The definition of elopement has changed over time to represent something so much more than a quick ceremony and nothing else. Nowadays, we use the term elopement to define a day planned on your own terms, removing any obligations, stressors or traditions that don’t align with your personal desires. An intentional day designed around your experience above all else. Whether a few family and friends are included, or you’re embarking on this adventure alone, this is an opportunity to plan your perfect wedding day.
“What does an all day elopement even look like?”
Most couples when reflecting back on their big, contemporary wedding day, feel like the day was a blur and went by super quickly. Everything is “go go go” until all of the formalities are done, and there’s rarely any downtime built into the day. It can feel like you’re being shuffled along from moment to moment without any time to soak anything in. When we photographed big weddings, we had couples tell us they couldn’t wait for certain parts to be over, or they never relaxed until the end of the night when they could let loose, and often they never even stopped to eat dinner.
This can be easily avoided on your elopement day by setting intentional buffer time and downtime, giving your day room for spontaneity and the freedom to enjoy the moment you’re in without worrying about what’s next on the agenda.
Every eloping couple eventually arrives at the point where they know what they do and don’t want to experience on their day, but they’re not yet sure how everything fits together. They want to get the most out of their day, but they also don’t want everything to feel like a blur. After helping so many couples craft personalized elopement timelines, we’ve determined some of the biggest factors to consider to make sure your elopement timeline flows well!
The main components of an elopement day can typically be broken into specific categories.
Ceremony Time: Planning around permit rules and lighting
When selecting a ceremony time, note that certain locations look amazing at certain times of day. In mountainous areas, the sun can dip out of sight well before true sunset. Densely forested areas can be really dark in the mornings and evenings, but filter light beautifully midday. Being on the east or west side of a mountain peak will impact which time of day you can view alpenglow on a clear day. These kinds of factors will impact the ideal ceremony time. This is something we help all couples with since sometimes having previously scouted the area is the best way to know which spots are more suited for sunrise, midday or sunset. There are also plenty of ways to do this kind of research remotely!
In public parks, you’ll usually need a special use permit to hold any kind of ceremony or vow exchange. The specific requirements can vary, but many National Parks for example have designated approved ceremony locations, especially if you have guests. You’ll need to contact the park, fill out an application, and often list your preferred ceremony location and time. There may be restrictions in the busiest parks on when wedding ceremonies are allowed. It’s important to reach out to the park as soon as you’ve picked a location, since this may end up being one of the most rigid aspects of your day. We usually build the rest of the elopement timeline around the approved ceremony time if there’s little wiggle room.
There are also plenty of parks that don’t have such strict rules, and you’ll be able to wait until a moment or location feels right for your ceremony. For example, Olympic National Park doesn’t even require a permit for groups under five. Others require a permit for the ceremony, but the exact location is flexible if there aren’t guests involved, meaning you can choose a spot that feels right anywhere along your adventure.
Portrait Time: Do you prefer sunrise or sunset?
The best lighting that makes portraits and landscapes look extra dreamy, usually happens during the first two and last two hours of daylight…otherwise, there tends to be harsh shadows that may not look as flattering. This makes midday the best time to plan activities, hiking, leisure time or other elements, and save the designated portrait time for golden and blue hour!
The adventure isn’t limited to daylight hours either – You can also start or end your elopement day in the dark…you can spend that time hiking in to an epic sunrise portrait destination, or staying up late for romantic starry sky photos. We can play with alternative light sources like lanterns, string lights or campfires.
Hike Time & Travel Time: Build in a generous buffer
If incorporating a hike into your day, you will want to hike at a slower pace than usual, even if you usually love moving quickly. You’ll want to avoid sweating too much, and remember that you may be wearing or carrying different attire than usual. Factor in extra time to be able to stop for photos if the moment feels right, or just have time to take in the views.
If you plan on traveling to multiple locations by car, always factor in a little buffer time for unexpected delays like traffic or road work. It would be disappointing to miss out on the perfect sunset, or just feel like you’re running behind.
Activity Time: This is your chance to get really creative!
Remember, this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, so don’t hold back when brainstorming activities for your dream elopement! Think about your favorite activities to do together, or something off your bucket list, and dream big! Above all else, even above stunning photos, we want you to have an amazing, memorable experience together that celebrates your relationship and the things that make it so personal and unique.
You can play your favorite games, cook a meal together (or having one cooked for you), lounge somewhere beautiful, canoe, kayak, snow-shoe, horseback ride, go tide-pooling, hammock-nap, star-gaze, jump in the ocean…honestly, this is where you can get really creative.
And if you’re not interested in a long hike, you can get to some amazing places by car, boat, plane, gondola, off-road vehicle…you name it! Scenic tours can take you places that can’t always be accessed by foot, and make the journey itself all part of the fun.
Incorporate Wedding Traditions That You Love
You may not be having a standard contemporary wedding day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include your favorite aspects of wedding day traditions! You can easily have a first look, exchange gifts, pop champagne, cut the cake, or share a first dance together. You can still bring your parents along, host a small gathering (either on the elopement day or immediately following), or share a nice meal.
Downtime: The most underrated part of any elopement.
We find that planned downtime throughout the day gives you space to take a break from photos or activities and just exist together. You can lounge in a hammock, have a mid hike picnic, or cuddle by a campfire. These quiet, still moments are always some of our favorites to capture. And its in these moments that we see our couples really connect with each other and fully process where they are and why they’re here. It’s nice to have some time without the cameras too, so this is your time to reset and refresh until you’re ready to continue on!
Elopement Timeline Example
You may have first thought “But it’s mostly just a ceremony and portrait time, how long can it really take?”, but once you start putting together your own elopement timeline, you’ll see that it’s astonishingly easy to plan a full day of adventure! This is why we feel so strongly that even the most straightforward elopement adventures deserve all day photography coverage to properly tell the full story of your adventurous wedding day.
Here’s an example of an eight hour sunset elopement with an easy hike!
Need help creating the perfect elopement timeline?
If you don’t already know, we are a duo of elopement and wedding photographers, specializing in intentional, intimate, experience-first adventures. We’re also here to offer help choosing your dream elopement location, and building a perfect timeline to give you your best day ever.