What is an Elopement? Find out if Eloping is for you

what is an elopement

You’ve heard the word “elopement”, I’m sure. Your friends have heard of it, and your parents and grandparents might’ve heard about it as well.

But what is an elopement after all? A lot of people still think of eloping as going to the courthouse in secret, signing some papers, and bam! That’s it, you’re married.

It’s true that once upon a time, that was the definition of eloping. But that is not the case anymore!

I’m here to explain what eloping means, hopefully, answer some of the most asked questions we get as photographers, and help you find out if eloping is for YOU!

The Current Definition – What is an Elopement after all?

Elopements are intentionally small weddings. Not because you “don’t have a lot of friends or family”, and not because you “just wanted to save money”, no. When couples elope, they purposely choose intimacy, and intention, over big performances, big venues, or what society sees as a “real wedding”.

Couples that elope simply don’t see themselves going with the traditional wedding route. The thought of walking down the aisle and being watched by 150 + people does not excite them. The whole production actually gives some sort of anxiety. And if a traditional wedding just isn’t for them, why should they submit themselves to that? They shouldn’t.

If you’re reading this and starting to think “this isn’t the route for us either”, well… know that you don’t have to follow this route.

It takes bravery. It takes courage. More than people think!

When you choose to elope, you choose to focus on the most important things in your life, and things that define your relationship. You choose to spend your wedding day in YOUR ideal way. And sometimes, that can upset some people.

And the thing is, not everyone will agree with your decisions. But remember that, even if you were to have a traditional wedding, not everyone would’ve agreed with your “color palette” decisions. Or your flowers of choice. Or whatever they want to criticize.

The bottom line is, you want to remember your wedding day as a day when you were free, and all of the choices you made were intentional. You got to be yourselves for the whole day. Is that even possible? Oh, yes, it is!

I will try to keep this short, and I’m sure by now you have 100 questions popping into your head, so let me try to answer them!

Can I invite guests to my elopement?


The difference between traditional weddings and elopements goes way beyond just the number of guests you have. But just so you have an idea, we, Stephan & Adriana, consider elopements weddings with less than 15 guests. We also shoot intimate weddings, and we consider anything under 50 people intimate.

I don’t want to get into the numbers so much, because that’s not the focus here.

The fact of the matter is, when you choose to elope and start making your intentional guests list, you’ll add the people that truly are part of your lives. People that have been there for you, people that you just don’t see yourself saying “I do” without them there. And that usually amounts to a handful. Maybe two hands.

An elopement isn’t about rules, catering packages, and how much it costs to bring an extra guest or two, and that’s why I don’t want to focus so much on the number.

By now, you get the idea. No, there’s no rule that says it can only be you and your partner frolicking on a meadow all day long. Your day is YOUR day.

If you want a super intimate experience, just you two there, and no one else, great. If there are people in your life that you can’t imagine not sharing that experience with you, then invite them.

what is an elopement
what is an elopement
what is an elopement
what is an elopement
How do you start planning an elopement?

This can be a grey zone in the elopement world. When it comes to traditional weddings, you kinda have a clear idea (because it’s been done for so long, ha). You get your venue, a planner, and your photographer, start thinking about decoration, and the list goes on.

Elopements are about freedom, and freedom can also be overwhelming, so I’ll try to make this simple.

  • Start by thinking about what you want your day (or days) to look like.

What’s your favorite landscape? Favorite type of activity you do as a couple? Is there a place in this world that is super special to you both? Or is there a place you both have always wanted to go?

These questions will help you imagine what your day can be like. Once you answer them together, you can start thinking about logistics, and taking concrete steps.

  • No specific location in mind? That’s okay, hear me out.

Your photographer will be your best helper. Once you pick a landscape of choice (ocean, mountains, beach, etc), you can reach out to a photographer that works in the area. We mainly work in California – Yosemite, Sequoia NP, Mammoth Lakes, San Francisco, Big Sur, etc. Some photographers work all over the world.

The point is, when you find a photographer based in the area of your choice, they’ll be able to help with the next steps and even be able to find the perfect location for what you have in mind.

  • Booking your vendors

After picking a location, and a date, your can start reaching out to vendors. You’ll definitely need a photographer, and you might need an officiant, a videographer, a makeup artist, a hairstylist, a florist, etc.

We offer photo & video package options for our elopements, that way, it’s one less thing our couples have to think about.

  • Logistics

If you’re getting married outdoors, you will likely need to apply for a wedding permit. These are in place to help protect the environment, especially in National Parks, State Parks, National Forests, and other protected locations.

Every location has a different permit application process, but they tend to be simple, so it’s nothing to worry about.

If you’re doing a destination wedding, coming from out of the country or out of state, then you’ll need a hotel/ Airbnb, a rental car, flights, and all things involved in planning a trip!

Example of an elopement timeline

Yosemite Valley Sunrise Wedding

Photo & Video Coverage – 6 hours – 5:00 am to 11:00 am

Sunrise Time: 6:30 AM

Getting Ready Location: Airbnb in Yosemite West

Ceremony Location: El Cap Meadow

5:00 am to 6:10 am: getting ready photos & video of the couple

6:30 am to 7:00 am: first look at Tunnel View & personal vows

7:15 to 9:15 am: photos around the Valley

9:30 to 10:00 am: ceremony at El Cap Meadow

10:00 to 10:30 am: photos with guests

10:30: first dance at El Cap Meadow

11:00 am: champagne pop back at the Airbnb in Yosemite West

What can be done on an elopement day?

HA! Anything!

No, but really. That’s the beauty of eloping. You get to spend your wedding day however you want to spend your wedding day.

Here are a couple of ideas:

  • watch the sunrise, or sunset (or both)
  • go for a hike
  • swim in the lake/river
  • dip your toes in the ocean
  • have a picnic
  • go rock climbing (if that’s your thing)
  • read letters from family members, if they aren’t there
  • facetime friends and family that isn’t there

The options are endless, and it’s really up to you and your partner to find what works for you guys, and what you want to do!

If you do have guests, of course, you need to take into consideration their presence. You might wanna do a hike, but you might also need to pick a ceremony spot that isn’t hard to get to. You can always have a little reception at the end of the day with all of them, like a dinner at your Airbnb for example. Again, the options are endless!

S & M wanted to drive around Big Sur in a classic car and read their vows to each other on the beach. So they did.

Is eloping for you?

Eloping isn’t for everyone, it’s true. Some people have dreamed about a big wedding their whole lives. Some people can’t wait to see 150 + guests all on the dance floor. If eloping isn’t for you, that’s totally okay. But here are a couple of signs that a big wedding might not be what you’ve been dreaming of:

  • The planning process is stressing you out before even starting
  • The thought of walking down the aisle with 150 + people starring at you just gives you anxiety
  • None of it makes sense to you, the decorations, the prices, the big venues, etc
  • Family drama is likely to happen at a big wedding, and you would love to avoid that
  • You want your wedding day to be an experience, not a performance
Tips from your California Elopement Photographers

Before I end this post, I wanted to give you a couple of key tips that will help you plan your elopement and also have the best time on the day of!

  • Hire a photographer that knows the area you want to elope in If you’re not hiring a local planner, your photographer will be your best guide. This is especially important if you don’t know the area, or you’re coming from a different state or a different country. There will be a lot of questions you’ll need to ask, and chances are, if your photographer knows the place really well, they’ll be able to answer them. We specialize in elopements in Central and Northern California, and we know Yosemite, Sequoia NP, Big Sur, and other locations like the back of our hands!

  • Permits, permits, permits – they can be a pain. But 99 % of the time, they’re really not. Don’t skip this part of planning, and ask your photographer for help! National Parks and Estate Parks usually have a really good and simple system for the applications, so it’s nothing to worry about!

  • Don’t settle for a “short” day – honestly, you’re already breaking the rules and taking the leap of spending your wedding day how YOU want to. So go all in, plan the day you want to have, and don’t settle for a “quick” 2-4 hours elopement. Your whole day (or days) can and should be an experience you won’t forget, and something you guys will talk about for years to come.

  • Getting married outdoors? Be prepared for what the weather might bring – one of the things we can not control is the weather. So your best bet is to just keep an open mind, and embrace whatever Mother Nature might bring you on your elopement day! Rain, snow, or wind can make your day and your photos completely unique from everyone else’s. If we’re talking about extreme weather, that poses a danger to everyone involved, then, of course, it’s important to reevaluate and consider rescheduling the date or moving to a different (safer) location.

  • The sky is the limit – remember? What you do on your elopement day is up to you, and yes, it can be anything!
what is an elopement
That’s a wrap!

I hope this guide helped you understand what elopement is. This definition is constantly changing and it’s not set and stone, which is the beautiful thing about it! If eloping sounds like the perfect wedding day for you, then let’s chat!


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