Downtown Raleigh | Gingerbread House Florist

Choosing your elopement or intimate wedding photographer is a high stakes game. Not only do we commonly represent one of the bigger budget categories, the results—the photographs themselves—transcend your celebration day, lasting long into the future and helping shape your memories of the moments your marriage began. The search itself can be overwhelming: there are so many of us—photographers, photographers everywhere! How can you navigate the wealth of North Carolina elopement photographers to find the one who’s right for you? Fear not, friends: read on for some tips and guidance to help you decide!

I Like-Like You

Above all else, you should like—nay, love!—a photographer’s work in order to hire them. Look through a photographer’s portfolio; better, peruse a full wedding or elopement gallery; best, explore a full gallery from an event similar to yours. (Why a full gallery? A portfolio showcases the Best of the Best, and you should be comfortable with the full scope of someone’s work, not just the highlight reel.) As you’re scrolling, imagine that you and your love are the couple in the images. If you love the photographer’s work, emotionally connect with it, and can imagine yourself into the photos, then everything else on this list is a secondary concern and that’s a good photographer for you to work with.

Downtown Hillsborough

Issa Vibe

While my feelings on the abiding wisdom that “you have to like your wedding photographer—you’re around them so much on your wedding day!” have morphed somewhat over the years (read: am increasingly introverted), this advice still rings very true for elopements and intimate weddings. The smaller your group, the more crucial your photographer’s vibe and the more noticeable a personality mismatch. Planning an introspective hike and spiritual mountaintop elopement? A bubbly hype-train of a photographer may not fit your vibe. Boisterous and rowdy immediate family comprising your microwedding guest list? A quiet wallflower photographer may struggle to wrangle them all. Swap the two, though? *chef’s kiss* That might be your sweet spot.

Private residence, Greensboro | Pastor Torri, Tie the Knot with Torri

That Fire Style

As much as the photographer’s personality, their editing style will affect how you respond to their work. Having a handle on the style that speaks to you can help narrow your search significantly. There are, of course, shades between and beyond, but some styles you might commonly see include…

…true-to-life color. I’m a little biased towards this style as this is where we live, but photographers whose images sport true-to-life colors strive to represent your event as closely to your lived experience of it as possible—no interpretation of colors or light, just straight-up documentation. This category employs varying degrees of vibrance and saturation, but it all stays what might be called relatively “normal.”

…dark and moody. This is often a fine art approach, heavily manipulating the viewer’s perception of light and shade. Dark & moody images rely on intense emotions and emotional responses, with a strong implication of serious gravitas. While there are many applications of this style, it feels most appropriate for anyone planning a quieter, more introspective elopement.

…warm sepia. Just like the last category, these images tend to be on the dimmer side, less bright overall. Unlike dark and moody photos, which can have a range of color tones, warm sepia photos tend to have an orange haze to them, evoking warmth and summer evening sunlight.

…light and airy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, these photos are bright and dreamlike, with desaturated colors. The abiding feeling of light and airy images is walking on clouds: romantic, delicate, and pretty.

Lake Crabtree County Park, Raleigh | Hair by Paola Q, Ninth Street Flowers, and Brides & Bouquets

We Out Here

Some of the above styles automatically lend themselves to certain environments: sepia tones fit the desert, and speakeasy bars feel made for dark and moody photos. Since elopements and intimate weddings often rewrite the typical wedding narrative, though, there’s a chance that no photographer has ever shot at your particular venue before, especially if it’s, say, your backyard or an out-of-the-way forest trail. Ask, instead, whether a prospective photographer has shot at your type of locale: any backyard, any desert, any dark and smoky speakeasy. Though it may not garner inspiration specific to your venue, it can give you an idea of a photographer’s comfort level with the environment in which you’re planning to celebrate.

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want

Once you solidify that celebration plan, consider: What do you want a photographer to cover on your elopement day? Are you hoping for a soup-to-nuts storytelling experience, from the first stroke of the makeup brush to the dying of the last candle ember? Keeping it short and sweet and covering just the ceremony and a few portraits of you and your new spouse? Something in between? Once you know what points on your timeline you want documented, you’ll know the amount of time to request from a photographer and how to structure it: will they provide hourly coverage, do they have elopement specific packages, do they require a minimum number of hours? As long as the answers to these questions work for you and what you’re planning, they’re the right ones.

Ultimately, only you know what stars align a photographer’s qualifications with your hopes for the lasting memories of your intimate wedding or elopement day. There’s an embarrassment of riches where photographers are concerned, meaning that your ideal match is out there. Maybe it’s me and my colorful and joyful brand of quirky nerdiness. Maybe it’s someone else’s dark and brooding contemplative aesthetic. Maybe it’s someone else’s cotton candy dreamscape. As long as you see yourself loving the images for a long, long time, it’s the right decision (and maybe this list helped you make it, even a little bit).