Elopements with Adventure Instead
How secure is the business of wedding photography you ask?
If you’d asked us that last year – Answer – “It’s the best! We’re recession proof! Couples will plan a wedding no matter what the state of the economy is, Love knows no boundaries!”
2020 answer, while eating humble pie – “Shit…We didn’t see this coming. We thought Wedding photography and the wedding industry as a whole was basically indestructible”
We’ve all learnt that we’re not beyond Covid-19 and that a Pandemic really does cripple the entire world and economy, no matter which country we live in.
As a result of restrictions that have been placed upon us and our businesses we’ve all had to think a little outside the square, diversify, “pivot” and work extra hard to make business work. It’s been a great time to reflect, regroup, plan, rethink.
It’s times like these we find ourselves in right now, we look outside our worlds, to explore opportunities and learn from others. Couples are doing the same. They’re re-exploring their ‘ideal’ wedding and what that might look like, some are reshaping their approach to how they will be married, where they will be married and with whom they’ll share their day.
There will always be a special place for traditional weddings and the services and guest list that comes with the larger weddings, and the amazing moments that we’re presented with on these wedding days. There will always be wedding photographers who thrive on the reportage moments at weddings and the mass of energy and joy that comes from medium to large wedding celebrations and we’re certainly not suggesting one approach to nuptials is better or worse than the other, but it’s always interesting to explore what’s out there, right!?
This led us to delve a little deeper into the concept and the business of Elopements. It’s not a new concept, many of us have photographed Elopements of some kind ourselves or we’ve seen the results of Elopements across our social channels…but Adventure Elopements? There’s a few photographers out there who, for some time, long before Covid-19, have their business model firmly focused on Elopements and more specifically the adventurous kind, hiking the mountains to sacred places with couples to ‘seal the deal’
We’ve certainly seen many great entries in the Awards featuring moments from beautiful elopements. Elopements can involve just the two of you or you can incorporate your whole family into the day. I found a great article with ways to still include your loved ones in you elopement that’s worth a read
Bringing together a love for the great outdoors as well as a love for photographing couples’ nuptials, Maddie Mae and her team find themselves in what appears on the surface, a hugely successful business, living their dream and fulfilling those of their couples. We recently caught up with Maddie Mae to learn a little more..
G’day Maddy! Thanks for joining us.
How long have you been photographing Adventure Elopements?
Since 2015. I (Maddie Mae) started photographing weddings in 2010 and photographed what I consider to be my first adventure elopement in 2015 – in Rocky Mountain National Park.
What implications has Covid-19 had on business? Has it seen a surge of interest or has it been a right pain in the ass? Rearranging bookings / travels etc? Enquiries increased or decreased?
When COVID first hit back in March, like most small business owners, we were nervous and had a lot of anxiety around the uncertainty. Our biggest concern came with our ability to travel. While this business started in Colorado (and we live here), we were planning on being in 10 different countries this year for elopements. Obviously, all of those had to be moved and rescheduled. We had over 100 elopements booked for 2020 and the pandemic hit so that was certainly stressful. The most challenging part has been working with our couples from all over the world as they deal with postponements and understanding travel restrictions.
Overall, I would say that this year, the world has never been more open to eloping than they have now. The number of inquiries we have gotten for our business since March has tripled. We’ve talked to so many couples who have said that this pandemic is kind of giving them an excuse to have the wedding that they really wanted in the first place.
How much of it was trial and error, how much was learnt from others? Did you / Do you have a mentor?
I’m a completely self-taught photographer. I never went to photography school. No one ever taught me how to take photos. So I taught myself and definitely learned photography itself by trial and error. As far as business, I am super glad that I went to business school. I got a business marketing degree from Colorado State University and I don’t currently have a mentor specifically, but there have been a lot of people that I’ve drawn on for advice from my professors and business school. Most of my mentors have been outside of the photography industry. I really like getting different perspectives from people and in other industries.
Break down of % time spent on your business VS in your business ? How much is marketing / editing / booking / admin etc and do you do this yourself or do you employ others to manage facets of your businesses?
Before I even went full time with my business, I started outsourcing tasks that were more efficient for other people to do for me.
Since I graduated college in 2015 and went full-time, I very quickly brought some part-time help and then in the last couple of years I’ve had full time admin help.
I had a full-time editor and part time blogger and social media manager before I hired any other photographers. And that’s what enabled my business to really scale. Now that we have a team of three photographers, we have a full time admin, full time social media person, a blogger that we contract out to and a full time in-house editor. So my personal time is not fully consumed by the business anymore which enables us to be able to scale and do a ton of things that solopreneurs just don’t have the capacity for.
Are there specific months of the year you don’t book up, either for recharge or because weather and demand dictates?
November – April is a lot less busy than May – October. I would say we photograph about 75% of our elopements between the months of May & October just because we mostly photograph in the Northern Hemisphere and most couples want warmer weather for their elopements.
Adventure Academy – I went on the website for a “5 minute look” and left about 35 minutes later – some serious energy has gone into the brand you portray there, it’s really impressive and made me want to sign up for your education program. Your marketing background really shines through.Tell us a little more about the Academy and how it’s going?
I started getting a lot of requests from people asking for mentoring back in 2016 and have done a lot of 1-1 mentoring. In 2017, I started getting asked to speak at a lot of workshops and that year decided to put on, with another photographer, specifically about how to get into this adventure photographer niche.. It was super successful so we did it again and our second workshop sold out in 15 minutes. I knew I was onto something but also knew I could not keep up with the demand of teaching in-person workshops so I decided to take my education online.
I worked on building an online course and launched it in June 2019. It was wonderfully successful and it’s been amazing. I love teaching photographers how to build a business about serving eloping couples. We’re continuing to expand with more courses and more collaborative courses. We have a lot of fun and exciting stuff coming up for Adventure Instead Academy.
Where did the concept originate and how long did it take to pull together the program before releasing it? IS it a year round thing or just something you focus on for specific times of the year ?
I focused on the launch of the online course for a solid 5 months before launch. I have continued to make updates to it and improve it as well as being available to answer questions for the students in the VIP community.
During wedding season, I am often more focused on serving my couples and shooting elopements but I am never not present in the course community.
How many photographers have you had complete the program you offer with the Academy? Is interest growing with the recent changes due to Covid?
Over 600 photographers have taken The Elopement Photographer Course.
Yes, since Covid there are a ton of photographers trying to figure out how to help their couples pivot from a big wedding to an elopement and not lose their bookings. We put out a free 7-day challenge in May to help photographers do just that. The challenge was designed to help photographers learn how to grab hold of the rising number of eloping couples right now and position their businesses to book more high-value elopements. The free challenge is still available in the Weddings & Wanderlust Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/weddingsandwanderlust or they can sign up here: https://adventureinstead.co/elopement-photographer-challenge-signup/
With your marketing hat on as well as your photographer hat – What do you see as the benefits of entering awards and how should photographers take their awards to grow their business. If you won an award what would be your first 3 steps to market the results?
Different awards that I have won over time have helped position me as an industry leader and someone that people look up to for education. It’s not the only factor, but it is a piece of social proof indicating that you are a top professional.
Do you ever still shoot more ‘traditional’, large style weddings at reception venues etc?
No. I stopped accepting inquiries for big weddings back in 2015.
Can you maybe outline what an adventure elopement day might look like?
We have a lot of great elopement stories on our blog that detail a variety of adventure elopements: https://adventureinstead.com/blog-new
For an inside look into an all-day elopement timeline, check out this blog post: https://adventureinstead.com/blog/elopement-timeline-tips
What’s the average client spend?
Over $7,000 for our elopement photography and planning services. For more information on our elopement packages and pricing: https://adventureinstead.com/elopement-packages
% of the Elopements that include an official legal service?
I would say less than half! This is especially true for our destination elopements. It is way more convenient for our couples to do the paperwork at home before or after their elopement day. We are all ordained so we can all sign our couples marriage license so they don’t have to hire an officiant if they don’t want to.
Do the adventure elopements generally just involve the couple or do you sometimes have a pose of people trekking up hills with you and does this change the cost and the dynamics? If it’s anything like a ‘traditional’ wedding day I’d imagine a big group of folk would change the energy significantly and not necessarily for the better ?
We only photograph elopements under 25 people. About half of our elopements are just the couple, the other half do include family and friends. The cost that we provide does not change whether or not the couple has guests or not – oftentimes this changes a lot before their elopement day so we just keep it simple.
Check out more from Maddy and her Adventure Instead team on Instagram or find out more about the Adventure Instead Academy here.