Shelly Pate

How to Plan an Elopement vs Wedding Day

Couple exchanges vows at Washington DC rooftop elopement

We all know that elopements and weddings are two totally different events. Even though both accomplish the same goal of getting married, elopements and weddings do so each in their own way. There are general pros and cons to planning an elopement vs a wedding day. I’ve narrowed down the specific elements that determine which one is the best fit for you. Here are thoughts from a photographer who has photographed many elopement and wedding days on what to consider when you plan yours!

Weddings and elopements though different, still share a lot of common features. What determines whether or not an elopement or a wedding is the right fit is your timeline and wedding planner.

Couple exchanges vows at outdoor wedding
Couple exchanges vows at sunset Washington DC elopement
Happily Ever After wooden wedding sign

How Your Photographer Sets the Timeline

Couple has first look at garden wedding

As your photographer, I’m there to help plan locations for photos around the best lighting. I work hand in hand with your wedding planner (if you have one) to really get the most out of your wedding or elopement day timeline.

Groom wipes away tears during first look at garden wedding
Groom smiles at bride during garden wedding first look


Bride hugs guests at garden wedding

With a more traditional wedding day, we’ll need to stick pretty close to the timeline that I make hand-in-hand with you. This is due to the fact that a lot more people are involved and timing is usually dependent upon a meal as well.

You will want to make sure you are on time while still getting the most out of your own experience and the photos that you really want captured. For wedding day timelines to stay really relaxed and enjoyable, I highly suggest that you do a first look. This means that we can take most all of your photos as a couple along with your wedding party before the ceremony (this excludes photos with extended family groups). This is so that you can then enjoy cocktail hour and all the yummy treats!

I strongly push for your photos to not detract from any of the time that you could be spending with your loved ones. This is such a rare time to experience the most important people in your life as they are gathered together all in one place. Using cocktail hour for this purpose is the easiest slot to not miss out on spending time with your guests.

Wedding Day Common Requirements

  • Venue: sometimes two for ceremony & reception
  • Meals for all your guests (plated, stations, buffet)
  • Bar/Cocktail Hour
  • More stringent timeline, to keep everything on track
  • Planner or Day-Of Coordinator who is responsible for vendor coordination and pick-up/drop-off of decor
  • Usually a minimum of 8 hours to capture the full day
  • Transportation for your guests if there is more than one venue for ceremony and reception 


Couple toasts with family at rooftop Washington DC elopement

I find that a lot of my couples who plan an elopement rather than a traditional wedding desire a more personal experience. They just really want to have a fun and intentional time that is meaningful to them without any superfluous additions. The couple can hold their elopement at a location that’s part of their story or going somewhere brand new. You can experiencing a new place together! The intention behind their elopement is to keep things simple and not be bogged down by the stress that can be associated with planning a more traditional wedding.

A timeline for an elopement is essentially more of a guideline since it’s either just the two of ya’ll or us and as few as 10 guests. We can let the day flow a little more naturally even though we’ll still have a plan of where we want to go and what time is best for the photos such as sunrise or sunset. If you want to stay in a certain spot longer we can do that because we don’t have to worry about 100 guests waiting around for you!

Couple exchanges vows at rooftop Washington DC elopement

Elopement Common Options

  • Can include day-before or day-after photos
  • Can spend more time with guests (if you have any)
  • Spend more time at your destination when traveling
  • Capture smaller moments and more of the little details that comprise your day
  • You can have a unique, intimate venue, but you don’t have to have an official one–it can be a private spot that you choose in the great outdoors!
  • If y’all are foodies, you can have an epic meal experience
Couple shows off wedding rings at Washington DC sunset elopement

The Part a Wedding Planner Plays

A wedding planner can be a perfect resource. It’s someone that you can share your wedding day vibes with who will then make that vision come to life!

Food on table at wedding reception


Couple speaks to guests at wedding reception

If you’re planning a traditional wedding, you don’t have to worry about finding each and every vendor or figuring out that special dinner with a beautiful tablescape. Your wedding planner will bring all of that together for you. Instead of starting from scratch, planners narrow down your options per category to 3-5 ideas for you to walk through together. Once choices are made, the wedding planner then takes care of all of the coordination.

A huge part that a wedding planner plays is in vendor coordination, setup, tear down,  and working with your wedding photographer to perfect your timeline. This keeps all of the moving pieces on track throughout the day! Your wedding planner sticks around to the very end of the night to help with the breakdown and coordination of vendor pick-up. This frees family members so they don’t have to hold this responsibility.

There are so many other little things that a wedding planner can assist with in planning out your day. A wedding day differs from an elopement plan in all the details like making sure everyone has their assigned seating at the reception or keeping track of the plated dinner orders. There is so much more to coordinate and oversee!

Couple enters reception at barn wedding


Couple embraces at Kennedy Center Washington DC wedding

Elopements often will not require a wedding planner depending upon how simple your elopement plan is. I step into the planner role when it’s just you two and we choose locations and create the timeline. But, for elopements involving guests, vendors, and multiple locations, usually utilizing a wedding planner is what pulls it all together!

Whether it’s a wedding or an elopement day that you choose, I am here to help with your plan!

Couple smiles at Washington DC rooftop elopement
Newlyweds walk with dog at Kennedy Center Washington DC elopement
Couple embraces at Kennedy Center Washington DC elopement
Couple holds hands at Washington DC rooftop elopement

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