From brainstorming to saying 'I do"
Imagine a wedding day focused around you and your love! That's exactly what elopements are all about. I love that elopements allow you to express who you are as a couple by getting married in a way that is authentic to you.
I have used my experience traveling, planning and photographing elopements to build this guide and it should help give you starting points to planning your epic elopement! Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have.
As you go through this process, stay true to yourself and to the vision of your celebration. Congratulations for embarking on the best adventure of your life - marriage.
PLANNING YOUR ELOPEMENT
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Trying to realize your own vision while listening to a mountain of advice from all sides is hard and unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to make everyone happy. BLUNT TRUTH: it’s not your job to make other people happy on YOUR wedding day! Instead, bring the focus back to what’s important - you and your love!
Eloping keeps the focus on you and your love and not about family drama, seating charts, appeasing other people's ideas, or the ever-growing list of things that makes planning a traditional wedding feel more like a chore than a celebration of love.
Eloping gives the you the freedom to spend as much time as you want with your partner rather than worrying about having to mingle with your cousin’s fiance, or the uncle you’ve met twice.
When you elope, get so much more time to spend with the person your committing yourself too. You can spend the whole day together completely uninterrupted by eloping alone. Even if you choose to invite a few, select guests you still have so much more time to spend with your favorite person.
You are a unique and complex human. There is no one else like you and there is no other relationship like the one you have with your partner. So why should you have a wedding like everyone else?
When you elope, you can choose which ceremonial aspects you want to keep and which don't suit you. Maybe the idea of a first look interests you but you dread having to carry a bouquet of flowers with you all day long. Maybe you don't want to wear a dress at all. Who's going to stop you? Elopements give you permission to make the day yours!
By choosing to elope, you’re taking charge of your budget and spending it with intention.
A traditional wedding in the U.S. costs an average of $30,000, and about $15,000 is simply facilities costs, food, and entertainment for your guests. You're also not obligated to buy hundreds of wedding favors that are most likely going to end up in the trash anyway.
The money you save can go toward a down payment on a house, or a long honeymoon.
When you elope you don't have to limit your ceremony location to accommodate the needs or wants of your guests.
You can elope on a boho beach, a majestic mountaintop, a Tuscan vineyard or under a waterfall in Iceland. Want to take a helicopter to the top of a mountain, do it! Want to get married while hiking in a canyon - sweet!
This is your day, you do you, boo! Wherever you choose to elope, make sure this location has significant meaning to the both of you.
If you hate being the center of attention, aren't comfortable with a room full of eyes on you or simply don’t like sharing your personal life with your family, ELOPE! Your love and the feelings you share with your partner, don’t belong to anyone else. Quite simply, you’re allowed to desire privacy. You can explore that love and intimacy on a deep level without worrying about the gaze or opinions of others.
But if you choose, you can invite a small group of family and friends, usually up 20 people, to celebrate your love. The point is, it is your choice!
Even if you want to elope alone, you can still incorporate others! You can include them in the planning process, invite them to go dress/suit shopping with you, throw an engagement party to celebrate with you or even have them write letters expressing their happiness for you to read during the ceremony.
You can also throw a dinner reception or party when you arrive home! The reception time can be spent joining together with family and friends to celebrate your union. No one will be gossiping about who sat on which side of the aisle. Instead, you’ll hear whispers of “did you see the photos?! If I could go back, I’d totally elope too. I’m kind of jealous!”
Elopements are easier to plan because you’re not juggling the needs of dozens or hundreds of guests. You don’t have to order catering at $30/head and you don’t have to check on anyone’s availability. Yes, elopements can be elaborate experiences with an incredible amount of planning. BUT, when you’ve refocused the wedding to be about what really matters – the couple getting married – the answers are easier to find. Plans can therefore be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. No matter how grand your dream elopement is, I guarantee it’ll be easier than planning a traditional wedding.
Google “wedding day memory loss” and you’ll see plenty of statistics proving that traditional weddings might not be the most memorable wedding option. Some studies actually cite that 54% of people have serious trouble recalling significant details from their wedding day, and most of their memories come from photographs.
Elopements reduce the stressors and distractions at the root of this “mysterious memory loss phenomena.” Choosing to elope is just as much about respecting the importance of your wedding day as it is an opportunity to do something fun. Your wedding matters, a lot, and you deserve to remember it!
There is something so romantic, soulful and special when all the fluff and extravagant details of a traditional wedding are stripped away. You’re left with what truly matters: love, gratitude and happiness.
It is taking all the expectations, and opinions of what your day should be and chucking them out the window! Because an elopement is a wedding focused completely on you as a couple. Not stuff. Not other people. And definitely not obligation. It is about choosing purpose over production, love over distraction, and authenticity over tradition.
An elopement is what living in the moment is all about. It is an intentional day focused on experiences that make you feel alive in your partner’s presence. It is a reflection of your relationship and allows you to create a space to be free, vulnerable, and truly yourselves.
Because of this, each elopement looks and feels different. They are unique, personal and emotional. I truly do believe small intimate elopements are the most connective, meaningful, and emotive way to unify your love.
Just like there are no rules to eloping, there are no rules to planning your elopement. There's no right or wrong way to do it. But as an elopement photographer and a bride who eloped, I found that there are a few things to keep in mind when tackling your planning to-do list:
With all the steps involved in planning an elopement it can feel like you're losing sight of how precious each detail is. I urge you to celebrate each milestone, every decision. When it's all said and done, it can seem like the whole process flew by, so make a point to spend quality time with your loved one during this amazing time!
Sit down together, get comfy and start envisioning your perfect day. You two will inevitably have some differing ideas. Make a point to communicate your priorities and listen to each other's needs.
Life isn't always in the habit of giving us what we want so when something doesn’t go quite as planned, I encourage you to take a step back, breathe deep and relax. These small hiccups truly aren’t that big of a deal. Trust me on this one.
Remember that your elopement is special isn't because of the type of flowers you chose or because of the decorations you have but because you two have decided to love and cherish each other for the rest of your lives. If you ask me, that's the most important detail of it all!
You don't have to elope alone. Remember that elopements are all about celebrating your love in a way that brings you joy. So if you would be heartbroken to not have your mom or best friend at your wedding, invite them!
Instead of inviting others out of obligation, create an exclusive guest list of people who you want to celebrate with. And remember that you’re not dissing anyone by shortening the list. Instead, you’re choosing to spend quality time with those you DO invite! And it's also absolutely okay if that means not inviting anyone!
The Internet is a great place to look for wedding inspiration but the sheer amount of information can feel overwhelming. The following is a list of my favorite blogs & online magazines. They have a ton of helpful advice and beautiful images to get you inspired for the big day.
Will it be just you the two of you or are you wanting to invite some guests to witness and celebrate your love? Will you be bringing your furry friends?
What kind of food are you enjoying? Are you having a packed meal or cooking something on portable stove. Maybe you're hiring a private chef to cook you an amazing meal of your favorite foods.
Is there something special about your love story that you want to incorporate? Do you want to listen to a certain song, or reread some old love notes?
Think about the emotions you want to feel (excited, happy, content, connected, adventurous, relaxed...) and really talk about what you can do to experience those feelings.
Will there be music? Do you want to pop champagne? Have a picnic? Will you read your own vows or enjoy a cake? Will you have a bouquet?
How long will your elopement celebration last? A day, a weekend, a week? Will you combine it with your honeymoon?
dream of all the possibilities
If you could teleport to your favorite location, what does it look like? Are you on top of a mountain? In a magical forest? On a sandy beach? Maybe your in a tree house, or near a waterfall?
What season are you wanting to elope in? Do you want a share your vows in a winter wonderland? Do you imagine there being a field of wildflowers or do you see fall colors?
What would you love to spend your time doing? (This is my favorite question because the possibilities are endless! Remember - don't get caught up on logistics - just dream!) Are you spending the night stargazing? Do you want to go on a hike? Will there be a helicopter involved? Maybe you're wanting to celebrate at a brewery afterwards or soak in a hot spring. Or maybe you want to go skiing or zip-lining. How about relaxing on a hammock or enjoying a warm camp fire. Seriously, the sky is the limit right now!
Do you plan on wearing traditional wedding attire? Or do you want to throw caution to the wind and get married in casual yet comfortable clothes? What if it rains?
This is your chance to dream about all the ways you want to celebrate your love. Doing this will help you find what speaks to you most. Make is a date night out of it. Snuggle up, pour your favorite drink and let your imagination go wild. Don't focus on the logistics or the how-to's right now. That step comes later. Right now just have fun with the idea of what could be.
Consider some of the following questions and remember there are no wrong answers:
When you elope you don’t have to limit your ceremony location to accommodate the needs of hundreds of guests. You can elope on a sandy beach, a majestic mountaintop, a Tuscan vineyard, or under a waterfall in Iceland. Want to take a helicopter to the top of a mountain, do it! Want to get married while hiking in a canyon – sweet! Wherever you choose to elope, make sure this location has significant meaning to both of you.
Remember that public places usually make awesome backdrops for beautiful photos, but may require a permit. These permits can cost anywhere from $0-$500 and can take 1 day to 2 months to obtain. Make sure to allow enough time to get everything in order!
Choose a location that represents you as a couple, someplace that feeds your soul and makes you feel alive! Some couples have a relaxed and playful relationship and may want a boho beach wedding while others may be more adventurous and will want to hike a mountaintop.
If you can't decide on just one location, don't! Have a multi-location (or even multi-day) elopement. That's exactly what my hubs and I did. I love being high on top of ridge lines and he loves the forest. So we ended up going to two different locations on our elopement day. It was the best of both worlds.
Part of eloping is being at the mercy of Mother Nature. So in case the weather doesn't cooperate, it's always good to have a backup location. Being flexible will help lower stress if things don't quite work out. And remember, your wedding isn't about the beautiful backdrop but your love for each other.
Each season brings different weather. Research the time of year for the area you are considering and be mindful of rain, snow, wind, and the likelihood of storms.
Double check the road and transportation conditions. Some roads close during the year due to heavy snow, floods, avalanches and even animal migration.
Check which season is best. You may want to opt for an off season when there are less tourists. This can also lower your overall cost.
you want to visit your location
(HOVER OVER FOR DETAILS)
If you stop to think about the best day you two could have, with no limitations or restrictions, I bet you could go on for a while. You deserve that full experience on your elopement day. Your wedding day is the start of your marriage and it should be celebrated and focused on all the things that make you happy, bring you joy, and deepen your connection. Explore some ideas below:
Most couples who elope do so because they feel more at peace in nature. That’s why hiking can be the perfect elopement activity. Hiking to an amazing location is not only rewarding but it also adds that sense of adventure in your day. How far you hike is entirely up to you. It could be anything from a small hike to a multi-day backpacking trek.
ALTITUDE SICKNESS IS NO JOKE. If your coming from sea level don't expect to hike a 14er for your elopement, no matter how athletic you are. You don't want to spend your wedding day feeling miserable in the hospital.
Hiking isn't everyone's cups of tea and that's cool too. If you still want to get to those epic views but don't want to break a sweat, consider renting a high clearance 4WD.
When you drive to your elopement location, you're also able to pack more items with you. It also allows you to visit locations that are farther apart without stressing about time or exhaustion.
You can even hire a driver if the idea of off-roading makes you nervous. That way you can relax and enjoy the whole drive!
If you're looking to add a unique aspect to you elopement, the sky's the limit - literally. Flying to your elopement location is definitely the best way to ensure privacy. You'll be able to check out some amazing places that would other wise be inaccessible and can get married somewhere no one else has.
Just imagine enjoying a scenic flight over a mountain range or waterfall or being dropped off on a glacier, or even a secluded island. It truly is a once in a lifetime, unforgettable experience for your elopement.
If water makes your heart happy consider the following activities:
Swimming (wedding clothes optional)
Soaking in a hot spring
Stand under a waterfall
Whatever floats your boat
Just because the sun goes down doesn't mean your elopement fun needs to end. If your a night owl these elopement ideas are perfect for you!
Have a candlelit dinner
Cozy up to a campfire
Make some smore's
Go for a night hike with headlamps
Dance by the firelight
Play flashlight tag
This is the first day of your marriage. Go wild, have fun, do what makes you happy. If you need more inspiration check out the list below:
Go to a brewery
Ski / Snowboard / Snow Shoe
Horse back riding
Build a snowman
Watch the sunset on a hot air balloon
This is the first day of your marriage. Go wild, have fun, do what makes you happy. If you need more inspiration check out the list below:
Go to a brewery
Ski / Snowboard / Snow Shoe
Build a snowman
Watch the sunset on a hot air balloon
Now that you have all your elopement ideas in mind, it's time to put it all together in a curated timeline.
A big thing to keep in mind is lighting. Lighting is the number one most important element in creating breathtaking photos! The best light is usually at sunrise or sunset. The sun is at its lowest, immersing the world in warm, soft light that looks incredible in photographs.
Keep in mind that the middle of the day is less than ideal for photos. At that time the sun is very high in the sky, creating a bright light with harsh shadows. You'll either be squinting or needing to wear sunglasses, neither of which make for great photos.
Even so, it is absolutely possible to get great shots during the day and an experienced photographer will be able to adjust for this situation. Just note that the overall vibe and ambiance of these images will be different than those captured in the early or late hours of the day.
Make sure there is enough time scheduled in your day. You can do so by adding an extra 10 to 15 minutes after each activity. Not only will this ensure you have enough time for each event you have planned, it will also give you time to relax and enjoy yourself rather than feeling rushed and hurried. The last thing you want to do during your elopement is feel stressed or anxious about fitting everything you have planned into a specific time.
The best part of sunset elopements is being able to sleep in. If you're a night owl this might be the option for you. This will also give you more time to get your hair and make-up done by a professional. The temperature tends to be a bit warmer and so are the colors. You'll witness soft oranges and reds which can create alpine glow over the mountains. You can also spend the rest of the night dancing under the stars or enjoying a warm campfire with snores!
Sunrise elopements are usually more secluded. Not as many people tend to wake up early in the morning so you'll most likely have the location all to yourself! Sunrise tends to have cooler colors such as pinks, blues, and purples. The temperature is also cooler which keeps you from getting too sweaty. Sunrise elopements also give you plenty of time to spend the day reveling in your love. You have the whole day to celebrate your union however you see fit!
10:00 am - Getting ready photos at a treehouse airbnb
11:00 am - First look
11:30 am - Hike to epic ceremony location
1:00 pm - Ceremony
1:30 pm - Champagne celebration
2:00 pm - Road trip to waterfall for portraits
4:00 pm - Amazing portraits
6:30 pm - Return to airbnb and have dinner for two prepared by private chef
7:30 pm - Sunset photos
8:30 pm - Campfire photos
9:30 pm - Photos slow dancing under the stars
10:00 pm - Photographer leaves
8:00 am - Meet at cabin - getting ready and detail shots (hand written vows, shoes, flowers, cabin shots)
9:00 am - First look!
9:30 am - Hike to the beautiful canyon for the ceremony
12:00 pm - Ceremony
12:30 pm - Celebrate with family and friends, group/individual portraits
1:00 pm - Couples portraits
1:30 pm - Hike back to cabin
4:00 pm - Return to cabin and relax until tomorrow's adventures!
5:00 am - Head to mountain top in a 4x4 with just you and your partner
6:00 am - Stunning sunrise photos
7:00 am - Picnic breakfast
8:00 pm - Adventure to hot spring for more beautiful photos
9:30 pm - Photos enjoy the warmth of the water and the love for each other
10:30 pm - Return back to cabin
11:30 pm - Photographer leaves
I'll help create a timeline that includes all the amazing things you want to document during your elopement and reflect the top location you chose!
I will make sure you arrive at the perfect moment to capture that gorgeous sunset (or sunrise) - you don’t have to worry about that!
Legal requirements to elope vary based on location. If you're wanting to legally get married on the same day you elope, make sure you research the requirements. Below I've listed some common marriage questions, as well as a link for specific answers.
If you're wanting to legally get married but also want to elope with just you and your partner, consider taking care of the legalities and paperwork of marriage either before or after your epic elopement day. For many couples signing the dotted line doesn't signify their marriage - sharing their vows does. This will also alleviate the stress of finding an officiant, or having to invite guests.
Your elopement isn't your wedding because you signed a piece of paper, it's your wedding because you chose to commit yourselves to each other.
A marriage license shows proof of your marriage but each state has it's own rules. Some questions to ask yourself are:
Do we need an appointment in order to apply for our marriage license?
What paperwork will we need to bring with us?
What is the waiting period to receive our marriage license?
What is the waiting period to get married after receiving our marriage license?
How many witnesses will we need? (In Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington DC you can self-solemnize, meaning you don't need witnesses or an officiant. If you are Quaker, Amish or Bha’i, you can also self-solemnize in California, Maine, Kansas and Nevada.)
What are the requirements for the officiant?
How much will it cost?
For how long is our marriage license valid?
For answers to these questions and more, click HERE!
Popular city hall locations can book up months in advance, so make sure to schedule your appointment early.
Some courthouses don't take appointments for marriages but instead is a first-come, first-served system. So you'll have to show up and wait your turn.
Some states require two separate appointments. The first for your marriage license and the second within 90 days of your ceremony.
Keep in mind that you may not be able to read your vows at city hall and that some place limits on the number of guests you're allowed to bring.
I'm an ordained officiant and in most states can sign your marriage license. So if your state requires an officiant but you'd rather not invite more people, I'll be able to help out.
This helps ensure that your elopement is as intimate as possible and saves you money on booking more vendors.
"The photos we just got back from Marcela are giving me CHILLS!! They are absolutely stunning!!!
She did SO MUCH more than just photograph us — she created special moments that I’ll cherish forever. She encouraged Con & I to genuinely interact & share intimate moments together. She prompted us to tell each other things that we love about one other, ways that the other person inspires us, & how being together has positively changed us.
It was more than just a beach shoot. We ended up giving each other precious, heart melting encouragement & that makes these photos all the more treasured to me. "
"We had a pre-meet with her before the big day which definitely helped me feel more relaxed going into the wedding day. She gave us great suggestions and things to think about to be ready with on the wedding.
On the day of she showed up early to help scope out the venue. She was creative to try and pull extra joy into our photographs.
When I look at these photos I see more than just beautiful images. I feel the moments that Marcela helped us experience and the connection we had.
I can't thank Marcela enough! We will treasure these moments forever!"
"We loved every moment of the day she helped create. Marcela was the perfect photographer for our adventure elopement!
She worked tirelessly to make our adventure into marriage happen after our first options were snowed in! Great Sand Dunes felt like the perfect unique place for two Floridians who met in the mountains.
She made us comfortable to be ourselves throughout the whole day while making her job look effortless and fun. Our cheeks hurt from smiling, laughing and a few tears.
Marcela captured every precious moment! Her photography is absolutely stunning every way! I highly recommend Marcela for your elopement or wedding!"
"Instead of telling us how to pose or interact with each other, Marcela gave us prompts that seemed simple but made a huge difference.
She asked us to talk about our first date. We discussed the weirdest things we loved about each other (which made us laugh) and how we could fulfill each other’s love languages. Amy and I played games with each other and Marcela captured the energy that happened naturally between us.
I love this shoot because it perfectly captures the love we share. It’s incredible to see that love and admiration encapsulated in a photo! Thank you for this!"