Look, I get it. Life is expensive. Weddings are expensive. Chances are, if you’re eloping you had the hope of saving some cash and buying a house or a new car or going on a crazy incredible honeymoon, right? And then you started looking and you were either a.) Overwhelmed by planning it all solo and happy to hire a professional whose services extend beyond just a photographer ( like me! I plan elopements, did you know?) or b.) You saw the cost of one of those vendors and immediately felt discouraged by the expense of hiring the best…even if it’s still just a fraction of what you were planning or anticipating to spend on a large wedding. I want to break down why it is this way, why it’s worth it, and how to decide if spending money on someone who crosses over the threshold of just a photographer is right for you.
First things first: where did your budget come from? Was it pulled from looking at your annual budget and determining what you had to spend? Planning to save? Help from family? What your sister spent on her wedding 4 years ago? Budgets are (unfortunately) often arbitrary in the early stages of planning. We build them in our heads based on what we’re willing to spend, without actually knowing how much what we want costs in the marketplace. It’s totally valid, but before we get too deep into planning I’d like to encourage you to do some market research. Find work of people you love — work that inspires you and with people who have reviews that get you excited to be part of their experience as well. Not to say that my google reviews are the standard, but my couples write such honest and thoughtful reviews that new couples always say helped them decide that I was the right fit for them.
Before we go on, I want to say: I 100000% know that quality is not always determined by cost. However, as someone who’s been in the industry for 8 years – I can tell you that how I ran my business as a budget photographer versus now is a night and day difference. I have business insurance, professional and legal contracts, and high-end systems to make the experience streamlined and straightforward. I get my gear cleaned quarterly, upgrade it on time and when necessary, have an office and pay for the utilities that go with it. I upgrade my storage annually to ensure your data is as safe as it can be, pay for the programs to process your images, and more. Obviously this is the cost of running my business — but these things mean that I have a lot of skin in the game, and I need to get paid. If I don’t get paid, I can’t pay my bills — resulting in a downgraded experience for my clients because the things that make their experience top notch are no longer attainable. And if I don’t have a great experience, booking clients so that I can get paid becomes so much harder.
The mark of a high-end professional in the elopement space is usually defined by a really clear and informative website, prompt responses upon initial contact, a phone consult before you book with them (not everyone is a good fit and you should know that before spending thousands of dollars!), great reviews on whatever platform they use most, willingness to serve you and answer questions (with the exception of locations; most of us don’t share those until you’re a booked client), and of course – quality & consistent work. I also like to say, you get what you give; on both ends. Typically, people who are just asking for pricing aren’t my people — because if you’re not willing put in energy on your end by spending some time on a phone call with me, the effort of working together to build your day might be more than you’re looking for. Likewise, if someone wants all of the answers immediately and doesn’t allow for the appropriate time and space of my process and what I know works to accomplish their dream day, we probably aren’t the right fit.
It’s only been in the last few years that elopement photographers morphed into a dual role of planner & photographer. We, as a collective, wanted to create incredible days and experiences, but oftentimes couples wouldn’t choose to hire a planner to help coordinate the additional details to accomplish that, and photographers (including myself) weren’t charging enough to compensate for the time spent doing those things on our end. Some people naturally fell into the duality of it all, while others still keep things separate. What matters is that you know there are people out there for whatever you’re looking for, who are more than happy to go above and beyond because there is no other option within the standards they hold for themselves and your day.
I personally don’t “remove” the planning aspect of my services, and that’s because I know what I can accomplish when I’m trusted to make it all work together — it’s like going to a restaurant and asking for an uncooked meal with just the ingredients to save some money and then wondering why it’s not as good as the reviews said it would be. Working with me, you’ll get a timeline, a custom scouted location, phone calls and zoom chats. I’m not willing to risk your day being anything less than everything you have dreamed of with a lack of willingness to serve you. It’s just not gonna happen, my friends! Whoever you work with, wherever they are, they should do these things too.
In contrast, when you start going down the rabbit hole of sticking to your budget (which might be totally valid and truly all you have to work with — I respect that!) it’s important that you know what you are not willing to go without and what you know you can make up for with your own effort. I’m going to list out what Photographers/Planners typically assist with, and how you can do that on your own with the right knowledge if you’re not able to spend the money to hire someone to do all of these things within their services:
I scout a location for every single elopement I shoot. Even if I’ve already been there — I go back and make sure we’re good. I live where I work and have the ability to give information and resources in real time. If you don’t work with someone who knows how to do this for you, it’s important to do adequate research on what kind of land you’re looking at, the sun’s placement based on the direction you’ll face for ceremony, and accessibility. Honestly — this is probably one of the biggest reasons couples hire me personally. It’s not straightforward and knowing you’ve got someone who knows the area, has backup plans, and can scope it out before you get there is really valuable.
Similarly to the last point, experience matters here. I know how long every piece of an elopement day takes even with some buffer & delay times built in. It’s not an art, per se, but it’s a skill learned by exercising it and making dozens of timelines. If you’re making your own timeline without the input of a photographer, check out this podcast episode about how to build a kickass timeline: Elopement Planning 101: How To Create a Kickass Timeline
Working with someone who knows and understands how to navigate obtaining permits is incredibly helpful in sifting through all of the information and webpages out there. Getting answers from offices & via email contact forms can be challenging — even as someone who knows what to expect. Do research early and be prepared to change plans if your initial goal isn’t attainable.
You know how when you travel, you try to find the places where the obvious locals hang out? Well, the same applies for the hikes, activities, shops and restaurants wherever you’re eloping. Working with someone who can truly customize your experience by giving truly local advice is something you can’t really put a price on. All about that experience, baby!
A bride asked me recently if there was a vendor in a specific category that I didn’t enjoy working with. Thankfully, there isn’t anyone I won’t work with and the Tahoe vendor pool is pretty fabulous, but getting personalized recommendations for vendors you know your main vendors will work well with is so helpful and beneficial in preserving the integrity of your day.
If you end up choosing to do most of these alone but still want great photos to document your effort & day — it’s really important you ask to see multiple full galleries (we post our best work; seeing how people use the bad light and non-ideal situations is really good), and that you read the reviews they have! Make sure that they back up photos appropriately and take care to give beautiful galleries. But…if you have the ability to stretch a little bit and trust someone to do most of it for you, well, you’re in for a treat.
If you’re ready to start planning your Lake Tahoe elopement, reach out! I can’t wait to hear from you.