Saying, “I do,” on top of a mountain, escaping to Iceland with only your husband and photographer to get hitched—the air of romance that comes with running away together is only amplified when you add a dose of adventure to your elopement. Shannon Rock, owner and lead photographer at Preserve Studio in Stockton, has made adventure-style elopements (along with curated wedding packages) her niche, traveling the world with brides and grooms in pursuit of the perfect shot while making memories with only their nearest and dearest in attendance. For Shannon, signing off as a witness on marriage licenses is part of the thrill, coming into such an intimate setting and really getting to know her clients. The other is in the locales she gets to shoot, getting buzzy with energy as she focuses on the finished product, something beyond the poses found in standard wedding photography.
A deep need to get out of the trend box led Shannon to adventure elopement photography (and adventure photography in general; she also offers maternity shoots, engagements, family photos, and more). “I would love to do something like Vietnam or some place that not everyone dreams of going,” Shannon says of her future wedding photography goals. Most memorable have been the opportunities to get outdoors, but it’s not really about what Shannon wants. Instead, the entire process is meant to be significant for the couple getting married.
To achieve pique intimacy levels, Shannon asks her clients to create mood boards a la Pinterest that speak to not only their own wedding goals but also their relationship as a whole and what is important to them as a couple. “I want to be a part of the whole process,” Shannon says, adding she interviews brides and grooms before approaching them with ideas for location, style, etc. Many times, however, it’s the bride and groom that comes to Shannon with an idea in mind—or at least a locale for their nuptials. And when that happens, Shannon sets to work figuring out how she can take the photography above and beyond. “I want to genuinely… capture [the couple],” she says.
“Adventure elopements add a sense of wonder to your wedding day. It is equal parts peaceful and grounding to be surrounded by a magnificent landscape on a beautiful day already filled with such joy and love,” says Stockton bride Alyssa Chow who married Daniel Griffin in October 2020. “If given the chance, we would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Adventure photography has taken Shannon and her crew to the Santa Cruz Mountains, Cancun, Italy, North Lake Tahoe, Costa Rica, and beyond. The packages vary depending on what each couple wants, but all include some sort of travel fee for Shannon and most likely accommodations, even if that’s just a spare tent on your overnight wedding camping trip. While Shannon still picks up a traditional wedding or two, she’s almost completely cut them out of her schedule for 2022 and beyond and instead lets the other photographers at her studio take these events on while she focuses on her passions in the great outdoors.
“I think the way people are drawn to coastal life, or mountains, as if they just belong there, is how we felt and still feel about Iceland,” Aly says. “There’s an almost otherworldly juxtaposition in the landscape there. Glaciers, cold weather, then you have these black sand beaches, natural hot springs, and so much more. It’s a place we really feel at peace.”
Shannon took the couple’s love of Iceland and the dreary aesthetics and created a moody collection of images that certainly don’t look like your typical wedding photographs. As a photographer, Aly chose Shannon before she even chose Iceland, noting the quality and consistency of her work could best tell their love story in a landscape that mirrored the calmness and intimate feel of choosing to spend your life with someone. “The process involved a great amount of communication and planning, but she really guided us every step of the way, set clear expectations, and made it as simple as possible for us,” Aly says.
One of Shannon’s most memorable elopements involved a couple deadest on embracing their weirdness, and to this day earns the title of the most adventurous wedding she has ever shot. They camped in the wilderness, hiked 1.5 hours to the wedding destination, drank beers, plunged into a swimming hole, and almost got bitten by rattlesnakes all before the ceremony and top ramen reception dinner for four took place. The bride completed her own makeup, perched atop a rock in the forest, and there was no need for a wedding dress.
A Yosemite wedding doesn’t sound as far outside of the box as some of Shannon’s other clients, but Alyssa and Dan’s wedding photos tell a different story. A small gathering was held at a lodge in Yosemite, but the photos were taken a 1.5-hour drive away inside of Yosemite National Park. At Glacier Point overlooking Half Dome, the couple took dreamy photographs in their full wedding attire, just the bride, groom, best man, maid of honor, and photographer. “The shots near Overhanging Rock required some hiking, which was a bit precarious in our wedding garb and my six-inch heels,” Alyssa Chow of Sacramento says. “But when we got there, the sun softly began to set and made the entire valley glow perfectly behind us.” While Alyssa recalls the trek to take photos and how the location spoke to the outdoorsy couple’s love of hiking, Shannon remembers the memories made in the quieter moments of the day—moments she only gets to have with brides and grooms because of these intimate arrangements. One of her best memories was on the drive up, when the radio stopped working and the rental car had exactly one CD in it—Hella Ratchet 2, a collection of very inappropriate rap songs that fell into the bride’s repertoire and got her into the spirit as she bopped and sang and the group wound their way through the national park.
One of the biggest perks of working with a skilled photographer who specializes in travel and elopements is they know how to get the logistics down. Shannon does more than shows up to shoot on the day of and even more than create the overall theme for the big day, acting as part photographer-part wedding planner. She also puts herself in charge of research, making sure the dream can be imagined, including securing permits, finding the best angles for photos, and sharing ideas on how to kick the adventure up a notch.
When Stockton residents Alexandra López Ochoa and Andrew Ochoa decided to elope in July, they had a lot of reasons; cost, pandemic restrictions, and planning stress were all factors to move away from the traditional big wedding. “Formal weddings can get fussy and planned to the minute,” Andrew says. “An adventure elopement is the complete opposite.” What they didn’t think about before reaching out to Shannon was location. After chatting with the couple, their conversations unveiled a shared love of trees, nature, and the great outdoors. This led Shannon to suggest Big Trees, California, and specifically sharing their vows on top of an old, giant tree stump. “Big Trees is absolutely beautiful but doesn’t get the same amount of foot traffic as other parks in California,” Andrew says. “The intimacy made it all-the-more perfect.” For the couple, the lack of stringent to-dos was ideal not just in the planning process but on the wedding day. An elopement allowed them time to explore and just be together in gorgeous surroundings, not shuffling from table to table in a rush to greet everyone in attendance. “We found a meadow, walked through the forest, and saw a deer,” the couple shares. “When the sun started setting, we went to the Airbnb and celebrated under the stars.”
In addition to adventure elopements, which Shannon says make up 50 percent of her personal photography clients, adventure engagements are even more popular, taking Shannon to locales including Portland to photograph a couple inside of their library-esque apartment, into the city to the Sutro Baths, and to Mt. Tam to steal intimate moments of a couple kissing inside of big trees. Her most trying adventure yet was a couple celebrating their anniversary in the sand dunes of Page, Arizona, where Shannon trekked uphill mounds of sand during 25 mph winds with a 20-pound camera strapped to her back, following the woman in a wedding gown and her husband. The lesson is, with a skilled elopement photographer in tow, the sky is quite literally the limit.
“In the midst of a traditional wedding I think it can be easy to get absorbed into the production of it all,” Aly shares. “Choosing to do the adventure elopement along with it gave us the private element where it was solely about us and our love, that I think we really needed to usher in this new chapter of our lives.”