H + V / Sahara Desert Elopement, Morocco - Tu Nguyen

Intimate Sahara Desert Elopement in Morocco

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well yet everything happens on a certain number of time, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your life like this, some afternoon that's so deeply part of your being that you can't ever consider your life without it, perhaps four or five time more, perhaps not even that? How many more times will you watch the full moon rises? Perhaps twenty, and yet it all seems limitless."

- The Sheltering Sky (1949)

I ran across the sand dunes just like Travis did for five days without a break in Paris, Texas and fell, face down against the sand of Sahara. In the late afternoon, under  the harsh sunlight over the endless sky, silky smooth and burning hot sand on the cheek brought me back to the past 25 years ago, half way around the earth. The neon light flashes in my head as if there were two nerve impulses in the brain accidentally find each other and ignite the corresponding frame that appears in a thousand blink of an eye. There was an afternoon like that in 1993 when I was a kid...

Oh the blurry memories from the past. Although I was too embarrassed to confess that I forgot, I'm torturing myself with the thought that I have become more deficient in human sensibility. Like that kid 25 years ago. Years after years, I relived these images and thoughts in graphic detail.

In the thick fog of all innocence and faded regret, the wooden boat without any paddle continued to drift along the water, it seems like it couldn't be stopped or go upstream. The riverbeds slowly fade away into the darkness forever, making one young man to panic and begin to take notes, photograph to not lose every detail and feeling. But it already did. In fact memories only crumble to be able go through blood vessels to every part of the human body like sand - it goes anywhere and everywhere, mix with the new mortar, rocks, cement to make the new fleshes and bones. Sand becomes an invisible, inviolable part of the body and then on a random day, it suddenly shakes me by the shoulder, reveal as a guardian angel that startles me, "Are you still there all the time, silently guiding me?"

That quote from "The Sheltering Sky" echoes in our mind every single time we shoot an elopement: How many more times will a couple remember a certain afternoon of their life like this, some afternoon that's so deeply part of their being that they can't ever consider their life without it? This is why shooting elopements is so different than weddings. You the couple are going to spend a lots of time with us on the road and the journey itself to the destination counts just as much, if not more, as the final images. The final climax doesn't really seem important as it should be. Like music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition. As Alan Watts talked once about dancing, you don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you will arrive. So for us, wedding photography is less and less about creating one single, award-worthy image but rather observing its power in a complete story. A slice of your life.

Shooting a wedding is already not an easy task, but also that's why shooting elopement is tricky. Yet so rewarding. You don't have a timeline, a schedule, a shot list, anything to follow. You build everything from scratch. Working out a two way relationship with the couple, when mutual trust is one of the most important elements. Our couples told us, "We saw a lots of wedding photography taking over the internet and they all seem not really real and honest. Seriously, are you going to run around holding hands, hugging, kissing non-stop like that all day long when doing an adventure together?"

Yeah fuck that.
Fuck posing cues.
Fuck consistent look to curate your Instagram feed.
Fuck the industry standard.
Fuck all the bullshit mimics and gimmicks.
Are they real people with real emotions, feelings and personal stories need to be told in a way that truly reflects their personalities or are they just another number in our book, some soulless mannequins that we can apply some fucking formulaic treatment written by a guy sitting in a office that makes us all cringe? There must be more to love than that.

I remember myself loving David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia since forever. A masterpiece – it inspired how I shot this story so much. This masterpiece epic doesn’t need any introduction. Sweeping, epic and literate version of British adventurer and soldier T. E. Lawrence’s experiences in Arabia during the First World War. Set against a backdrop of the Arabian desert, David Lean frames the screen like a painter paints a canvas with the help of Freddie Young’s stunning cinematography to bring Lean’s vision to life. 

Of course the locations and landscapes and sceneries of Morocco are jaw-dropping and if we're saying it doesn't help making the images more eye-candy then we're lying but what’s even more important is the people we spent time with. That's why we said above that shooting elopement is tricky. It's easy to lose your way, your focus and turn a destination elopement into a travel commercial that prioritize landscape over people, who should be in the spot light. The location should complements the couple and their story, not the other way around. It's also easy to take similar photos, over and over again because we have so much time with the couple and if you make them pretending who they aren't, there is just so much one can do. Same color, same pose, same lighting to stay true to what's called "consistency". It's much much harder to tell an unique and authentic story every time and we're still working hard and struggling on that matter.

We remember the night in Sahara desert and there was a sandstorm, we were standing outside of our tents in the darkness to take a long exposure photograph of the Milky Way. 20 Seconds of Exposure, ISO 3200, Aperture f2. 20 Seconds of holding breath. 20 seconds of standing still in quietness and total darkness. So many thoughts about life and love happened in 20 seconds. It gave you chill down the spine.

We remember the camel trekking into the sunset through the high sand dunes.
“I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky.” And now it came true. We ran across the dunes and fell like idiots in order to take a shot from perspective we wanted so badly without sabotaging the mood and the flow of the trek. Hiuman and Victor later said that watching us running and falling was one of the most vivid moment of the trip. It made life feel so alive...

We remember the ceremony at sunrise when Victor saw Hiuman in her wedding dress the first time on top of the camel. When she shredded tears while going down the memory lane seven years ago when they got together because of the trip to Morocco.

Just simple like that, this place holds so much place in their heart like it did seven years ago when they fell in love with each other in Morocco. And ours.


Hey friends! We're Tu & Tara, a wedding photographer & videographer duo. While splitting our time between Europe / Asia, we travel all over the world (40 countries and counting) capturing adventure elopement and intimate destination wedding. We love art, classic cinema, reading great fictions, good food, outdoor activities and seeking adventure in the wilderness. Join and let us tell your epic story in your own way through photographs and film, but first and foremost have fun while doing it!


© Tu Nguyen Wedding Photography in Greece, Italy, Spain, France & Germany // +49 159 0148 0782  // info@tunguyenwedding.com

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