with wonder when I capture photos that I know will be meaningful for generations. It never gets boring. I’m proud to say that the couples I’ve shared this adventure with are people whom I connect with very well.

epic wedding photos in large mountain elopement location

The 10 Things You Need to Plan Your Adventure Elopement


1. Choose your Own Adventure!

One of the greatest things about adventure elopements is that they can be totally customized to what you love to do. There are no venue rules to follow; your time frame is your own!


Some things you should consider

  •         Accessibility of the area. What will we need to get to the spot? Will we be hiking, taking my 4WD Tacoma off road, a helicopter, a canoe?
  •         How secluded do you want? There are places off the beaten path, but harder to access. With Mt. Everest, we had a 10-day hike to basecamp.
  •         Is there a particular season? If you both are sun-lovers, then hike to a remote location on a snowy mountain, unless that’s too miserable.
  •         If you are having guests, is the area going to be accessible for them as well, uneven paths, will there be elderly? Do you want kids along?
  •         Do you want a place that offers multiple locations for photos, or do you have one specific place in mind?
  •         Have you visited the location before? Sometimes that’s the real adventure, getting to discover a National Park together for the first time.


National Park wedding photographer with couple at cliff for elopement photos in Yosemite

2. Permits, Marriage Licenses, and Requirements

I’ve found that most people who are looking to do an adventure elopement consider themselves stewards of the earth, but it needs to be said that first, we do no harm. Respect for the environment and leaving nothing behind but footprints is paramount. Best practices for each area are always observed not only for safety, but because we honor our planet.


Before you get your heart set on a place, make sure to do your homework on what kinds of restrictions or permits that may be needed, and what is allowed or not allowed. As a photographer, I usually am well aware.


Some places like Nepal require that you are staying in the country for several weeks before you are able to obtain a marriage license. If there are restrictions such as waiting periods or who can legally marry you that could hamper your plans, many of my couples have opted to get their marriage license locally and get formally married at home.  They then planned the elopement adventure as a more ceremonial affair, exchanging vows, rings, etc.


3. Officiant

If you want someone to officiate for your ceremony, make sure you choose someone who has an adventurous spirit!  Many officiants would love to add “married people in a helicopter” to their resume, but you may have to do a little research to find one. I know some adventure officiant’s in Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, but I have worked with others, like in New Zealand. Other options would be for you to have a trusted friend obtain ordination and accompany you. I have also had couples who just simply read their vows to each other without an officiant.


4. The Right Gear

In this case, I’m talking about the mountain gear you wear, not my photographic gear. That’s part I have covered, and you don’t have to worry that.  But what we do want to discuss is what you’re wearing to get you there safely.  This is something I am happy to give you advice on. I really believe that getting the best gear you can afford is going to make your adventure elopement a better experience all around. There’s nothing worse than hiking with blisters or being soaked through and chilled to the bone before you say the I Do’s. Having the right hiking boots or shoes, outerwear, and eye protection can make a huge difference.


5. Gear for the Bride

Let’s just get this out of the way right now; your dress will get dirty. I’m not talking about getting totally trashed (that’s never the point), but we aren’t going to be in a church and a ballroom. So, when you choose your dress give some thought to material. Is it lightweight? Do you feel like you can move easily in it?  Would it withstand being packed up in a backpack without getting too wrinkled or disheveled? Can you forgo a train or a bustle to lighten the load? Sometimes a few modifications like different veils can add drama to a look without adding to the weight. If you’re wanting that cliff photo overlooking the mountains, you might want a longer dress to allow the wind to move it for a little drama. You can carry it around your arms through the trail or you can pack it.

eloping bride in the himalayas by adventure wedding photographer

Give some thought to how the dress will wear in the area we are in. You can even ask the dressmakers what kind of material holds up best in certain climates or areas. I had a two-day adventure with a couple in Yosemite and on the third day her dress still looked amazing because she chose the right cut and styling! Another adventure bride of mine on an adventure for 3-4 days bought three wedding dresses. She bought them from a used wedding dress website, so that’s an option.


Shoes or hiking boots are another thing you want to give careful consideration to. I prefer hi-top boots with ankle support to protect your ankles during hiking. Some dresses hide the shoes altogether, but I love it when my couples show off their mountain boots. You can wear whatever is rugged and comfortable. Otherwise, you can opt to bring shoes to change into once we get to the destination.


6. Gear for the Groom

Be dapper; be smart. With so many options out there for suits, choose one that makes you look and feel great. Colors that mimic nature are always a good choice. Choose shoes to match the terrain and the look you want; don’t skimp on quality here, you can use the shoes for years to come. Have the suit custom-tailored; it will make a world of difference.  Small accessories like pocket squares, scarves or a sharp-looking overcoat can provide variety.


Don’t be afraid to be different. If you want my input, I see many blue suits in the woods, and if that’s your thing, do it. The color is too strong to me in the wilderness. Black suits timeless and always look good, but if you want to spice up your look and stand out, just ask me when you book. I can give you plenty of ideas. Outfits and styles are often overlooked when couples are new to shopping. There’s another world of style to be shown off in the wilderness.

7. Floral

Flowers are pretty, but flowers are fragile. Tropical Orchids don’t stand a chance at 10,000 feet! Speak to a reputable florist and tell them what your plans and the look you are going for.  Some florists may even suggest high-end silk replications instead of live floral, and these can be quite stunning (and are not anything like the silk flowers you see in craft stores).  Bouquets and boutonnieres can also be fashioned out of more natural, heartier materials like pinecones, willow, or eucalyptus.


8. Hair

Blowing hair can look dramatic. I love it in photos because I think it adds movement and the feels, but some brides really don’t like it. You know yourself best! If you’re concerned with having your hair being windblown, then you may want to experiment with hairstyles that are more fixed into place. Be sure to do trials with your stylist and test the style out in your own backyard. Bring extra hair ties, bobby pins or other hair adornments should we need to make adjustments on the fly. We can also do these photos as the last part of the session, it’s kind of fun to get a little wild and free at the end to celebrate!


9. Makeup


I encourage makeup in photos even if you don’t usually wear a lot. It helps even out the skin tone and produces a more flattering look.  You can hire a makeup artist to do your makeup on the day, or if we are going to a more remote location where we have to camp out a few days it’s a good idea to learn how to do it yourself. You can get guidance from estheticians in places like Sephora, Ulta or MAC.  Be sure to tell them about the conditions we will be in. High altitudes can chap skin, and sunburn is always a concern, so a lightweight SPF should always be worn.


epic mountain elopement photographer with wedding couple in Norway

10. The Right Photographer

Do you really want to be spending one of the most exciting adventures of your life with someone you don’t really click with? I know that’s cheesy. But what a bummer that would be. No matter how great the photos would turn out, it would taint part of the experience.  When you are looking to book an adventure elopement photographer, it should be someone who is well qualified, that you would actually want to hang out with in real life. Being able to feel comfortable with your photographer is a big part of looking natural in photos. I’m there to guide you, lead you, and encourage you to take in the beauty and awesomeness around us. An adventure elopement is a sensory experience and one I am so glad to share with my clients.


Plus I have wealth of outdoor knowledge, my WFR (Wilderness First Responder) certificate, climbed some of the highest mountains in the world, led teams up mountains, survived the great Nepal Mt. Everest earthquake in 2015 while on my first attempt at a wedding on Mt. Everest base camp. I have survival and safety skills to make sure every one of my couples has a top notch experience with amazing photos.


When you are searching for adventure elopement photographers, find out more about them as a person as well as looking at their work. Look at reviews that others have left. Was the experience of working with them as impressive as the photos?



What’s Next?


If an adventure elopement sounds right for you, I’d like to chat with you more. I’d love to hear about what your dreams and visions are for your wedding day. Don’t worry if you don’t have the location picked out yet (I can give you some suggestions and directions) all I need to know is the date and where you are considering.


From there, we’ll see if we are a good fit for each other. I’d love to share in your adventure!




taft point yosemite wedding
portraits of bride and groom solo in yosemite national park
yosemite elopement ceremony at sentinel dome
bride getting ready at rush creek lodge in yosemite
redwoods state park wedding elopement at the avenue of the giants
Lake Tahoe Wedding Photographer
adventure wedding in new zealand during the rain and snow of the spring season
private elopement ceremony in the remote mountains
mountain wedding photography couple sitting the road
helicopter flights to mountain tops with wedding couples
big sur wedding photographer near bixby bridge along the coast
taft point wedding in yosemite
family hiking glacier national park for eloping couple on the mountain top
himalayan wedding photographer trekked to base camp Mt. Everest with wedding couple




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