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Being an artist is about the constant pursuit of growth. It’s about never closing ourselves off, never thinking we’ve “made it,” never capping our expansion… it’s about constantly seeking ourselves, and becoming more ourselves through art. We’re always arriving, but we never arrive.
It’s a lifelong journey that’s beautiful, humbling, challenging, terrifying, and continually transformative.
The periods of greatest change on this journey often come in waves—when everything starts to pull us in a new direction, often all at once.
We can resist the pull, or we can listen to it.
You might already know that Adventure Instead, this team of three photographers, started nearly five years ago in 2018 (if you want to know the full story, we all share it in our own words below).
To form Adventure Instead, the three of us all laid down our individual photography brands that were about ourselves as individuals and joined forces to create something bigger. This was a massive change for all of us—but our paths as artists that we had each already been on for years, beautifully came together and intertwined to create the business that is Adventure Instead.
When we created this team of three photographers, we hadn’t seen another business like this. How do three artists, each with different life experience, journeys, goals, personalities, and artistic preferences come together and work in harmony under one brand and one business?
We did it by keeping our eyes focused on the greater goal.
Our “Why” for Adventure Instead:
We enable couples to focus on what matters most when they get married: having the very best elopement experience possible and making their commitment to each other with their hearts wide open. By providing caring, judgment-free expert guidance, we form deep and meaningful relationships with each couple we serve—allowing them to feel safe to have an authentically them wedding day surrounded by nature.
And we have had the most incredible experience as a team of three photographers for the last five years.
Some highlights over the past five years have included:
- Planning, documenting, and having the honor of witnessing 467 incredible couple’s intimate wedding days that were completely focused on them and their unique stories
- Being the first ever elopement photographers to win Rangefinder’s 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography award, plus 5 “Best of” Junebug awards, and getting published in Forbes.
- Traveling and photographing in 26 countries and 18 states
- Creating the first online course on how to build & market an elopement business, the first online course on how to photograph adventure weddings & elopements, the first and only course for photographers on how to “Leave No Trace” when operating on public lands
- Donating $130,420 dollars to non-profit organizations serving causes we care about
- Taking (we estimate), over 1.5M photos
It’s been a wild and unbelievable journey for all three of us and we truly did get farther together than we could have ever gotten as individuals.
From Maddie diving head first into this growing niche in 2015 when there were no other “elopement photographers” in existence yet, to us all laying down our own individual businesses to work together in 2018, to Maddie pouring every ounce of her knowledge into teaching other photographers how to create their own businesses with her revolutionary course in 2019, our mission has always been the same:
Empower as many couples as possible to get the chance to have an incredible, stress free, meaningful experience on the day they say their vows.
We’ve done this by working together as a team of three, by educating as many other photographers as possible to serve their couples well, and by spreading the message of this powerful way of getting married far and wide through our instagram, blog, and publications.
This has been about creating community over competition from day one—and that remains a core goal.
Because “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. – African Proverb
The three of us have poured our hearts and souls into this business for the past 5 years and it has represented the second half of our twenties, for all three of us.
We survived and thrived through a pandemic together, experienced some of life’s greatest—and hardest—moments together, and as you can imagine, we are so much more than just three people who work together. We’ve developed a life-long friendship that feels more like a family.
Earlier this year, once all the dust had settled from the 2020-2021 of it all… we all started feeling the pull for a change. We had already had 2 versions of the Adventure Instead brand (the 2018 version, and the version which we created together as a rebrand in 2020), and now we were ready for the next chapter of Adventure Instead.
So in early 2022, we started deep-diving into a rebrand process for the three of us, seeking out what our next step would look like. We were affectionately calling this next step “Adventure Instead 2.0”
As we dove into the core of what we do and who we are, we realized that this business and brand we created felt authentic to the three of us in our 20’s—but that now, all verging on our 30’s, we were all feeling a pull to go in a slightly different direction for the next stage of our lives.
What started with multiple deep and heartfelt discussions around the ways we could take our next step together as a team of three, continued with us all asking ourselves:
What truly makes me happy and makes me feel alive?
If anything were possible, what do I truly want my life to look like for the next few years?
What do I really want out of life?
We each took a deep breath and really leaned in, listening to what our hearts were telling us.
First, Tori shared the incredible news that she was starting a family (and we all cried tears of joy), then Amber was brave enough to be the first to say that she was feeling pulled in a new direction as well. She called Maddie one day in August and said she wanted to re-start her own business—and a new idea for what “Adventure Instead 2.0” means, was born.
So we have some news to share with you.
Starting in 2023, we are branching out and re-becoming three separate businesses celebrating three individual artists.
Before we go further, we want to make a few things clear:
What’s staying the same in 2023:
- Our commitment to our 2023 couples. We want to reassure every single one of our beautiful couples that absolutely nothing is changing about you working with Adventure Instead and your photographer in 2023. The three of us are going to continue working together through the 2023 season and each of us will plan, support, photograph, and deliver everything we’ve promised as we always have. Every couple who has hired us is the hero of this story, and absolutely nothing is changing in our commitment to each & every one of them.
- Our friendship and our support of each other. We are a community—not competitors. Adventure Instead is in complete support of both Amber & Tori’s incredible new businesses, and just like Maddie’s mission is to support every photographer who invested in education from her—she wants nothing but incredible success for both Amber & Tori and plan to mentor, support, encourage, and help both of them in whatever way they need to get their new businesses off the ground. There is enough room for all of us in this industry, and that will always be true.
- Our passion for being elopement photographers. While we are transitioning to re-becoming our own individual businesses again in 2023, we are all still elopement photographers. We now just get to each have 100% freedom of choice of exactly what locations, volume, and type of events fit all of our personal goals and lifestyles, with no obligations of any kind to single, larger overall business.
- Adventure Instead being an industry-leading business, resource for eloping couples, and couples being able to hire Amber & Tori by inquiring with Adventure Instead. We want to be clear that Adventure Instead isn’t going anywhere. Maddie Mae, the owner & founder will be continuing the mission of Adventure Instead and continuing to ensure it’s a place for all couples to find free resources that help empower them to elope. Couples wanting to have an “Adventure Instead” elopement experience can still inquire with Adventure Instead and be connected with any of the three of us to be their photographer.
What’s changing throughout 2023:
- Tori is branching out on her own and has re-created her own new business, Come To Bliss. Couples can inquire directly with her at cometobliss.com (learn more about her elopement photography business below) or via Adventure Instead’s contact form
- Adventure Instead will go back to having one in-house photographer, Maddie Mae. For all of our currently booked couples, please be assured that this change will not affect your experience. You will still be working with your hired photographer (Maddie, Amber, or Tori) in 2023 as we work on this transition over the next 10 months. And while I (Maddie) will be the only in-house photographer directly employed by Adventure Instead, I will be referring everything that doesn’t fit in my schedule to Amber & Tori to support their businesses and ensure every couple inquiring with Adventure Instead will still have access to a top-notch elopement experience with the BEST photographers in the world.
You might be wondering:
- Are you going to be hiring any more photographers for Adventure Instead?
I (Maddie) will answer this one. I’m a person who never says “never”—but trust me, I have pondered this deeply, and the answer is no, I don’t plan to hire more in-house photographer employees for Adventure Instead. I feel the team I created over the past 5 years was completely unique and special, and had everything to do with the incredible humans that Amber & Tori are, the time we met, and the unique way our paths crossed. I truly feel like I won the lottery twice by working with Amber & Tori, and it’s not a current passion of mine to hire more photographers right now. I never scaled this business just for the sake of scaling it—it was always mission driven and impact-driven. I am excited that we’ve found a way to continue our mission and impact as three separate businesses celebrating three individual artists. So for the moment, no, I don’t have any plans to hire any more photographers to work under my brand.
- Aren’t Amber & Tori now competing with Adventure Instead?
I (Maddie) will tackle this one as well. The short answer is no, we are not competitors—we are essentially going to be functioning as a collective of three photographers with three different businesses, but all in full support of each other. Adventure Instead gets well over 1,000 inquiries a year and we have seen first-hand how many couples want to elope. Inquiries that come into Adventure Instead that don’t fit in my schedule will be referred to Amber & Tori (whoever is the best fit photographer). There is space for all of us—and we are excited about the continued benefits of supporting each other, just as we always have.
- Will this affect anything with Maddie Mae’s education through Adventure Instead Academy?
Nope. This change actually gives me (Maddie) a lot more space for education since I’m not balancing my time between running such a massively scaled photography business as well as being a full-time educator. It’s important to me to always “keep my finger on the pulse” by not abandoning my photography business and moving exclusively into education only. Photographing elopements is my passion and I will always be passionate about marketing my own business and continually testing, trying, and learning more things as this industry evolves to stay on top of exactly what works with marketing.
Now, we’re each going to share from our hearts about how this change came about and what it means to us moving forward as individuals, and as Adventure Instead.
Adventure Instead Founding Photographer
Story Maker Photo (coming soon)
“It’s hard to believe my photography journey started all the way back in 2003, the summer I was transitioning from middle school to high school. I picked up a camera, fell in love with the art, and that was that. In 2004, I photographed my first wedding alongside a local photographer and was hooked. I continued photographing weddings through high school and college, and eventually caught wind of adventure weddings and elopements growing in popularity, especially out West. That was the extra push I needed to pack up and move to Colorado.
After a few years of exploring and adventuring in Colorado, I met Maddie. She was another elopement photographer who was pioneering the trend of elopements. We shared the same interests and passions, and one day while we were at the summit of a hike together, she shared her dream of building a team. I knew in my heart I wanted to sign up for that. That was 5 years ago.
We had no idea if building a brand around a small team of photographers would work (it had never been done before). We poured our hearts and souls into this business, and little by little, Adventure Instead was born.
Before our eyes it became everything we ever dreamed of, and more. We quickly added Tori, and together the three of us traveled the world, met THE BEST COUPLES, and with the capacity we had as a team, we were able to build and deliver an experience that was so different than what anyone else was doing at the time.
We persevered through a pandemic, natural disasters, and the loss of loved ones. Always together. We shared so many deep conversations, ideas, dreams, values. The lines between coworkers and friends was always blurry. It seemed we meant to build a team, but we built a family instead.
This last year came with a lot of major life changes. Shayne and I found out that our Cooper dog had terminal cancer and was given 6 more months to live. We collectively balled our eyes out with tears of joy as Tori told us she had a little baby inside of her. All of this was going on behind the scenes while photographing SO MANY major life events for so many couples. Maybe this is getting older, but shifts and changes were happening whether we fully realized it at the time or not.
To be completely honest, this year I really started feeling a pain point deep in my gut about how much I was photographing and traveling away from home. I found myself aching for my husband and dogs more than ever. I felt so much guilt that my husband was ALWAYS holding down the fort—working full time (with overtime), caring for our dogs, our home, and still relentlessly rooting for me through it all. I owe him the world because he never ever complained once. He just wanted me to live the life I always dreamed of, though slowly but surely I realized my dreams were changing.
As this season was beginning to slow down, I had a very hard conversation with Maddie. I knew in my gut I had to make a change now before my entire next year was scheduled. After many HARD conversations between Tori, Maddie and I, we collectively decided that maybe it was time for something new.
But what? How? The crux of the problem was always that with a bigger business with a large support team, certain minimum goals and numbers need to be achieved to make the business work. So we had more discussions, more sharing, more really freaking hard conversations… and then one day, we came to a brilliant solution.
What if we all bloomed our own businesses again? What if we could all find more work/life balance while STILL honoring everything we each believe in and everything we had so beautifully built. That’s when the idea of Adventure Instead still supporting us (like a collective) and the idea for Story Maker followed soon after.
I’m beyond excited to continue to offer the same amazing elopement experience, but while also making sure I’m taking great care of myself, Shayne, and our dogs too. Instead of sleeping at home sometimes 6 nights a month in the busiest seasons, I’ll sleep at home 20+ nights, and give myself space to pursue my summer interests, like running, mountain biking, and competing in adventure races.
I have a feeling 2023 is going to be my best year yet, and I believe that it will reflect in my photography too.
So here’s a sneak peek at what’s to come in 2023 and beyond:
- Even more detailed + highly personalized elopement experiences
- More time for ADVENTURES!
- Less hotel rooms
- More time exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, and the beautiful town of Estes Park we call home
- Training, learning, and pushing myself to new heights physically and mentally
- Probably some new hobbies along the way (if I know me)
- Space to photograph other awesome stories like family vacations in RMNP, engagements, and photo sessions to celebrate you and all the things you love
So, here’s me officially announcing Story Maker Photo. The name was inspired by the favorite stories we tell.
The days when all felt good in the world. The times that make life worth living— your adventures, misadventures, and all the fun/silly/messy moments along the way.
Website (coming soon): www.storymakerphoto.com
Instagram (in progress): @storymakerphoto
And most of all, I’m so dang thankful that I have Maddie, Tori, and our extended Adventure Instead family in my corner to root me on while I do it.”
Adventure Instead Founding Photographer
Come To Bliss (coming soon)
“Eight years ago, almost to the day, I photographed my very first elopement. A couple ridiculously in love, looking to escape family and societal pressures and just celebrate themselves. It was simple in the best way. I met with them in a park square beneath old moss covered oak trees in one of my very favorite cities, Savannah GA. Afterwards, they grabbed drinks at a local bar to celebrate, we drove out to a forested area for portraits, and they ended the day on a rooftop overlooking the charming city as it began to glow.
Fast forward two years and I was standing on a mountain overlook in fresh snow, staring up at John, wildly in love with him, as he jumped up and down with excitement—we had just eloped ourselves.
I still think about the feelings I had on my own wedding day. I wasn’t stressed, rushed, or wishing it would fly by. I want to relive that day over and over again. Doesn’t everyone deserve to feel that way about the day they get married? I was photographing mostly big weddings at the time–but all I was dreaming about was wanting other couples to know that they had options. They didn’t have to get married in a way that wasn’t true to them. They could create a day that was purely for them. A different kind of wedding experience.
In October 2018 I photographed for the first time alongside Maddie. It was my first time in Yosemite National Park and I still remember the connections made with that incredible couple. It was everything I was searching for. A couple, investing in themselves and crafting a day that was laid back and meaningful to them–all while exploring from sun up to sun down in an absolutely breathtaking location outdoors. Working with more couples like them was my dream, so when I joined Amber & Maddie both at Adventure Instead toward the end of 2018, I was on cloud 9.
Over the past 4 years working as part of the Adventure Instead team I have:
- Met the kindest humans I could possibly imagine. They are at the heart of my passion for this job that is my life.
- Experienced Mother Nature create absolute wonders for couples on their wedding days–rainbows after windstorms, breathtaking sunsets when the forecast called for rain, magical snow in June, glimpses of wildlife making days feel like an actual fairy tale.
- Found myself driving home in complete silence, teary eyed, goosebumps covering my skin– reflecting on elopement days that touched my soul. So much so that I refer to them as “soul-filling” days.
- Traveled to, hiked within, and explored corners of this earth that I may not have, had it not been for an adventurous couple wanting to say their vows there.
These experiences that have shaped me into the person I am, could not have been possible without this job. It was the support that comes from having a team of women to bounce ideas off of, help when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and run the day to day effortlessly that has made it possible for me to focus all my energy on helping 140 couples elope over the past 4 years have the chance to get married their way. It was exactly the support I needed so that I could grow as a photographer and service provider and feel confident now in taking the next leap in my career.
The next chapter in my career is beginning right as the next chapter in my life begins too–with John & I welcoming our first baby into the world come January 2023. This past year has been filled with really high highs–top of the world type moments–alongside really low lows. Seeing John’s face when he got to feel our baby kick for the first time. The sinking feeling while reading the text from my mom “FaceTime me when you get the chance, it’s important”. Good and bad, I think I’ve cried more in the past year than I have in 10.
This year has tested me in ways I didn’t know possible. I have no doubt that decades from now I’ll be looking back on this very year as one of the most pivotal in my life, the one where everything changed.
Perhaps the biggest change? The way in which I view life. I had heard the phrase “time is short” a thousand times before, but in just these past 11 months, I feel as though I truly understand it.
Nothing in this life is more valuable than time. Time spent with those you love. Time spent in places that bring you peace. Time spent doing the things that bring you happiness and complete bliss.
Come to Bliss is the encouragement of just that. It was the title of the last photo project I created before graduating with my BFA from Savannah College of Art & Design. I photographed moments spent with my very best friends during a time that really helped me grow—those moments that you want to bottle up forever and find yourself coming back to time and time again just to *feel* the memories again. Moments of pure bliss. Pure joy, incredible emotion, and one day–nostalgia. Isn’t that exactly what the day you get married should feel like? I think so.
Website (coming soon): www.cometobliss.com
Instagram (in progress): @cometobliss
2023 & beyond is going to look a lot like this:
- Slowing down. Babies kind of force this one on ya. But I can’t tell you how excited I am for this next season in life–of enjoying this home in Bend that John & I have created together.
- More time than ever before providing a very personalized wedding experience to each couple I work with.
- Exploring all my favorite places with a tiny human in tow. Seeing & experiencing everything again as if it is for the very first time through her eyes.
- Opening myself up to photographing not only small elopements, but a select number of weddings up to 60 guests. Because I feel that the heart of Come to Bliss can still be found in an intentional wedding of this size.
- Continuing to push this body of mine physically and seeing what fitness goals I can achieve post-baby. Perhaps even spring ski season.
- Traveling for myself again. Not only extending work trips so that I can play, but intentional travel purely for myself & loved ones.
It’s been the most amazing past 4 years and I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with Maddie, Amber, and all of the Adventure Instead crew. I can’t wait to continue to support one another as we each branch out on our own and continue to help couples create incredible elopement days.”
Owner, Founder & Photographer, Adventure Instead
Marketing Mentor for Wedding & Elopement Photographers,
Adventure Instead Academy
“I photographed my very first wedding 12 years ago, back in 2010. I was 18, and it was a big, traditional wedding for my high school teacher’s daughter. I learned that I absolutely loved photographing couples and photographed big traditional weddings for the next 5 years—but something inside of me said there was more out of getting married than ballrooms and huge bridal parties.
Fast forward to 2015. I’m standing in Rocky Mountain National Park, photographing my very first elopement which I had entirely planned for the couple in the two weeks since they hired me.
That day changed the course of my life.
As someone who is not close to my family, and so in love with nature—the idea that you can get married in such an intimate & meaningful way, surrounded by the most incredible scenery of your life, completely changed everything for me.
That day I learned that I didn’t need to be a part of an industry that I had grown to see as being full of waste, family pressures, and couples being forced to put on a “show” for everyone else. That day I saw a different version of a wedding day, where the focus is brought back to where it was always meant to be—the couple getting married.
I decided that even though I had never seen any full time “elopement photographers,” I was done photographing big traditional weddings. I didn’t want to see any more couples being stressed out and steamrolled by their big wedding days. I felt a passion burning inside of me to focus 100% of my efforts on finding a way to help couples have *these* type of intimate & meaningful “just us” wedding experiences.
I completely rebuilt, rebranded, and re-imagined my business (Maddie Mae Photography) from the ground up… and took the leap into being a full time “Elopement Photographer.” And I never looked back.
Fast forward two years to 2017. I traveled to 13 countries to photograph 55 adventure elopements and still had to turn down countless couples that I didn’t have space to serve.
I knew I had a choice to make. I could keep trying to do it all on my own—knowing my capacity would always be less than the impact I wanted to make… or I could leap again.
I wanted more couples to experience this type of day, and I felt pulled to create a business bigger than just myself. I wondered if I could find a photographer that would be willing to join forces with me, and together, we could create and capture even more couples wildly in love.
So at the end of 2017, I asked Amber a crazy question. I asked if she wanted to give up her own business and join mine instead. She was brave enough to say “yes,” and at the beginning of 2018, our team was born.
Together, we both gave up our existing business names, and created the brand that is “Adventure Instead” (and our business name was Amber’s idea).
By the fall of that same year (2018), Amber & I won the most prestigious award in the wedding industry—Rangefinder 30 Rising Stars, and launched our new brand and website for “Adventure Instead” on the same day it was announced. That same autumn, we brought on Tori because we were still turning away so many couples that wanted something more than the big wedding industry had to offer them. Our team of three was finally complete.
There’s so much I could say about what’s happened the past five years, but in summary, they’ve been the best years of my entire life—and I owe so much to Amber & Tori.
So when we all started feeling a “pull” toward something new this year, I wanted us all to be incredibly honest with each other so that “Adventure Instead 2.0” would be exactly what we all wanted.
What we found, is that while this experience of being a team of three photographers was a dream come true for the last five years, is that all of our dreams were changing. While working on our rebrand, it started to become obvious that it was no longer going to be easy to create a brand that 100% reflected all three of us.
I’m a person who believes things happen for a reason, and believe that when the universe is nudging you in a direction, you need to listen to it.
When Tori told our team on a zoom call this summer that she was expecting her first baby, I sobbed my eyes out with joy for her. And when Amber called me in August and told me that she wanted to restart her own business, I told her that I had never been more proud of her than I was at that moment. And I meant that.
As someone who has a parallel passion for supporting photographers stepping into their truest selves and designing a business around their authentic passions and strengths, and what they want out of their life—I was incredible proud of Amber for listening to the pull, leaning in, and making the brave choice to have that conversation with me.
It’s a bit ironic to look at it now that our goal of rebranding Adventure Instead and creating “Adventure Instead 2.0” led us here—but I actually think this is perfect for all of us.
In 2023, we all now get to create brands and businesses that are authentic to who we have grown to be. The last few years have changed all of us in deep, permanent ways, and while I’m incredibly grateful for the incredible experience we had together as an in-house team of three photographers—I’m equally excited about this next chapter of our lives.
This next step IS Adventure Instead 2.0. We were seeking an evolution and a change, and we found it.
And I’m proud of us for finding a beautiful “end” to this team-structure rather than keeping the status quo knowing it’s not the right fit.
All three of us are unanimously following our creative passions rather than stagnating because it was easier—and that’s a mission I’ll always support.
What I’m seeing for 2023 & beyond:
- The opportunity to be even more intentional with each couple I personally work with at Adventure Instead and I have some exciting ideas brewing on how to provide an even more full-service experience (especially for international destination elopements)
- More exciting international destination elopements. I’m so stoked that world-wide travel is fully back after a tough few years. Having had a destination elopement myself, there’s nothing I love more than working with couples as passionate about travel experiences as I am. I’m excited to work on Adventure Instead’s new brand (coming in 2023) more clearly reflect this passion.
- More time to follow my parallel passion of educating photographers—being more present for my students, adding more support to help them improve their businesses.
- More personal travel and scuba diving. I have a bucket-list trip to Antarctica in February 2023, and a diving trip to Indonesia planned for August, and I can’t resist a good flight sale, so I’m sure I’ll continue to pack my season.
- Following some of my other photography passions, including underwater photography and astrophotography
- Pursuing more of my personal passions such as yoga, meditation, paddleboarding, foraging, and plant medicine
- Having a front row seat to Amber & Tori’s exciting new businesses and supporting them on their journey
Website (exciting rebrand coming in 2023): www.adventureinstead.com
I’m incredibly excited for what the future has in store for all of us.
Cheers to all the beautiful couples who have booked us that we are committed to giving our all.
Cheers to Amber & Tori’s exciting new journeys.
Cheers to Adventure Instead’s rebrand in 2023, focusing on more destination elopements.
Cheers to the elopement industry.
To any elopement photographer reading this… look at this incredible niche you’ve created with us. We did it.
I’m honored to be a part of this with you,
xx Maddie Mae
Okay so here we are.
If you’ve read this far, whether you’re one of our lovely couples, a photographer who knows us, or a vendor we’ve worked with, we want to say a huge thank you for listening to us speak from the heart.
Change is always scary, but this is what we have always been leading to, even when we didn’t know it.
We’re excited to keep becoming the humans and artists we’re meant to be.
Get ready, because we’re just getting started.
xx Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori