Business + Marketing

Rebrand: From Big Weddings to Remote Getaways

March 29, 2018

By Maddie Wilbur

All Photos © Maddie Mae Adventure Elopements

My first elopement couple hired me two weeks before their big day, driving up from Texas to get married in the mountains in Colorado, where I live. They asked me to pick out the spot for their ceremony in Rocky Mountain National Park, so I spent a whole day hiking around, looking for the most stunning views, and picked out the most jaw-dropping one I could find.

It was a 12-person wedding. The bride got ready in a log cabin, slipping on the $60 dress she found online. She didn’t believe me when I said it could be 45 °F in July at 12,000 feet, so when we got up to the spot at sunrise, she wore the shawl and thermal leggings that I brought along for her just in case.

It was one of those rare foggy days in Colorado—we even got a sprinkling of snow. A herd of elk made it into the background of some of their images, and we spent more than two hours after their ceremony wandering around all my favorite photo spots in the park while they enjoyed the scenery, just being together before they met everyone back in Estes Park for lunch.

That day changed me forever as a wedding photographer. I had started shooting weddings five years earlier, but that day was the first wedding that I could actually imagine having myself someday. I had never dreamed of a big wedding with a tribe of bridesmaids, gaggle of flower girls, table garlands, stilettos, and bouquet and garter tosses into a crowd of extended family and friends of friends I didn’t really know. I’m an outdoorsy introvert who has always felt the happiest just being outside by myself or with just a few people I’m closest to.

That couple from Texas made the brave choice to have a wedding that truly represented them, without putting on a big production and performance for everyone else. It was a perfect day, I thought. And something in me clicked. Coming home on that day, buzzing with excitement and completely fulfilled rather than feeling drained and tired like usual, I was sure that photographing elopements—and changing my business to something that truly represents who I am—was all I wanted to do.

Within a few weeks of shooting my first elopement, I had blogged it, put it on Pinterest, featured it on my Facebook page (I wasn’t even using Instagram back then) and carefully curated my portfolio, getting rid of any images taken indoors or ones that looked like they were taken at big weddings. I changed my pricing structure to offer smaller-hour packages and added the tagline “Adventurous elopements and intimate weddings for daring and fearless couples.”

From that first elopement, which luckily did very well on Pinterest and gave me great SEO for Rocky Mountain National Park, I booked 25 elopements for the following season. (And ten more big weddings—girl’s gotta eat.) I only shared content that was in line with elopements. By the next season, 18 months after my epiphany, I was only shooting elopements. Last year, I shot 55 of them.

Most elopement photographers I found were only offering very small-hour, low-budget packages, though. When you run the numbers for 55 elopements, $1,000 a pop isn’t pretty. Luckily, most of my couples in 2017 booked the full-day elopement stories I started offering, and I averaged $4,000 per elopement. A small wedding doesn’t mean less coverage than a large event. The documentation is even more meaningful and valuable when there aren’t 100 guests with phones snapping away too. In speaking with my couples, most agreed that their day deserved more than the minimum.

I rarely get requests for bigger weddings these days. In the rare case that I do, it’s easy to say, “Thank you so much for inquiring. We specialize in intimate weddings and elopements and are probably not the best fit for your day.”

It feels right, but elopements are certainly a lot of work—more than most people think.

I would say 80 percent of the couples who hire me have no idea what they want their day to look like or where they want to go. I spend hours upon hours helping them build their wedding, finding the right spot to say their vows and connecting them with vendors. That’s not including the usual hike of 10 miles or more at 2 a.m. with all my gear to get to their ceremony.

But, in the end, doing all that work is how I know I’m doing elopements right. And I couldn’t feel more fulfilled by what I do.

Related: My Rebranding Story: Expanding a Single-Person Photo Business to a Family Collective

My Rebranding Story: From Shooting Destination Weddings to Local Couples in Love