Running away somewhere remote and beautiful with your one true love to get married – surely the absolute height of romance.

No fussing over handmade favours. No stressing over pre-ordered meals and last minute drop outs. No awkward conversations with your cousin’s great aunt and her plus one. Just an intimate and romantic ceremony and extended honeymoon in one. Bliss.

For many of us (like me), the thought of a traditional wedding is awkward, vomit-inducing, bank-breaking and generally disrespectful to the other love in our life (travel). A destination elopement on the other hand, may well be the perfect alternative.

But how does one go about organising an elopement?

Cue Maddie Mae – the Colorado-based photographer who runs, along with her two friends, the elopement business Adventure Instead. Maddie Mae travels the world coordinating, guiding and capturing these intimate moments, and boy are we jealous of her job (and photography skills!)

I managed to grab a break in her manic schedule to learn more about photographing loved-up couples on mountains for a living.


I guess we better start from the top! How did you become an elopement photographer?

I didn’t start out my photography career shooting elopements— in fact, I spent the first five years of my career shooting big, traditional weddings. I know that for a lot of people, having those weddings and capturing those weddings is the perfect fit for them but it wasn’t for me. I’d shoot a big wedding and come home feeling drained and exhausted.

When I finally shot my first elopement, everything just clicked for me. It was magical and inspiring. I was outside doing something I loved. The couple I was capturing was stress-free and happy, they weren’t rushing to get the day over with, they were wishing they could live in that day forever.

That feeling – that passion and knowledge that I was helping a couple create a wedding experience that was all about who they were, was enough to make me jump in immediately.

What has been your favourite shoot destination and why?

I’ve been so fortunate to have tons of couples who want nothing more than to elope in some of the most amazing places in the world and I’m lucky enough to get to tag along for the ride which is why answering this question is so difficult!

If I had to pick a favourite place, it would have to be Namibia. I shot an elopement for a couple in November of 2018 that was essentially just day-after-day full of safari exploration and it was one of the most jaw-dropping, mind-boggling experiences in the world. The Namibian landscape was epic. There was incredible wildlife everywhere and every time I turned around, I saw something entirely new to me (and entirely beautiful).

Tell me about one of your cutest couples?

This one is actually an impossible question – every single couple we’ve ever been lucky enough to work with has been adorable, wonderful, and bad-ass in their own right. Without exaggeration, all of our couples are truly amazing (which is one of the reasons I absolutely love what I do). Every elopement stands out to me because they’re each so uniquely intimate and true to each couple. BUT, off the top of my head, I can say that one of the elopements that stands out to me is Kari & Karin’s. They did exactly what they wanted to do all day: they rode bikes on the beach, romped through the forest, had an amazing picnic and even had a helicopter ceremony. It was so perfect and so full of emotion.


I’m sure there are moments in an elopement ceremony that don’t go quite to plan – do you have any stories that spring to mind?

What I love about what we do is that we’re not just the photographers – we help the couple craft the entire day, find vendors and locations, and ultimately be there for them as their adventurous wedding planner. But because of the nature of outdoor, adventurous elopements, it’s impossible to plan for absolutely everything—especially weather.

I was up in Ouray, Colorado last year with the sweetest couple (Katie and Logan) for their off-road Jeep elopement at a beautiful basin in the San Juan mountains. We’d planned for all the eventualities, came prepared, and even had a Jeep guide driving us. We drove to our spot and began the hike up to the basin where Katie and Logan wanted to have their intimate ceremony—about half way up, an insane storm rolled in. I’m talking thunder, lightning strikes, a little bit of hail — it was all happening out of nowhere. We ran down the mountain and back to the Jeep as fast as we could to wait out the storm. And honestly? It was pretty scary! Were we OK? Of course. We always know to be on the lookout for sudden storms in the mountains. But it had happened so unexpectedly and so quickly! The coolest part is that the storm didn’t last long, and when the sun peeked back out, what was left was the most epic alpenglow ever. It made for the best photos of the entire day (I think!).

That’s the fun part about elopements—even when they don’t all go to plan, you’re working with people who want nothing more than to be right there, with each other, in that moment—even if that moment is a scary thunderstorm! There’s nothing more rewarding than that.

You recently eloped yourself – congratulations! Tell me all about it!

Even now, months afterwards, I struggle to find the words to explain how amazing my elopement really was.

My husband and I, in true adventure fashion, embarked on a hiking elopement all over the Andes Mountains near Cuzco (up at about 13,000 feet). The day before our ceremony, we hiked up to some hidden-gem Incan ruins that we had all to ourselves when the sun came up. Thinking back on it, it’s just as magical to me now as it was then. I’m sure when I think back on it years from now, it’ll feel exactly the same way.

We loved our elopement for a lot of reasons – it was in an epic location, it was magical and intimate and our ceremony spot was all ours; but more than anything, we loved our elopement because it was the perfect reflection of who we are. We both wanted something intimate where we could say exactly what we wanted to each other without any judgement or pressure to perform or please anyone. It was uniquely us and perfectly intimate.

I asked Amber, one of our adventure elopement photographers from Adventure Instead (and my dear friend) to be the one to capture our elopement. I have always believed in having someone there to document a couple’s love story on the day they choose each other for the rest of their lives, but I don’t know that I ever could truly understand how impactful and meaningful it really is until I made that decision myself. Because Amber was there to document our adventure, I can look back at those photos every day and experience the same magic I did the day we eloped.

Memories will fail you. As beautiful as they are, they eventually fade. The gift of having something so permanent and real that I can hold in my hands that reminds me of that perfect day is indescribable.

Why do you think so many people are opting to elope instead of having a traditional wedding ceremony?

This is a question that we also desperately wanted to know the answer to! As elopement photographers (and people who all chose to elope ourselves) we had tons of speculation as to why more and more couples were choosing this type of wedding experience, but we wanted to know the real reason why. We took it upon ourselves to do a little side project to collect data from eloping couples so we could analyze and understand ​why ​couples are doing this. We compiled that data into a top ten list (​which we shared on our blog​).

The biggest reason that couples are choosing to elope in place of having a big, traditional wedding is because they’re truly craving an intimate ​’just us’ day.

With eloping, they’re able to choose the wedding experience that speaks to them, and that often sheds away the pressure, obligation, and anxiety that can come with a traditional wedding.

We also found that couples are opting for elopements because they believe it’s a more authentic representation of who they are. They believe it to be more intentional, and because they value an experience over tangible things. Of course, these are all reasons we believe in elopement, but there’s something so powerful about having that data to really show you why people are throwing tradition to the wind.

Lastly, where can we find more information and of course more epic elopement pictures?

We love to blog about our past elopements, so if you want to hear about some sweet, bad-ass real elopement stories, check out our website​​. You can find all the information you’ll need on our site to learn more about who we are, what we believe, and how we can help you create your wildly different wedding experience.

We also love to post photos of our amazing couples on our Instagram page. I also run an educational Facebook group for elopement photographers. ​Teaching is another one of my passions and I love being a resource for photographers looking to create the careers they’ve always dreamed of.

Thank you so much Maddie Mae for your time and giving us an insight into your interesting life and business!