So, you’re engaged and the one thing you know for sure is that a large wedding is not for you… you’re looking for answers on “How To Elope” or “How to have a small wedding” and I am ready to help you in this blog!
How to Elope or Have a Small Wedding
When it comes to eloping there is no set way to do it, you can adventure in the mountains, trees, or desert… OR you can roam the streets of your favorite urban jungle, favorite brewery, or winery. The question is: what motivates you two as a couple?
So let’s pick a mood first, almost like those old-school magazine quizzes that you flow through.
How to elope: Do you want a nature elopement?
Great! You want to be outdoors and in nature, but now you realized you’re flexible on where you want to go! That’s great, Let’s divide your options into categories …
Woods – Mountains – Water – Desert – Ice / Snow
- Which one of these are you imagining in your head when you dream of your wedding images?
- Are you dreaming of standing on top of the mountains, with a cool breeze so that you can get married in August and not be sweating all day?
- Are you obsessed with the warm tones of the desert like Joshua Tree?
- Are you both dying to see the redwoods and stay in a treehouse?
Let’s say you want to elope in the Colorado Mountains… what’s next?!
Colorado (and most National Parks) have a permit system to keep our parks wild + beautiful, as well as knowing who is in the park doing what. These rules do change from time to time, and from location to location.
My best tip is to always check with a park ranger early to make sure you are good to go! I have no shame in admitting I had outdated information and learned more speaking with rangers earlier this year.
Obtaining a few permits may be necessary, one for you as the couple to marry, and sometimes I (the photographer) will need my own separate to be able to work in the park. Don’t let this process scare you, or think that I am gatekeeping!
I want to do my part to help keep our parks amazing for everyone to enjoy. Besides the park rangers are fun to talk to (maybe I am biased because my little brother is one hehe)!
Colorado is a very popular place so we want to make sure to put the paperwork in EARLY because starting in 2021 they started limiting how many permits would be given per year.
Now there are some places in Colorado where you don’t need a permit, and I will gladly help do all the research for you to make sure we are good to go!
I also have an entire blog post on how to apply for your wedding day permits for you to check out here.
How to elope: My personal favorite elopement locations
As an experienced elopement photographer, I’ve seen my fair share of elopement locations that my couples have fallen in love with. In no particular order, they are:
- New Hampshire: check out my New Hampshire Elopement Guide here!
- Acadia National Park: Check out my top 5 things to do at Acadia!
- Iowa: I know it doesn’t sound like a fancy elopement location… but they have some pretty epic venues
- Maine: Can you tell I love New England?? Check out the BEST Maine elopement locations.
- Colorado: Here are 5 things to ask your Colorado elopement photographer.
- South Dakota: This adventurous skiing elopement at Black Hills was pretty freakin’ rad.
- Upstate New York: Eloping in NY doesn’t have to be in the city! Check out this hiking elopement I photographed recently.
- Hawaii: Umm… do I really need to convince you to elope in Hawaii of all places? If I do, I’ll let this blog do all the talking.
Alright, so we have a location, and we have permit information, now what about a date?
That is the beauty of elopements, you can get married on ANY day of the week. You don’t have to have a Saturday to make sure 300+ guests can attend because your elopement is either only you two or with 20-30 of your close family/friends.
Don’t believe me? Mark + I eloped on a Wednesday morning in a garden! We wanted to get married on our anniversary!
Plus being flexible on your date can get you into your dream locations.
Certain locations you can’t get to at certain times of the year due to weather, and other locations are amazing during some months, and miserable during others… so if you want a location over an exact date let’s plan that way!
How to elope: Do you want an urban elopement?
Are you shy to say you want to stay in the city? DON’T BE! Stay true to who you two are as a couple and if that means you want to elope in the city, let’s do it.
- Do you have a favorite brewery or winery? Do you fantasize about the courthouse steps like Big + Carrie? (Check out this City Hall in San Fran)
- Do you want something a little bigger than just you two, but still small like a 20-30 people dinner party?
Urban elopement idea: What about a botanical garden in the morning, then brunch, then roaming the streets without a care in the world for who sees your PDA?! Reanna and Cameron got married at the Des Moines Botanical Garden, and it was pretty epic.
With urban elopements, it can be easier to plan more styled elements too, like table scapes or a champagne wall (yes you can still have these things at an elopement!) You can plan a full 4-course dinner with some of your closest family + friends and hit up all your favorite spots in ANY city you want.
Let’s focus on still picking what kind of mood or places you really want to go to, and then we can pick a date and contact those places. The reason we should pick 1-3 places first is so we aren’t contacting 10+ places and then leaving any vendors hanging.
In some places, we still will need to apply for a permit – even in cities! Don’t worry we will do our research together!
Urban elopements can make it easier to book multiple vendors if they are all in the same city, like hair + makeup!
Let’s recap so far…
Whether you are a nature couple or an urban couple you CAN elope!
You can get married how you want because I believe you SHOULD do exactly what you want. Nothing has to look the same as someone else’s.
So after this section, we have our big bullet points covered – Mood, Location, and Date. Let’s move on to finding vendors, setting a budget, and do you need TWO photographers for an elopement still?!
How to elope: “How do I hire vendors for an elopement?”
Hiring vendors for your elopement doesn’t have to be totally different than for a traditional large wedding.
You reach out, you tell them your dreams, your goals, a little about your elopement, and any other information that you may know (like date) and then they will get back to you whether they can perform the services you are looking for.
So let’s use a makeup artist for example!
You’re eloping on a Friday at 3 p.m. in a national park, and it’s a few hour drive for the makeup artist to come to you. If it’s realistic for them to work that day, they may charge for the service and a travel fee.
Or how about catering?
You rent an amazing house and are wanting a 4-course meal for you + your guests!
The first step is to always reach out and ask the vendor for their services! You mention you have a party of 18, you are craving their risotto (or insert the food you want from them), and if they have your date + location open!
“Okay, but what if I’m more remote?”
I gotchuuu. In these cases vendors might require to stay overnight to be able to show up for the services you want at your desired time. This is not uncommon! This is how we get to where you want us to go at the times we need to!
When it comes to planning your elopement, you usually have your photographer (and/or videographer), and then pick a location + date, and then it’s so much easier to book the rest of your vendors because you can tell them a set-in-stone date + time that you need them for.
Tips for booking your elopement vendors:
Know that most vendors require anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 payment to lock in your date + services. Most times these are NOT refundable, so be prepared when you come to signing contracts.
How to elope: “How do I set a budget for an elopement?”
First — everyone’s budget is different. No two families are the same, so setting a budget is a personal choice!
Second, your budget should always list your priorities in order.
For example: Photography, Attire, Location, Food, Flowers, Hair, Makeup, and Having pets present
In order to put a dollar amount to something you need to be able to say how important something is to you, and what you would be upset about if you couldn’t have it.
I also firmly believe you shouldn’t put yourself in huge debt to try and impress anyone. You should strive to spend comfortably. These are your memories, and this is your wedding day, but there is no shame in being engaged for a year vs. a few months to save for the things you really want to do.
While it is cheaper to elope than throw a large wedding, you still are craving a little guidance!
On average elopements can range from $10-15,000 for a multi-day, honeymoon vibe of pure bliss. This budget can include your dream photographer, attire, videographer, food, hikes, multi-day in honeymoon spots, and more.
When it comes to building your budget let’s look at the type of activities you want to do, too.
Are you dying to escape on a helicopter ride? (Check this one out in the Grand Canyon)
Are you wanting to stay on location after and honeymoon right away?
What about doing multi cities?
Considering wanting to rent out an entire venue? (Check out this Airbnb in Oregon)
Are you wanting to do a jeep tour? (Grand Canyon anyone?)
So this also comes in handy with writing your timeline for your coverage! Once we know what your goals are, and when we want to do them, we can know what is realistic and what isn’t.
How to elope: “Do I need two photographers at my elopement like I would for a traditional large wedding?”
Two photographers, or “second shooters” became very popular at large weddings because most of the time it was not possible for 1 human to be able to grab every angle at any given moment. For example, it’s difficult for one person to try and get both perspectives of walking down an aisle during the ceremony.
While I feel very confident in my ability to work solo at most elopements, sometimes I will recommend that you have both myself + Mark on your day… and this is why!
Reasons to have two photographers at your elopement:
1: Getting ready at different times or locations. For example, in urban elopements, you might be going to your favorite salon, and your spouse might be going to their favorite salon but you still want images of both of you!
2: You want multiple angles. I am very fast, but I am not Dash. 😉 I can not physically be in two spots at once.
3: You want a huge variety in your final gallery. There will be more images in the end, and the ability for one of us to grab certain moments, while the other one grabs you two as a couple. This way you can have images from moments you weren’t fully present in… like sunset photos! If I were to steal you two away, and grab golden hour portraits of you, I can leave Mark to grab some of those candid moments of your family + friends either watching or mingling.
Reasons you might not need two photographers:
1: You are getting ready together! This is one of my favorites too of having couples help each other.
2: You will be entering your ceremony together or your ceremony won’t have any sort of aisle vibe and will just be picking a spot and rolling with the vows no entrance or exit!
3: You don’t have guests attending!
Let’s recap so far…
We went over how to hire vendors, how to set a budget, and whether or not you might need two photographers on your elopement day.
Remember, no two elopements are the same! If you want something, let’s make it happen! I’m here to help you feel confident in your choices.
Did this bring up other questions for you?
Share this blog post with your family + friends!
Next, we will focus on telling your family + friends you’re eloping instead!
How to elope: “How do I tell my family + friends that we are eloping instead?”
This can be really hard for some people, and I am NOT discrediting your anxiety when it comes to telling your family + friends that what they want for you, is not what you want for yourself (and your future spouse).
First ask yourself: “Do I want a few members of my family/friends with you when we elope?”
If you do….
- Propose to them! Ask them to join your adventure with a fun gift box, food/beverage, or letter. This can make it fun and still give off that wedding vibe that guests normally think of.
- Lay out your plans and if they would have any costs that you’d like them to pay for while joining your elopement. Think lodging/plane/attire. Some consider it rude but it’s best to be upfront with your boundaries and expectations so that way everything is clear from the beginning.
- Make it known! Mark + I told people forever that we were never getting married in a church or having a large wedding. They knew from the get-go what we wanted.
Eloping doesn’t mean you want to give family/friends the middle finger either, which is a common misconception. So, I always recommend approaching family with an open conversation of, “This is who we are, this is how we want to celebrate our love story, and this is about US, not YOU.”
Elopements are real weddings! You are not accepting less by having a smaller guest list and doing things differently than a packed ballroom. You are actually being really brave sticking to your true self, and I love witnessing each of our couples’ unique interests.
Some family and friends might ask why you’re choosing to elope, and that’s up to you if you want to explain it to them, but some common points you can mention…
- You want to get married at a location that means something to you both.
(Like check out this view in Colorado…)
- Having a huge party isn’t how you dreamed of spending your wedding day
(Check out this small, intimate party in Oregon we photographed)
- You want to be able to adventure, hike, take amazing portraits, have a picnic, or do anything that you’d normally love to do with your spouse instead of entertaining a large crowd and being the center of attention.
- This isn’t an early 1900s shotgun elopement, it’s who we are as people and how we want to start our marriage.
- Financially having a large wedding is not in your wheelhouse, and you’d like to spend that money a different way.
(Check out this blog post about the average cost of American weddings.. oooofta)
Now.. what about if you want to just be alone with your spouse on your elopement day?
Maybe you don’t have close family
Maybe you want to surprise everyone when you get back with your wedding album like we did it our way and had the time of our lives, enjoy our photos of us being completely in the moment.
- Come home with an announcement card (I gladly edit a few photos to make this possible)
- Share your wedding album with them after and tell them how much their support means.
- Invite them through an online link for the ceremony
“My family is calling me selfish….?”
My first gut reaction to that is… GOOD. Be selfish. It’s your marriage, you should be able to celebrate the way you want and if the people that are closest to you can’t get on board, that says more about them than it does you.
My second reaction is, it’s okay for them to have their feelings, they are allowed to feel whatever they need to feel. You can not control what other people say or do, but you can control your boundaries, wants, and needs. You are allowed to set whatever boundary you need to protect yourself (in any aspect of your life not just your wedding). Communicating those boundaries is key because you can only say what you need, and if that need is not met you are allowed to protect yourself.
Most family + friends get on board with your ideas once they see how happy they make you.
In some cases, they don’t, and we can’t control that. Just remember this is your (and your spouse’s)
Whatever route you feel is best for you and your spouse I can help brainstorm ways we can include, or be separated from guests on your elopement.
Just remember— this is your day. You are brave, you are loved, and you are allowed to do what makes you happy even though it’s different.
I got your back! To have me on your vendor team, you can submit your inquiry here and I’ll get back to you soon!