5 Steps To Make A Living From Photographing Elopements

Ten years ago, if you heard the word elopement, your thoughts might first go to images of a shotgun wedding in Las Vegas (or Gretna Green if you’re from the UK). These elopements would be typically short and sweet, no fuss, and over within an hour.

But the definition of elopement has evolved, and what it means to elope has changed dramatically, especially in the wake of a global pandemic. Elopements are no longer just about running off to Vegas in secret. Increasingly, they are becoming an intentional choice of couples as an antidote to the big, expensive wedding. They are, instead, an opportunity for couples to plan a different kind of wedding day. A day around just them, the two people getting married, filled with only the things that they want.

Elopements have, for many photographers in the wedding industry, become the new holy grail to aspire to. No more dealing with drunken uncles or being given 10 minutes to “work your magic” for their wedding portraits. Instead, it’s just you and the couple, spending the day doing fun things and taking photos. Or at least that’s what many people think an elopement is.

So how can photographers make a living from elopements? Whether you are hoping to create an elopement photography business from scratch or you are just interested in adding elopements to your existing business, these are my top tips for how to book your first clients:

1. Adapt Your Messaging To Include Elopements

If you want to book more elopements, you need to start showing couples that you understand what an elopement is, and why couples might be considering having one.

You need to empower couples to elope and show that you value their decision to elope just as much as if it was a big wedding.

Start with reviewing your current website copy & images. Do you feature all shapes and sizes of weddings? If you don’t feel like elopements fit so well with your existing brand, create a separate page on your website dedicated to elopements (just make sure it’s easy to find by having it visible in your top menu).

On your socials, you can start to talk more about eloping. Let your audience know that you understand that big weddings aren’t for everyone, but that the day they get married should still be special and celebrated. Plant the idea that they could elope, educate them on the common misconceptions around elopements, and talk about why eloping might be the right choice for them. Invite them to think differently about their wedding and challenge them to re-imagine their wedding day.

2. Design Some Sample Elopement Experiences

Couples don’t always know what could be possible, so plant some ideas for them. If you already have a distinctive brand and style, think about what kind of elopements would match that.

Create guides, such as “The Best Locations To Elope in [Your State]” or “How To Elope in [Your City]”. Within these guides, you can share your ideas and timeline examples to get couples picturing what their elopement day could look like.

Remember that elopements don’t *need* to take place in wild and remote places like National Parks, as that’s what many people think they are. They can happen anywhere. Vintage record stores, food markets, jazz clubs, the zoo, a tattoo parlor, or even at home.

Start with what you know. Begin with local elopement experiences, and when you’ve got that covered, then start looking at creating content for destination elopements.

The most important thing is how you can help the couple plan a day that’s memorable, fun, and filled with experiences that make them who they are as a couple.

3. Build A Elopement Portfolio

When you’re just starting out with elopements, try to make the most of images that are already in your portfolio. Couple portraits are a great resource to use at the start, as when it’s just a couple on their own, there’s no context whether it’s a wedding or an elopement.

To build more elopement-focused content (before you’ve photographed a real elopement), I recommend planning out what your ideal client’s elopement could include, putting out a model call, and going and shooting it as if it was a real elopement. Not only will this give you the images to support the content you’ve been creating, but you’ll also get experience in the planning side of the elopement too.

The awesome thing about most real elopements (not the many overly styled ones you see in publications) is that they often are pretty fuss-free. That means a portfolio-building shoot can be pretty easy to organize. All you need is a couple in wedding clothes and a plan for the day, and you are good to go. You don’t need to worry about loads of unnecessary details if you don’t want to.

4. Price Elopements The Same As Weddings

This one always brings about contention in the wedding photography world!

A wedding day is a wedding day, no matter how many people were there to witness it. In fact, with an elopement, the photos are arguably more valuable, as there is nobody else there capturing the day for them. Your photos are what they will use to share the news of their elopement with people afterward, and they will serve as a reminder of the day for the rest of their lives.

Contrary to what many people think, photographing an elopement isn’t automatically less work. While you may not have guests to photograph, you will be with the couple for the whole duration of the day. You may not be taking as many photos, but you’ll still need to be physically and mentally present, and find ways to capture the whole day as it unfolds as well as some fabulous portraits too. You may also be a lot more hands-on during the planning process, since you may be the only other person involved in their day.

If you want to charge less for elopements, and only shoot short ceremonies at the town hall and some portraits afterward, that’s fine. You do you.

But if you’d actually like to make a living from shooting elopements, you’ll want to show eloping couples that you believe their elopement day is as important as if it was a big wedding, and that starts by pricing it at the same rates.

5. Update Your Contract

Once you start shooting elopements, you may find yourself taking a more hands-on approach to the planning process.

With traditional weddings, a couple may look for a photographer after they have already booked a venue. But with elopements, it’s common to book a photographer first and plan the specific details later.

While your role is still as a photographer, not a wedding planner, it is common to find yourself recommending locations, activities, and timelines to couples for their elopement.

You’ll want to make sure that you remove yourself of liability of potential complications, such as:

Suggesting locations: If you are suggesting locations to your clients, you need to make it clear that you have no liability for the locations suggested. The clients should research the locations and make the final decisions themselves, and be responsible for any legalities (such as permits) or logistics involved in getting to the location.

Undertaking activities (especially for adventurous elopements): If they are participating in any kind of physical activity, or you are traveling to remote locations, it is important that clients are aware of any hazards and accept the potential risks involved, taking responsibility for their own safety and well-being.

About the author: Cat Ekkelboom-White is Europe’s leading elopement photographer, specializing in creating bespoke elopement experiences for adventure-loving couples in the Alps. You can find more of her work at Wild Connections Photography.