What does it mean to Elope?

Admit it, at some point in our lives we’ve thought of elopements as being ceremonies done on a whim, a dare, or as an escape from family and friends…maybe even something done at 2am, in Vegas, and in front of “Elvis”. The idea that getting engaged leaves you with two options: a full blown wedding with all the decor, a strict timeline, and heavy obligations, or running away to having something cheap and unceremonious, is something that doesn’t sit well with many people in this day and age. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with either of those options, but why can’t there be more?

To me, the definition has changed and evolved to be so much more. Elopements are a deeply unique, personal, intentional, and meaningful ceremony that’s held exactly as you want it. They are a way to focus on the two of you, your relationship, and what that means to you as a couple. You have permission to get married your own way.

With this in mind, an elopement can be whatever you want it to be. It’s waking up before the sun rises to say your vows on top of a mountain. It’s hiking through Yosemite to get to that super special location you first camped together. It’s bringing your family to an amazing view to witness your marriage. It’s having your close friends hang out at a cabin or an Airstream with you to witness your vows among the redwoods trees or the desert creatures. With an elopement, the options are limitless and defined completely by you and your partner!


There is no legal difference between an elopement and a wedding. If you have the paperwork and follow the laws where your marriage will take place, you will be legally married. Some couples decide to fill out the paperwork earlier/later than the special day, which can be useful so they don’t have to worry about finding an adventurous officiant or witnesses if required by the state. That doesn’t mean that this day is not the start of your marriage or anything less, just that you shouldn’t let paperwork rule anything out for you.


There are typically size differences in the amount of guests between elopements, small/intimate weddings/and full weddings. For the purposes of my company, I consider a small/intimate wedding to usually be anything under 60 people that has the flow of a wedding day. A full wedding would be anything larger than that, while an elopement would have 20 people or less. I’ve found this number to be a decent upper limit that keeps the day intimate and personal while providing some breathing room for family and friends, all without finding yourselves being stretched too thin. Another fun solution is to have your ceremony simply be the two of you. You can even have a separate reception for more guests on a later date!

There’s also the difference of location types when comparing elopements and weddings. Elopements will usually take place somewhere outdoors, typically in a more secluded place of your choosing, though elopements can be anywhere (that is legally or ethically allowed to have a ceremony), it’s completely up to you. This means your elopement can be as adventurous as you feel comfortable! There are plenty of places that we can get to with a quick hike or drive, or you can venture a little more off the beaten path.

A small wedding can be outside as well, in a backyard, park, airbnb or a venue, though most places tend to have more rules and limitations the more people you plan add to your wedding. For example, in Yosemite Nation Park the locations that allow large groups are limited, but once your guest count goes under 11 (including your photographer) most of the park opens up as a potential option. This is definitely something to consider when building your guest list.

Bride and groom couples photos at sunset overlooking green hills in San Ramon


The scope of vendor requirements is quite different between elopements, small weddings, and full weddings. A small/full wedding usually has more vendors involved. Caterers, the venue, a planner, your photographer, videographer, florist, DJ, and etc, the list is often extensive (and necessary). All these amazing professionals come together to make your dream come true and work together to make your day easier. For a larger wedding the photographer will either work with you, your planner, or venue coordinator to talk about timelines, most of which is determined by how many hours you booked your venue or the timing restrictions they have in place.

With an elopement, you can have it as small as the two of you and your photographer, or you can go full steam with a a florist, hair and makeup artist, videographer, officiant, and etc. Things can be as simple or complex as you would like, and that’s really the beauty of it! This is one of the reasons photographers like myself separate elopement packages from wedding packages. It can be intimidating having the burden of timing, location, and permitting, on top of dealing with vendors without the aid of the venues and planners that typically go alongside traditional weddings. Offering special elopement packages allows us to provide couples the experience and planning they need.


My motto is your wedding your way. You can bring in the traditions that you care about and dash the rest. Elopements can be spiritual, religious, non religious or a blend of religions/traditions. You can make your ceremony exactly as you want it, because this matters. It matters how you get married and it should be exactly what you want. You deserve to get married the way you want.


The big question. Weddings are not a one size fits all and elopements are the same. I would like to preface all these statements with the fact that I truly believe that you should get married how you want to, whatever that entails. Your wedding, your way.

If you have always dreamt of having a large wedding with all your family and friends, at a venue, the glamorous decorations, a full bridal party, and squeezing in every little memory you’ve always dreamed of having (first look, family portraits, cutting the cake, a giant dance party and etc) then I would say an elopement is not for you. The best thing you both can do for your wedding, is to be honest with yourselves and really think about what you want and envision for the day. Take special moments and traditions that you care about and ditch what you don’t want.

If you are finding the thought of planning a wedding to be overwhelming, stressful, or even tedious, perhaps consider something smaller. If you like to stop and smell the roses, and feel a strict timeline might interfere with the intimacy, perhaps a large wedding isn’t for you. For every couple I’ve shot whos yearned for the great wedding traditions since they were little, I’ve had another lament “Ugh! I wish we just did something smaller, with just us!” or “I barely got to eat/see anyone/spend time with my new spouse!” or “I don’t even remember most of the day, I was so nervous!” and it breaks my heart to think that couples aren’t enjoying one of the most important days of their lives.

If you dream of spending a day, or even days, with your partner in an intimate setting, sharing your vows on top of a mountain, on a lake, wherever your heart desires, then an elopement is for you. If you want to have a real connection with your partner and only your partner, an elopement is for you. If you want to have the day focus on your marriage instead of presentation, an elopement is for you. If you want to share a special moment with only the people closest to you, an elopement is for you. Hell, you can even elope on one day then have a reception on another, because when it’s for you, it’s up to you! 

Your wedding should be the start of an amazing adventure together. How awesome would it be for that to start out outside in the grandness of nature? To start with your focus on you and your partner. To start that adventure in a place that you can come back to again and again. Your wedding should be exactly as you want it, and that’s the beauty of elopements.


If you are unsure about an elopement please reach out, I am happy to help plan, give options, and opinions in an open non judgmental way! You can also check out about getting an adventure session as well!

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