| December 29, 2020

Best of 2020

Table of Contents

2020 – Wow. Take a Deep Breath. Now, Let It Go.

2020 – the year that felt like a decade. There are so many words to describe this past year: whirlwind, stressful, terrifying, enlightening. But the word we’re going to cling to is growth.

We (Maddie Mae, Amber, & Tori) feel like we gained so much wisdom about what it means to be human, and witnessed some of the best parts of our communities coming together. We also gained a lot of clarity about what matters, and what really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It was amazing to see the couples we worked with throughout this time learning some of the same things.


I feel like 2020 was the year we’re going to look back on decades from now and ask, “what was 2020 like for you?!”

We love getting to do these end of the year round-ups because it’s always a time to reflect on the best moments over the past 12 months. We’re sure you can agree that sometimes in the thick of it, 2020 made it hard to see the silver linings. But, looking back, it’s clear we have so much to be grateful for.

Most importantly, we need to shout out our amazing couples – THANK YOU for being the brightest light throughout this entire experience. We are SO grateful to have this job, because of YOU!

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank every single couple who boldly said YES to an elopement adventure and “no” to societal pressures, family obligations, and traditional expectations. Every year we are so grateful to the couples who enable us to have this job, and our 2020 couples are an especially resilient group. Each of you inspired us by your courage to choose love, and now you get to say, “I got married in 2020!”

We’ll never take for granted how much of an honor it is to witness the intimate moments of our couple’s wedding days. Sometimes we are the only other people present, and the importance of documenting your love stories is something we don’t take lightly  – it is incredible to work with couples who prioritize themselves and their relationship over what everyone else might want them to do. 

We had the honor of working with 90 couples this year, 85 of whom got married after March when the pandemic changed everything. Plus, the 33 couples who changed their dates – those who realized what matters is getting married, and the location or date really isn’t everything. We couldn’t have done it without all of you, and your flexibility to be open when change was necessary. We are all too aware and deeply saddened by the number of wedding businesses that went under in 2020. Because of our couples we were able to not only survive this crazy year, we thrived!

2020 at a Glance

  • 90 Adventure Elopements & Intimate Weddings 
  • 2 Adventurous Couple Sessions
  • Successfully rescheduled 33 elopements (11 got rescheduled to later in 2020 and 22 of those are on the books for 2021)
  • 23 weddings/elopements in October between the 3 of us (and will still deliver all of them before they’re due back to couples)
  • Traveled to 10 States: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, & Montana
  • 18,500 miles of driving (read more about what we did about our carbon emissions below)
  • 350+ miles hiked (we lost track)
  • 265,000+ photos taken
  • Edited 37,162 photos
  • 1st international team retreat in Mexico before lockdown happened
  • Created the first-ever Leave No Trace Aware Photographer Course as a 100% not-for-profit course in collaboration with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Anni Graham, and Gabi & Brandon Fox 
  • Rebranded both Adventure Instead and Adventure Instead Academy, migrated to WordPress, and launched 2 brand new sites!

We Accomplished Some Big Goals as a Team & Individuals in 2020

The Adventure Instead team accomplished so much as a group this year! We started 2020 on a high note with the first international team retreat in Mexico, before the lockdowns happened – it was a dream come true for Maddie Mae to see the business she’s grown become lucrative enough to say, “Let’s go vacation in Mexico for a week!” and do exactly that. It was a beautiful reminder that Adventure Instead the team is capable of so much more than any one of us could do solo.

Together, we photographed 90 elopements and intimate weddings – we also successfully rescheduled 33 elopements due to pandemic complications. Between the three of us, we ended up photographing 23 elopements in October (Tori now firmly believes 14 elopements in one month is too many for one photographer!) As much as we love to lift each other up, we each have quite a few individual accomplishments we’re proud of – here are some 2020 highlights & lessons learned:



  • Visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (dream bucket list trip) and got to see the Silverback Gorillas and the largest open lava lake in the world on the volcano Nyiragongo
  • Finished renovating our 2nd house and got it rented out as an Airbnb
  • Kept 2 businesses thriving through #2020 and am ending the year with 7 full-time employees 
  • Got through being evacuated due to the biggest wildfire in Colorado history which got one 1-mile from my house
  • Learned how to make bouquets for elopements, and got to make one for a couple!
  • Handmade all of the ornaments and put up my very first Christmas tree & decor ever due to being in the U.S. for the first Christmas in 8 years

Lessons Learned

  • Never take hugs for granted
  • There’s almost always a solution to even the most seemingly impossible problems.
  • No matter how bad a day you’re having… your dog can always make it better



  • Survived 2020
  • Started jogging regularly
  • Faced my fears of the ocean and went scuba diving in Hawaii and Mexico
  • Learned how to throw pottery
  • Had a photo showcased in Junebug’s 50 Best Wedding Photos for the second year in a row

Lessons Learned

  • You can’t touch up an off-white ceiling with white paint
  • Nissan Sentra rental cars cannot handle 4×4 roads
  • Things don’t always go according to plan, and the best thing you can do is roll with the punches and have fun anyway


Picture of Tori Ware | Adventure Instead


  • Moved to my dream town of Bend Oregon where all my favorite activities are now right in my backyard.
  • Purchased kayaks and spent countless summer afternoons paddling the rivers, even teaching Murph how to ride in one. 
  • Learned to love craft beer – John’s only been trying for 7 years
  • Refined my wood-burning oven cooking skills on our backcountry Thanksgiving cabin trip– now an official Thanksgiving tradition.
  • Survived (and dare I say *flourished*) in 2020

Lessons Learned

  • Photographing 14 elopements in 5 different states in a month is too many.
  • The desert is a very abrasive place.
  • Pivot pivot pivot. 

Our Environmental Impact in 2020

In 2019 we took Adventure Instead 100% carbon neutral with the help of a local non-profit Trees Water People. In 2020 we stepped up our eco-friendly partnerships to develop the How to Leave No Trace Course with Gabi & Brandon of The Foxes Photography, Anni Graham, and Ben Lawhon from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. This not-for-profit course has already earned over $24,000 in donations to the LNT Center, and reached thousands of photographers who now have the tools to recreate responsibly and sustainably. 

We had to face the fact that there is a strong correlation between increased outdoor recreation, and desecration of our fragile public lands. We know our photographs have inspired others to get outside (which we think is great), but we believe it’s irresponsible to not provide education alongside that inspiration. In the time we’ve been photographing elopements, some of our favorite natural venues were closed off for restoration, and we’d be naive to not accept some responsibility for this pattern. LNT guidelines have the potential to reduce our negative impacts enough that we can continue sharing our favorite spaces with eloping couples, but we need to develop a sustainable mindset. The elopement photography industry has the power to do SO much good for the outdoors – we want to lead by example.

This year we stepped up to say, “we’ve made mistakes in the past, and we need to do better.” We haven’t always been the perfect example of LNT in our business, and now we’re hoping to leave a lasting positive impact on other elopement photographers by sharing what we’ve learned from our mistakes. Sustainable recreation is about taking responsibility so that all people can experience these beautiful places for themselves. Alongside this educational program, we donated money to groups who are also signed with this goal of a sustainable, equitable future.

2020 Donations:

In total, we donated over $34,000 to organizations working toward environmental & social justice. We expanded this year to include more organizations who align with our values, intentionally learning from the movements and momentum we witnessed in 2020 to give money toward an equitable future for all. 

  • $1500 to Outdoor Afro – This group aims to change the way outdoor leadership looks, by developing programs and people who can truly represent all who get outdoors. With leaders in 30 states (& growing), they are committed to diversifying the impact of conservation efforts by amplifying inclusivity in nature.
  • $1500 to We Got Next – We support the work of this organization to diversify the stories we hear about outdoor recreation, which means cutting out the whitewashing of tales of exploration and conservation. Instead, they are amplifying the stories adventure & environmental activism from members of historically underrepresented communities. 
  • $1500 to Native Women’s Wilderness – This incredible group is teaching the history of ancestral lands to native & non-native people, while inspiring healthy lifestyles & amplifying the voices of native women in outdoors spaces. By recognizing the truth of the lands we are on, we can return power to the people whose history is here. 
  • $1000 to Trees Water People – This badass organization is who we teamed up with to help offset our carbon impact. Local to Colorado, this group is focused on preserving ecosystems and involving local people as best as possible to help them play an active role in the care and management of ecosystems. Staffed by dedicated, hardworking conservationists, the entire team emphasizes reforestation as well as the design and distribution of clean energy products.
  • $1600 to The Ocean Foundation – This organization is dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world. They support, strengthen, and promote other organizations with a similar mission, collectively using their expertise to manage emerging threats and create high-tech solutions to better protect our oceans.
  • $1600 to The Trevor Project – This outstanding and impactful group is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under the age of 25.
  • $1600 to The National Park Foundation – Where would we be without our national parks? Every single one of us must do our part to protect our national parks, and through the NPF’s mission (to support the NPS and safeguard our national heritage), we help to ensure that national park enthusiasts can safely and responsibly enjoy these wonders for generations to come.
  • $24,475 to Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (via the Leave No Trace Course) – An organization very near and dear to our hearts, the LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics is all about providing research, education, and initiatives to every person who ventures outside so that they can not only protect and enjoy our world responsibly but ethically and kindly teach others the same.

A Moment from Each 2020 Elopement

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Maddie Mae

Elopement Photographer

& Planning Consultant

Three photographers

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Adventure Instead

Your Elopement Photographers & Planning Consultants. We are Maddie Mae, Amber, and Tori. We're your photographers, your elopement consultants, your cheerleaders, and your go-to adventure buddy on the day you say your vows.

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