We had the good fortune of connecting with Maddie Mae and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Maddie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think the willingness to take risks is one of the most important qualities you can build for yourself as a person and as a business owner. The two biggest risks I ever took in my career were the two best decisions I ever made. The first HUGE risk I took was specializing in elopements and creating and branding my business around being exclusively an elopement photographer full time. When I graduated college and was trying to go full time with my business I also niched down and highly specialized in elopements when I actually didn’t see any other completely specialized elopement photographers at the time—there were wedding photographers who also shot elopements, but I didn’t see anyone who only shot elopements at that time back in 2015. So that was a big risk and I ended up being one of the first people into a niche that then absolutely exploded. You know, risk comes with the potential for reward or for failure but the opportunity to get these big kinds of rewards in life I think only come from taking big risks. The second big risk I took was creating the first-ever online course about teaching other photographers how to become elopement photographers and that kick-started a whole second business for myself that’s led to even more success than my photography business. I think learning to take risks is about learning how to push past fear—I think fear holds a lot of people back from doing what they want to do in life and finding success in business. I think because there are fewer people willing to take risks, that’s where the opportunity is.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Back in 2011-2015, I was in college, and I started photographing weddings as a side gig as Maddie Mae Photography. Quickly, it turned into a full-time job, and I switched my major from engineering to marketing because I knew the power behind it. During this time, I knew that I had a passion for wedding photography—but there was just something about photographing these large, traditional weddings that I didn’t love. One day I got the opportunity to shoot an elopement, and I just fell in love with the entire experience.

Elopements and intimate weddings are days that are just for the couple. Maybe they love adventure and want to hike up to a mountain, or they don’t want the pressure and stress of a huge guest list, or they don’t like being the center of attention. Then I decided to niche down completely to adventure elopements and intimate weddings and decided to build a team and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

The “why” behind changing from “Maddie Mae Photography” to “Adventure Instead” was because I really needed a name that represented that it’s no longer just “me” shooting—and that we’re a team that enables couples to “Adventure instead.” I brought on Amber and Tori, and it took us about 6 months to come up with that name after probably 300 ideas.

I’m one of the first full-time elopement photographers, Forbes called me “the woman who helped spark the adventure elopement trend,” so that’s something I’m really proud of. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelhumphrey/2020/08/30/meet-the-woman-who-helped-spark-the-adventure-elopement-trend/?sh=570a9c6e40ec)

I got to where I am today by taking risks and ignoring whatever everyone else was doing. It definitely wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I built a team which wasn’t a popular thing for well-known photographers to do, but I decided to create a team with all 3 of us where we are branded and priced as equals. I also found a passion for education, and that was my main motivator behind starting Adventure Instead Academy. I wanted to create a comprehensive course to teach others what I had learned and what I did to build my business because I’ve always believed in community over competition. Now I have a thriving community of photographers who are learning and growing.

This dream of mine has also turned into me having an incredible team. I have an elopement planner and travel advisor, a marketing manager, community manager, administrative assistant, content writer, and a few contractors that have helped and continue to help both Adventure Instead and Adventure Instead Academy.

When I first started as a photographer, I really thought that there was only one clear and defined way to be successful as an elopement photographer. Now I know that is just not true—there are several different ways to be successful. If I was starting all over again I would tell myself that not all elopements have to be crazy adventurous hikes or things like that, there are so many different types of elopements and that’s why there are so many different ways to be successful as an elopement photographer. Making the jump from big weddings to shifting my business to elopement photography only was one of the best decisions that I ever made. I really committed to the idea, and I made it happen.

Some lessons I’ve learned and advice that I have is to always continue looking forward. The second you start looking backward or looking around you and seeing what other people are doing, is the second you lose your ability to innovate. Compare yourself to YOU—where you were 6 months ago, a year ago. Also focus on what makes you different, and what sets you apart from other photographers. Don’t have the mindset that you can’t be successful because someone is already doing it—they’re not! Your approach, experience, outlook, and voice are what make you unique, so don’t let that hold you back from starting. And finally, Don’t compare yourself to others. All that does is drown out your ability to recognize your own greatness.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take them around to some local breweries, maybe Red Rocks, the downtown Denver area near union station. I love getting into the mountains and going up to Idaho Springs, Loveland Pass, and Breckenridge. I love hanging out on Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins and getting more into the mountains to do as much hiking as possible. Hiking and breweries is a solid itinerary.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would say my husband, Alistair Cook. We met when I was in college, and he has been there for me every step of the way, helping me create this. Our own wedding was an adventure elopement in Peru with my friend and colleague Amber Sovorsky capturing it.

I also have always loved and recommended the books Start With Why/Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, they have helped me a ton throughout my business, especially with branding. The books also both help re-center me on my purpose and passion. Your “why” is actually about discovering what drives you at a much deeper level, and I always find myself coming back to these.

Website: https://adventureinstead.com/ & https://adventureinstead.com/academy/

Instagram: @adventureinstead & @adventurerinsteadacademy

Other: My large online community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/weddingsandwanderlust

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.