Planning an Eco-Friendly Elopement

Are you considering getting married in the great outdoors, but want to make sure that you plan an eco-friendly elopement or wedding? Outdoor elopements and adventure weddings have increased in popularity over the last few years, and it’s no surprise why. Many couples are choosing to forgo certain traditions and formalities in favor of creating an experience that feels more uniquely suited to them, and I for one am absolutely here for this vibe.  I specialize in photographing outdoor weddings and adventure elopements for couples that want a unique experience out in nature.

However, the venue of the great outdoors has no one to look after it except for us.  It is our responsibility to take care of it so that it can be enjoyed by everyone equally.  As someone who shoots almost exclusively in gorgeous landscapes that sit in city, state, or national parks, I am always deeply thankful that resources have been expended to keep these areas protected and that we have the ability to photograph some of life’s most meaningful events for couples out in these beautiful areas.

If you are planning an outdoor elopement or adventure wedding, chances are you feel a pretty strong connection to nature.  But wedding planning looks just a little bit different for couples who are ready to embrace the great outdoors.

So how can you make sure that your big day is also a good day for mother nature?  Below are some tips to help plan your eco-friendly elopement or wedding.

1. Leave No Trace

Anyone familiar with hiking or camping might have heard this term before.   The premise is fairly simple –  if you bring it in, you bring it out. Further, the land should generally look the same when you enter as when you leave, so human impact is minimized.   The same principles apply when planning an outdoor eco-friendly elopement or wedding.   Some of the more popular locations in the country for elopements might see hundreds of couples get married there in a year.  It’s important to remember that everyone deserves to experience the landscape in the same way, no matter when they go.  By leaving no trace, we can make sure that these beautiful locations continue to be available to us going forward.

2. Keep to the Path

I find that many people are less aware of this tip, and I think it is incredibly important to be conscientious as both a photographer and a wedding couple or guest. Most state and national parks have trails running through their landscapes, and it is really important to stay on the trail. In the desert, it’s easy to think that everything around the path is dead and dry, so what could it hurt to venture off the path? The problem is that the desert may look dead and dry, but with just a little rain, grasses and all kinds of other plants will pop up almost immediately.  However, if there is too much human treading, nothing will be able to grow in these spaces.   We are all out there because we love the look of the landscape, so it’s really important that we all take active steps (pun intended) to keep the landscape awesome for everyone.

So what kind of tips do I have for this point?  The first is to just embrace the path.  In photography, there is actually an artistic strategy referred to as “leading lines” where it is visually pleasing to have something that draws your eye across a photograph.  So for me personally, I love a good path.  Lead me away!

Second, as photographers, we have a myriad of ways to make it look like you are just out in middle of nowhere.   With the right strategies, we can give you that vast landscape that you are looking for in your photos without causing damage to the surrounding area. Exhibit A below.

Third, embrace rocks!  Rocks are somewhat of a safe zone, if you will, because they are considered a very durable surface.  This is generally a better place to step because rocks can withstand repeated treading, and you won’t be crushing new life underfoot.  If there isn’t a trail, try to keep to durable surfaces as best you can.

 3. Keep Your Exit Fun But Friendly!

Wedding exits are so much fun, and they make for really cute photos.   However, a lot of things that might fly in a traditional venue are not going to work well in an outdoor space.  Keeping in line with the leave no trace concept, exits that involve things like confetti, rice, and this one is going to be potentially controversial, but I’m gonna say it – loose flower petals – are best to avoid for an eco-friendly elopement.  Even if you think you can pick up every single piece of confetti or every rose petal afterward, there is the wind to consider, and you will likely never be able to pick everything back up.  None of these things are part of the natural landscape, and it’s best to try something else for your outdoor exit.

Another popular exit item is to use smoke bombs. However, particularly in the desert, these are typically a no-go.  First, the use of smoke bombs usually violates the rules and regulations of pretty much any state or national recreation area in Arizona, and I highly suspect in most desert states.   Second, they can be a fire hazard, as most of them put out at least some sparks.  Even if they don’t put out sparks, from a distance, the thick smoke looks like the start of a forest fire.   The surest way to get a park ranger’s attention is to do something that makes it look like a fire has just started!  Nobody wants that kind of emergency situation on their wedding day. 

For the same reasons, outdoor sparkler exits should also typically be avoided if you are in a desert location.  We are very sensitive in the desert to brushfires, as the landscape is almost always extremely dry, and the fire hazard level is high. 

So what can you use? Did I just suck the fun out of every possible exit strategy? Fear not, there are plenty of more eco-friendly alternatives that you can use.   You just have to be a little bit more creative.   Some eco-friendly alternatives:

  • Bubble exit.   Have your friends and family blow bubbles at you for your exit. This one just screams fun, and it gives your photos an awesome sense of whimsy.
  • Fog exit.  Personally, I have a small portable fog machine I sometimes use at sessions that takes environmentally friendly fog fluid.   The fog dissipates after 15 to 20 seconds, and there is no fire risk like there is with smoke bombs.

4. Be Careful with your Props

This goes along somewhat with keeping to the path, but it’s important to keep the same mindset when setting up any props like chairs, rugs, arches, or floral arrangements.  Some parks and preserves do not allow things like chairs or rugs, so your guests should be prepared for standing room only.

If you are somewhere that does allow them, keep in mind that you want to place all of them on areas that are part of the trail system.   It hurts my soul a little bit to see photos with gorgeous elaborate setups out in the desert that are trying to take advantage of the beautiful views we have, but are simultaneously crushing new baby plants underneath.  I get it, it is very tempting to go full Pinterest on your elopement décor, and who doesn’t love a good wooden arch.  However, just keep in mind that some locations will work better than others for an eco-friendly elopement if you want certain items included.

5. Get Your Permits

The people who work in our parks departments are absolute gems.  They are out there trying to keep everyone safe and happy every day and make sure the parks and preserves are around in their natural state for years to come.   Given that, keep in mind that many places require permits in order to shoot there and/or hold events there.  Usually, these are fairly easy to obtain, and I always assist couples with any permit requirements. 

We are so fortunate to have all of these beautiful landscapes in which to create art. I love the direction that this industry is taking, and hopefully these tips will help you plan your perfect day in the perfect spot!

Want to see more eco-friendly elopement inspiration? Check out this Horseshoe Bend elopement or this Imperial Sand Dunes styled elopement.

Ready to chat about your next adventure? Contact me here.

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