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Anyone who spends a lot of time in the great outdoors has probably heard of the “Leave No Trace” ethic. These principles are a set of guidelines that help keep you safe outdoors and reduce the impact of human activity in the areas that you’re exploring, preserving them for others to enjoy in the future. As someone who loves to photograph epic weddings in natural locations, I love the outdoors – and I know you do too. The “Leave No Trace” principles help to ensure the incredible places you say your vows will remain beautiful when you revisit on your 5th, 10th or 50th wedding anniversary. After all, it’s our responsibility to afford nature the same graciousness it does us!

Why Worry?

Whatever it is that draws you to an outdoor adventure wedding, be it the excitement of a ski excursion on the wedding day or the enchantment of saying your vows atop a mountain, the amount of time you are actually in your location is a drop in the metaphorical ocean…right? The truth is that weddings, elopements and engagement shoots can have a large impact on the environment over time, and sad reality is that locations may end up as no-go zones for these type of events in the future. This might mean when you try to come back to your special place, it may be off-limits or entirely changed due to damage and destruction. The good news, however, is that this guide will help you balance having the best day ever with preserving your favourite spots across the world – let me help you reduce your environmental impact, but not your wedding day excitement!

No more trespassing sign in the Faroe Islands
This is what happens when people don’t respect private land and LNT guidelines

How To Have A “Leave No Trace” Adventure Wedding

So what are these principles and how can you apply them to your adventure wedding?

Planning your outdoor ‘venue’

The great outdoors offers us breathtaking locations to get married without spending tens of thousands of Euros on a venue, and picking it carefully will help ensure you have the most amazing day AND have minimal impact on your surroundings. A few things to consider…

  • Can your location accommodate the amount of people you’re planning for? It’s not so much of an issue if it’s just the two of you, but some outdoor locations have limits on how many people they can sustain without causing problems for the environment or other people.
  • Think about what activities you want to do on your wedding day – from the bigger ones such as skiing and hiking to the smaller things like having music and popping champagne (or prosecco if you’re in Italy) and consider the effect of these activities on your location.

Top tip: if your ‘champagne pop’ picture is just for photos, consider using sparkling water instead – it looks the same in photos and is less damaging to the environment!

  • How busy might your location be? Choosing lesser-known spots outside of peak season is the best way to protect the planet and have the most private wedding experience too! Everyone knows the popular trails and viewpoints that they’ve seen on social media. But there are so many other amazing places to explore that are just as beautiful and much less crowded.

When you work with me as your adventure wedding photographer, I will use my personal experience and expertise to help you find the most amazing and least tourist-y locations – you have full access to my wealth of knowledge about elopement spots across Europe!

  • Find out whether you need permission to marry in a certain place. Much of the land in the Alps is owned by someone, even the high alpine pastures, so you might not be able to simply rock up and have a ceremony with your guests, even if it is in the middle of nowhere. Also remember to consider the effect of noise and decor such as chairs or a ceremony arch. It’s also recommended that you don’t throw confetti, even if it’s biodegradable. If it’s not native to the local landscape, it shouldn’t be left there and it’s impossible to clean up entirely.

Remember, “Leave No Trace” isn’t about making your plans less exciting or extravagant – it’s about making intentional choices in a place that can handle those plans!

Planning your “Leave No Trace” day

Using the 7 LNT guidelines, here are my tips for planning your day in an environmentally conscious way – some may be obvious to you, and some you may never even have considered!

  • Stick to marked trails where possible and hard, durable surfaces, and otherwise consider the what you’re walking, sitting or celebrating on. Enjoy fields of wildflowers from the trail, not by walking through them and flattening them just for a couple of photos.
  • Avoid the temptation to take anything with you – except your waste! Take a photo of something you’d like as a memento rather than to actually take it. Whilst on the subject of taking things, make sure to clear up everything when you leave. This includes all food waste, champagne corks…even things you may think are natural or biodegradable. If it wasn’t there when you arrived, take it with you when you leave. The location should show no evidence that you were ever there.
  • Flowers and confetti are lovely for a wedding day, but try not to introduce invasive species of flowers into new environments in case they drop pollen or seeds. Confetti is also not a good idea, however there are lots of sustainable alternatives such as locally collected leaves, snowballs, or ribbon sticks and glow sticks that don’t leave litter.

Try to resist…

Try not to be tempted to throw your bouquet off a mountain top, carve your names into a tree or set up big floral installations for your ceremony. All these things are potentially damaging to the environment and there are great alternatives to all of them which look just as good! For example, using the landscape to naturally ‘frame’ you and creating your own wedding signs which you can have photographed AND take home to keep.

Respect Wildlife

Don’t approach or feed any wildlife, even if they seem friendly. Human contact and foods not part of their natural diet can be harmful to their health and natural behaviours. If you’re taking your pets to your elopement, keep them under control, on-leash and only in places they’re allowed. 

Especially in the Alps you’ll see freely roaming cows on mountain pastures, and they may wander over and take great interest in you – whilst it’s tempting to reach out and stroke one, it’s important to continue on without touching them. They can become aggressive very easily, particularly if they have young!

Be Considerate Of Others

Be respectful of other people. They might not be getting married, but they have still journeyed out to a location to experience it just like you. Give them the courtesy of being able to take their pictures and they are more likely to give you space to take yours.

Be mindful of how much noise you’re making and be aware of how much space you may be using – if you’re thoughtful and don’t hog photo opportunities, sunsets and awesome views, people will be more receptive to your wishes to get the perfect shot!

Things to Tell your Guests

If you’re having guests at your outdoor adventure elopement, there are a few things you could give them a heads-up about to ensure they too are following the “Leave No Trace” principles.

Make sure they know what they need for their safety and enjoyment, for example sensible shoes and extra layers, but also tell them what NOT to bring. They may well turn up with confetti as a surprise or kind gesture, so mentioning it ahead of time will avoid any awkwardness!

Let them know important practical information too such as parking facilities, toilet opportunities, timings and mobile phone service (or lack of!). If you don’t know these things ahead of time, an experienced planner or photographer who knows or works in the area can help.

Mountain wedding ceremony in the Dolomite Alps in Italy by Wild Connections Photography

After the Big Day

Finally, a note about how you can continue to protect the special spot you married in even after your wedding day! You’ll no doubt be looking at and sharing your photos so everyone else can enjoy them too, but do consider the impact of your images being out there for all to see. It can, over time, lead to beautiful natural locations becoming tourist traps, which leads to natural environments becoming damaged. That doesn’t mean you can’t share them! These tips may help…

  • if you’re tagging a location, try to be more general rather than geotagging a very specific spot
  • think about what your images contain – do they display the “Leave No Trace” principles?
  • social media can be impactful and influential, so if you have a large audience consider gently educating people through your reach!
Leave no trace adventure wedding - take nothing but pictures
Leave no trace adventure wedding
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