As professional adventure elopement and wedding photographers, we have a good amount of experience with aerial photography in beautiful destinations. Many of our couples hire helicopters or airplanes to get to epic places. This post goes through some tips and advice for aerial photography, as well as how to find good tours and how to prepare so you get the best possible photos.
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We took a flight seeing tour from Fairbanks, Alaska into Gates of the Arctic National Park. As adventure elopement photographers, we are always looking for remote and beautiful places for unique destination weddings. We’ve been to Patagonia, road tripped through the alps, explored the Canadian Rockies, and a majority of the American West, but we’ve never seen anything like the Brooks Range in Alaska.
Abbi Hearne’s Interview with Austin Woman Magazine
I was recently interviewed for Austin Woman Magazine and wanted to share the article here as well! If you live in Austin and want to make my day, go find a copy (it’s the February 2019 issue) in the wild and send me a photo!!
Here is a link to the online magazine feature.
Delicate sketches of Half Dome and Castle Valley nestled in flowers mark Abbi Hearne’s arms, so when she looks down, she’ll always be home.
After living and working as adventure wedding photographers on the road since 2016 with their dog, Hearne and her husband, Callen, traded their apartment in Texas for national parks.
“Now, as we arrive in the valley of Yosemite or into town at Moab, [Utah,] we kind of feel like a breath of fresh air, like we’re coming home,” Hearne says. “[Yosemite] is one of those places that there’s no way a photograph could do it justice.”
Her pictures get pretty close. The couple’s Instagram is a gallery of majestic vistas, each picture more stunning than the last. The more likes and followers they accumulate, the more sessions get booked. In 2018, they shot 40 elopements and intimate weddings and 20 adventure sessions with couples.
Because of the high demand, the couple now has full control of their travel schedule, making clients come to them instead of the other way around. This year, they’ll be in Zion National Park, Utah, Yosemite and Alaska. Hearne is the head photographer, communicating with couples ahead of time, planning the elopements and directing the shoots; her husband gets the secondary shots, capturing all the nonessential, fun pictures Hearne says often end up being couples’ favorites; their dog, Charlie, is moral support.
While it might seem like they’ve made it, Hearne is quick to remind fans their story is not one of overnight success. Their rig is outfitted with running water, a stove, an oven and a refrigerator, luxuries they did not experience when they started out in a van. They didn’t crisscross the country and climb cliffs and shower in community centers for likes on Instagram; a deep passion for nature and preserving national parks fuels them.
“I love Moab way more than I love my job,” Hearne says. “If I had a moment of thinking what I’m doing here is hurting the place more than it’s helping it, then it’s 100 percent not worth it to me.”
As the adventure-photography community has grown, Hearne fears the consequences of photographers determined to get the perfect Instagram photo, regardless of the cost. It weighs on her, one question always lingering in the back of her mind: Am I destroying these places by making them trendy?
The rise of social media has made national parks more popular, but often at the expense of their preservation. A video by Vox about the effects of geotagging shows the significant jump in Google search terms related to national parks in the past few years. Once obscure gems of nature, sites like Horseshoe Bend are reduced to squares, littering Instagram feeds and fueling a growing obsession with parks that aren’t equipped for the increase in visitors.
“Digital popularity is physically changing the landscape,” the Vox narrator says.
From additional security concerns to waste left behind to visitors unknowingly hurting the local ecosystems, social media is taking its toll on the parks. Wandering off the trail in search of the perfect picture can leave a permanent trace. Cryptobiotic crust lines the desert surfaces found in many parks, protecting the soil and retaining nutrients of the land. According to the National Park Service, it only takes the weight of a hiker or vehicle to crush the fragile soil crust, which can take as long as seven years to regrow.
Hearne often challenges fellow photographers to consider these risks before booking shoots in locations they’ve never visited.
“If the only reason you’d go somewhere is because you’ve booked a gig there, it’s time to step back and ask yourself why you want that booking,” she wrote in a recent Instagram caption. “Is it because adventure elopements are trendy right now? Is it for Instagram likes? So you feel like you’ve reached a certain status in the photography industry? All of these motivations are empty. If you actually feel drawn to adventure, just go for it. Stop saying you need someone to elope somewhere so you have a reason to go.”
Hearne regularly levies her digital platform to defend the parks and keep their safety at the forefront of her followers’ minds. In 2017, when President Donald Trump announced the reduction of two national monuments, she took to social media. More recently, she addressed the government shutdown numerous times via posts and stories.
Unlike the Obama administration, which kept parks closed during the government shutdown, the Trump administration chose to leave them open. While both decisions were met with controversy, leaving the parks open without supervision might have more dangerous long-term effects. Human waste and trash accumulated quickly in the under-regulated sites as visitors poured in during the 35-day shutdown, taking advantage of no park fees. Joshua Tree National Park was the subject of online outrage when articles circulated that damage done to the Joshua trees could take centuries to heal.
While the government reopened, Hearne’s dilemma remains. What is her role in protecting the parks?
“It’s an interesting time in the outdoors where we’re figuring out how to handle the amount of people coming out to see them and let them be loved without being destroyed,” Hearne says.
Besides promoting perseveration and education on Instagram, Hearne supports organizations that advocate for the parks and fellow adventure photographers who are just as passionate about protecting their adoptive homes. She hopes a guide on how to visit national parks and practice sustainability will be in the works soon.
“I love what we do and I love having a rad portfolio, but that is not my No. 1 priority,” she says.
Her heart—and portfolio—will always follow the parks first and social media second. While she enjoys working with all her clients, Hearne says she connects best with couples that “deeply desire adventure on their wedding day.”
Among her most memorable shoots of 2018 was a 4 a.m. hike in 20-degree weather to capture sunrise pictures for an elopement.
“If the couple is down, we’re down,” Hearne says of herself and her photographer husband, even when that means freezing temperatures, early mornings and intense hikes. True to her Instagram bio, she’s always “sharing the good, the bad, and doing [her]best to keep it real.”
Hearne says they don’t plan to live on the road forever, but for now, she’s soaking it in.
“One day, there’s going to come a time when we’re going to have the things we miss and we’re going to miss the things we have,” she says.
As for the question that haunts her—Is she destroying the very thing she loves most?—her answer cuts through the noise of online outrage and social-media trends and spurs her to action.
“Having power to influence people to do good,” she says, “is more effective than stepping back and doing nothing.”
Thank you SO MUCH to Courtney Runn of Austin Woman Magazine for this incredible feature and opportunity! I am so honored and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy as soon as we get home from Switzerland!
My packing list (with links) for our van life road trip through the swiss and french alps in the middle of winter
When I found cheap flights to Switzerland about a month ago, we didn’t quite think twice before booking our two week trip, and shortly after Callen had booked a van so we could road trip it without worrying about pre-booked lodging or expensive hotel fees. Soon after, it occurred to us just how cold this trip would be, but we’ve been living on the road for over two years now and have dealt with our fair share of harsh winters, so we feel pretty ready to take on the snowy sufferfest :) I began packing a few days ago and after sharing a few instagram stories, people have been asking exactly what we are packing! I figured I’d make a quick list and include as many links as possible. I hope this is helpful for anyone else planning a winter trip to the alps, or just looking to update your winter/snow gear wardrobe!
*After putting this together, I realized how overwhelming this might be as far as expenses go. Please know it took me years to build up my gear/outdoor clothing stash, and a lot of these things were bought used or on sale. I know outdoor gear prices are daunting, and I genuinely believe you can enjoy the outdoors with any gear (I mean, don’t ski in a swimsuit but you know what I mean) and the more you participate in these activities the more you’ll know what works for YOU. This realization has inspired me to write a separate post about how to find outdoor gear at a lower price point, and how I shop for gear/what I look for. I’ll make a note of that and try to write it when I get home!
ITEMS IN MY CARRY-ON BAG:
- Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 60L: I’m packing everything in this bag. I’ve been using it for years now and love how durable the outside is, how lightweight the bag itself is, and it is the perfect size for a carry-on. It has bag pack straps for easy carrying and a water repellant finish (not waterproof).
- My ski suit: I don’t have a link because this legendary suit was a vintage goodwill find! Callen and I used to love going to Goodwill and quite a few years ago, we happened upon two vintage ski suits that fit us perfectly for $14 each! In Austin Texas! It was probably the best Goodwill find of our lives, we still use those suits for skiing and have yet to find anything better (even from nice ski gear shops). We decided to pack our suits for this trip for full body insulation and snow-proofing. We’re hoping to ski at least a few days, as well as do some hiking/exploring, and with snow every day in the forecast, these suits will pretty much be our Swiss uniform #americanjerryoftheday. Thankfully it packs down pretty well, so I have it flat at the bottom of my duffel and have been shoving everything else on top. I believe Cal plans to wear his on the plane. Lol.
- Arcteryx Rain/Snow Jacket: This jacket was yet another major score — back when Callen worked at REI, he got to shop the garage sale the night before and found this amazing Arctryx snow shell on mega sale. I’ve been using it as a rain and snow jacket for years now and am more impressed each time I put it on. Bonus, it has a Recco device for locating it after an avalanche. Hopefully that never comes in handy for us, but it’s great to know it’s there! That price is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a lightweight jacket that can handle rain and snow in pretty much any conditions, this one is amazing.
- Patagonia Capilene Thermal One-Piece Suit: I don’t know why Patagonia stopped making this incredible suit (RIP) but if they ever make it again, BUY ONE. This is my go-to base layer for really cold conditions, especially if I’ll be moving around a lot. The material is super warm (as a base layer, not alone) and the material is odor-resistant so it never smells even after multiple days of high-activity use! It wicks sweat super well and dries extremely fast. My favorite feature has to be the zippered butt flap that allows you to pee without taking the suit off :) Bonus, this is what I sleep in for cold nights and will be my pajamas for the swiss trip.
- Patagonia Hiking Leggings: I have been using these lighter weight leggings for a few months now and love them for chilly temps and high activity days. Plus, they have little pockets that fit my phone!
- Patagonia Fleece Leggings: I am bringing two pair of fleece leggings (wearing one on the plane) and looooove these so much for winter. My first pair was an eBay purchase years ago, I got them used as Cap 4 Leggings (I believe manufactured in the 90s) and they have been my primary pants every winter since. On one of my first trips wearing them, I poked a hole in them with a yucca plant (it HURT) and sent them into Patagonia to get them repaired. It was an easy, free process and furthered my love for the company. I have worn them for so many activities and they still look new out of the wash (and I bought them used!). After years of Patagonia not producing fleece leggings, I finally found a similar pair in the store this season and picked them up. They’re not the exact same as my beloved 90s pair, but they are super soft and have a zippered leg pocket, so I’m psyched on them. I highly reccomend a pair of these for good conditions, but they are not water or wind resistant so be sure to layer shell pants for bad weather days.
- Patagonia Down Hoodie Pullover: My friends at Wylder Goods gave me this on the way to Alaska last year and it has gotten so much good use! It’s super comfortable with a roomy fit (I normally wear XS and went with S here), and extremely warm. The pull-over style makes it a little more comfortable for relaxing (I’ve even slept in it on some really cold nights) but is a little difficult if you overheat easily or will be doing a lot of activity. This is my belay/chill jacket, but I wouldn’t climb or hike anything hard in it.
- Patagonia Nano Air Jacket: I debated bringing this since I’m also bringing my down pullover, but this jacket is lightweight and perfect for high-activity days! The nano air insulation is synthetic (meaning, not down) so it’ll stay warm even if it gets wet, and this jacket is designed to be highly breathable so you don’t have to take it off when you move around a warm up. It’ll come in handy when skiing and hiking. I also use this when climbing and have been surprised by how durable it is.
- Patagonia Retro Pile Fleece Vest: This was honestly a splurgy fun purchase last fall but it’s become one of my favorite pieces of gear! It layers really well with the Cap 3 base layer on days that are chilly but a jacket feels overkill, and when layered under a jacket it provides much more warmth and without. It’s a pretty bulky item, but I know I’ll be really glad to have it. Fun fact, when Patagonia first released these vests back in the 70s, they sewed them out of overstock toilet seat cover material. Companies have been copying the “pile fleece” style ever since!
- Patagonia Capeline 3 Zip Neck Baselayer Shirt: This is my allllll time favorite shirt. If I had to live in one shirt for the rest of my life, it’d be this one! Perfect for any conditions under about 65 degrees, breathes super well, never smells bad, and keeps me warm when layered under a good shell.
- Smartwool 250 Baselayer Shirt: This shirt serves the same purpose for me as the Cap 3. I love it, but if I had to choose one I’d do the Cap 3 above.
- Patagonia Cotton Long Sleeve: Sometimes you get tired of wearing base layers and just want to wear a normal cotton t shirt like a normal person. This one is super comfy and I like the fit.
- Darn Tough Socks (from REI): My favorite socks for anything but hot weather. I have about 4 pair that I cycle through and can usually get 4-5 days out of a pair before needing to wash them.
- Snow Gloves: I picked these up for skiing and gave been super impressed so far. I used them to shoot an engagement session in Jackson at sunrise when it was 0 degrees.
- Burt’s Bees Face Wipes: I always like to have these on hand, especially when traveling. I don’t use them every single day, but when you’re living in a van and feeling especially dirty, it’s amazing what a nice smelling face wipe (sometimes used all over my body…) can do for morale! I follow it up with this moisturizer and feel squeaky clean ;)
- Patagonia Toiletries Bag: After having the same toiletries bag since I was like 16, I finally upgraded to this Pata black hole bag and really love it! It’s the perfect size and the handles are nice for keeping it off the floor in the random campgrounds/rec centers we use for showers.
- Comfy boots: I’m bringing a pair of more rugged hiking/snow boots that I’ll be wearing on the plane, but I like to have a change for the end of the day if my boots are wet or my feet are hurting. I got a pair of used Uggs at a gear shop in Jackson last month and as embarrassingly basic they are, they’re super comfortable and great for van life. I’ll be able to pull them on easily when I have to venture out in the snow at 3am to pee #prayforme
- Other than random things like my beanie, a hair brush, 20 packs of hand warmers, and a bunch of kind bars, that’s it for my carry on pack! It’s stuffed to the brim, but all of these things fit in the 60L pretty easily.
ITEMS IN MY PERSONAL BAG (regular backpack):
- 15” Macbook Pro + charger
- Canon 5D Mark IV + 24-70L 2.8: This is my go-to travel lens and while I’d love to pack my 35L as well, we’re traveling light and this lens will suit 99% of the photos we want to take! Callen is bringing his Canon EOS R an our 70-200 2.8L plus a doubler (that will get is to 400mm) to get some zoomies of the mountains!
- Extra snacks
- Hydroflask: I never go anywhere without it! If you’re still using single-use plastic water bottles, please apologize to the ocean and get yourself a reusable water bottle asap :)
WHAT I’M WEARING ON THE PLANE:
- My O.G. Pair of Patagonia fleece leggings (see above)
- Patagonia Fjord Flannel: I’ve worn this probably 9/10 days of the winter. Super comfy, warm, and the perfect layer
- Patagonia Reclaimed Wool Parka (2014): This is my all-time favorite piece of clothing. I get asked about it allll the time but unfortunately it was a Limited Edition 40th anniversary piece that they sold in the fall of 2014 and it’s extremely difficult to find (even used). This link is from a time they had one on the Worn Wear site, but I’d keep eyes peeled on eBay, Worn Wear, and Poshmark if you really want one! Here is a nice alternative on the Pata line up.
- Kodiak Surrey II Boots (From REI): I’ve had these for a few years now and love them for snow or cold weather! They are comfortable for hiking up to 4 miles an we likely won’t do more than that this trip so they’ll be great for everything we do! A lot of our adventure brides have had these boots and loved them.
I hope that was helpful! Once we get home, I’ll have to write a follow up post (or maybe just add a note to this one) about what was actually helpful! Who knows, maybe the ski suit is total overkill ;) Let me know in the comments if you think I missed anything, or if you have specific items you ALWAYS pack when traveling!
Abbi Hearne’s favorite posts of the year on Instagram! Adventure photographer from Patagonia to Alaska and everywhere in between.