Over the course of my career photographing adventure elopements, I’ve had several couples come to me asking about getting married in the woods. They love the idea of saying their vows amongst the trees, with the branches and leaves as their witnesses. And I totally get it. The idea of getting married in the woods is certainly a romantic one.
With that said, I don’t always recommend that couples make the choice to elope in the woods, and there are a few reasons why, which I’ll get into later. However, if you are considering tying the knot in the woods, there are a few things you’ll definitely want to consider before you make that jump.
There’s more to getting married in the woods than wandering into rows and rows of trees and picking your favorite spot. I wish it was that easy, but there are a lot of factors to take into consideration before choosing to have an elopement or wedding in the woods.
Much of what is possible when it comes to getting married in the woods is highly dependent on the number of guests you plan on having at your wedding or elopement. Let’s discuss that in more detail.
When looking for the best places to get married in the woods, there’s a few things you’ll want to keep an eye out for. The first is a location that is located in a clearing, but has trees surrounding it. So imagine a ceremony site with the woods as your backdrop, but you and your guests are standing in a small field in front of the trees.
Clearings will have space for guests to stand (if you’re planning on having any guests present) without trees blocking the way. Clearings create an intentional and cohesive look to woods weddings. They essentially give the vibe that your spot was picked and created intentionally for a ceremony.
When you’re considering locations for your elopement in the woods, consult with your photographer. Ultimately, they’ll want a location where they can get unobstructed views of your ceremony, too, so their input and advice will be crucial.
My recommendation is if you’re planning on getting married in the woods but your total headcount exceeds 10 people, look into a small venue or private land. Why? Places like hiking trails aren’t build to accommodate large groups, and the ground won’t necessarily be conducive to several people standing or sitting there. There are also some spacious public lands ceremony sites that you can reserve, which are also a great option.
Un-level ground or ground with excessive plant life on it is not a place to set up a ceremony. Not only can it damage the local plant life and local ecosystem, but it’s not going to be particularly comfortable for guests. You also run the risk of local animals, whether it be snakes, spiders, or anything else, nesting in the plant life nearby. With elopements in the woods, it’s easy to have your ceremony on an established trail. The larger your group gets, the harder that is. Renting a space is a much better option as your group size expands.
Woodsy locations are some of the most challenging locations to photograph in, lighting-wise. And no matter how skilled your photographer, a location with bad light will still look like a location with bad light. But what exact type of light am I referring to?
There are two big problems that can happen lighting-wise when you choose to get married in the woods. Either the foliage is so thick and dense that very little light comes through and skin tones can have a color-cast (whether it’s green, yellow, or whatever color the local foliage is) or look muddy in tone due to lack of directional light.
Or the alternative is that the sun comes through the leaves more intensely and you get what’s referred to as “dappled light.” If you’re not sure what dappled light is, you’ll see it most drastically in mid-day sun in a woodsy areas, where there’s a constant pattern of sun and shade. So if someone is standing in dappled light, they’ll have shaded and sunny spots all over them (essentially, they have the shaded pattern of the leaves printed on their bodies).
As photographers, we’re all taught to avoid dappled light, as it’s not something that can just be “fixed” after the fact. A good photographer’s job is to find good light and avoid dappled light at all costs. Unfortunately, when you’re getting married in the woods, sometimes dappled light is inevitable.
The best way to curb the impact of dappled light is to choose to get married in the woods either during sunrise or sunset. But the reality is that your wedding is going to last more than the first or last hour of daylight (what we call golden hour). It’s highly likely that you’ll run into dappled light at some point when getting married in the woods. You can certainly get lucky with an overcast day, but that’s no guarantee.
Another good way to avoid dappled light? Remember earlier when I made the point about choosing a clearing, where you have the woods as your backdrop but you’re not necessarily standing in a grove of trees? That’s an awesome way to avoid dappled light. You get the vibe of the woods right behind you, but you don’t have to worry about the bad light.
PRO TIP: Consult with your photographer about any locations you’re considering for your woods wedding ceremony. They can provide their professional input on whether the location works or doesn’t, depending on landscape, direction of light, and time of day.
Getting married in the woods means getting married outdoors, where anything can happen. Lightning storms and forest fires are of particular concern when you’re having a woodsy wedding or elopement. Definitely be sure to look into what natural disasters and weather patterns are common in the area where you’re choosing to have your woods wedding. Some areas are more high risk than others.
If you’re getting married in the woods on private land or at a venue, this can be a quick question to the land owners. With public lands, my best advice is to contact a ranger and see what their regulations are when it comes to bringing outside plant life to your wedding location. If you’re eloping and plan to bring a bouquet into the woods, get something from a local flower shop. If you’re planning a larger wedding, you’ll want to talk to your florist and see what local blooms they have available.
Believe it or not, there’s a way to have woodsy wedding photos, while also not having your entire day take place in the woods. The key is having a large chunk of your wedding take place in a different landscape with better lighting (e.g., a mountaintop with more even light), and then head into the woods for couples photos when the light becomes more favorable. You still get your whimsical, woodsy photos, while also ensuring the entire day isn’t taken over by dappled light.
The thing to remember is this: while it certainly is possible to get married in the woods, there are many factors to consider and weigh before making that final decision. Talk these over with your partner and your elopement or adventure wedding photographer, and make a decision from there. You’ve got this!
P.S. As an adventure elopement photographer who planned her own traditional indoors wedding only to ditch it and elope outdoors instead, I’ve been in your shoes. And I pride myself on not just documenting your elopement, but also helping you navigate the details as well — like helping you find the perfect elopement locations.
I know that elopements aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay! That’s the way it should be. I don’t believe weddings should be cookie-cutter replicas of each other, whether that wedding is an elopement or not. And if you’ve decided that you want to elope, then I’d love nothing more than to help you document that story.
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