Why Choosing the Right Adventure Elopement Photographer is So Important | A Few Things You Should Consider

January 21, 2019

With the growing trend of adventure photographers and travel photographers flooding your social media channels nowadays, photos of people standing in front of stunningly epic natural backdrops, the concept of adventure weddings and elopements are growing in recognition and popularity (and for good reason!).

This year, one of the things I’m doing is digging even deeper into why I care about what I do — why it’s more than a trend, why it means so much to me personally. I had been an outdoor enthusiast and photographing landscapes and my own adventures for a long time before I started to think that maybe others would want their outdoor adventures documented as well. So it just seemed like a natural transition for me when I was already coming up as a portrait and wedding photographer but wasn’t feeling as fulfilled as I could have been. But through combining my love for the outdoors with my passion for photography and photographing people, I have been proud to create a unique personal style that stems from a journalistic approach combined with lifestyle photography influences.

Adventure Photographer Monica Leavell sits on a rock and looks out into the vastness of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado on a cold sunny day.

So what exactly is Adventure Photography & an Adventure Photographer?

The name is pretty straightforward; It’s simply the act of not just photographing but documenting adventures, typically in the outdoors. This niche of photography really began with extreme sports, things like snowboarding, whitewater kayaking, climbing, you name it. And even though it has evolved into a huge umbrella term, it basically all breaks down to the same premise, which is to photograph subjects in the extreme and great outdoors.

Adventure photography has branched out in so many different ways, from weekend warriors posting their travels on social media, to the wedding photography market, but no matter what, it’s a niche defined by stunning landscapes, dynamic personalities, and challenging, ever-changing conditions. In all reality, though, this type of photography is not a fad or trend. It’s a passion that requires a certain attitude and experience built around actual adventures. Over the years, social media has created this illusion that anyone can become a photographer overnight without any effort. Then came the introduction of adventure photography to the saturated wedding market and every session seemed to turn into an “adventure session” and everyone seemed to turn into an “adventure photographer” and everything started getting less and less creative and things started getting really confusing, haha. Well hopefully if you got confused with it all somewhere along the way, too, then hopefully this helps you.

No matter the occasion, whether you are eloping or just looking for a photographer to document some of your epic adventures, there are certain things every person should know when looking for an adventure photographer.


I feel like that goes without saying, but it apparently does after the massive surge in popularity for adventure photography and the lack of some important factors that come with being a photographer in that specific realm. Anyone doing this has to understand the best safety practices for such activity, and if you’re already an avid outdoor lover/backpacker/hiker/etc, then you know what I’m talking about. You’re not just going out to get some photos taken, you’re going out for an adventure and should be prepared for such. I mean, if you’re going to let some stranger take you out into the wilderness, perhaps somewhere you’ve never been before, you want someone you can trust — someone who is not just a photographer for the day, but your guide and expert (and adventure buddy, of course). But one of the most important things about this job is the ability to plan. Your photographer should have measures put into place to keep you safe and should be able to adapt to times where something may come up. When looking for the right photographer, one with the right knowledge, experience, and skill set is key to ensure a successful adventure. There have been instances where a closed road or extreme weather has caused a change in the original plans I have had with a couple, but I was confident in my knowledge of the surrounding area and able to think quick on my feet in order to adapt to the situation at hand.

“When looking for the right photographer, one with the right knowledge, experience, and skill set is key to ensure a successful adventure.”

Adventure Photographer Monica Leavell stands on a rock outcrop overlooking the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia on a winter day

As adventure photographers, we are often participating in the experience ourselves. Say if we are out trekking, that would mean I would be running up ahead to capture images of a couple as they walk over a pass. But it’s not always as easy as the images may make it out to be. To be a true adventurer and adventure photographer is to understand that this is a true commitment to chaos. It’s a full-time, moving, shaking, uncertain, daunting, demanding life. And it’s one that I chose with my full heart, so I completely understand why others might want to choose it too… but that doesn’t mean it is simple. This job requires a strong drive to get through the moments of kneeling in frozen mud to get that perfect shot or when you’re driving down long gravel roads in the dark to make it to the trailhead long before sunrise (and slam your breaks when a family of black bears comes out of the darkness to cross right in front of you). I mean, you really have to be willing to be uncomfortable. The glamour of adventure wears off eventually, so this isn’t a niche for the faint of heart, and it has to mean something more to someone than just the 15 minutes of Instagram fame. It’s really easy to romanticize it when you’re not living it — the long nights, the long drives, feeling like you’re rarely home — it takes guts and resilience to do this. So first, if you’re on the hunt for an adventure photographer, make sure you find someone who is doing it for the right reasons. Because if that reason is for fame or recognition, then it’s gonna get old real fast.


In this growing trend of adventure photography, I cannot stress this one enough.

If you didn’t already know, I didn’t study photography in school. I didn’t even study business. Nope. I actually went to school for Biology and obtained my Bachelor’s in Science with the plan to continue on to medical school. Well, that never happened, as I did a lot of soul searching and, long story short, in that time discovered that I would be much happier doing this instead. And that proved to be 100% right so far.

Now, I was already fond of spending my time outdoors, however a vast amount of my studies and even my own research studies focused on ecology and the environment, where I gained a much deeper appreciation for the living things that surround us. As I started getting into hiking, and camping, and backpacking, I learned about the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles (and if you don’t already know the seven principles, you need to go HERE right now, then come back to this blog post!).

Not all couples are outdoorsy or know the LNT ethics, so it is up to us as adventure photographers to educate and guide our couples in the most responsible manner possible. Hiring a photographer who doesn’t know any better could have drastic negative impacts on the environments we set out to enjoy so much, so I would like to think this has to be hands down the most important factor when choosing an adventure photographer.

To that point, you will hardly see me tag specific places on my social media posts, and I don’t feel in the slightest bit bad about not telling people where I shoot. I don’t think anyone should really. In fact, the LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics even published an article asking that social media users tag thoughtfully and consider the impact of the visitors that come after them to that specific spot. I have seen this both in the outdoor photography and urban exploration realms. Some people have no clue how to respect certain areas, and some people can ruin a place so much that it becomes accessible no longer to everyone else. A perfect example of this came out of Iceland recently when a popular canyon was closed off due to visitors diverting around the muddy trail and walking on hibernating vegetation, causing extreme damage to the area (can you tell I have a science background, yet? Always gotta include those resources to reference back to!). This is also why you will never find a published list of locations for my clients online. And this is actually two-fold. Not only do I not want to draw more attention to locations to bring more traffic and possibly irresponsible visitors to those spots, but every list of potential locations to consider that I send off to each client is different, which is based on so many factors that come into play when deciding on a location for their adventure. Each list is tailored to that specific couple, based on their comfort level and so much more. In the end, if you’re looking for a photographer, the decision ultimately is yours. The trendy photographers will take you to the same heavily trafficked spots. A true adventurer with the right experience will know the better, lesser known spots you can have all to yourselves.


You’ll see articles online about the “true costs of hiring a photographer,” or something similarly titled, and it will outline all the expenses in detail that we photographers put into our business, written in an effort to justify our pricing in a growing digital age where the perception of value of photography seems to be decreasing. And, I mean, as great and important as that material is, does anyone really read through all of those anyway? Are restaurants out there writing what look like menus but instead you open it up and it’s a list of all it’s overhead and expenses and the cost of every little thing in order for it to justify the price of the food they put on their menu? Of course they don’t.

Here’s a more important point that should be noted: As a proclaimed adventure photographer, I make the choice to take my expensive ass equipment to daring locations and risk damaging my equipment in so many ways. My camera body is so scuffed up that I highly doubt it will ever sell at this point once I am done with it. And I have no shame in that. In fact I love it. They’re my camera’s battle scars. I broke my $1,900 lens when my old camera strap gave way while I was exploring a massive abandoned power plant and dropped on the concrete floor inside. I do sessions at windy beaches and desert sand dunes where everything gets covered in sand. And I really do mean everything. The wear and tear on all of my equipment is not a small matter.

Self Portrait of Adventure Photographer Monica Leavell; A woman in a pink top and black skirt stands on a rock over a river waving her skirt back and forth

I can’t help but laugh every time I see this self portrait. I packed my gear, tripod, and outfit and hiked in a good ways to this very, very secluded spot past an abandoned railroad trestle on this river. I wouldn’t have a clue about it had it not been for a good friend who has been in the area for many years and knew I would enjoy this spot. And enjoy it I did. Though not long after this shot was taken, my remote slipped out of the small of my back, where I typically do not hide my remote in photos, and splashed right into the river, immediately swept away by the current. I had no chance up there on that rock. It’s funny because the camera was continuously firing when this all happened, so you see the remote fall, splash, and then me as I’m hopelessly watching it float downstream. Sad, but funny. That wireless remote wasn’t cheap, either. And I hope it confuses the hell out of someone who happens to find it washed up someday. The point is that what I do harbors these types of risk to my equipment. Battle scars and all. But you know what? At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


There’s one last thing that goes into choosing the right photographer. DO NOT ONLY ASK ABOUT PRICING. Seriously, there is so much more that goes into this than meets the eye, and price shopping in the photography market is not the way to go about finding the right photographer for you! One photographer’s investment in their craft is not like another’s. But more importantly, it’s all about connecting with their work, as well as connecting with that person behind the camera, too. Of course budget is a necessary conversation to have and trying to stay within your means is important, but beware of photographers who have a low-ball pricing strategy. The right photographer is worth the price.

What are you thoughts about all of this? I’d love to hear in the comments below! Are you currently in the search for an adventure elopement photographer? Let’s link up and talk about documenting your next adventure!


I’m a firm believer that you deserve the best, most unforgettable wedding that focuses on your love and this amazing commitment that you two are about to make to one another.

I’m not only your photographer, but I’m also your guide to your wildly different photography experience that’s adventurous, intimate, and completely yours.

You deserve unique and beautiful memories to carry with you forever. And I’d love to help bring your dreams to reality.




1) your work is super wonderful

2) I totally agree with all of your advice. not everyone is an adventure photographer, and it does pain me when people don’t take good care of the environment.

This is SO good!!! Being a fellow adventure photographer, from before it was trendy, you are on point!!!! I see a lot of people thinking adventure photography is just portraits in cool places… but its SO SO much more. Being an outdoor adventure elopement photographer takes guts, dedication and so much drive!! Love your blog post so much!!

Love all of this! I’m definitely a weekend warrior adventurer =). Love hiking and exploring new places — I also really love beds. I broke a $2k lens last year while shooting an adventure engagement — still some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. Per the remote — try an intervelometer!

I really enjoyed reading about your background in biology and adventure!! I’ve also been discussing Leave No Trace with my clients and other photographers – I photographed a couple in the exact spot you mentioned in Iceland back in September. I was sad to see the new ropes up, but we made some magical images while staying put on the trail! Photoshop is there for a reason – it’s easy to edit out rope and signs. I saw so many people cross the ropes and it broke my heart – it’s no wonder they’ve had to close it. Now that I’ve had a chance to explore lesser known areas in Iceland I won’t have that issue again – I found the perfect secluded hike for next time that I can’t wait to take an adventurous couple on!

Adventure photography hasn’t quite become as popular here in Scotland as it is in the US. I have been an elopement photographer for many couples but they are actually often Americans who travel to our beautiful country! Your blog post about adventure elopement photography will serve as a great guide to anyone who is looking for an elopement photographer for their adventure session and I will be sure to show it to my own clients – thank you!

I am so proud of you that you push your dreams to be adventure photographer along southeast and all other adventurous locations. Your unique attitude and style is appreciated by couples. If I was someone who is looking for elopement in such an awesome location or engagement shoot I would call you!

This post was super helpful and your work is incredible!!!! You totally encompass what an adventure elopement photographer is all about!

Wow Monica! You’ve got to be one of the best adventure elopement photographers in the southeast! Amazing work!