Ranger Finder’s Top Rising 30 Stars is by far the most prestigious award to achieve in the wedding/elopement industry. You can only win this award within your first 5 years of being a full time wedding or elopement photographer, so there is truly a short window to reach this level.
When I first found out that there was such thing as being an adventure elopement photographer, it was when i was introduced to Maddie Mae‘s work. She has since then has become a mentor of mine through my years starting and running business. It was that year that she herself won Range Finder’s Rising 30, in 2018, the first ever elopement photographer to win. This is an award I have watched the winners of for the last 5 years. I quit my cozy, good job in Florida to drop everything and move to Arizona to work towards becoming an elopement photographer. Since then, some of my favorite artists in the industry have won this award including: Henry Tieu, The Foxes, Will Koury, Cedar and Pines and my dear friend Aimee Flynn.
Last year I was nominated for 2022 Range Finder Rising 30 Stars. I was extremely excited as I had been working towards my nomination all year – working on my craft, organizing my work and submitting my work to anywhere and everywhere I could that year in hopes that someone would nominate me. Unfortunately, last year was not my year and I did not get the rising 30. It was devastating, I was very proud of the collection of images I had put together. However, I let this loss push me even more. I took a harder look at my work, my editing, the emotion and composition. I improved. I worked really, really hard and honestly it paid off. I am proud of the photographer I have become and the work we produce for our couples. I look back and see how much this journey has made me a better photographer in many ways. With or without the award, the images we create are, to me, profound, beautiful and full of heart and story.
This year I was nominated again for the 2023 Range Finder Rising 30 Stars. We spent our second fall season during the hustle of elopements pulling images, arranging images, perfecting edits and analyzing everything to the smallest details. When you submit your work to Range Finder, you send it in as a set of 30 images in order 1-30. The idea is to put together a cohesive body of work that shows the diversity of your photography, to tell a story in 30 images all from different elopements. My idea for the order of my submission this year was to show start to finish what an elopement day could look like – our version. I personally think that what makes a good submission is a little mystery with full understanding of images, story telling, balance and harmony in tones and emotions, consistency within diverse situations and work that shows the ability to push boundaries.
“Chosen from many hundreds of exceptional applicants, these fine photographers stood out for their technical proficiency and ability to push boundaries with their perspectives and post-processing skills.”
In this blog I would love to tell you the story of my submission. Below is a quick video of my submission this year in the order that it was presented to the judges. After that is each image with an explanation about the image itself from my perspective or the general submission. At the very end of the blog I am also sharing a video of my submission from the year before.
My set of 30 images submitted to Range Finder with a brief story/explanation…
This is the oldest image in my submission. This was taken in Page, Arizona at the end of an elopement day that started in Sedona, Arizona. We were driving down this middle of no where dirt road and the moon light was just amazing. We stopped to take a few photos with the rock formations and moonlight. I loved that a few stars also were able to show up in the image. To me it feels other worldly, that is exactly how I wanted to start the judges on the journey of what elopement days are for Adventure + Vow couples.
This image was taken this year in 2023 in Bishop, California. We loved how much intention went into this couple’s wedding day. We started, once again under the moonlight, before dawn getting ready at their little trailer for their sunrise hike + ceremony. We used lights we had brought with us to help light the inside of the trailer where the bride would get ready and the kitchen area where the groom would get ready. I love this image because it is story. There’s so much meaning to it. The bride’s sister’s hands doing here hair, the dress is visible, this quiet start to a new beginning, and it’s all happening at their home away from home.
Another capture from this year with Dani as she writes her vows in an Under Canvas tent in Moab. For me this photo is about the combination of textures and color tones. It feels soft, quiet and like a moment of relaxation. It feels exactly like how that moment felt. It is a juxtaposition from many of the other images in our portfolio, but still true to the adventure with the brides red dirt ombre dress.
Often, as an artist, I find capturing details to be somewhat silly. Stagnant. Which just doesn’t make sense to my brain on an adventure elopement day. Many of our couples say they don’t want photos anyway of the things, they want photos of the people + the memories. That I get. When we first arrived to the slot canyon on day 1 of this elopement, the bride, Dani, would gather the sand in her hands and let it run through them. For a ring detail shot I had marked this perfect spot to place a ring on the canyon wall with a little pebble the day before while scouting the location. I decided to take the photo with a longer exposure to get the sand running through the ring to resemble this memory from their day, to bring back the feeling of the sand in her hand when she looks at this photo.
This year was a good year 🙂 We captured this shot in the Summer for Benjamin + Claren’s elopement. On one of our planning calls, the groom mentioned they would be making their own bouquet together. I thought, well you have to do that as a part of your day! To me it doesn’t matter if something may not be the most aesthetic or a banger shot. To me I want our couple’s to look back and smile and say I remember doing that and remember how special in that moment it was. How they felt, remembering why they choose to do that on their day and maybe inspire them to do something like that again together. The small moments matter, just as much as the big ones.
One of our first Mount Rainier Elopements. Lindsay + Preston had booked us for a Sedona elopement, but after covid plans changed. Lindsay wanted to surprise her groom with a second dress she had brought with her. So after their first look + vows and sunrise she changed on the trail before we hiked out to the next location for a surprise 2nd look. I love the light, the scene and the simplicity of her sitting in the mountains. I can still feel the anticipation she had while she was getting ready to surprise him.
The first look with Febbie + Adam in Moab this spring. Sometimes in planning we never really know where the first look will take place until we are there with the couple. We arrived at their dome house rental and walked around for 10 minutes looking for the perfect spot – the best light, the best background and somewhere LNT friendly. I loved this spot, the beautiful blooms I had never seen in Moab before, the back light with the dark big boulder background in contrast with their sharp attire. I loved the bride’s veil and how it caught light and the ground. To me this image is about balance, anticipation and beauty.
In contrast is this first look which is all about emotion. The pure joy, a true moment. I took this photo with my long lens. The two brides got ready by themselves at sunrise just off the trail, this moment was theirs – the quiet still of sunrise, no one around. They got to experience being brides together in such a raw setting, it was beautiful.
We do not often photograph at venues, so when Carmen + James brought us to this cute camping venue I was stoked to play with windows and story telling that was beyond one layer. The bride’s room overlooked the rest of the venue, so when the groom and his family were set to walk out to the ceremony space we snagged a photo of them and the bride. This photo makes me smile every time I look at it. It brings me back to how much joy there was on this day, how much love these two had surrounding them and how much fun was had celebrating.
Back to the details. A part of putting together a submission for Range Finder is showcasing that you can capture every moment of a wedding well and while showcasing your style. When you go through submissions there are what I call highs + lows. Big moments + small moments. I love this small moment because of the tones, color and composition. It is a detail, but with movement. It tells you a story without the whole picture. It shows you an item, without just staring front and center at a layflat.
In my submission this photo and the two before it is about transition, setting the stage for the next part of an elopement day. I loved this moment, Marissa heading out the door before her shoes were tied, with a dirty dress from being up on the mountain earlier, her pup wanting to tag along. The excitement and adventure of getting married. It is a photo a lot of people may not stop and take or one that maybe doesn’t end up on the clients wall, but it is a photo they’ll always cherish of Ollie and look back at and smile remembering heading out for the rest of their wedding day, seeing the Olympic Coast for the first time.
The ceremony. I started off with this photo as it is a classic, you look at and you see a bride and groom reading vows. Deeper than that it is a playful photo of balance, color tones and reflection. I love capturing reflections and framing couples within nature. This is a delicate moment in a strong composition. I also love asking myself, how can I photograph this different? We often photograph in the same places, or in popular places for elopements and I always try to take a photo I have never taken or seen before. How can I tell this story in a more artistic way? How can I tell this story in a more moving way?
You may recognize this photo as it got honorable mention last year for Junebug’s top 50 wedding photos. I LOVE this photo, it feels like a photo from the 1940’s, it feels editorial, but in my own way. This couple got married at Airport Mesa in Sedona, as they read vows and we ventured around planes would pass by every few minutes. I thought it would be nice to capture a photo like this to remind them of the sound we would hear as they got married. I love that the bride’s ring captured the sunset light just right.
This photo of Cynthia is one I kept coming back to throughout this year. This photo was taken actually during their first look, but throughout the morning, while reading their vows and just being in their favorite place, Canyonlands National Park, Paul would wipe her happy tears away. I love that this photo showcases her ring and bridal jewelry while also capturing a tender moment that is filled with a loud joy. To me this one photo captures the entire feeling of the first day of their elopement.
The unexpected image. There were actually two of these in my pull for this year’s submission. What is the unexpected image? Well, it is that one photo you quickly go past, maybe not even one that ends up in the edits. One that you had never thought before as your best of best work, but somehow makes it way in. I pulled this photo for a few similar reasons as the others – I love the tones and color palette here, I love the brides hair in the wind the untamed feeling of being in the moment, the vow books. The couple is clearly sharing a private, intimate moment together after their vows. Something quick, maybe even forgetful, but in this second it is impactful and by chance captured. To me it also reminds me of one of my favorite thing about elopements. Time + space. At a traditional wedding, this couple would’ve read their vows, kissed and walked back down the aisle before being rushed to greet people or take portraits. However, here they are taking their time, they are going slow through the moments and truly soaking it in.
This was one of those elopements where going into it I wasn’t sure what to expect. A family member had booked me for two hours. They told me to meet them at the hotel for a first look and then we had selected a spot to do their ceremony and a few photos. I did not know anything else. It was one of the most beautiful ceremonies, intertwined with both the bride + groom’s ancestral history and traditions. It was filled with so much love and joy. It was short and simple, but impactful and romantic. I loved this moment after the bride and groom kissed of the parents kiss and the sibling smiling at his partner, whom had also preformed the ceremony together. A moment of unison, but also contrast in their dark attire and the couples lighter color attire.
Another transition photo, from ceremony to celebration! Or in a lot of times for us….adventure! When putting together the 30 images for submission you do a lot of pull in, take out, arrange, put in, take out and so on. It is hard to narrow down years worth of work into 30 images. You may have favorites that do not fit the story. I can not tell you how many times I pulled this image in and out with several others from their day on the coast. It was their first time seeing the coast AND it was their wedding day AND we had the most incredible sunset light. The excitement, the stoke, the smiling faces and high energy I will never forget with these two. They were down for the fun and embracing the experience. It was a fun, beautiful time.
The classic couples portrait, not so classic. A genuine moment of laughter together, holding each other as light rays hug the mountain behind them. It is perfectly, imperfect – just like an elopement day. It is true and it is beautiful. Backlight is my favorite light to photograph in, as it feels romantic. This light is even on our couples faces but also helps them stand out from the background.
Drone photography is something we introduced into our work 2 years ago and since then we have fallen in love with it, when it is the right time and place. I love how small the couple looks, but also how big and dark their shadows are. To me it feels like an image that says come with me and lets adventure. It has energy, but also feels artistic and not real.
Last year this image became somewhat of a staple to what is Adventure and Vow photography. This photo won 2022 June Bug Top 50 Wedding images from around the world. This is an image we have taken for almost every single one of our couples that elope at Merry Go Round rock. However, this day, the lighting and clouds lined up for a color show making it stand out from the others we have taken at this spot. I had seen a landscape photographer take a photo with this composition and during covid Bill and I searched all over this region of Sedona trying to find the spot. One day Bill was looking through some images and said to me – hey you have shot at this exact spot before, just higher. We hiked back out to an ole familiar spot and figured out how to get down there and took our first photo there. Since then we are often asked to take that photo and now many other photographers have found it and shoot from there too. This is the photo the couple prints and hangs on their wall.
Remember earlier, when I was talking about the unexpected one? This is the second one to that. I choose this image as a portrait because I love the messy hair embracing the wind and leaning into each other. Their hair also becoming one. It feels like an intimate moment, but one with romance and energy. Which is how I would explain these two’s connection and vibe for the elopement.
Do you see the color shift? So far a lot of the images have had a lot of warm tones and light. As we head into the dark, from the day, through golden hour, this image is helping transition into blue hour and more night time images. When you submit to Range Finder you can choose to do all black and white, all color or a mix of color and black and white. Since Range Finder wants to see your diversity, it can feel like you should include both. However, I choose to not include any black and white images in my submission because I feel like my work is known for its color and tones and I wanted to fully showcase the broad range within that. I love the soft delicateness of the color in this image. I also enjoy that even though this is a detail of the bouquet it also tells you about the time and place of the event. This image was captured in 2021 on the San Juan Islands. Courtney + Ahern had rebuilt a boat together and rowed it from one island to the other to celebrate getting married camp style with all of their friends. It is a wedding that lead me to another wedding, Abby + Micael’s elopement in Bishop you see earlier and again later in the set of 30. This elopement left me inspired, happy and let me believe in love a little bit more than I already did. Their connection to each other + the land was the exact thing we are constantly talking about when it comes to choosing to elope, how you plan it and experience it.
Believe it or not, this was our first year photographing in the Mt Baker area, of which we live in! When we moved to WA we had mostly worked in Leavenworth, Mt Rainier and the Olympics. We moved to this area for many reasons, but we were extremely stoked to capture elopements near home this year. Isn’t it stunning? When searching for the right location for Jenifer + Taylor’s dream mountain elopement day and we found this spot I knew I had to take this photo. I loved the way the lake and the reflection framed the couple, how small they looked in this grand mountain scene, how the light delicately lit up the massive mountain. It was one of my favorite portraits from their gallery. It is grand, but it is soft.
Our couples do an array of adventures during their elopements from hiking, backpacking, climbing, horseback riding to canoeing. These two got engaged in this very canoe, so when they expressed wanting to bring it along to the elopement, I was so excited for them. When a couple includes elements of their life and relationship into the elopement day I think it makes it that much more special + meaningful. We had found a lake with an incredible view of Mt Rainier. You wouldn’t know that though 🙂 In typical PNW fashion the morning was very foggy. I knew if we waiting longer than we had planned for we would get some light through the fog at some point. So we waited. And magic happened. It is always a challenge in general photographing while in our Kokopelli on the water and the couple on the water too, but a fun challenge. Adding in the weather, it was like thinking on your toes, how to get dynamic shots without light. The entire morning felt like a movie scene, I am sure you can guess which one. It was truly magical before and after we got light in the fog. The images have feeling, texture, story and more. I could have just submitted 30 dynamic photos from this experience lol….
Back with Febbie + Adam in Moab! This was one of their last photos from their elopement before taking starry night photos. It was probably the hardest I pushed the boundaries of my camera all year and some of my favorite photos came from it. As it gets darker out, you need to raise your ISO which causes grain and open up your shutter speed which can cause blur. I love stop motion blur images, I had one in my submission last year too. To me they are a reminder that time is fleeting and we are not in this moment forever. Photos can feel still, which is not the reality of an elopement day, you are pretty much constantly moving. I love that I can include movement as a way to capture something we are doing or even just showcase a detail, like holding your something blue heels.
As an elopement photographer it truly is not often that we get to capture any sort of traditions within the elopement world. This couple combined an adventure elopement with a camp style traditional wedding. In the morning we hiked in the mountains and they read their vows and in the evening they had a ceremony, dinner and dancing with their loved ones. I loved this photo because of the bride’s expression, that she was center and all the moments happening around her. I love the use of light to frame her, but also to tell the story of where they were and how it felt. Light often creates an ambiance or feeling.
Do you want to know a secret? We do not photograph every elopement the same way. We do not approach each elopement the same when it comes to how we plan to capture it or what type of images we take. This couple specifically asked us for one photo of them they could hang on the wall as a large print, just a portrait of the three of them, small in the landscape. We took more than one, of course, but this one stood out to me. Sure the American Gothic has been done before, but it true honesty it is a painting that has always inspired me. It says so much, so easily. This couple is also a fan of that painting. The tones and colors bring a sense of unity. Their dog, watching me, in front of her parents on their wedding day showing a sense of love + loyalty. The couples, perfectly placed, their stance, their expression – content, strong, present.
One of my favorites from the year and one you may know from winning 2023 honorable mention from June Bugs top 50 images. I have so many favorites from this year its wild, but this one is for sure one of my favorite. A moment captured by chance as I was getting into place to take a portrait. A moment where I was pushing my gear way past sunset to still be able to capture what I call watercolor hour, my favorite, which is also known as blue hour. A moment of support, team work, but really marriage as he grabs her hand to assist her in joining him on the rock. A moment of realness as she is barefoot, connecting with the ground below her. A moment of adventure, struggle, being on the edge. This photo to me is one that encompasses why we love elopements and the type of elopements that make our hearts skip a beat.
I took this photo in 2022 and I often ask myself why did I not include it in my first submission. Sure this image is not perfectly done when it comes to craft, but it holds power. I love the three lights in a line, all the subjects bringing you to the bride in the pack raft. You see this photo and you accept, easy to admire. However, you are also asking yourself at the same time – what is happening and why? It is a pure story telling image. One they will hopefully look back on and say remember that time in the middle of the night we crossed a river in our wedding clothes to watch the moon come up on the other side of the trees standing under the dark sky filled with stars? These are the type of adventures we live for, the kind of moments that make your elopement day feel bigger than you.
I ended with this photo. The first elopement we captured of this year in Moab with Gillian + Josh. I had read the couple’s questionnaire about wanting to spend their day climbing and end stargazing. I thought why not do both. I sat with Bill talking through logistics and options. We looked online for inspiration, nothing. We thought about it a lot and finally pitched it to the couple with a fair warning – we may not get anything usable, but we want to try if ya’ll are up for the experience/idea. It took some time, but we got the photo. You may recognize this photo because this year it has won: Junebug Best 50 Wedding photos of the year, Break the Rules Category for IWPOTY and finalist for the Icon Awards. This is the most technically challenging photo I have ever taken. It is a photo I am very proud of and feel very thankful to our couple for being willing to do and try and trust us with capturing their day. These are the type of images I want to be known for and do in my work. I want people to feel like anything is possible for their wedding day, because it is. It is YOUR day to do you. There is no right or wrong way to get married. There is no challenge too hard. There is no too big of a way to celebrate, but also to honor getting married.
2022 Range Finder Rising Stars Submission
International Award Winning Photographers – Traci + Bill
We have worked hard to get here! Pushing your boundaries as a photographer is about two things: the art of seeing and the ability to make quick choices working with what you have. Applying yourself and working hard to get yourself out there. It takes drive, passion and thoughtfulness. It takes communication + trust from your couples.
For us it doesn’t stop here. We will keep pushing our boundaries, keep reaching for what inspires us + what we believe in for the world of weddings/elopements and working to help craft + capture incredibly connective, beautiful, adventurous weddings.
I want to say thank you to Bill, the other half of Adventure and Vow. Not only has Bill learned photography and videography on his own and from me, he has become a good photographer. Some of our images in our submission this year and last year he took. I want to thank him for supporting me greatly through this wild journey I put us on. For being the person last year who had to tell me I did not get it to looking over my set of 30 images 900 different times with me this fall AND last fall for the submission. For checking our emails every single day from November to January waiting for an answer from Range Finder on who will be the top 30.
I want to thank my friends, family and mentors for listening to me talk about this non-stop, for telling me I am good enough, for nominating me and helping me through the submission part. You all know who you are and it means a lot to have your support.