An Elopement Photographer’s Guide to Business

May 5, 2020

By Mollie Adams and Cortlyn Adams

© Between the Pine

Over the past several weeks, the wedding industry has been flipped upside down due to the effects of coronavirus. From limitations on the sizes of gatherings to orders to stay in our homes, weddings have gone from My Big Fat Greek Wedding-style to the finale scene of an intimate wedding in Runaway Bride. So, as an elopement photographer, I’ve had to ask myself the question, “How will I respond and adapt to coronavirus affecting my bookings, clients, inquiries and income?”

[Read “Documenting Weddings in the Age of Social Distancing”]

I’m sharing how I decided to answer that question through my own coronavirus wedding resources, and I am telling you my top tips for responding to the pandemic as an elopement photographer.

Providing resources for couples affected by coronavirus

Our clients who have been affected by coronavirus are experiencing a lot of emotions: sadness, disappointment, confusion, anger, even grief. Their emotions are real and valid. No one could have anticipated a viral infection like COVID-19 affecting wedding plans and causing cancellations and postponements. And, because no one could have anticipated something like this happening, there weren’t a lot of resources readily available for couples when the news headlines began to surface about coronavirus limiting large-group gatherings.

So, my team at Between the Pine wanted to be quick to provide resources that were encouraging, useful and helpful for couples. We created six coronavirus wedding resources for couples, wedding parties and wedding vendors who have been affected by coronavirus:

1. Wondering How to Elope Because of Coronavirus? Learn 5 Tips from a Seasoned Adventure Elopement Photographer

2. How to Get Married During Coronavirus: Creative Ideas For Your Wedding

3. Deciding to Postpone Your Wedding Because of Coronavirus? Read This!

4. Did Coronavirus Cancel Your Honeymoon? Here’s What You Can Do!

5. How to Support Friends Who Have Postponed Their Wedding: A Complete Guide

6. The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Coronavirus Bachelorette Party

One bride whose wedding was initially scheduled for May reached out to our team after reading one of our resources and said, “We’ve been so overwhelmed and sad about this. No one seems to know how to handle this and no one knows what to say to us. But your articles have given us so much hope and a silver lining of the whole thing.”

That was our goal! We wanted couples to feel understood and guided as they navigate this temporary new normal in the wedding industry. Keep reading for my tips for how we, as wedding and elopement photographers, can respond and serve our clients well during this time.

How are couples with wedding plans responding to the pandemic?

In light of COVID-19, I’ve seen couples and clients respond in a few different ways:

Some couples are choosing to postpone their entire wedding (ceremony and reception) to a later date. Other couples are tying the knot now in an elopement or intimate wedding ceremony and postponing their reception celebration until later. I’ve received inquiries from couples who are choosing to postpone their wedding reception, but are looking to elope now. These couples are keeping their original vendor team for their 2021 reception celebration and looking to hire an elopement photographer for this year.

[Read “9 Ways to Keep Your Photo Business Afloat”]

I’ve also interacted with couples who are newly engaged and planning a smaller wedding or elopement than they initially thought they would be having. The feedback I’ve received from newly engaged couples is that they’re fearful the pandemic could extend into the fall or winter, affecting their large-wedding plans, so they’re scaling back their plans to avoid the risk.

Tips for a first-time elopement photographer

I’ve received a lot of questions from wedding photographers who are going to be photographing elopements and intimate weddings for the first time because of coronavirus. If your clients are deciding to down-size their wedding plans but you’ve only photographed large weddings, I want to share my top tips for capturing an incredible elopement.

1. Be prepared to help with the planning process.

You may have to play the role of a planner and an elopement photographer. Some couples choose to hire a planner, but most do not. So be prepared to help with recommending other vendors who have experience in elopements and to plan out the timeline for the couple. I always plan the timeline based off of when golden hour is during sunrise and sunset.

2. Add elements to make their elopement day still feel like their wedding day.

Likely, your clients have been planning a wedding day that is now having to look very different because of the coronavirus. You have an opportunity as their photographer to make their elopement day still feel like their Plan A. For example, I bring a bluetooth speaker with us on the trail so that they can have their first dance to their favorite song. Pack some Champagne (or even a pizza!) for toasts on the mountaintop.  

3. Know and be familiar with the elopement location prior to the elopement day.

On the elopement day, you want to be the expert on the location. It is so important to location-scout prior to the elopement day to familiarize yourself with the surroundings and create a game plan for the big day. Most often, my elopement couples want a secluded area for their elopement. Location-scouting can help you find a location that is less crowded, and you may even spot some backdrops you could have missed on the day-of.

Also, you’ll want to decide on two locations with your couple so there aren’t any missed expectations if weather causes you to need the backup location. For resources in finding the best elopement location, click the links below:

Oregon Elopement Guide

Washington Elopement Guide

Mount Rainier Elopement Guide

Where to Elope Near Seattle

A photographer’s guide to caring for clients and strengthening business

Now that we’ve covered how our clients are feeling and responding to the effects of the pandemic, let’s talk about what our role is as photographers and wedding vendors during this time.

First, and probably most importantly, you have to communicate well with your clients and make sure they are feeling taken care of. Remember the list of emotions that couples are experiencing during this time? Your job as their photographer is to make sure that “forgotten by our photographer” is not a feeling they experience.

It doesn’t take much to go above and beyond for your clients. For example, one of my couples was supposed to have a walk-through at their venue, but it had to be cancelled due to shelter-in-place orders. So I sent them $5 on Venmo for them to get a coffee. It was a simple gesture that went a long way in making my clients feel thought of and cared for.

Now, when you’re communicating and over-communicating with your clients, it’s important to go into your client conversations with a plan. Are you going to charge a rescheduling fee? Are you going to upcharge for scheduling in 2021? These questions are causing a lot of noise and chatter amongst photographers, and they are important questions for you to have an answer to prior to communicating with clients. My biggest piece of advice is to decide what is best for your photography company and to stick to your decision as you communicate with your current and future photography clients.

What are you really good at? What makes your photography business the best? Whatever just came to mind, that’s where you should be focusing right now.

This unique time of cancelled events and postponed photo shoots is an opportunity to play to your strengths. Maybe you’re really great at client gifts and communication! Or maybe this time is giving you an opportunity to set boundaries for what your 2021 will look like as a business owner.

[Read “6 Ways for Photographers to Inspire Creative Energy in Isolation”]

Now is a time when we get to put our heads down, build from our strengths, challenge ourselves in our areas of weakness and do what we do well. For Between the Pine, our team’s strength is that we understand elopements and intimate weddings. So we created those six coronavirus wedding resources from the knowledge we have to help couples pull off amazing elopements. Because of the resources we created, couples found my website and have booked me for their upcoming elopement. If you’re needing help with how to play to your strengths as a photographer during this time, my great friends Gabi and Brandon [The Foxes Photography] created this incredible resource for making money and better your photography business during COVID-19.

If you found these coronavirus wedding resources helpful, send them on to your photographer friends, couples or whoever would benefit. None of us are experts for how to navigate a global pandemic in the wedding industry. But, in the words of the early 2000s hit movie High School Musical, “We’re all in this together.”

Mollie Adams is an elopement photographer based in Washington. Her photo business, Between the Pine, originated as a food blog before taking off as a service and resource center for adventuring couples in love.