Eloping in the Time of Covid-19

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Katie: Today I’m chatting with the lovely Mollie of Between the Pine. Mollie is an adventure elopement photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. I found her online while I was researching how to get married in this strange Coronavirus era. She has some amazing resources on her blog, and so I figured she would be the perfect person to talk through this topic with. Some of the things we discuss are:

Navigating through the disappointment of changing your wedding plans and how to stay positive.

Ways that you can include friends and family in your celebration.

Vendor agreements and changing your date.

Deciding to elope and postponing your original wedding plans, so that you can still have that big party later.

Before we start, I do want to urge everyone to follow the CDC guidelines and the recommendations for gathering sizes and just the safety precautions put in place by your county. Obviously it’s extremely important to keep yourself and others safe during this time.

All right, here we go!

I am talking with Mollie from Between the Pine and our main topic of discussion is what to do when your wedding plans have been affected because of Covid-19. First before we get into it, I do want to just express sympathy for anyone who isn’t able to go forward with their original wedding plans because of Covid. But hopefully Mollie and I can bring a little bit of positivity and perspective shift, and give you some ideas for what to do instead. So Mollie, I’d love have you introduce the name of your business and maybe how it got its start and the areas that you serve.

Mollie: Yeah, absolutely. Well first and foremost, Katie, thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I’m so thrilled to be here. So like Katie said, I have a business called Between the Pine. The quick story is, I actually started back in 2016 with a food blog. Very different than what I do now. I went to school to be a dietician, and I’ve always loved creating recipes and so that’s kind of how I got my start. And then in 2017, my brother in law was proposing to my very best friend out in the mountains and he asked, “Hey Mollie, can you come and take a few photos?” I absolutely loved the mountains in college. I was known as the granola girl, because all my outfits are always prepped for either going to class or skipping class to go to the mountains. Which happened quite often, to be honest. So I helped my brother-in-law pull off this proposal.

Mollie: Lucky for me, the lighting was perfect that day, because I had no idea what I was doing. Those photos got posted that evening on Instagram, and the next morning I had my first booking and honestly never looked back. And so that’s very much the short version of how I got to where I am now, which is that I photograph adventure wedding elopements. I’m based in a little mountain town outside of Seattle. I mainly photograph elopements in Washington and Oregon and Kauai. So those are my three main places. But I also do travel all over the US to places like Glacier National Park, the Grand Tetons and anywhere really wherever my clients want me to go. So that’s kind of Between the Pine and where we’re at now. I have a team of a few other people with me that helped with writing my blogs and graphic design and social media and stuff like that.

Katie: Amazing. I remember now that you said that you hop over to Hawaii now and then. I was just talking to my friend about going to Hawaii because I’ve never been. And you said, is it Kauai? Is that the Northern island?

Mollie: Yeah. So Kauai is known as like the Garden Island and my husband and I actually went there on our honeymoon and since then, found our way back so many times. That little Island kind of feels like our second home. Now I do quite a few elopements out there as well, just because I know the islands so well and I love getting to help couples plan their epic adventure out there. You should totally go. It’s amazing.

Katie: Have you had the chance to photograph any covid elopements or intimate celebrations since the virus outbreak started?

Mollie: I personally have not. Main elopement season in Washington kind of starts in April and then it goes until October. And we were pretty much down by the end of March. And so everything I’ve had has been postponed. Our stay at home order may end in the next couple of days, and then we’re able to start photographing elopements as soon as that happens. But for right now we are not allowed to, so I haven’t yet.

Katie: Interesting. I guess it just depends on States, and probably even more specifically the county. You just have to kind of check with your area what the latest update is. I was originally going to photograph a really big wedding this past weekend, and they decided to celebrate just the two of them. I believe that the courthouses or city halls aren’t open for marriage licenses, but somehow their officiant was able to get one. And we did just the two of them, and myself, and the officiant on a beach that was open. I wore my mask! I actually didn’t realize that it was possible to still do this in Los Angeles County, but we did it! It happened just a couple of days ago. So yeah, I think that it’s going to vary and you kind of have to keep your eye on what the latest is.

Mollie: Yeah, absolutely. And I even called our local law enforcement and asked them a few questions. Obviously I want to respect all the guidelines that are in place. But you’re so right of county and citywide; it’s all so different everywhere and it’s changing so rapidly. Like, for example, in Washington when things really started to shut down, we were told our national forests aren’t going to open until September 30th. For Washington that is just unheard of. And that would be really hard because our winters are pretty long here in Western Washington with the rain. We really look forward to the summers. They said that a month ago and then last Friday they opened the national forest. I think it’s just all so unprecedented that it’s really a day to day thing of regulations and what’s being allowed.

Navigating Through the Disappointment of Changed Plans

Katie: I agree. Actually that was a good segue into the next question, which is how can couples navigate through sort of the sadness and maybe disappointment of having to change their original plans? What you said about just taking it one day at a time is a good first step. Just because the announcement today is this, it could change within a day or a week. So you never know. But do you have any other suggestions for kind of handling, feeling bummed about it?

Mollie: Yeah, totally. So kind of like you said, like first and foremost I tell all of my couples, I am just so sorry that this is the situation you’re in. A lot of my couples have expressed to me being really sad, but they also know there’s a lot of hurt going on in the world as a whole. And so they don’t know if they should feel sad or be able to express their sadness to others, because it’s for their wedding; whereas others are losing their jobs or getting sick. And so I hope this can be permission to any couple that it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to like feel the feels about this. My team actually wrote a blog post, which we can link in the show notes, all about how to support friends and family who are having to postpone their wedding. I’ve had so many couples reach out to me and say they’ve totally just sent that to their family and friends or family. Or friends reach out and say, thank you so much for writing this because we truly just had no idea what to do. There are some fun little ideas in that blog post. So hopefully that can be of help as well.

Katie: Yeah, definitely. I will for sure link to the posts that you’re mentioning. Anything else?

Mollie: Yeah, so I mean of course it’s okay to feel the feels. I think the second biggest thing though is lean on your partner for support. This is such a great opportunity for you to really just hold hands and hold tight and walk through this together. It’s so unprecedented and new that it’s really hard to look to your right and left and realize not many other people have ever walked through this. Having your partner on your side is so important. I would say as well, a lot of couples who did have that big wedding planned don’t know what to do. They have all of our deposits down for the big wedding but can’t have the big wedding anymore, and they are deciding to elope.

Mollie: On the bright side I guess, you can elope and then for your original wedding plans, you can postpone that for whenever you feel ready to do so. And that can be your reception, the huge party, and everyone can still celebrate you. If there’s any silver lining in this, I tell my couples that you’re basically getting two weddings! You get your elopement now, and you can do whatever you want for your elopement. Then you’ll get a big party and reception to be celebrated again. So you get to dress up twice!

Working With Vendors For Your Covid Elopement

Katie: I knew I could count on Mollie for positivity. Spinning it to a positive angle. You also just mentioned wedding vendors, which made me think of another question I have for you, and I’m just going to read a little quick sentence from your blog post. It says:

“As a wedding vendor, I highly suggest postponing your wedding rather than canceling. Oftentimes deposits that you’ve made toward wedding vendors can be moved throughout the year, but they can’t be returned if you cancel.”

So just kind of having a look at your vendor’s contract. Everyone’s going to want to work with you. They’re not gonna say, tough luck and that’s it. They’re going to be as accommodating as possible. Is that what you would do first in this situation? Would you suggest just reaching out to your vendors and seeing if they’re willing to change the date or rework what you originally agreed on?

Mollie: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I would say before you even reach out to your vendors, read through every single contract and see what their cancellation policy is, what their refund policy is, so that you’re well versed in it. Everyone’s reading through their contracts over and over again to make sure they’re protected and their couples are protected. In the end a vendor doesn’t want to just take your deposit and never be part of your day. They want to work with you. They want to postpone if that’s possible. And so I would say first and foremost look at that contract and then I would just make a list of every vendor that you need to reach out to and then slowly reach out to them. Have a general idea of when you’re wanting to postpone to, if you have a venue.

Mollie: I would say it’s really important to see what dates are available for postponement for your venue. Then ask your photographer, your videographer, and all the other vendors to make sure that’s a realistic day for them. I’ve had a few couples have to go back and forth a few times, where a date worked for me, but it didn’t work for there venue. Or it worked for the venue, but didn’t work for me. I think open communication is the biggest thing. We’re all trying to navigate this to the best of our ability. And I would say 99.9% of the time the vendors are on your side and they really want to make sure that you feel taken care of and that you still get to have your best day ever.

Katie: Exactly. And you know, maybe if you hired a DJ and you’re thinking, well if we’re just going to elope, why would we need a DJ anymore? Still do your covid elopement if you want to get married right away, but just save all that stuff for the big party reception. Or maybe you can do a vow renewal if it turns out to be a year from now, when you have your big party with friends and family. There are really some ways to be creative and still make it work. Maybe get two weddings out of all this! Double the celebration. And then another thing from this is still kind of related to vendors from the blog post, I’ll paraphrase, but a common myth about elopements is that you know, there aren’t necessarily details to plan.

Katie: It’s not necessarily 100% planning free, even though it might be less so than a bigger traditional wedding. There are still some major things that you want to consider, like a place to stay, creating a timeline, and if you’re going to do it outdoors, finding the perfect backdrop ahead of time. Photographers usually, especially elopement photographers, can scope these kinds of things out for you. So you said details like these are why it’s so important to hire the right vendor team to help your elopement dreams become reality. Anyway, I just wanted to point that out that I liked that section of the post.

Mollie: Yeah, totally. Kind of going off of that, I’ve had quite a few couples who have booked me now for their elopement this year who have postponed their bigger wedding. They’ve kept their original wedding photographer for that vow renewal reception and then gone ahead and hired me to be their elopement photographer. They recognize they’re so excited to work with their wedding photographer, but their wedding photographer mainly focuses on larger events and so they decided to opt to go with another photographer for their elopement. That’s definitely an option too. If the photographer you’ve booked for your original wedding isn’t super comfortable with doing elopements, or maybe he doesn’t know the outdoors as well or elopement spots and locations.

Katie: Sure. That’s a good point. I just thought of this question, kind of going off on a little tangent, but do you think that if you are planning an elopement, is it key to find someone who specializes in elopements or can any wedding photographer do these kind of intimate celebrations?

Mollie: That’s actually a really good question. I think there’s kind of a two part answer to this. I would say if you’re willing, I would absolutely hire someone who specializes in elopements. There are things with elopements, just like a bigger wedding, that are just different and they’re unique and they’re very honed in on that specific industry. But with that, if you love your wedding photographer and your wedding photographer has said they’re interested in understanding or wanting to do your elopement, go for it. If that’s who you feel most comfortable around. With elopements it’s a really intimate moment. Usually it’s just you and the photographer and maybe a handful of family and friends. It’s really important to feel comfortable around your photographer.

Mollie: If your wedding photographer is your person, and that’s who you want there for both your elopement and reception, I would say absolutely move forward with him or her. But also recognize and be aware that that person may not be as experienced in planning elopements and knowing all the little things. That’s where it’s helpful as a community of vendors, where we can come alongside one another right now and help each other with understanding special use permits in national parks, how to create a timeline for elopements, and things like that. So again, in the words of High School Musical: we are all in this together. It’s really important that as a community of vendors too, we come alongside those who maybe haven’t shot elopements before and their couples are wanting them to.

Katie: This point actually came up in another conversation I had. With these elopements, this team, and maybe especially the photographer, you have to really feel like they’re your person. Like you click with them. They are such an integral part of the day, maybe more so than traditional wedding photographer. Make sure you’ve talked on the phone, you’ve done a Skype call or met them in person if you can, just to kind of get a feel for who the photographer is.

Mollie: Absolutely.

Live Stream the Wedding

Katie: So let’s say you don’t want to cancel, and you want to go forward with your wedding date. Maybe it’s later in 2020, later this year. Are there any ways to include friends and family in your celebration while still maintaining social distancing?

Mollie: Yeah, totally. So again, this is going to all depend on your state and your County and the CDC recommendations, because this is all changing so quickly. But I do have a few ideas. I’ve talked with a lot of couples about some creative ways of what you can do if you’re wanting to move forward with your celebration. But obviously we need to maintain social distancing. So one fun idea: I know a couple who actually did this. I wasn’t their photographer, but they had everyone drive to the parking lot of where their ceremony was. The ceremony was live streamed to everyone watching in their car. Then when they walked out of the building, everyone honked their horns and cheered for them. That’s one way to make sure social distancing is happening.

Drive-by Parade

Mollie: Another idea is if you end up having a small ceremony at the time of when you’re getting married, let’s say still in groups of five or less or 10 or less. One thing you can do is a drive by parade. So right after your ceremony, you can stand somewhere and people literally can just drive by and cheer you on. It’s a fun way for them to still get to celebrate with you.

Katie: I love that. And I’m also just thinking about the pictures. That would be a fun thing to document. So unique, right? It’s very unique to this time. I like that you can still celebrate in that way. Maybe people decorate their cars or I don’t know, attach cans to the bumper and stuff like that.

Mollie: Yep. My best friend actually got married a few weeks ago in Texas and had this drive by parade. I’ve seen people do choreographed dances with their family. They get out of their car and do a dance when they drive by. Or I’ve seen in a pickup truck, people will get in the back with a big speaker and musicians, and back up to the couple playing music so they can have their first dance. It’s kind of a fun way for your guests to get to be creative as well. So you’re not having to think of all the creative things.

Recording the Ceremony for a Watch Party Later

Mollie: Yeah, so that’s another great option of using zoom or having maybe a Facebook live or something like that. There’s a few ways you can do this. You can set it up to be an actual live stream so everyone can be watching it as it happens. Another way that I’ve seen it done as well as let’s say you’re getting married somewhere where there’s limited cell phone service or something like that, you can record it and then just have a friend upload it to Facebook or YouTube later for everyone to watch. That’s a really fun way for people to still get to experience the moment, although they weren’t getting to be there in person.

Katie: True. And that’s actually exactly what we did this past weekend with the couple. Originally we were kind of talking about trying to set up Zoom, but their family was on the East coast. We were in California. So we ultimately decided to record it. We just did it on a little tripod and a cell phone, and they’re going to share it with the family later. I was also able to get them a sneak peek, which I think a lot of photographers are able to do. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but it’s kind of nice if you can even get just like 10-20 pictures. Then you can share those and share the video with your friends and family, do some toasts online, stuff like that.

Mollie: Yes, totally. I also just thought of this: you could have a watch party and the couple could actually watch it with everyone too. That might be something kind of fun, because then you can go into toasts and things as well.

Katie: Everyone pours some champagne and maybe has some dessert. Yeah, that’d be fun! That would be a fun thing to photograph, as a photographer. Then the family feels like they’re part of the photos as well.

Mollie: Yeah, I totally agree. I think that would be a really fun, outside the box thing to do.

Elope Then Have a Party Later

Katie: Definitely, getting creative. Lastly, we already kind of mentioned this, but just planning the party or reception for some time down the line if you want to do it that way.

Mollie: I would say the biggest thing is be open to postponing it instead of canceling, so you can still be celebrated by your friends.

Katie: I know this is such a hard question, I don’t even know how to answer this question, but what would you say is a safe time to postpone? Like do you think we’re looking at 2021, or just pushing it back maybe later this year?

Mollie: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I think this again depends on your state and depends on the recommendations within your county and things like that. There may be a window for 2020 to be able to postpone for, but there’s talk and a lot of research of the second wave or flu season with Covid, which would hit more in the late fall. And so I guess for safety and if you’re wanting to make sure, absolutely. I would say 2021. But also I know in some southern states, things are really starting to open up right now. So yeah, that’s a hard one. I would say it totally depends on where you are geographically and the recommendations of your state and what you feel comfortable doing. I’ve had a lot of couples talk with me about, you know, we could postpone to October but I still don’t know if I’d feel comfortable with my grandma being there, and things like that. That’s where it’s really important for you and your partner to sit down and decide what you do feel comfortable with when you’re postponing.

Katie: Definitely. Okay. Well this is awesome Mollie. I have two more questions for you. I just want to see if there’s anything else you’d like to share. No pressure, but just if there’s something we haven’t covered yet that is popping into your mind.

Mollie: I think we’ve been covering a ton of things…I would say every couple is different. If it means anything, don’t look to your right or left when deciding on what you want to do. With your partner, do what you feel is best for you, and stay true to that. I hope that you can have community around you that encourages you and what you decide to do! I know it’s just case by case and everyone’s so different.

Katie: Awesome. And then lastly, how can people find you online?

Mollie: You can find us on Instagram and Facebook @betweenthepine. Our website is betweenthepine.com. I would say we mostly hang out over on Instagram and yeah, that’s where you can find us.

Katie: Well thank you so much. I think that this will be helpful to a lot of people, and I appreciate your positivity and your ideas. I’m sending everybody positivity and reassurance that everything will work out.

Mollie: Yes, thanks so much for having me Katie.

Closing Remarks

If you are considering an elopement in the Southern California area, I would love to hear from you. Even if you don’t have your plans completely in place yet, and you kind of need a sounding board or a little bit of advice, I would love to hear from you. You can reach out to me directly on my website, or find me on Instagram @runawaytogether.co. Stay safe and stay happy!


Katie photographs elopements and intimate weddings. She is located in Los Angeles and is available for travel worldwide.