Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everyone, I am excited to introduce to you Caitlyn. Before I get in the way of everything that Caitlyn has to say, Caitlyn, tell us about yourself and your work.
Caitlyn: Hi, I’m Caitlyn. I have been a wedding and elopement photographer for the past five years. Now I specialize in elopements. I’m the owner and lead photographer at Wilder West Elopements. We mostly shoot in Sedona, Arizona, but we’re familiar with all of the West, hence the name. Outside of photography, I’m also a mom. I have a little homestead. I like all things baking and grandma activities when I’m not being an adventurous elopement photographer.
Julia: It’s like two ends of the spectrum! Your grandma era and then your elopement wild era. I love it! I have so many questions. Are you from Sedona? How did you end up there?
Caitlyn: I grew up in Phoenix, and I moved up north to Flagstaff originally seven years ago for college. But I ended up moving South, so I live in between Flagstaff and Sedona, and I kind of work in between the two, mostly in Sedona. I moved South about five years ago, so I’ve been based right here for five years.
Julia: I love Sedona! I went there with some friends, actually a weekend before COVID. One of our friends couldn’t come because she had this mysterious illness, and now we all are like – I won’t name her name, I’m like, “You brought COVID!”
Caitlyn: I have a similar story 100%, but it came from Spain in the beginning of January, and it was totally in Spain beforehand, and I had this horrible illness. I never get sick. Then I worked at a 200-person wedding, so I was like, I brought COVID to Arizona.
Julia: Wow, that’s the thing, she came from Amsterdam. And she came from this convention where there were people from all these countries. Well, I guess maybe my friend didn’t bring it. It’s your fault!
Caitlyn: Yeah. I brought it!
Julia: I love Sedona! Love the hiking and everything. Did you grow up hiking? How did you get into elopements specifically? Because your website talks a lot about adventuring and stuff like that. Did you grow up doing that?
Caitlyn: No, I did not grow up adventurous. I grew up in the suburbs of Phoenix, and personally, I despise the heat. I honestly remember not loving growing up in Phoenix. I dreamed of moving to Colorado or Washington since I was in fourth grade. I remember telling everybody I’d be moving away so I could move to the mountains, so I could hike. I always had this dream of being adventurous, but my parents weren’t really adventurous. And then I made a really good friend starting in fifth grade. She’s more like my sister. We grew up together, and we just started to hike, and I would go with her family to Washington, and we’d go fishing and camping. That was the seed that was planted for my love for adventure. I really thought I was gonna move to Washington. I’m lucky to have found this little neighborhood of where I’m in, in between Flagstaff and Sedona where I get the cooler temperatures, but I’m still really close to the Red Rocks, but outside of the traffic that Sedona brings. Once I moved up here seven years ago, it was me and my now husband, we just got into hiking as soon as we moved here. We did it as much as we could. Even walking outside here, it’s just beautiful! You’re surrounded by trees and mountains and red rocks, just when you’re in your neighborhood, and it’s amazing!
Julia: I live in Salt Lake, just a hot minute above you. It’s much cooler here than Arizona. Our house is built into the side of a mountain, and so this morning I was taking a phone call for work and I was like, “I’m gonna be five minutes late because I’m hiking up a mountain.” It is a sidewalk, but it feels like a mountain.
Caitlyn: Literally my neighborhood, 100%! We try to do a two to three mile walk every day, and our neighborhood is pure hills, and I’m like, I should go in the forest, I should drive to a trail. But it’s like, no, my neighborhood is enough of a workout with the elevation.
Julia: 100%, I’m with you! I’ve been trying to get out walking, and every time I’m like, “Roger, can we move to a flat place? It would be really great and I’d like to think that I would walk more.” I’ve heard a little bit about your adventuring, I’ve heard a little bit about your business. Where did the photography come in? Tell me about that.
Caitlyn: When I was a kid, I always remember having a camera, whether that was a thrifted film camera from Goodwill. My dad was a photographer when he was my age, and I always remember him having a camera around. I would take it, and I was really inspired by America’s Next Top model. I loved their extravagant photo shoots. I have a bunch of nieces, and I would be like, “Let’s do this photo shoot in our backyard.” They would be so extra. I have a lot of memories as a kid doing that. Fast forward to when I was in high school, I really wanted to become a photographer. I had my friends model for me for senior photos, and then I kind of let insecurity get in the way and I was like, I’m not good enough for this, set the camera aside. I almost started my business when I was a senior in high school, but didn’t quite have the confidence for it.
After we got married in 2017, I loved my photographer. Her name is Olivia Markle. She’s actually not doing weddings anymore, but she was amazing. I loved her photos, and I loved the experience that she gave, and I was like, “Oh my gosh! I wanna take photos like this. I wanna make experiences like this. Let me try it again.” I was kind of in a weird place in life, and I was like, you know what, I’m gonna buy this camera, start it back up again and just shoot as many couples as possible. I knew I wanted to do couples photography, and I was hooked. I was shooting five times a week, just getting whoever would be in front of my camera, just having fun with it, having fun in the Red Rocks or in the mountains, in the wild flowers by the lakes, just meeting these couples, making that connection, and also having a lot of fun being creative because I was always that type A student, very, very studious, striving for that 4.0, and photography kind of let me embrace that creative side that was always kind of suppressed. I just ran with it. It’s been almost five and a half years since then, and now I have a camera sitting on my table.
Julia: Now, you are only doing elopements?
Julia: How did you make that decision? Was that a scary decision to move to only elopements?
Caitlyn: It was a little intimidating. When I started my business, I definitely did some market research. Living in between Flagstaff and Sedona, I was like, well, I love Flagstaff, I love the mountains of Flagstaff, but the weddings weren’t super my vibe. And so I was like, okay, let me market towards Sedona. Sedona has always been a big elopement location even before I started. I feel like elopements really started to become a thing maybe like a year or two before I got started. I started shooting elopements from the get go. It wasn’t just, oh, I just decided. My first few weddings I ever shot were elopements. And it just happened my best friend needed a photographer because her husband was getting deployed and she was like, “Can you shoot my elopement?” And I was like, “Heck yeah!” And then people started to book me for them. I don’t even know how that happened. And so I was kind of doing a 50/50 mix of elopements and big weddings. I think I did that for about two years and at the end of 2019. So before COVID, I decided I was only doing elopements, and my family was like, “You’re crazy.” But I knew I thrived doing them.
I love big weddings, I love aspects of them, but they are really draining to do twice a week every week. It really does get to you. I never felt that way after an elopement. I could hike five miles and still be so energized, and leave with my heart so full, and make these connections and help couples from out of state build this dream experience. It just came naturally. So in 2019, I was like, all right, I’m done advertising for them, and I started the whole process of rebranding. I didn’t officially rebrand to Wilder West Elopements until 2021. From there, I never post about big weddings. I still do shoot a few a year usually for referrals. I just shot an elopement three weeks ago, and one of the guests was like, “Can you please shoot my wedding? It’s a big wedding, but can you please shoot it?” And I was like, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” 99% of the weddings I do are elopements, and they’ve always been my thing, and now it’s what I specialize in.
Julia: I love that it combines this love for photography, and your love for nature and adventuring. It’s perfect!
Julia: How have you figured out how to market just to elopements? What was that process like?
Caitlyn: I definitely think posting what I wanted to shoot. When I was first getting started, I was planning these shoots with my friends. I was like, “Okay, can you wear a wedding dress and some hiking boots and bring your hiking pack?” Thinking, I want this to look as adventurous as possible, even if we’re literally walking 100 feet down a trail. Nobody knows! I was like, okay, what do adventurous couples like? And what did I like when I was searching for that kind of style? We got married in a national park in Washington, so we kind of had that style. so I was like, what did I like? And so that’s what I started to create in my photo shoots. I would have my friends do these crazy things of shooting in the rain and just trying to look adventurous, and doing some rock climbing ones. And then I shot one in the Grand Canyon, and I was like, okay, this is trying to start building up my portfolio, and then also learning, how can I differentiate from the other elopement photographers in town? That was by inserting my personality into my brand and onto my social media, my Instagram, now TikTok. I show a lot of my personality, a lot of my life on those platforms. People feel like they know me once we meet, even though we’ve never met before. That’s how I’m different. I’m not, yeah, I post these beautiful, adventurous photos, but they also know what my heart is, other things I’m passionate about.
Julia: And I can say from my own wedding, the photographer is catching intimate moments. We did not know our photographer, because when we got married, we did a destination wedding, and so we didn’t know our photographer, other than one phone call and a lot of emails. And there was this awkward feeling, so I imagine your couples who have been following you are like, we know and love Caitlin. And even if you don’t know them, they feel known by you, which is gonna make them more comfortable.
Caitlyn: It makes a huge difference. And some people are like, how do you just show up on your stories and talk to a camera? I’m like, because I know that my couples are watching, so that’s who I’m talking to. And when they can refer to stuff that I’ve talked about, I know I’m not just talking into oblivion, which is what it feels like sometimes.
Julia: No, for sure! I love that! I love that you know your target audience, and that you’re specifically showing them what they want. You’re even giving them an image of what success would look like for their elopement because you can show, hey, this is where so-and-so got married, et cetera, et cetera. So I’m curious, what has been one of the hardest things about running your business?
Caitlyn: I think that getting started is the hardest part. Like I mentioned, I thought about starting it so many times. Getting started as well as the comparison game, it can get to you sometimes. If you just really start to think about, oh my gosh, I wanna shoot weddings like that, or I wanna charge as much as that person, or I wanna make as much as that person, well, who knows, they could be saying the same thing about me, because we don’t actually know what’s going on in each other’s lives. And whenever I let the comparison game get to me, that’s when I really start to feel my business start to falter, and start to get to where I don’t wanna post, I’m starting to feel insecure in my photography, and into everything as soon as I look at other people. So honestly, I just try to put the blinders on, focus on my own business. Of course, I support my friends, but I’m not that person following a thousand photographers, and seeing that on my feed, because I’ll be like, oh my gosh, I wish I could shoot like you. You can admire someone, but I feel like I usually take it too far and I’m like, wow, I wish I could be like that.
Julia: I have that too. One thing that I’m working really hard on right now is to figure out how to celebrate other people’s successes, realizing it doesn’t take anything away from me. Like everybody and their mother is a marketer right now, is what it feels like, and I would imagine as a photographer, it sometimes feels that way too. And I can look and see all these cool things that people are doing and I have to really sit down and remind myself, hey, their success does not make you less than. And so I really feel like owning a business requires a ton of your own interpersonal and self coaching in a way.
Caitlyn: Yeah, 100%! I always see photographers posting, especially right now with the economy being a little bit slower, I’m always seeing these posts of like well, I see these people booking, why am I not booking? Am I not good enough? And it’s like, you can’t even let yourself fall into that hole, because it is so hard to get out of it once you get there. And everybody’s like, there’s not enough people eloping, and you can look at the data that there are still plenty of people searching on Google how to elope, how much does eloping cost? They are still looking and researching about eloping. They are out there. Yeah, the economy is a little slower, but people are still gonna get married just like they did in 2020, you know?
Julia: Right! For sure! Like I said, we did a destination wedding. My husband and I met in Salt Lake City. This is the story that nobody really cares about, but we met in Salt Lake City. We met a month before the pandemic shut everything down, and so perfect timing for us. But that also meant that we were getting married in January of 2021 when nothing was happening. I have never been somebody who dreamed about her wedding, but suddenly the fact that I couldn’t have a big wedding really offended me.
Caitlyn: Totally! Not having a choice sucks!
Julia: I loved my wedding, it was great! We had like 30 people there. But there are times where I’m like, I should have just done an elopement, and it would’ve been significantly less stressful. Even just reading your story about you and your husband, I read a little bit on your website about your wedding, and just realizing like, hey, it was a great wedding, but hindsight is 2020, I could have used less stress.
Caitlyn: Oh my gosh! I probably aged 10 years in my seven-month engagement. I was so stressed out, and I also always wished that I was a photographer then, because I didn’t even know about the world of eloping. We did research it, but it was not popular in 2017 yet. And I’m like, yeah, whatever. I’m like, if I knew what I know now, I could have planned this crazy, Alaskan glacier elopement that probably would’ve cost half as much.
Julia: And then like 10 times more epic! That’s excellent. So we talked about what’s the hardest thing, what’s one of the best things, what’s one of your favorite things about owning a business?
Caitlyn: I love the flexibility of my lifestyle now. Especially now that I’m a mother, I get to spend so much time with my son. I get to spend so much time on my business, traveling, and my hobbies, and I know that is so rare when you have a traditional job. It’s also given flexibility for my husband to work less. He’s a part-time engineer. He does video with my elopement business as well. Don’t mind the dogs.
Julia: No worries.
Caitlyn: It has to happen once!
Julia: Pause, how many dogs do you have?
Julia: We have three, which is like a little pack. It’s terrible! I get it. So he does video with you then?
Caitlyn: Yeah. He does one elopement a month. Usually, he takes on way less than I do because he’s also a part-time engineer, but he also gets to have so much time with me and our son, and I know that is so valuable. And I do not take stuff for granted at all. We get so much quality family time, and we’re just able to do a bunch of our hobbies. We were able to take parental leave. We had to pay for it ourselves, but in so many jobs, it is not that easy to have a real parental leave. I do not take that for granted, and I’m so grateful. We just worked super hard when I was pregnant and then just took a few months off once he was born, and that was amazing.
Julia: That’s awesome! So I’m curious, if somebody approached you and was like, “Hey, I’m gonna start this business”, what would you tell them?
Caitlyn: I would probably tell them to not expect to succeed at first. I’m just a very realistic person.
Julia: I think that’s what people need.
Caitlyn: Because I do feel like I’m seeing a lot of, especially elopement photographers turned educators saying, everybody do this and you’re gonna be booking, and you’re gonna be great. And this, of course, goes for all businesses, but you never know if it’s gonna take a month of busting your butt, two months, six months, a year, five years. You have no idea how long it’s actually gonna take to be successful, but that work is worth it, and to continue going at it, because I really feel like one day, you will reap the benefit of all your hard work. I just remember going through six months of working so hard and just wondering, is this what I wanna do? Not really feeling super supported by people? And I was like, this is what I wanna do, so let me just work super hard. And five and a half years later, I am so grateful for working through those really hard moments, and now being able to feel like, yes, I did succeed, and it was worth it.
Julia: That’s awesome! I recently had a conversation with a high school graduate who is not sure what she wants to do, which is fair. I mean, honestly, the fact that we expect 18-year-olds to figure it out, I just am like, this is ridiculous.
Caitlyn: I could go on and on.
Julia: Caitlyn, this confirms we need to be best friends. Because she also wants this lifestyle flexibility, and that’s why she’s having a hard time figuring it out, is because she wants to travel and do things like that. She was like, “Well, I’ve been thinking about maybe doing my own business, but I also kind of want stability. How long do you feel like it took you to get stable? And I was like, “What do you mean by stable?”
Caitlyn: What does that even mean?
Julia: I’m also five years into this thing, and do I have weekly freakouts? Yeah, I do. Are they as bad as they were three years ago? No, they’re not. But I was like, if you’re looking for stability, this might not be for you, at least now. But it’s all about tradeoffs, realizing, okay, if you work really hard you get to reap the rewards later on.
Caitlyn: And it’s accepting that maybe while you’re pursuing it, you might have to have some weird side jobs like dog walking, or being a barista, or personal assisting, or something like that. And during that period of time, it might really suck, but you just have to keep working for your goal. It’s not for everybody.
Julia: My first year, I worked 60 hours a week because I just had to. Well, I should say that I felt like I had to. But at the moment, I needed to just be producing, and now five years later, I also was able to take a parental leave when my daughter was born, and then also have now decreased hours to like 25 hours a week. And that’s perfect spot for me, because I love what I do, and I also love my kid. She’s gonna listen to this someday, and I’m gonna regret saying this. Maddie, I still love you. But by the end of Sunday night, I’m excited for childcare to come the next day because I love my kid and I also love working. And so it’s beautiful to be able to have both now, but it took years of working a ton to be able to do this.
Caitlyn: 100%! That’s my exact story too. People always just look at my lifestyle now and think it came overnight, and I’m like, “You were not friends with me in my first two years of my business, you have no idea what it was like to build up the portfolio, to build up the reviews and just the Google SEO.” There’s so much to build up. You could be a really great photographer, but that doesn’t get you very far nowadays. There’s a lot of good photographers out there.
Julia: And now there’s AI to compete with too, which is a whole different thing.
Caitlyn: I can tell you, I barely know how to Photoshop. So I am not the competition people need to worry about for AI. Let me tell you that.
Julia: Someday your unique selling point will be like, and I don’t know how to use AI.
Caitlyn: Literally! Don’t worry about that. Your photos are real! I’ve always been proud of the fact that I can do these astrophotography photos that are real, straight out of camera, because I don’t know how to use Photoshop to edit stars on it.
Julia: To make it happen.
Caitlyn: Yeah, I can’t. So I’m like, “You know you’ll get real ones.”
Julia: I love it!! Caitlyn, this has been really fun to get to know you and your business. If people wanna learn more about what you’re doing, how should they find you?
Caitlyn: It’s been so fun. Thank you for having me. They can find me on most social media platforms, Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/wilderwestelopements/?hl=en), TikTok (https://www.tiktok.com/@wilderwestelopements), Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/WilderWestElopements/) at Wilder West Elopements. And then our website is just www.wilderwestelopements.com. Pretty simple!
Julia: It’s a beautiful website, everybody. It’s worth taking a minute and going and finding it because I was looking at it before this to learn a little bit more about you, and I was like, this is the best website I’ve ever seen.
Caitlyn: Thank you! That means so much!
Julia: And I love my website!
Caitlyn: Your website too!
Julia: But yours is beautiful.
Caitlyn: Thank you.
Julia: Caitlyn, thank you, thank you, thank you. Everybody go find Caitlyn, give her a little bit of love. Check out her feed. If you’re looking for an elopement photographer, hire her also. And if you’re planning a wedding, stop planning a wedding.
Caitlyn: Here’s your sign. Stop planning it, and elope!
Julia: It’ll be worth it. Speaking from two people who did not elope, we’ll tell you it’s worth it.
Caitlyn: Honestly, I’ve heard it time and time again, let me tell you. I respect everybody’s wedding.
Julia: Well, thank you, Caitlyn.
Caitlyn: Thank you.
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos Team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.