I’m just going to start by saying – I’m about to get deep.
This isn’t going to be me throwing a bunch of jargon in your face like “intentional”, “meaningful”, “authentic” – honestly, all of these terms are great, but in a way they seem a little superficial, don’t they? I mean, doesn’t everyone want a meaningful wedding? Doesn’t everyone want their wedding day to feel unique, special, and like “themselves”? I feel like no matter who you are, where you come from, how you met, or who you invite, your dream wedding day could be described as intentional or meaningful.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting and thinking about how I want to brand myself. I’m huge on goals, and last year was all about getting my foot in the door and establishing the basics. This year, I really want to focus on steering my work in a new direction… I really want to hone in on my purpose and niche down so I’m creating work that’s a reflection of what truly inspires me. To do all of this, I’ve had to dig deep – deeper than I ever knew I could go. I’ve had to reminisce my past, pay more attention to my emotions, recognize the exact moments “light bulbs” go off in my head, ask more questions, listen instead of speak… all of this just to figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing.
You’d think us photographers would have all of this figured out before starting our businesses. But honestly, most of us are just going with the flow without ever paying much attention to why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why photography? Why couples? Why weddings? Why small weddings? Why elopements? Why, why, why…
Is it because weddings are a billion dollar industry and it pays the bills? Is it because that’s what seems to be trending and everyone else seems to be doing it? Is it because I get to create beautiful images? Is it because I get to guide couples through a really stressful time in their lives and help make the process enjoyable? Honestly, my head is nodding to all of the above, but my real “why” goes so much deeper.
While I go at it, I’m going to pepper in a few of my favorite photos of me and my love taken by my sweet friend, Anni Graham, during our honeymoon in New Zealand. Yeah, the photos are impressive, but more than anything they embody and illustrate all of the words and emotions I’m about to pull out of my heart and soul and pour onto the internet for everyone to read. No pressure or anything…
Okay, without further ado…
This is my story of why I chose to specialize in small weddings and elopements.
Let’s be honest, elopements photograph well
I was having a conversation with a friend a few months ago where we were talking about bigger picture perspective. Both being creatives, we chose photography as our outlet. But then I got to thinking… why photography? Why couples? Why weddings? Why small weddings? Why elopements?
I’m not going to shy away from the blatantly obvious fact that adventurous elopements are just plain beautiful – a photographer’s dream really. Every day I see a new photographer hopping on the elopement bandwagon – this is where you’re probably thinking “but Alyssa, you’re one of the hoppers!” and you’re not wrong. But I bet if you had a candid conversation with any photographer in the world, they’re probably going to tell you that yeah, they’d love to photograph couples in love while traveling to all the remote corners of the world. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that doing all of this is fun + fulfilling, and at the end of an amazing experience, you get to leave with creations, pieces of art.
But with all of this beauty does come hard work. Hopping on a plane every couple of weeks isn’t for the faint of heart. Encouraging couples to ditch the conventional wedding and get married in a location they’ve probably never seen before isn’t easy. Building strong, foundational, and trustworthy relationships with couples you’ve never met before and being entrusted to document one of the most important days of their lives isn’t to be taken lightly.
So why do I love it so much? The human connection.
Simply put – nothing inspires me more than human connection.
Although our wedding day ended up being beautiful, it wasn’t without it’s stressful moments and to be one hundred percent honest, it wasn’t the wedding I had spent most of my life dreaming of having. We had so much pressure from loved ones because they wanted to celebrate with us and it was hard for me to balance the desire to please the people I loved while also listening to my heart. It’s not that I felt our loved ones didn’t deserve to celebrate with us. It’s just that for me, a wedding is so much more than food and alcohol and five second conversations before you have to run off to greet the next guest. I had spent most of my life dreaming of a wedding day filled with intentional decisions, meaningful conversations, and connecting with our tribe on a deep and intimate level.
I didn’t grow up in a traditional family picture, and in it often felt that I had to put up a guard to protect my emotions. Because I never felt safe or confident in being myself, I developed a severely introverted personality and became very selective in who I hold near to my heart. From childhood into adult hood, I experienced moments that made me realize family isn’t necessarily what you’re born into, but instead who you surround yourself with.
As I started planning my own wedding, I realized how quickly larger weddings cause couples + their loved ones to lose perspective. Then it dawned on me – there are probably so many other couples out there feeling the same way I was feeling. To me, a wedding is a spiritual event to celebrate a couples consensual decision to fuse together their futures. Once you strip back the meaning of a wedding to it’s core, you realize that its so much more than a party, its about the tying together of two souls, the creation of a team, the building of your family.
I didn’t choose weddings, I chose the human connection.
I’m an observer by nature and have virtually zero extroverted energy. When I enter a loud or crowded room, I can physically feel the energy drain from my body. I’ll be surrounded by nothing but positivity and stimulating conversation, but still find myself yawning and being pulled to the perimeter. I can’t help it – I shrivel. There’s just something inside of me that craves intimacy. During one on one conversations, I blossom. I can physically feel my heart and lungs open, by brain sparks and ideas churn rapidly, my soul can breath long and deep.
To me, there is so much beauty in the simple existence of humanity – the joy that overcomes you when you hear a baby laugh, the inspiration you feel while gazing into a flickering flame, the fuzzy feeling you get when the person you love holds you tight – all things human beings have been experiencing since our inception.
Each and every person is but a thread on the loom of humanity. We’re separated by race, religion, politics, social hierarchy – noise created out of nothing, really – but connected by love, jealousy, empathy, sadness, admiration… undeniable human qualities that span time and space. We’ve all experienced these peaceful moments at one point or another where everything feels right in the world, regardless of all the constant noise being thrown at our faces – and isn’t it beautiful when that happens?
On a day so personal and pivotal, couples deserve to feel valued and heard. For us quiet observers, this only comes when we surround ourselves in an intimate atmosphere. Elopements give us those things – they provide us the quiet space we need to speak and make connections, and give us permission to be vulnerable. Even if just for a day, elopements allow us to let go of the noise that so often clouds our perspective, and instead truly allow us to experience the human connection with our favorite person in the world – our partner.
I’m inspired by places that make me feel small
Before the sun comes up, take a drive down a deserted road, then get out and start walking. Walk until there’s no sign of humanity, then sit down and take in the wild. See how the light creates shadows, hear how the birds communicate through song, smell the sweet aroma of morning dew. Observe how life carries on when you aren’t paying attention.
For a person who craves intimacy and finds beauty in quiet moments, I’ve always seen the outdoors as a place of serenity. When in nature, conversation isn’t needed. You’re absorbed by the moment and struck with the realization that whether in this moment of solitude or carrying on with your life, you’re really not all that significant. In this though, there is joy in the feeling that despite your overall insignificance as an individual, you’re still a part of something, something so much bigger.
From the very beginning of our relationship, my husband and I agreed that travel was something we deeply valued for our future. While our wedding was beautiful and one of the best days of our lives, no days in our lives compare to the days we spend alone together outdoors in a foreign territory. There’s something so insanely beautiful and humbling about experiencing a new place with your favorite person for the first time.
There’s just something about being enveloped in the peacefulness of nature that amplifies the intimacy between two people. When something as grand as a mountain or vast an ocean is right at your side, you’re reminded that all the noise in your life and all the petty stresses and struggles to come in your marriage are virtually meaningless when compared to the big picture. The openness that surrounds you helps you focus on whats right in front of you – each other – and reminds you of the significance in the promises you’re making to each other.
Our honeymoon in New Zealand was unparalleled to any other trip we’ve been on together, and we are so blessed to have had this incredible adventure to spring-board our marriage. The cherry on top? These photos by Anni – what a privilege it is to have them to enjoy for the rest of our lives. Not only are they stunning, but they embody every little sight, sound, and emotion we were feeling at that point in our relationship. The roaring wind, the light pouring into the valley, the gigantic mountain range making us feel so small… all of it painting an allegory of our new marriage and all things to come.
When the pressure of a hundred or more guests is at your side, you lose that feeling of being small and instead feel put on display. Your promises are no longer only said to each other, but instead become the script to a production. It’s not that bigger, more conventional weddings are meaningless. It’s just that for some of us, its intimacy and serenity that brings out our sense of authenticity and vulnerability. If you’re an eloper, you know you’re an eloper.
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No, elopements aren’t for everyone
Yes, elopements are beautiful. They’re super romantic, often filled with adventure, and effortlessly fulfill our inner desire to do something different. However, I’d be lying if I said everyone should elope. The truth is, elopements aren’t for everyone. Not every couple getting married cares to escape the conventional, big dollar wedding scene and instead start their lives together with an adventure. Not every couple dreams of making their upmost promises to one another with unlimited space for authenticity and vulnerability. Not every couples values solitude or time in nature. And I’m here to say, that’s okay.
It really doesn’t matter how the two of you decide to celebrate this milestone, as long as it’s true to your personalities, morals, and priorities. My motto on all of this is: as long as the decision is truly yours, then it’s the right one. You’ll always look back and wish you did something different – that’s just how life works. But in the end the most important thing is that you can look back and say, with confidence, that every decision made was yours.
This is your single day, and nobody else’s. Yes, your loved ones have probably been waiting for this day for a long time, but that doesn’t mean it’s for them. Your wedding day is for you – your story, your love, your commitment – and it deserves to unfold with you and your values at the center of it all.
Other Elopement Planning Resources:
I’ve been a bride and I’ve photographed weddings. No matter how small or how grand your wedding is, it’s going to fly by in the blink of an eye. With so many things happening at once, its easy to overlook
This post could just be titled “Finishing Strong When Traveling Abroad” because many of these suggestions are targeted towards those traveling internationally. However, many couples who elope end up having a destination elopement – often meaning they decide to visit