Destination Desert: The Ultimate Guide to an Intimate Wedding

July 30, 2020

First, calling all my fellow desert dwellers!

When I was in my mid twenties, I traveled to Tunisia and took a road trip from the North, all the way to the Libyan border in the Southeast. My love for travel started here – in the land of Tunisian Berbers. In the mighty Sahara desert.

intimate desert wedding

Since then, I have been gravitating towards the mysterious landscape of deserts of all kinds. I have danced the night away at the Joshua Tree Music Festival and camped in Death Valley during one of the hottest months of the year. I have driven through the American Southwest in a van, returned to Grand Canyon on several occasions and hiked through the desert to the Reflection Canyon. In all the dry heat and pain, there is reward of the monochromatic, enigmatic, eerily quiet scape. So, if you didn’t know, desert is the best!

intimate desert wedding

“Backpacking to this gem on Earth is not for the faint of heart. The overwhelming presence of dry heat, unfaltering wind, and omnipotent hostility is unsettling. The unlimited power of nature penetrates the bones through your skin. It messes with the mind, because you just unknowingly offered your entire self to this ever present entity of ancient spirits in the land of vast skies and neverending sacrifices. You set up your shelter for the night and watch the stars above you, until the temperature drops to desert lows. Your breath becomes visible. Energy of nature takes on a human form here, it’s everything but kind. If you make a mistake, it swallows you. Your resilient body awakens at sunrise and you see a ray of light hovering over the never-ending lands of convoluted canyons. One of the most magical things I have ever seen.”

Reflection Canyon, Utah 2020

In this blog post, you will find:

The Ultimate Guide to an Intimate Desert Wedding

Adventure elopements and intimate weddings are quickly becoming a unique alternative to traditional weddings all over the world. So, naturally, when I embarked on the mission of creating unforgettable elopement experiences for my clients, I started scouting destinations in Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Utah. In the desert, you can get married under the starry skies. If you are conscious of your budget, you can drive up to a gorgeous spot in Joshua Tree and have a meaningful ceremony in the most wonderful place on Earth. If you are ready to splurge, book the entire Amangiri Resort in Utah to experience the magical power of desert in the safety of a luxurious resort. And if you’d like to taste the salty air of Bonneville Salt Flats, get inspired below!

In any case, intimate ceremonies are perfect for couples in love with nature and the great outdoors, for adventurers and free spirits that want to have an intimate event instead of a full on wedding with a couple hundred guests. The beauty is in your own expression of crafting a day that feels completely natural to your relationship. Elopements focus on creating an authentic experience and my job is to capture your love story in a way that goes beyond posed wedding photographs!


adventure wedding and elopement photographer


It wouldn’t be an educational post, if we didn’t start with a little bit of terminology. Desert weddings and elopements are intimate celebrations focused on two people getting married and celebrating a commitment to each other in a breathtaking landscape. The idea of elopements on a whim is an outdated notion, you can create the day of your own and invite your immediate family and a few guests to witness your ceremony. In the desert, nature is typically your wedding venue and that makes your elopement planning much easier and less stressful than planning a traditional wedding. On top of that, I will help you research the perfect location, the ideal time of the day, we will talk about logistics and come up with the ideal plan for your elopement day. So, if you love the idea of getting married surrounded by cactus, sand dunes and slot canyons, you are in for a treat!


intimate desert wedding location


Adventure weddings and elopements usually involve some kind of epic activities, from hiking, horseback riding, a boat ride or a helicopter trip to the top of a mesa. Elopements embrace a style of a wedding that reflects on the adventure of a relationship, rather than hosting a ballroom full of guests with their own expectations.

  • You will need an officiant, if you want to make it legal! This could be a friend or family member who is ordained, or you can hire a local officiant available for an elopement ceremony
  • Two witnesses
  • Wedding license
  • Bouquet/hair piece and a boutonniere
  • Photographer & Videographer (if you’d like to add some motion to the stills)
  • Determine the time of the day and a specific setting (sunrise and sunset is always a vibe!)
  • Cake or dessert
  • Champagne for an epic sunset shot
intimate desert wedding
intimate desert wedding


I grew up in the flatlands of southern Slovakia with neverending sunsets over the Danube river and romantic melodies of Hungarian music. My longest ‘hikes’ as a child were while foraging mushrooms with my grandma and getting lost in hilly landscapes of the border lands of Moravia. The first serious hike I actually enjoyed was in the slot canyons near Colorado River, with gorgeous canyon views, river access and red rock for hundreds of miles. It felt so freeing to once again witness neverending sunsets. I felt at home. 

There are some truly gorgeous desert locations in the US, from high desert, to salt flats and golden dunes, mostly located on the West coast. To narrow down what you envision to be a perfect spot for your desert elopement, think about the elements you would like captured in your photographs. Some deserts feature gorgeous golden sand dunes, while others include mesas, red rocks, slot canyons, mountains, cliffs and desert vegetation, such as succulents and cacti. After we settle on the vibe you’re going for and the type of terrain you enjoy exploring, I will start researching specific locations for your intimate desert wedding. I use professional tools to map out hiking trails and to determine the best season and light during the day of your shoot. 


destination desert elopement
intimate desert wedding
intimate desert wedding
intimate desert wedding

Here is a list of my favorite destinations:

Joshua Tree, California

Death Valley, California

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Lake Powell, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Zion National Park, Utah

Bryce National Park, Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Utah

intimate desert wedding


National Parks usually require permits. Processing can take about a month, so I suggest you make sure that gets approved before you move forward with planning anything else. Permits vary depending on the scope of your elopement, number of guests (if any), and the specific location. If you are getting married in a different state than you reside in, make sure to check legal requirements. Some states require two witnesses, while others do not. To avoid bureaucracy, some couples choose to do the paperwork in their own state and their elopement ceremony becomes a bit more symbolic.


Adventurous weddings and elopements are about experiencing the day on your own terms. So, how do you want to spend it? If you’re an adrenaline junkie and you choose to do a helicopter ride with no doors on, or rent a boat on the Lake Powell, I will be there to capture this exciting journey from the moment you put your dress on until you make a bonfire in the middle of the magical desert and sing melancholic melodies all night!


Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Light is everything! If you want to plan for a truly magical lighting, your ceremony should happen early in the morning or 2 – 1.5 hour before sunset. If that isn’t doable, there are locations with tree cover that are great for mid-day.
  • Allow about 15 minutes to exchange vows, 1.5 hour for wedding portraits, and 20 minutes for photos with friends or family
  • Plan for getting ready photos. Allowing me to document these moments will help tell a complete story of your day. Allow for an hour and a half for hair and makeup.
  • Always cushion your timeline with extra travel time between locations. Also – this will give us an opportunity to make impromptu stops in case we spot a gorgeous desert location we didn’t know about!
  • To avoid crowds, especially in the summer, plan to elope on a weekday
intimate desert wedding


If you’re planning a desert elopement, you might be looking for a beautiful, flattering dress that will allow you to move freely without feeling constrained all day. You are most likely not wildly interested in a fairytale ballgown from a traditional bridal shop, but a gown that simply makes you feel you. The good news is that there are SO many options for incredible wedding dresses that will make you feel like a goddess in the desert. Make sure to buy something lightweight and prepare for your dress to get a little dirty.


Intimate desert wedding ceremony

Each couple chooses to approach their ceremony differently. From the traditional ring exchange, vows, or other traditions, your ceremony is completely up to you. 

Please, have fun!

Be present

Don’t forget to eat and drink plenty of water

Focus on the connection with your partner

Enjoy every minute of this epic adventure!


joshua tree national park
intimate desert wedding

Hire an elopement photographer you connect with on a deeper level

Hi lovely adventurer, my name is Yana! In the past decade, I have been working to create an inclusive brand that elevates diversity, cherishes unorthodox styles and values experiences over things. It is deeply satisfying to create meaningful, authentic, timeless imagery for couples I connect with on a personal level. Having the opportunity to be so closely involved in passionate expressions of love (whatever that might look like) creates unspeakable value and happiness in my life. My couples celebrate love, deep connections, they strive for adventures and value meaningful experiences over anything else. I simply observe and document the connection between two untamed souls wildly in love and preserve the essence of the moment in still images. I usually work with couples I connect with on a deeper level from our initial consultation, so by the actual elopement day, we are friends. 

Desert elopement photography packages start at $3,399

Your elopement day is just as important as any traditional wedding and it deserves just as much coverage and love from your photographer, and just as many captured memories. As an adventure elopement photographer, I capture love stories for couples all over the world. When you decide to work with me, I am SO much more than just your photographer. I am there to help you through the planning process and guide you through each step. 

8-hours of coverage

Unlimited planning and consultation

  • Including a personalized timeline
  • Vendor recommendations
  • Location expertise

Hand-picked high-res files in a private online gallery

Digital slideshow

Travel expenses 

Contact me to inquire about my availability!