Small is beautiful: the joy of elopement photography

Couples are increasingly choosing to elope – but what does that mean for wedding photographers? Pablo Laguia and his wife Ana Gómez discuss the benefits and rewards of shooting small-scale celebrations in grand locations.
A newlywed couple embracing, with their eyes closed and their foreheads touching. The bride is wearing a flower crown in her hair.

Elopement weddings are on the rise as an increasing number of couples choose to swap large, traditional ceremonies for something much smaller and more intimate. For international wedding photography duo Pablo Laguia and his wife Ana Gómez, that means different ways of working – but also much reward. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 6D Mark II) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/2.5 and ISO100. © Pablo Laguia

After the events of 2020, it's no surprise that elopements are on the rise as couples choose to abandon their plans for large-scale, formal weddings in favour of something much simpler and more personal. Small doesn't have to mean dull, though. To celebrate their thirst for adventure, couples are increasingly deciding to swap traditional venues for stunning outdoor backdrops or unusual locations. Wherever prospective partners choose to say their vows, though, selecting the right elopement photographer is even more important when the images they capture are the only means of sharing the special day with family and friends.

International wedding photographer and Canon Ambassador Pablo Laguia works in partnership with his wife Ana Gómez from their base in Alicante, Spain, and elopement photography is now a major part of their business. Ana used to work in the fashion business and the pair met while collaborating on campaigns. "We thought we made a good team," she says. Ana now manages marketing, communication and clients, while also working as a second shooter.

Here, the couple share some of the lessons they've learned from their elopement photography and why being behind the lens at smaller-scale celebrations is such a unique thrill.

A newlywed couple embracing at the centre of a semicircle of low-burning fires.

Pablo and Ana often research their wedding locations on Google Earth and use an app to work out the most favourable shooting times. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/3.2 and ISO100. © Pablo Laguia

How did you get started in elopement photography?

"Elopement photography came to us in the same way as a lot of our work – through social media," explains Ana. "Our first elopement booking was thanks to Instagram. Once you have one elopement to show, you're off. Spain is quite a conservative country, so elopements are not that common. Most of our elopement work is in the US or Asia, so it has opened up new markets for us."

How much of the elopement photography shoot is planned?

"We work out about half our shots before we go, and the other half are more spontaneous," says Ana. "And we try to at least work to our guide. We look at the location on Google Earth before we set off, document everything, and use an app to work out what time the sun sets and when we'll have the best light.

"We always work together when shooting elopements – we are never apart. I shoot the detail and the emotion, and Pablo is always looking for the perfect frame.

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A newlywed couple walking through a field dotted with trees at the edge of a forest.

An atmospheric image, captured from above, of a newlywed couple walking across an expanse of land at the edge of a forest in Oslo. Transition shots like this help to tell the story of a day. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/800 sec, f/2 and ISO160. © Pablo Laguia

A bride standing by a window in a plush hotel room. Her shoes are placed on the chair by her side.

Pablo and Ana's background in fashion photography is evident in this shot of a bride silhouetted against a window. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/1.8 and ISO400. © Pablo Laguia

How important is storytelling in elopement photography?

"It's everything for us," says Ana. "It's like our trademark. Transition pictures help to create the story. We work not only to photograph the couple, but also the landscape, the emotions and the details. That's what makes the story, so for us it's very important. We don't see wedding photography as being different to fashion or documentary. A wedding is a story, it's fashion, it's portraits – it's everything."

Is elopement photography more challenging than traditional weddings?

"I wouldn't say it's a challenge," says Ana. "It's easier than photographing a regular wedding because you don't have the protocols and the fixed schedules. The couple are more relaxed and it's like an adventure. We leave with them, maybe climb a mountain with them – imagine the feelings you have when you get to the top: the emotions, the excitement – it's such a big adventure to photograph."

A newlywed couple holding hands in a graveyard as pigeons fly through the air.

Pablo and Ana have have discovered that the key to capturing the most natural and intimate shots is to build a great relationship with their couples. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM at 1/200 sec, f/2.2 and ISO250. © Pablo Laguia

What have you learnt as elopement photographers?

"The client is always right!" says Pablo. "Of course, we have learnt many things, but the most important thing is that you need to talk to your clients a lot, make them feel comfortable and discuss every single detail so they won't have any surprises. They need to know the photographer and what they are going to be doing on the day. We have learnt that this is everything. The clients have to be in love with your work, because if they don't feel comfortable with you, or that you are the right person to photograph their wedding, it won't be the same. They have to be happy and relaxed."

Newlyweds hold a sparkler while standing under an umbrella in the rain.

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How do you put couples at ease and make them feel comfortable?

"It depends on the couple," says Ana. "We try to talk to them a lot and build their confidence. We Skype, ask for their story and try to get as close to them as possible. If we know them a little – perhaps know their favourite song, how to make them laugh or make them feel comfortable – that helps us to capture the emotion."

A newlywed couple dancing on a hillside next to a man playing bagpipes.

This image, taken on the Isle of Skye, captures the energy and character of the day, and reflects Pablo and Ana's reportage style of shooting. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/800 sec, f/4 and ISO200. © Pablo Laguia

How does your kit enable you to photograph elopements in an unobtrusive reportage style?

"We love natural light," says Pablo, who has recently swapped his Canon EOS 6D for a Canon EOS R5. "We always work outdoors and our kit is perfect for this kind of photography. The size and light weight of the EOS R5 makes it perfect for these shoots, and it's reliable in adverse weather.

"The EOS R5 has incredible image quality, even in low light, and has many features that make our lives easier. The eye tracking enables us to totally immerse ourselves in a scene without having to worry about focus. Another thing that fascinates us is the electronic viewfinder, which helps us to find the perfect exposure. And the Image Stabilizer allows us to shoot without a tripod, which was previously unthinkable.

"To add a touch of magic to special moments or a great location we use the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L tilt-shift lens (now succeeded by the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II). It's perfect for testing your creativity. We also use the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM - a lens that is perfect for everyday use – for both weddings and travel. Our all-rounder is the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, as we could shoot the whole wedding with it - it has the wide-angle range and is very versatile. Ana's favourite lens is the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM, which is ideal for portrait photography."

A newlywed couple kissing on a hill in front of a range of snow-capped mountains.

This fun elopement portrait taken in New Zealand not only conveys the romance of the moment but also doubles as a striking landscape shot. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/3.5 and ISO200. © Pablo Laguia

What are the biggest rewards of elopement photography?

"Elopements can be just two people or the couple plus a few guests," says Ana. "Because we are there with them all day - sometimes even a couple of days – we leave with something so amazing. A wedding, for many people, is the most important day of their lives - and you get to spend it with them.

"We enjoy it so much because it's not only a travel adventure, we also meet amazing people who sometimes become our friends. That's something we are so grateful for. It's an honour to be a part of someone's wedding - I think that's the best part of the job."

Lorna Dockerill

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