Thinking about eloping and looking for a photographer? If my work resonates with you, feel free to get in touch! You can contact me here. I would love to hear everything you’re dreaming up!
On today’s episode I’m chatting with Anna Tee! She is an elopement photographer based in the Pacific Northwest, though she travels around the US quite a bit.
Our main topic of discussion is what it means to have a full day elopement. I think sometimes people might think about eloping as just a quick thing that you go and do at the courthouse or city hall. How could it take much longer than an hour? But we kind of go into making it an entire day with multiple fun festivities.
And then we talk about the differences between an elopement and a traditional wedding in relation to location, guests, planning that’s required, photography, and the just amount of time that you get to spend together.
We have Anna here today and I would love Anna if you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your business.
Anna (01:43): Well I am currently in Washington. I live in my camper van so I’m a little bit all over the place. But I started photographing big weddings a couple of years ago and I really loved it, but I kind of quickly started to realize that it felt like so many couples were just kind of doing it for other people and not for themselves. And they were getting pushed into all these decisions and into throwing this big party that they didn’t necessarily want or they didn’t even get to enjoy because they spent all that time worrying about everyone else, and barely even getting to spend any time together.
So when I discovered elopements I was like, yes, this is it. Couples should know that they have this other option. That they don’t have to do, like what everyone else does with a big wedding thing, that they can literally do whatever they want.
And I think that’s why it’s so amazing that this podcast exists. And all these other resources that are popping up for couples, just so they can kind of realize that they can elope and that their wedding day can be all about them, as it should be! They can just do things that they actually enjoy. So now I’m a full time elopement photographer.
Katie (2:54): That’s awesome. You just kind of casually mentioned that you live in a van, but I really briefly want to hear more about that. What inspired you to start doing that?
Anna (3:05): Oh my gosh. Okay. So I first learned about van life when I was in high school. I actually grew up in New Jersey. I lived there for 18 years and a lot of people have never been to New Jersey because there’s nothing there. So I am like a total nature girl. I love the mountains, I love the woods and there’s just none of that in New Jersey. So all throughout high school I was just kind of looking for this thing and I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t have any of it around me.
And so I found these people on Instagram that lived in their vans and I thought that was like the coolest thing ever. So I would follow them. But it was, it was always in the back of my mind, but it was just one of those things that I thought, I could never do that, you know?
Anna (3:46): Then I moved out to Washington and I was 18. I went to college for a little bit. I switched my major like seven times and didn’t really like anything that I was doing. So eventually I decided to just pursue photography full time. I dropped out and then I was like, you know what? I can do this van thing. So I found a used van on a Craigslist, built it out, and just kind of moved into it while I was still working other jobs and doing photography on the side. And, I was just kind of saving money that way, not paying rent. And eventually I was able to quit my Starbucks job and do photography full time. So now I actually get to travel in the van, which is awesome.
Katie (4:25): That’s amazing. Do you stay around Washington or can you literally can take that thing anywhere?
Anna (4:33): Nowadays I kind of just go wherever my elopements take me. In the summer I’m usually in the Pacific Northwest, like Washington, Oregon. And then in the winter time I try to get down to California where it’s warmer, because I don’t like the cold. And even though my van is insulated, it’s not that great when it’s cold out.
Katie (4:52): I would imagine that because of this van life and just being kind of a nomad, that you attract some adventurous people. Are the elopements you do kind of considered adventure elopements would you say?
Anna (5:08): Yeah, definitely. Most of my couples will do at least a little bit of hiking or even a full day hike to get to their ceremony location.
Katie (5:17): Cool. Yeah. And then obviously that brings in so many photo opportunities and is kind of an adventure in itself.
What is an Elopement Again?
Katie: Well I have been looking over your website and your blog, which I’ll definitely link to so that people can check it out. But if this is the first time that anyone’s tuning in to this podcast, I just wanted to briefly revisit what it means to elope.
So I’m just going to read you what I read on your website. But it said that the word elopement has taken on a new meaning in the past few years. You were texting with your mom and Googling what an elopement was, and it used to be an act or instance of running off secretly, as to be married.
Katie (06:05): I think that eloping, maybe not so much anymore, used to kind of carry a stigma of being scandalous or secretive or frowned upon. Like why would you want to run away and not tell anybody about it? But then they are kind of popping up, and the meaning of an elopement has shifted a lot. What would you say, I think you kind of touched on this already, but what would you say that it means to elope today? Not this archaic definition but more like present day. What does it mean?
Anna (06:36): I think the main thing really is just that you’re intentionally making your day the way that you want it. Whether that is a huge hike or just a little drive to an overlook. It doesn’t have to be some super big crazy adventure. But if it’s just intentional, it’s about the two of you as opposed to all these other people. You’re getting to spend that time with each other and to really do what it is that you want to do on what’s supposed to be the best day of your life. I think that’s really all that it is.
Katie (7:09): You said that, you know, that could be going for a hike going skydiving, which would be awesome. By the way, can you imagine a bride in her wedding dress skydiving? Is that possible?
Anna (7:21): Oh my gosh, I, yeah, I went skydiving for the first time a couple of months ago. So that’s why I wrote that cause I’ve been dreaming about that happening ever since.
Katie (7:30): Let’s kind of break down how elopements are different than weddings. And again, this is from your very informative blog, but one of the things is location. So you were saying with an elopement you can pretty much get married anywhere. I mean there’s not a lot of restrictions: you might need permits and things, but as opposed to a traditional wedding where you know you need a venue and you need to rent it out and you need, you have to consider guest count and stuff like that. Do you have a cool location that you’ve done an allotment in?
Anna (8:14): Ooh, one of my favorite parks is Olympic National Park. It’s one of the first places that I really explored when I moved to Washington. But it just gives you so much variety with mountains and then you got the beach and you got all these waterfalls and really any type of scenery you can think of that you can get there. But I’m a big fan of national park elopements or even national forests too. Anything outdoors.
Katie (8:38): Same. I totally agree. So much beautiful stuff in the national parks. I don’t think I’ve been to Olympic National Park. Is it close to Seattle, or whereabouts is it?
Anna (8:50): About three hours away and it goes from a little bit West of Seattle all the way to the coast. So it’s a bit of a drive from the city, but it’s not too far and you only really have to drive a couple of hours to get to these really pretty lakes. And if you’ve heard of hurricane bridge, it’s a super popular spot to the lope and to hike in general. And there’s also always mountain goods there, which is super cool.
Katie (9:13): That is cool. Oh my gosh. I love wildlife. I’m such a dork about wildlife and seeing stuff out there. But how about places to stay around there? Do people do stuff inside the park or is there a neighboring place to sleep?
Anna (9:28): Port Angeles is a city that’s right outside of Olympic National Park. It’s the smallest little town, but there’s a ton of cute cabins around there and Airbnb’s. Airbnb is cause I do send my couples a bunch of lodging recommendations. So Airbnb is usually my go to to find cute little cabins that people rent out. And there’s a ton of them by Lake Crescent, which is in Port Angeles.
Katie (9:57): I just thought of another question. When couples reach out to you, do they normally have a spot in mind? Or they just like your work and they ask you for suggestions?
Anna (10:07): Most people will have a general idea of either where they want to go or what they want to see. So I’ve had people email me and be like, I know we wanted elope in the mountains but we don’t know where. Or they’ll say, we want to stick to Colorado because you don’t need an efficient in Colorado. But they’re like, we have no idea where. So most people that come to me don’t have a specific spot in mind, but they’ll have a general idea of what they want it to look like.
Katie (10:32): Sure. And they kind of want your input and artistic eye and stuff.
And then the other thing regarding elopements being different than traditional weddings is the guests. Obviously there’s not going to be a lot of guests at an elopement, could be just the couple, no guests. Or you can also have, you know, people choose to bring maybe a couple of their closest friends or maybe only immediate family. But there’s not necessarily a magic number that equates to this is an elopement, right?
Anna (11:06): No, I think as long as if your friends and family are on board with what you’re doing and they, you know, support you in wanting to do this kind of a weird thing, you know, I think that’s totally great.
Katie (11:19): Yeah. And I think you also pointed out that with a big wedding you might end up inviting people who you know, you don’t even really know or the weird plus one thing, where you might have someone at your wedding who you’ve never even met before. It would be odd for me. Some people like the big party, there’s nothing wrong with it. But I think the people who skew toward elopements are on the same page.
And then the other point I wanted to bring up, and I’m just again going your blog posts, here is planning, you were saying that it was kind of or it could be a misconception that elopements don’t require planning and that you can just kind of pack your bags and jet off somewhere, which you probably could, but it’s going to be less stressful planning this than a bigger wedding. Do you have any suggestions on planning or the timeline? Can someone decide to elope next week or does it take longer than that?
Anna (12:22): I think the biggest thing is a lot of people, they don’t realize that you need permits to go to these parks to elope. So that’s the biggest thing that you need a little bit of time for. And it really depends on the park. I’ve had a one park get back to me in like 72 hours, with the permit ready. And another one, I think it was Rocky mountain national park. I believe their website says it takes like minimum 60 days to approve a permit so you have to apply in advance. So I think that would be the biggest consideration when it comes to time. I do think it’s totally possible to plan an elopement in a week. Just kind of depends on, I guess maybe how flexible you are with what you want to do. As a photographer, I do planning for my couples, so I will actually write out the timelines for them.
Anna (13:08): The feedback that I’ve gotten is that that’s super helpful because a lot of people don’t even know where to start with that. They’ll be like, Oh, ceremony, we have to read our vows. That’s like 20 minutes and then that’s it. But in reality there’s just so much more that goes into the photography component and also just into an elopement.
Some couples will email me and they’ll say, “We’re thinking we just need you for an hour.” I usually explain to them that that’s like, I think that’s doing such a disservice to yourself and to your own elopement, because when it comes to eloping, it’s still your wedding day. It’s the best day of your life. It’s the day that you’re committing your life to another person. You’re deciding to be together forever. It’s a pretty big deal with a big wedding, you would never say, “Oh just be here for an hour.”
Anna (13:52): It’s always, you know, 8, 10, 12 hours for a big wedding. An elopement is just as meaningful and just as important. And so I think that giving it that time is super important as well. And then when it comes to like the actual timeline of the day, there’s getting ready. You know, if you are getting ready separately, there’s little moments that you’ll miss just because you’re not seeing each other. You’ll miss how excited your partner was in the other room. You’ll miss happy tears and stuff like that. And the only way that you’ll really get to live those moments is through your photos.
Even if you are getting ready together, you know there’s things that little moments that happen that you just don’t really register or you don’t even notice in the moment. Yeah. But things like the way that you look at each other, how excited you both were, how you both couldn’t stop smiling, all that cute stuff. It just kind of happens in the moment. And when you’re looking back at your photos, you might realize, Oh, I didn’t even remember that that happened. And the only way to get those moments back is through your photos.
Katie (14:49): I love what you’re saying here. I think that in any wedding day, elopement or otherwise, my favorite part, one of my favorite parts of the day is the getting ready. And I think it’s such a nice part of the day that tells the story or you know, it could even be before you’re getting ready, maybe that morning you sit down together and have some coffee by the fire or you go for a little stroll. I mean the whole day could be documented because the whole day is special. Okay. So I like talking about a sample timeline. I think that’s interesting. So maybe they’re start, what time of the day would you usually pop in? I know it kind of depends on the sunset and the light and all that, but when do you start?
Anna (15:29): Usually about 10 in the morning, maybe noon. So usually we’ll do like some getting ready photos, all that cute stuff. And then if they’re not getting ready together, a lot of couples will opt for a first look, which I do really love when they do that. I think it’s such a special moment. We’ll do a first look either outside of the Airbnb or whatever or sometimes we’ll drive to a location that’s maybe halfway between where they’re getting ready and where the ceremony is and we’ll kind of, you know, find a nice overlook or something like that. And I think that’s why I’m planning a full day elopement is a lot better because it kind of gives you that flexibility to maybe, you know, stop along the way. If you see somewhere pretty that you didn’t know about before, leave some room for spontaneity.
Anna (16:11): We’ll do a first look usually and then drive to the ceremony spot. Most of my couples will do a little hike so that takes time too. And we’ll stop along the way. I think that’s also a good reason to leave yourself some time is because I hike a decent bit but I cannot stand being rushed to like hike up a mountain. You know, I’ll be huffing and puffing and I know couples don’t want to do that in their wedding attire usually. So we’ll hike to the ceremony spot and then maybe take some photos and then they’ll say their vows. If they have an officiant and some guests they’ll do a whole ceremony. And then afterwards I to give them a little bit of time just for themselves to chill, enjoy the moment. I’ll go take a walk or something that’s nice.
Anna (16:57): Kind of enjoy their first 30 minutes of married life and then we’ll do some photos after that. If they have guests, we’ll do photos with their guests. Or if it’s just the two of them, we’ll take some photos. And it’s always nice to be able to just walk around and kind of adventure. And with my style of photography I like more of a documentary feel. So I don’t like to pose them. I kind of just will kind of guide them on an adventure and things that they would normally do anyway except this time they’re like wearing a wedding dress, you know?
Katie (17:27): Definitely my style is more of a, you know, just wanting to capture things as they’re naturally unfolding.
Anna (17:33): Exactly. And it just takes a little bit of time to get comfortable with the camera. Like the first few minutes of having a camera pointed at you, unless you’re an experienced model, you’re going to feel a little weird. So I think leaving that time in the timeline for that is super important too. Just to relax, get a feel for it, realize that it’s not that scary.
Katie (17:54): Yeah. And this is probably also the first time, maybe unless they’ve done an engagement session or something, that they’re meeting you. So it does take, you know, just a little bit of time to get warmed up.
Anna (18:05): Yeah, exactly. And then there’s the hike down. I usually take some photos on the way down too. Cause at this point they’re usually super excited and just, all that adrenaline from getting married.
Katie (18:20): I’m curious, when you say hike, are we talking like a mile hike in terms of time, how long does it take to get to the spots?
Anna (18:30): I usually plan an hour per mile, which is more than it takes if you’re just hiking by yourself. But with stopping for photos and everything and then that gives us some time to hang out at the top, maybe, you know, eat some food after the ceremony. I think an hour per mile is a pretty good rule of thumb.
Katie (18:56): Yeah, that sounds about right. Okay, cool. And so you’re up there, you do the ceremony, take some photos, let them have some time to themselves and then at some point you make your way back down to where you came from.
Anna (19:04): One time I was hiking down with this one couple and there was somebody playing music on the trail, which I think everyone kinda hates when that happens, but you know, but there’s music playing through the speaker and the couple have just started doing their first dance to this random rap music and it was just so much fun and something totally unplanned and because we had that full day and we weren’t in a rush to run down the mountain, it kinda gave us some time to just enjoy that, you know,
Katie (19:32): That yeah, I think that that is a huge appeal because you don’t have this strict timeline where there’s people waiting back at, you know, the reception or the cocktail hour. You can kind of have a loose idea of what you want your day to be. But it’s not a big deal at all. If little things come up or you want to spend more time doing something or the other.
Anna (19:55): And I think all of that stuff just goes towards the full story of your elopement day and getting photos of all that I think is so valuable because just because you’re eloping like I said, it doesn’t make it any less meaningful than a big wedding and you still deserve to have that whole story told when you look back at your photos.
Katie (20:13): Definitely. And then what happens later in the day? Are couples kind of picking a spot to out to dinner or are they just kinda hanging out?
Anna (20:23): Sometimes they will go out to dinner with their guests or I’ve had some people do a private ceremony and then meet up with their family after and go to dinner. I think most people will want to get food after. So one time I had a couple of go to in and out after and they were still wearing their wedding clothes. So we walk into this in and out and everybody’s like staring at them. But people, you know, people want to come up and say congratulations. And it’s those little moments of her trying to eat without getting sauce on the dress and all that stuff. It’s things that you wouldn’t necessarily think to get photos of, but in reality there’s, they’re just funny to look back on. They’re sweet and they’re cute.
How Far in Advance Do We Need to Plan?
Katie (21:04): Yes, I agree. That’s, that’s really fun. So as far as planning goes, kind of going back to that topic, another thing besides the permit that you mentioned is a photographer would be another thing that might be hard to get in a week, but not necessarily, especially if you’re doing maybe a weekday where their schedule is probably maybe more open than on a weekend. I mean, I personally like spontaneous weddings, so I don’t think it’s absurd to reach out to someone if you want to plan something really quickly.
Anna (21:36): Yeah, no, I totally agree. If, you know, if I’m in the area and someone asked me to shoot an elopement next week, if I was free, I would totally do it.
Katie (21:44): What do you think is the perfect amount of time to plan in advance? A few months, a whole year?
Anna (21:53): I would say six to nine months is ideal just because it gives you enough time to find a permit without being in a rush and it gives you enough time to really look through your options for where to get married. I will send my couples location recommendations and different ceremony spots. So I think it’s nice to just be able to take your time and look through all of them and figure out what, where you kind of envision your ceremony and your elopement happening and I don’t know, I’m personally a fan of anticipation. If it was me, I would kind of enjoy those few months leading up to it. Just being excited, you know?
Katie (22:34): Yeah. I’ve never thought about that. That is nice to just kind of have the time to plan and look forward to something. How many hours of the day would you say is ideal, if you were looking for an elopement photographer? Would you say 6 hours is enough? Or would you say let’s just hang out all day and get everything that happens?
Anna (22:53): So I give my couples a few options. My minimum is 4 hours. And that I think is like the smallest amount of time that it takes to kind of tell the whole story, cause you can get someone getting ready and then if the ceremony location is nearby we can do that. And it kind of gives you enough time for getting ready shots, the ceremony, some couples photos and then a little bit after.
But I think the ideal amount of time is like 8 hours actually. Because with that there is a lot more room to just, you know, relax, take it slow, not be in a rush to finish your makeup and stuff and to just kinda like take your time with everything. It gives you some time to like adventure around wherever your ceremony is.
Katie (23:35): That seems like a good suggestion. Yeah. Eight hours. Because also you’re probably not going to be doing everything in one spot. There’s probably going to be some driving and just kind of getting from one place to the next. The whole point is that you can do things sort of leisurely and at your own pace. I think that’s a good suggestion.
So that would be like anywhere from maybe 11:00 to 7:00 PM or noon to 8:00 PM or something like that. And I’m always thinking about the hours of daylight. You want to take advantage of the daylight hours and you know, when it gets dark, there’s not a lot you can do in terms of photography.
Anna (24:24): Exactly. Yeah. What I always suggest is to either plan your ceremony time around sunrise or sunset so that if it’s sunrise, you know, we’ll wake up super early and maybe do getting ready photos in the hotel or whatever, and then you’ll do kind of like a sunrise ceremony and then you have some daylight time after. Or if it’s a sunset ceremony, we’ll do more of the stuff before the ceremony, like maybe, you know, go for a hike or like any of that. And then you get that like really pretty lighting.
Katie (24:55): Totally. That’s important. Yeah, definitely something to think about. What would you say is the best time of year to do an elopement in Washington for weather and stuff like that?
Anna (25:07): So Washington is super rainy most of the time, but in May through September, it’s absolutely gorgeous here. The first year that I moved here, I won’t lie in the winter, I was absolutely miserable because it was raining every day. But then the summer came along and it was all worth it. So May through September in Washington for sure.
Katie (25:27): Gotcha. And then is it still, is there a chance that it may still, there’s always a chance, but does it rain during the summer months as well?
Anna (25:35): Definitely does. It’s a little bit unpredictable, but luckily here usually when it rains it’s just a drizzle. It rarely ever pours down and it’ll be cloudy all day, which actually is really good for photos.
Katie (25:48): Very true. It’s quite flattering. People might be sad if they don’t have sun on their wedding day, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. It could actually, yeah, the pictures usually come up pretty. So let’s say that a couple wants to elope in, let’s just say Washington or Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. What kind of person or what kind of things can you do? You can hike, but what else is the Pacific Northwest all about?
Anna (26:16): Definitely a lot of hiking. Kayaking and canoeing is pretty big here. And also paddle boarding, especially in the summer, I had one couple of bring out a paddle board, so that was really fun. But you can do that. Or even just, you know, hike and have a picnic at the top and things that are super fun just to kind of enjoy the view.
Katie (26:34): Sure. I’ve been, I’ve actually been to Seattle which I guess isn’t my geography is failing me at this exact moment. But Seattle’s not right on the coast. It’s a little bit inland, right? Yeah. Okay. And then Portland as you go down is not on the coast either, right?
Anna (26:54): No, it’s pretty close though. It’s like 2 hours to the coast from Portland.
Katie (26:58): Yeah. I feel like people who might enjoy those cities are kind of artsy. You know, aside from the outdoorsy stuff, they may be into coffee shops and thrift stores? And then the last thing that you mentioned, an elopement being different than you know, a traditional wedding is the time that the couples can spend together. You may hear a couple saying that they didn’t have a ton of time together alone or just enjoying each other’s company. You’re trying to say hi to all these people, or there’s a lot going. A big advantage of an elopement is that you do get to spend the entire day together.
Anna (27:48): Exactly, I feel like with a big weddings you always have to say hi to everyone that came, everyone wants to say congratulations, that kind of thing. And so I’ll notice couples barely spent any time together. But when it comes to an elopement, most of the time they’re together all day, except maybe during the getting ready for a couple of hours.
Katie (28:16): I want to open it up to you, if there’s anything else you want to add or share?
Anna (28:26): Yeah, I guess just to any couple that’s thinking about eloping. Don’t be afraid. Just go for it.
Feeling Guilty About Eloping
Katie (28:32): I just thought of this, and I might do an entire episode just on this topic…but one of the biggest things that couples are worried about is offending their family or their friends by not inviting them. Has that ever come up for you, that kind of guilt or worry?
Anna (29:01): It comes up quite a bit.
What I usually tell people is that it is your wedding at the end of the day. It’s not about anyone else. And you know, encourage them to try to get people to understand that. I think that in general, in life, a lot of the times we tend to kind of do things just because we’re like supposed to.
For example, you know, I went to college even though I didn’t like anything. And so that was very much just because my parents wanted me to and because that’s what I was supposed to do. And with weddings, a lot of the time I feel like people just do it because people want them to. Because they’re supposed to do it; because that’s what’s going to make everyone else happy. But really just think what’s going to make you happy – what feels true to you?
And if you can’t explain that to everyone else, that’s great. If they don’t understand it, I think just tell them, you know, I love you but this just isn’t about you. And there’s also always the option of having a reception later if you do want to include your family.
Katie: True. I think that’s a good point and I think that’s always a good option.
Well thank you Anna. I wanted to make sure people know how to find you online or on Instagram.
Anna: Yeah. So my name is annatee.co. That’s my website and my Instagram.
Katie: Awesome. Okay, well that’s easy enough. And like I said, I will link all this stuff on my blog and in the show notes and stuff so that people can check you out. Thank you so much for chatting with me.
Anna: Thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun.