As weddings get more elaborate and expensive, elopements are becoming more and more common. As a photographer, an elopement presents a unique opportunity: a chance to capture the pure moments without all of the chaos and fanfare of a full-out wedding. Perhaps the couple heads down to the local courthouse for the wedding. Perhaps they choose to have a quick 20-minute ceremony on the beach, with just 20 of their closest friends and family there, standing to watch.
I recently had the opportunity to photograph an intimate beachfront elopement, and I’ll now share with you some tips about how I approach elopements, small weddings and courthouse ceremonies.
At a larger event, I typically keep my 24-70 and 70-200 lenses on two bodies that are with me during the entire ceremony. However, with smaller weddings, there is less of a crowd to navigate around, and the 70-200 becomes redundant. A major perk of photographing a small wedding is that you are one of the few guests—perhaps 1 in a group of 10—and you have the ability to get up close and capture some beautiful, intimate shots. In these situations, I love the ability to use my prime lenses for the shallower depth of field, the way they handle light, and the overall image quality.
Flash (for courthouse settings)
As opposed to the beachfront elopement, courthouse nuptials will often require flash. Because of the small setting, I will often use my flash on my camera, bouncing it off the white ceiling if available. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and get a courthouse with beautiful natural light streaming in windows (or even a skylight if you’re really lucky) and you can get away without a flash, simply using the natural light in a beautifully artistic way.
Prioritize Romantic Portraits
When I am asked to photograph a courthouse wedding, I always ask the couple if they would like to carve out time for a 30 minute couples’ portrait session. Even though there isn’t a large wedding ceremony or reception, this is still a special day, and these intimate ceremonies can often lead to even sweeter portraits. Oftentimes when I’m approached about a courthouse wedding, the couple is trying to keep things as simple as possible, and hasn’t thought about doing a portrait session. However, I simply explain the value of doing one, show samples of images, and offer to fit it into the timeline without monopolizing their entire day. More often than not, I end up with couples who are excited about the portraits and end up loving them the most out of all of the images from their day!
Tips for shooting romantic portraits in a courthouse situation:
Oftentimes there will be a nice garden or other outdoor park nearby. I always encourage my couples to do their portraits outside, so I have the benefit of the natural light. If you’re shooting a small ceremony outdoors already, then you’re set!
Because the wedding guests (if they even exist) are so few, they may request to hang around during the portrait session. However, it’s important for me to focus on the interactions between only the bride and groom during romantic portraits. I will often suggest that the wedding guests head to the restaurant or bar ahead of us and we meet them in 30 or so minutes.
Treat it like a full wedding
Just because the wedding wasn’t large doesn’t mean the love between the couple is any different. Conduct these portrait sessions just like you would any other wedding romantic portrait sessions, and you’ll be good to go!
A note on Family Formals:
I always offer to take group photos of wedding guests (if there are any). If the couple wants, you can also do family formal portraits just as you would at a larger ceremony. Granted, you might just take one group photo of all 6 guests with the bride and groom, but it’s a special moment to document and one that is important to me to capture, and often to the bride and groom as well.