Photography in the time of COVID: Lewis finds inspiration in elopements

A couple shares an intimate moment during an elopement photographed by Malachai Lewis. (Courtesy/Malachai Lewis)

If you go for a hike on the Western Slope, you might venture across a young photographer shadowing a happy couple in wedding attire.

Elopement photographer Malachi Lewis moved from Nebraska a couple years ago to run his business, Shell Creek Photography, in Montrose.

For him, Colorado felt like home.

“Nature inspires my photography,” Lewis said.

“It’s why I like to edit naturally, bold, and colorfully. It makes the landscapes really pop.”

Lewis said his inspiration comes from landscapes and nature.

From the golden light of a sunrise and sunset to the flowers in a meadow, Lewis can find inspiration in anything outdoors.

“If I feel uninspired, I’ll take a walk in nature,” Lewis commented.

Capturing emotions are important for Lewis in his work.

“Art can be visual or something you listen to, but it’s going to make you feel something emotional,” Lewis said. “It can be happy, sad, or a mix of both.”

The challenge this year, as for so many, was navigating his business through COVID.

Lewis didn’t have to navigate for long, though.

“I could hardly keep up with the people wanting elopements,” he said.

“Some were wanting elopements as a backup plan, some invited more guests. Other couples wanted to get married, but didn’t want to have a wedding.”

Clients hesitated because they were worried what their family would think of an elopement, but COVID provided the opportunity for them to have the wedding of their dreams.

This year, elopements have become less taboo, allowing Lewis’ business something good amidst a challenging year.

Lewis’ process, from start to finish, in an elopement is detailed and personalized. From the moment a couple reaches out with an interest in eloping, he steps into the role of both photographer and planner.

“I try to suggest locations that are very personalized to them,” Lewis said. “I send a location questionnaire that asks about different things. For example, I ask about if they’re afraid of heights, issues that could prevent hiking, if family members will be joining us. Then I send a list of locations to choose from.”

From there, Lewis works with the couple to figure out what considerations go into the location, such as permits or if they will need a jeep to reach their destination.

Then they plan the big day, where Lewis suggests local vendors and provides a rundown of the day.

“On the day, a lot of times we’re doing sunrises, so that means getting a very early start to the day. Sometimes they’re starting at 3 a.m. to be ready for the 6 a.m. sunrise,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that each elopement is special for him.

“They’re always so excited, it might not even feel real to them yet. A lot of times, I’m the only one up there who gets to witness that, so my photos are what capture those moments when they get emotional in their vows.”

While Lewis no longer finds himself nervous photographing the couples, the moments are not lost on him.

Many times, he is the first person to congratulate the newly wedded couple, aside from any hikers they may run into on their hike down.

Lewis explained that he aims for a natural process, preferring not to force poses on his clients. “It’s guiding them into what they naturally do,” he said.

“They often already pose. They do it every day sitting on the couch, walking together, hanging out together, whatever it might be. What do you two naturally do together?”

Although elopements are becoming more popular in a time of social distancing, the idea of the small wedding might still be shocking for some people to see.

Lewis assures people that an elopement can be a special, beautiful event, even if it’s not a traditional wedding.

“Some couples become friends or good acquaintances, and I follow them on social media,” he said. “It’s special to watch their family grow.”

At the beginning of the year when everything was shut down, Lewis wasn’t receiving any inquiries. He was concerned, but as businesses began opening back up, Lewis found himself flooded with requests.

“COVID opened the floodgates for elopements,” Lewis said.

“Excitement, wonder, awe. I think for me the defining quality of art is that it will make you feel something.”

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