—Meet the husband-and-wife duo traveling across the country to document epic outdoor elopements. No perfect adventure wedding is complete without photo proof.
Just like over-the-top, grandiose wedding ceremonies had their time, modern day couples looking for a more intimate experience have caused elopements to re-enter the equation. The perfect adventure wedding is a modern twist on your typical elopement. Not in a Little White Chapel in Las Vegas kind of way, although we’re not judging, but as a means of centering the big day exclusively around you, your partner—and a photographer, of course.
There are a number of reasons we can attribute to the sudden surge in elopements, a recent (and untimely) pandemic being one of them. On the other hand, some couples are simply looking to go against the grain of a traditional wedding, while others find a smaller ceremony financially responsible. Then there are those who find travel and adventure to play just as big a part of their relationship journey, and it doesn’t hurt that the photos will make for one heck of a breathtaking affair.
That’s where The Hearnes Adventure Photography comes in. Owned and operated by Abbi and Callen Hearne, they are a husband-and-wife team who make a living shooting picture-perfect adventure weddings and outdoor elopements. That being said, they’re not just your average photographers. They have to be just as daring as the couples they’re working with.
From venturing out into remote locations like the Moab desert and backpacking up the mountains of California, to planning almost every part of the wedding themselves, the connection that the Hearnes are able to build with the couples they work with is what makes it all worth it. Not to mention the photos that will follow, some of which it’s hard to believe were actually captured on camera. I got the chance to speak with Abbi who shared how she got started in photography, what it’s like living life on the road, working with her husband and some of her most memorable shoots.
Can you share a bit of background about yourself and how you got into photography?
I was always the “friend with a camera” growing up, all the way back to disposable cameras at summer camp. I became more interested in it in high school, and then bought my first DSLR camera right before college. I interned with a wedding photographer friend of mine in college—it actually just started as a way to make some extra money, but I quickly fell in love with the job! I shot 10 to 15 weddings with her, and then she actually referred my first wedding to me. The couple were friends of mine, and I photographed their wedding a few weeks after I graduated college. I was hooked, and decided I’d spend a year trying to build a photography business, and if it flopped, I’d get a job teaching (which is what my degree was in). It didn’t flop.
You also work with your husband. What drove you to settle into adventure weddings and elopements as your focus? What is it that interests you?
I recruited my husband, Callen, as my second shooter for those first few weddings and we had so much fun working together that he’s shot every wedding with me since! We started out when we were living in Texas, shooting bigger more traditional weddings in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. At the same time, we were taking these big road trips out West every chance we got, and falling more in love with places like the Utah desert and the mountains in California.
About two years in, we took a big three week trip and drove from Houston to Canada and back. By the end of that trip, we’d decided we needed to hit the road full time and get out of Texas. We originally thought we’d just book a few weddings a year in Texas to sustain the road life, but as we traveled more, we began booking more couples in other states, and then began booking more adventurous gigs. By March 2017, we’d committed to “The Hearnes Adventure Photography” brand with a focus on small weddings and elopements in adventurous places.
We love it because we love adventure. These places are where we belong, and the goal all along has been more time in these places. Now, we get to live and work in Yosemite and Moab and all of these amazing places! We’ve also fallen completely in love with the logistical side of planning these elopements, and the relationships we form with our couples. Now, we spend so much time with our couples, we’re often the only witnesses to their wedding! The closeness we get to have, and the satisfaction of helping them have a creative and adventurous wedding day is unbeatable.
Did you two have an adventure wedding of your own? What’s it like working together?
We actually had a really normal wedding in Texas. We got married before adventure weddings were a big thing, and definitely before the niche we’ve created existed at all. I like to think if we had known the possibilities, we’d have had a smaller wedding in a place that meant a lot to us, but that is one of the things that motivates me to spread the word for couples who are currently planning their weddings!
We love working together. It’s obviously not perfect, but we make a really good team and we thrive together when working with our couples. The friendships we build by treating every gig like a double date are so amazing, and I think a lot of that has to do with me and Callen’s chemistry and collaboration.
Why do you think so many people are opting to elope instead of having a traditional wedding ceremony?
I think more and more couples are realizing the value of an amazing experience over a big, extravagant party. People are feeling more free to choose their own path, and do their own thing, instead of just following what every wedding magazine is telling them they *have* to do. It’s not just a great way to save money (although, there is that!), it’s a way to be intentional with the money they do spend. Instead of buying dinner for 200-plus people they sort of know, couples are flying in helicopters, rappelling down canyons, having beautiful picnics on top of mountains, and having the experiences they’ll remember for a lifetime!
Beyond the photography itself, does your line of work require any special qualifications? What are the most challenging aspects you’ve encountered?
This job is so much more than photography. Callen and I joke that by being elopement photographers, we assume the role of every vendor that isn’t included in this type of wedding. We plan a majority (if not all) of our couples wedding days from lodging, to transportation, to guiding services and rentals, locations, and so on. We have a giant list of locations all around the US and the world that we’re always adding to, and we’re often their contact for permitting, closures, regulations, etc. Any photographer that says elopements are easier than big weddings hasn’t shot an elopement like ours. There are so many logistics!
Working out in the elements, I’m sure there have been moments that didn’t go quite to plan. Do you have any stories that come to mind?
We’ve definitely had our share of weird weather and even surprise closures (or, in this current time, postponements due to a world-wide pandemic!). But one thing I love about elopements is that, in the end, the goal is to have an amazing day and get married. So even when the wedding days don’t go exactly as planned, our couples are always left feeling so stoked on their day full of amazing memories.
How do you connect with couples prior to the wedding? What’s involved in the planning process?
We email with our couples constantly, as well as FaceTime, phone calls, and texting. I treat our couples like friends from the beginning, which is a huge reason we’re able to connect so well with them on their wedding day. We only work with 20-30 couples a year, so we have close relationships with each of them. I’m constantly checking in and I’m usually one of the first people they text when picking out a dress, or booking a vendor, or finding lodging. It’s extremely involved from the very beginning, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How would you describe your approach during the shoot and after?
We try to plan as much as possible before the wedding day so that the actual day can be super relaxing and enjoyable. We give a lot of extra time so we’re not rushed. Honestly, on the wedding day, it mostly just feels like a really fun adventure with friends! We try to balance being involved and giving our couples space, so we usually don’t spend the entire day with them, but we do almost always spend sunrise and sunset together for those epic portraits. The rest of the day will be fun adventures like hiking, canyoneering, going on a plane tour, and then we’ll have a designated location and time block for their ceremony. Usually, by the end of the day we’re all exhausted but so sad that it’s over. They’ve truly been some of the most fun days of my life.
Since weddings are notoriously stressful, do you offer couples any advice?
Elope! But honestly, my biggest advice to any couple is to do what feels right for you. In the end, you will disagree with the people around you about *something* related to your wedding, but it’s your day that you’ll remember forever, and it should reflect you. And then, after all the planning and logistics, let the day happen as it happens. Let go of expectations. Enjoy the day with your partner and with anyone you invited, and don’t worry about all the small things. It’ll be a really fun day, and you’ll be married at the end of it, which is truly all that actually matters.
What are some of your favorite destinations for a wedding or elopement?
We have been to so many incredible places, and we really love when elopements take us somewhere new, but I have to say, I genuinely believe our “regulars” are some of the most incredible and adventurous places to elope in the world. We visit Yosemite twice a year, we live in Moab, Utah half of the year, and we drive to Alaska every summer. We’ve traveled a lot, and these are the three places we can’t imagine going a year without, and they’re epic places to elope.
Images and descriptions of the Hearnes’ work can be found at: https://thehearnes.com/
If you need some help finding a location for the perfect adventure wedding or you are just craving traveling to someplace breathtaking, check out the Global Adventure Guide: 10 Extreme Thrills, linked below.