If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering “what is an elopement?” Do you picture a kitschy chapel in Vegas with a wannabe Elvis-slash-officiant? Or perhaps you envision the heroine of a Young Adult romance novel absconding with her lover to be wed under the cover of darkness? While those are both perfectly viable options, in recent years elopements have taken on a far more enchanting image – one of enamored couples pronouncing their love in front of an officiant, a photographer or two, and in some cases a small group of their closest loved ones, all against the backdrop of Earth’s most breathtaking landscapes.
This rising trend of couples switching from traditional weddings to elopements has been further encouraged by the recent restrictions placed on events and gatherings due to COVID-19. Rather than pushing off their marriage for 6 months or more, many couples are taking the less stressful, more intimate, and more affordable route. Aside from being a fantastic alternative to a pandemic-postponed wedding, there are countless reasons couples have been excitedly choosing the elopement option. Bearing in mind that there is no one-size-fits all elopement, let’s take a look at what an adventure elopement day could look like.
Choosing your Elopement Location
This is where it all starts. The first step for any adventure elopement is finding your perfect backdrop. The world is a big place and nature comes pre-decorated, so you’ve got a lot of options. Start by looking into State Parks, National Parks, and National Forests. There’s also plenty of inspiration in our Best Places to Elope blog post if you’re more of a visual person and want to look at lots of pretty pics from these stunning landscapes 😉
In whatever location you choose, your experience will be unique because nature varies far more than a venue. A traditional wedding venue may have held hundreds, if not thousands, of ceremonies before yours that look nearly identical, save for the couple and color palette. Atop a mountain, amongst ancient redwoods, or beside a glacial lake, you may be one of only a handful of people who will ever be married in that spot; and considering the changing of seasons, weather, and time, it will never look exactly the same as it does on your day.
so what does the elopement day actually look like?
Do you just take photos the whole time? How do you fill up 4+ hours? What do you do without guests? These are some of the questions we asked ourselves when we were first getting into photographing elopements. We quickly learned that 4 hours is not nearly enough time for most days. Elopements are full of their own unique parts that all add up to one unforgettable experience. And that’s what it’s really all about; the experience of making an adventure out of your wedding. Every day is unique in its own way, but we’re going to break down a loose breakdown of a “typical” elopement day.
Cue the hair and make-up (either DIY or hire the pros), turn up the tunes, and have a glass of champagne to get pumped up for your big day. Sometimes this all happens in a cute cabin you rented on Airbnb, or if we have a big hike planned it’s usually best to save it for after we’ve huffed and puffed our way up to the summit. Just because you won’t have a crowd waiting for you to walk down the aisle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun getting fancy in your elopement-ready dress or adventure-worthy suit. We’ll also be there to snap the first stunning pics of the day, obvs.
The First look
There’s a feeling you get when you see something truly breathtaking for the first time. Your mind clears, your heart races, and you just want to share it with someone. Today you get that feeling in spades. The birds chirp and leaves gently rustle. You open your eyes to see your future spouse walking towards you on the first day of your life together as a married couple as the sun reflects off a vast, glassy lake in the background. They say your pupils dilate when you look at something pleasing – well, bring your sunglasses because your pupils are going to be HUGE. And we’ll be nearby with our long lenses like ninjas ready to capture that exact moment in all of its glory.
The ceremony should never just be the 30 minutes of talking before the bar opens for cocktail hour. This is the most special part of the day, two people promising to have each other’s backs forever. With adventure elopements in particular, the focus is quite literally on shouting your love from the mountaintops (or any number of other extraordinary natural settings). Maybe you want this moment to be between just the two of you (plus the officiant, photographer, and mother nature), or maybe you want to share the love with your parents, grandparents, best friends, and siblings – that’s cool too! And if you’re not sure how you can get grandma up on top of a mountain to watch you get married, no worries, there are plenty of easily accessible spots that are incredibly epic for a ceremony. The best ceremony location recommendations for the type of day you envision is just one of the many things we help our couples with 😉
The picnic Reception and celebration
After the ceremony, we’ll head to yet another gorgeous spot for a little picnic celebration. Trade the traditional dry, overcooked salmon for the fully-loaded picnic basket of your dreams. Expensive, invasively tall centerpieces are replaced by fields of wildflowers. Perhaps you’ll be greeted by the big hugs and smiles of your closest friends and family waiting to shower you with love, positive vibes, and hope for your future, as well as cupcakes, charcuterie, and champagne. This is a time to smile and relax and soak in the first moments after officially becoming newlyweds.
The First Dance
While there is admittedly nothing more enjoyable than being stared at by everyone you know while shuffling around the dance floor, trying not to trip for 4 minutes, an elopement first dance offers a far more romantic alternative. After a full afternoon of celebrating, eating treats, and basking in marital bliss, you and your partner have all the space in the world to twirl and sway to your favorite song as the sun just begins to set. Birds make both an engaged audience and great live entertainment 😉
The Sunset Adventure
After the ceremony winds down and you’ve promised to love each other for the rest of your lives, you and your partner begin to unwind and sit back to watch the sunset. As you sip your celebratory cocktails and bask in marital bliss, you’re bathed in an ethereal golden light that somehow, magically, gives everything it touches the same romantic glow that radiates from your newlywed selves. And for that small window of time, the sky blankets the world in the most perfect mood lighting, just for the two of you.
It’s that first deep, contented sigh after all the anticipation. It’s the peaceful joy of knowing you have your partner for life. It’s the sheer awe you feel at being surrounded by such vast, natural beauty as the backdrop for the most unforgettable day of your life. They call it Magic Hour for a reason, you know…🔮
And of course us photographers are losing our minds snapping epic shots left and right while we all romp around the mountain or coast or desert together, laughing and dancing and jamming out to good tunes and popping more celebratory drinks, ending the night in style. When it’s all said and done, we’ll don headlamps as the stars come out and make our way back to the car, reflecting on how perfect a day it was.
Related: Read our in-depth elopement dress style guide, or just skip to our 10 fav elopement dress styles.