Photographers’ Top Destinations for Elopements in 2023
June 20, 2023
Elopements continue to be popular for weddings despite pandemic restrictions being lifted, in large part because they are more economical and intimate. (Scroll through to see elopement photos from top-ten elopement destinations.)
Despite the pandemic being officially over, elopements remain popular for couples getting married in 2023. Indeed, a recent survey by Helzberg Diamonds found that 62% of U.S.-based couples are open to a scaled-back elopement-style wedding.
A large part of the reason for this is the increasing cost of weddings. The average wedding expenses for a couple getting married in 2023 is estimated to be $29,000, whereas elopements can cost a few hundred dollars. Which, given rising uncertainty about the economy, can look really attractive to couples getting married in the next year.
Many photographers prefer elopements as well. “Most couples put the same amount of effort into their outfits and hair and make-up as you would expect at a larger wedding, but the great thing is it doesn’t come with the same pressure to keep it looking perfect,” says Tiree Dawson, a wedding photographer based in the United Kingdom. “With no wedding reception to return to or evening guests to welcome we can be a bit braver in the elements and really get some shots that show the weather and landscape in all its glory.”
Maddie Kay, a photographer based in Asheville, North Carolina, loves that her couples who elope are not depleted by the stress of a large wedding. “It’s possible to have a real human connection with them,” she says.
Below, five photographers name their top destinations for photographing elopements in 2023.
Madison Kay: The Parker Mill in Whittier, North Carolina
Kay, who estimates that 50% of her clients elope, is not opposed to hiking up to a scenic view open to the public and taking photographs of a couple on their wedding day. But she really enjoys the privacy of renting out the mountaintop at the Parker Mill in Whittier, North Carolina, which is located roughly 60 miles west of Asheville.
The venue, which also hosts large-scale weddings, offers a weekday package to eloping couples for $750. From Monday through Thursday, couples can book the venue’s peak for two hours, and be privy to breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“It’s an amazing spot,” says Kay, who generally travels with a pop-up photo tent along with her camera and a speedlight. Couples generally use the tent to change into their wedding outfits after hiking to the destination where they’ll be married. “Most of the time, I keep my couples inside of the horizon line so that they remain lit from behind,” she says. Any adjustments to exposure are done in editing after the event.
Ashley Plante of Analog Wedding: Dogtown Books in Gloucester, Massachusetts
It’s no wonder that a photographer who shoots primarily with analog cameras finds charm in a bookstore such as Dogtown Books. “With every elopement, I hope to capture images that feel genuine, fleeting and historic in a personal way,” says Plante. “The kinds of photos you find in vintage stores; analog and true.”
Dogtown Books, which was founded by a visual artist and a writer, offers plenty of eye candy for the intellectual mind. The biggest challenge for Plante is working with the mixture of overhead and low natural light coming in through the windows. “Knowing that we will be in a low light environment with deep shadows and tight spaces, I will bring plenty of CineStill, Kodak Portra 800 and Ilford Delta 3200, a few wide angle Zeiss lenses to compliment my portrait lenses,” she says, noting that she shoots with a handful of 35mm and medium format analog cameras.
An added bonus, the location is that it is just a short walk from the ocean; after the ceremony, Plante will bring the couple to the ocean for portraits. “Gloucester brings nature, history and idyllic New England scenes,” she says. A perfect mixture for the sort of timeless images that Plante loves to capture.
Tiree Dawson: The Langdale Valley in the English Lake District
When Dawson describes the Langdale Valley in the English Lake District, which is one of her favorite places to shoot elopements, it sounds like she’s reading a sentence from a classic novel. “The narrow road winds along between patchworks of stone-walled fields and pretty little hamlets dotted with traditional inns,” she says. “Sheltering the valley are the jagged peaks of the Langdale Pikes, with waterfalls tumbling down them and friendly Herdwick sheep expertly scrambling up the steep sides.”
Indeed, many famous poets and artists were inspired by the region, including William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Dawson, who shoots over 80 elopements a year, loves photographing in the area, which is just a three hour train ride from London. “There are of course more adventurous options, but if you’re looking for a location that can offer you remote, wild wedding photos without having to spend your whole day getting them, then this could be the place for you,” she says. And because the area is largely in the care of the National Trust, the biggest conservation charity in Europe, couples generally don’t need to rent an area to have access to it.
The weather, however, does present a challenge. “We often see all four seasons in one day or have hours of heavy rain followed by a sunset,” says Dawson. However, it is the very changeability of the climate that makes for such wonderful photographs. “You can literally see the next weather front rolling in over the hills,” she says.
Bek Smith: The Amalfi Coast
If you want the most glamorous elopement photographs possible, travel to the Amalfi Coast, a stretch of villages that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy. Think The Talented Mr. Ripley meets Sophia Loren on her wedding day.
“[The Amalfi Coast] is a colorful cascade of houses and villas perched above the crystal blue waters,” says Bek Smith, an Australian wedding photographer who is shooting a series of elopements in the area in August and September. “You have the option to hop on a boat, marry in a villa with a balcony overlooking the backdrop of the Mediterranean or wander up and down the interesting streets filled with atmosphere and tradition.”
Smith, who uses Canon 5D Mark IV and R6 Mar II to capture her images, notes that she doesn’t travel with any lighting gear beyond a speedlight. “The natural light of the Amalfi Coast is amazing,” she says.
Jade + Matthew: The Historic Gastonian in Savannah, Georgia
Renting a room at the Historic Gastonian in Savannah, Georgia, will cost around $350 a night. But what you get for the price is access not only to the historic mansion, which was built in 1865, but also Savannah’s downtown area, which is composed of 24 manicured squares dripping in Spanish moss and covered in tropical flowers. “The Gastonian is one of my favorite elopement spots,” says Jade Branson McCully, who runs photography business Jade + Matthew with her husband. “It’s right in the middle of Savannah, and you can walk to a square or the park and enjoy the live oaks.” McCully notes that the interior the mansion is wonderful for romantic “getting ready” shots, and that the courtyard of the inn is an intimate spot for hosting a small ceremony. In the neighborhood surrounding the inn are historic theaters, museums and even Leopold’s, an ice cream shop founded in 1919 that remains a major attraction almost 100 years later, all of which serve as a backdrop for spectacular photographs.
Generally, the soft lighting provided by windows and interior lighting is enough to capture what McCully needs from an elopement inside the Gastonian. And outdoors, in the squares, the Southern sun filtered through the trees is perfect for romantic imagery. When photographing at the Gastonian, McCully generally brings two cameras, a portrait lens and a speedlight, making the location perfect for both photographers and couples looking to travel light to a destination.