7+ ways to leave no trace on your wedding day


Newly married couple stays on a trail to minimize the environmental impact of their eco-friendly wedding in nature.

According to one of my dearest friends, Wikipedia, there are an average of 2.5 MILLION weddings every year in the United States alone. By nature, traditional weddings are not eco-friendly events, and while everyone has a right to celebrate their relationship, we also all have a responsibility to minimize the impact on our planet however possible.

Sadly the photography industry has also had a big impact on our environment in recent years. Destination weddings, adventure elopements, and nature-based engagement sessions have been rapidly growing in popularity, and not enough people are doing the proper preparation to take on nature in a responsible way. No one’s perfect, no one knows everything, and that’s okay. But it’s also the reason I take the time to prepare myself and my couples for the environment we’ll be in during their session.

Leave No Trace (LNT) is an organization focused on educating people about how they can have the least amount of impact on the environment and protect nature. They break the most important parts of outdoor ethics down to 7 principles. These are traditionally applied to hiking or camping, but I’m going to tell you how they apply to both traditional weddings and elopements along with some tips for a more eco-friendly wedding.

Tips for an eco-friendly wedding

1: Plan Ahead and Prepare – Your wedding will likely be one of the most planned events of your life and there’s a thousand things to think about, so it’s understandable that some things might get overlooked. Here’s a few things that should be a priority:

Tips for nature elopements: Make sure that no matter what epic location you choose, you adhere to the regulations and get a proper permit. Some areas can be frustrating to get information from, but it is important, so don’t worry – I’ll assist with making sure everything is in order.

Tips for traditional weddings: The best way to start your wedding off on an eco-friendly foot is to cut down your guest list. During wedding planning, you’ll have so many decisions to make, so don’t overwhelm yourself with everything at once. Take things one step at a time, and before you finalize any decision, ask yourself “is more a more eco-friendly alternative to this that is realistic?” If not, that’s okay – every small bit helps.

2: Travel on durable surfaces – The short explanation? Stay on trails. Ecosystems are important but fragile and any human interaction that can be avoided, should be. Even at traditional wedding venues, I’ve seen photographers hopping fences and trespassing for better backdrops.

Tips for nature elopements: While I help with scouting locations and trails, it’s still a good idea for you to research the area to see if there’s anything in the area you should watch out for. For example, much of the desert is built upon cryptobiotic crusts, or “cryptosoil”, which are living organisms vital to the health of the eco-system. It is extremely fragile, which is why it’s so important to stay on real, designated trails and watch our step.

Tips for traditional weddings: Respect your venue and it’s neighbors. Instead of trampling the flower beds, consider booking a separate portrait session in another beautiful location.

3: Dispose of waste properly Avoiding waste first is the best policy, but for the trash that is generated, get rid of it in the right way.

Tips for nature elopements: Take what you brought with you, leave nothing behind. Even “biodegradable” items can be harmful to an ecosystem they are not native to. This means I’ll be grabbing any stray blooms from your bouquet, we’ll need to search for the cork if you pop some champagne, and I’m going to say no to outdoor confetti. I also always have a trash bag with me, so if you see some stray litter you’d like to take with us, I’ll pack it out!

Tips for traditional weddings: At the beginning of your planning process, try making a list of everything that will ever be going in the trash from your wedding and try to find alternatives.

  • Find a caterer or venue that offers real dishes.
  • Request that bartenders do not serve drinks with plastic straws or stir sticks.
  • Cut out the need for plastic cups and give your guests an actually useable wedding favor in the form of a personalized glass or reusable water bottle.
  • Try to stick with fresh, locally-sourced flowers! In the long run, they’ll have a smaller impact (and they’re nicer to look at).
  • Everything from decor to wedding gowns can be rented or even thrifted or resold.
  • Try to be realistic about what’s really important on your wedding day and get creative!

4: Leave what you find – This one’s simple. We’ll leave nature where it belongs, and take nothing but the photographs and the memories with us.

5: Minimize fire impacts – A wildfire caused by humans isn’t a good thing by any definition.

Tips for nature elopements: Make sure you’re educated on fire safety in nature before starting up your campfire, or better yet- consider an efficient, low-impact campstove as an alternative.

Tips for traditional weddings: For those dreaming of sparkler photos, necessary precautions need to be taken. Have buckets of water ready to cool down the sparklers, and make sure they are close to your guests. Don’t do sparklers if there is wind or you’re in a dry environment – sparks can be carried long distances and start wildfires even miles away. Another thing to consider is possibly doing a sparkler “entrance” to your reception instead of an exit. This way, no one will have the opportunity to party too hard to be playing with fire yet, and you won’t be missing those that leave early.

6: Respect Wildlife – No matter where you are, remember this is their planet and we’re the ones intruding. Keep your distance and don’t interfere.

7: Be Considerate to Others – Again, nature is ours to share. I do my best to scout lesser-known and uncrowded locations, but it’s smart to always have a backup plan if you want a truly private experience.

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