This Wedding Photographer Goes the Extra Mile

Winter 2024

With her elopement photography business, Chloe Mansell ’19 follows couples who buck tradition.

When naming her business, Mansell was inspired by Professor Peter Klepeis’ Geography of Happiness course. “It’s in conjunction with sunshine and happiness, and quite literally just doing your own thing in life even though it’s a little bit different,” she says.

Photographer Chloe Mansell ’19 has a personal philosophy: “We are constantly flooded with this traditional societal take of how everything should be and what we should do [when we get married],” she explains. “And that’s fine if that’s what you really want to do. But there’s also a lot of people out there who are like, ‘This is not me.’”

Mansell, who is professionally known as Chloe Ray, started her elopement photography business during the pandemic when couples sought out smaller wedding ceremonies to abide by COVID-19 guidelines. But her work also ascribes to that personal philosophy; some couples just want to buck tradition and make their wedding day truly personal. “It’s very much rooted in doing what makes you happy,” she says. “I’m just here to help you make sure that that’s the path that you’re on.” Sometimes that path involves the bride wearing hiking boots under her wedding dress.

What’s the Game Plan?

The elopements Mansell has photographed run the gamut. They can be anywhere, anytime: backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, standing in Michigan’s Silver Lake sand dunes, or exploring historic Mackinac Island. Mansell’s favorite to photograph is a mid-hike elopement, for which couples will bring their wedding gear — and their officiant — along for the jaunt. “I really enjoy letting couples go ahead and do their own thing and documenting their existence in nature,” she says.

Trash the Dress

One way Mansell recommends ending a couple’s elopement: trashing the dress. Considering the garment will only be worn once, “it’s a fun opportunity to get some really creative photos and do something even more adventurous,” she says on her blog. Ideas: jumping into a lake, riding a motorcycle, or finishing your elopement hike in your frock. 

The Origin Story

Mansell’s company, The Way of the Ray, was born out of canceled plans: She had a one-way ticket across the Atlantic to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme when the world shut down (she’d studied Japanese at Colgate with Professor Yukari Hirata). So, she decided to turn her photography hobby into her livelihood.  

Her Inspo: YouTube

During a postgrad trip to Hawaii, Mansell watched videos from YouTube creator Jake Frew, who makes docu-style short films and takes photos of vast landscapes. “I was like, you know what? I’m just going to do it. I’m just going to start teaching myself [photography],” Mansell says. The extent of her photography knowledge at that point was snapping a selfie on her cell phone, and she knew she had a long way to go.

She Got by With a Little Help From Her Friends

Mansell honed her craft by watching YouTube tutorials and getting pointers from Chase Hirt ’22, who started his own photography business through Colgate’s Thought Into Action incubator. Mansell met Hirt in November 2019 when she came back to Colgate to conduct isotope data collection of locally fallen precipitation research with Professor Adam Burnett, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of geography and environmental studies. “[Hirt] helped me so much. I would send him photos all the time and he would be like, ‘Chloe, are you sure that you feel comfortable asking people to pay you for that?’ And I would be like, ‘Maybe not,’” Mansell laughs.

She Has a Vision

“Since I was young, I wanted to make art of what I see in my mind, and artwork of my dreams,” Mansell explains. “And I know that sounds kind of abstract, but that’s kind of the entire premise behind it. It’s just creating what I see in my head.”