Couple elopes at Colchuck Lake with Outshined Photography

Planning an Authentic Celebration with the help of an Elopement Photography Timeline

As an elopement photographer and planner, I get asked all sorts of questions when it comes to intimate elopement celebrations. My inbox is full of excellent questions, including “How do I ensure my elopement is environmentally friendly?” and “ Can I bring my pet?”  But the most common on every couple’s mind is:

How much time do I need for my elopement?

A misconception for couples new to elopements is that the ceremony must be short, with only a few photos. This couldn’t be further from the truth! If you’ve chosen to elope and keep your wedding day small and intimate, the last thing you want to do is rush. Because of this, many couples underestimate the amount of time needed for their elopement celebration.

I am a firm believer that an elopement should be a time to slow down and bask in a day created specifically for you and your partner. Most couples I speak with wish they had a few extra hours added to the their day. As you begin your elopement planning process, take a deep breath, imagine your perfect day, and consider the following as you begin your planning process…

How Long Does it Take to Plan an Elopement?

Here’s the truth: an elopement may be simpler to plan than a wedding, but it will still require a plan.

Most couples take six months to plan their elopement

And when you consider all that goes into it, those can be a very fun (and busy!) six months. Take a look at your calendar, and add these tasks to your to-do list:

Reserve your Ideal Elopement Photographer

Elopement photographers are often booked out up to a year in advance, so it is important to get on their calendar as soon as possible. Furthermore, if your elopement photographer is also a planner and officiant (like I am!), they can help you create your ceremony and develop an elopement timeline.

Consider Who To Invite

Your elopement is whatever you want it to be! That means if you want to bring a few close family or friends to your celebration, make sure they have plenty of time to plan, especially if it is a destination elopement. (And while you’re at it, brush up on your elopement invitation etiquette.) I personally have found that elopements with groups of less than 10 guests allow you to still focus on yourselves and the true meaning of the day, while also spending more meaningful time with your guests.

Reserve Other Vendors

An elopement doesn’t mean you have to forgo food or flowers! Speak with these vendors ahead of time, so they are prepared for your big day. I provide my couples with an extensive 100-page guide that includes my preferred vendors for items such as attire, flowers, hair and makeup, catering, live music and desserts.

Obtain Documents and Permits

Oftentimes, there are permits required if your ceremony is in a National Park or National Forest! Ensure this permit is reserved before your celebration. Furthermore, different states have different requirements and marriage license laws. Research this ahead of time, (or ask your elopement photographer for the laws in the state you are eloping in.)

Gather Special Elopement Items

Rings, dresses, suits, oh my! Make sure you have all of the items you plan on taking to your celebration ready to go! (And keep in mind some items, like wedding dresses, take some time to arrive once they are ordered.)

Husband gives his wife a kiss after eloping

Why do I need an elopement timeline?

Your perfect dress is ordered and the custom accessories have been purchased. But the planning doesn’t stop here! An elopement timeline will help you plan for how long your elopement should be. Still, convinced you should wing it?

5 Reasons Why You Need an Elopement Timeline

  1. An Elopement Photography Timelines Keeps You From Feeling Rushed. This is a day to remember and it should not be spent rushing from place to place or not being able to take in the beautiful scenery.
  2. An Elopement Photography Timeline Allows for Mini Adventures. Is there a spectacular field of wildflowers you just have to run through? A timeline, with some margin, allows for plenty of side adventures. Click here for ideas for your adventure elopement.
  3. Did someone say snacks? An Elopement Timeline Incorporates Time to Eat. Charcuterie boards, champagne toasts, or a simple granola bar, you will need some time to fuel during your big day.
  4. A Thorough Elopement Timeline Allows for a Leisurely Hike. If you are hiking in your elegant elopement attire, your hiking pace will likely be slower than usual. 
  5. Capture the Best Nature Has to Offer with an Elopement Photography Timeline. Prioritizing sunrise, sunset, golden hour or blue hour? No better way to do this than with a thorough elopement timeline.
Couple elopes with Outshined Photography at Gold Creek Pond on Snoqualmie Pass

How many hours do I need for my adventure elopement?

You now understand the importance of an elopement timeline, but the question remains: “How many hours of photography do you need for an elopement?” Take a look at the sample timelines below, and see which resonates with you and your partner the most!

I also want to emphasize that it’s not just about the photographs…the experience you have and memories that you make together are the MOST IMPORTANT things on your elopement!!

Sample 6-hour Elopement Timeline  

11:30am – Photographer to arrive at lodge for Getting Ready photos

12:10pm – First Look outside of lodge

1:00pm – Hold Ceremony

1:30pm – Champagne Toast

1:45pm – Cut Cake

2:20pm – Everyone to meet at front of Lodge for photos with all guests

2:45pm – Take photos of couple around the Lodge

3:30pm – Drive to parking area for waterfall

4:00pm – Take pictures around waterfall and along river

5:00pm – Depart waterfall

5:30pm – Return couple to lodge

Couple look at Mount Shuksan from Picture Lake during Autumn in Mount Baker Wilderness

Sample 8-hour Elopement Timeline

11:00am – Getting Ready photos (photography begins)

12:00pm – First Look – Bride with her Father

12:30pm – Depart Airbnb

1:00pm – Arrive at nature area parking area

1:15pm – First Look with partner

1:30pm – Picnic with guests at picnic area

3:00pm – Ceremony, First Dance, champagne toast, cake cutting

4:00pm – Photos with guests & couple only portraits

5:00pm – Depart ceremony location for portrait area location (couple only)

5:30pm – Arrive in trailhead parking lot and walk to photo locations

6:00pm – Sunset photos around mountain vista during golden hour

7:00pm – End of photography day

Couple elopes along river near Granite Falls

Sample 10-hour Elopement Timeline 

7:15am – Photographer arrives and photography begins

7:30am – First Look at cabin

8:00am – Depart cabin for ceremony location

8:30am – Take portraits of couple along River 

9:10am – Depart for ceremony location

9:25am – Everyone arrives at ceremony location

9:30am – Hold ceremony

10:15am – Have snack at picnic area

11:00am – Couple and photographer depart ceremony location for trailhead

11:30am – Arrive at trailhead & begin hike

11:30 – 1:30 – Photos are taken along the trail during the hike

1:30pm – Reach alpine lake. Couples changes back into wedding attire and take photos

2:30pm – Depart alpine lake and return to trailhead

4:30pm – Depart trailhead

5:00pm – Arrive at cabin. Cut cake and hold reception for guests.

5:15pm – Photography ends

Couple hikes trail to Pinnacle Peak to get married in Mount Rainier National Park

Sample 16-hour Elopement Timeline

Ready to picture yourself the morning of your Mount Rainier elopement? It may go a little something like this:

7:00 am – Hair & Makeup Artist arrives at a cozy Airbnb at the bottom of the mountain

7:30 am – Couple gets ready while snow falls gently out their window

9:00 am – Photographer arrives at Airbnb

9:30 am – First Look photos

10:15 am – Enjoy picnic lunch

11:00 am – Depart Airbnb

Noon – Arrive at Reflection Lake & Hike up to the ceremony location

1:30 pm – Ceremony at top of Pinnacle Peak

2:15 pm – Hike back down

3:30 pm – Photos at Reflection Lake (Champagne toast here)

4:00 pm – Depart Reflection Lake

5:30 pm – Arrive at Sunrise Visitor Center – Have another snack and cut the cake!

6:00 pm – Hike to the desired location for sunset and star photos (~3 miles to lookout)

8:00 pm – Golden hour starts – Portraits at golden hour with Mount Rainier in the background and on Fire Lookout

9:20 pm – Photos under the stars

Midnight – Hike back down – Return to Visitor Center & drive to Airbnb

1:30 am – End of day

If the thought of this experience sends shivers up your arms and makes you smile ear to ear, then a Mount Rainier elopement may be the exact way to celebrate your love story. 

Testimonials about Elopement Timelines

And if you still aren’t sold on why you need more than a few hours for your elopement, here are 3 testimonials from eloping couples who chose to allocate more than 8 hours for their elopements and why it was the best decision for them –

“Stacy is an amazing elopement planner, photographer, and officiant, as well as just being a really thoughtful, cool and fun person to spend the day hiking around Mt Rainier National Park with!From our first time meeting her, we immediately found Stacy to be warm and friendly, authentic, and easy to talk to.  She was an integral part of our planning process, every step of the way.  Whether she was providing detailed options on the best elopement locations, scenic hikes and local places to stay, or potential timelines and packing lists, it was apparent how much thought and effort she put into making our day perfect.  She also provided us with a list of options for her most trusted wedding vendors in the area…….She beautifully captured each and every meaningful moment of the day, much of the time without us even realizing she was there.  Stacy truly thought of everything ahead of time for us so that we could just relax and enjoy our wedding day together.  We should also highlight that she is quite mindful of any potential health and safety concerns, as well as protecting the environments we visited.Whenever we look back and remember our elopement, we often comment on how fortunate we were to have shared the entire experience with Stacy. Her photos will provide us with a lasting way to remember so many of the lovely details from our day.”

Kirsten & Darren

“Stacy was amazing to work with! Neither I, nor my husband, had been to the Pacific Northwest and really had no idea where to start when we chose to get married in a whole new place for both of us. We love the new experiences and adventures that come with travel and exploring. We wanted to make the most of our wedding day and Stacy was right there to craft us a perfect itinerary to get the most from our time without feeling rushed or pressured. Everything was perfect. We all spent the day laughing together while celebrating love and new adventures. Hands down I would recommend doing an adventure elopement, and I would 100% recommend Stacy’s work. The photos were beautiful, the locations where whimsical and perfect, and the wedding day plus day after hikes were gorgeous. We will cherish the memories, the photographs that captured the moments, and the experience our whole lives.”

Sarah & Bill

“During our elopement with Stacy it felt as though we were the only two people on Earth. With her at the helm it felt as though we got to carve out a whole day for ourselves & our best friends as witnesses where the rest of the world just faded away. We didn’t have to stress or to plan anything out. Stacy did all of the leg work, we were able to customize what we wanted and on the day of – we just showed up. We made sure to look dapper, and trusted her to capture us & our love; she delivered more than we could have hoped. Changing our plans to an elopement felt like the best of both worlds. We didn’t have to worry about the drunk uncle or whom might get along with whom & what people might think of our first dance song or the venue. We got to focus on us & celebrate just us. We don’t have any drama stories behind our photos, just laughs and happy tears.”

Lindsey & David
Couple hugs after eloping along Oregon Coast

Why Should my Elopement Photographer Also Be an Elopement Planner?

By now, you understand that there is a lot more that goes into an elopement than simply a passion for the adventure and the one that you love. Fortunately, it is possible to find elopement photographers who also serve as elopement planners. Having someone familiar with planning an elopement in nature is incredibly beneficial for creating your elopement timeline and having the day you envision.

Your elopement photographer should:

  • Have experience in the region where you are eloping
  • Know how long it takes to get to places
  • Understand the time needed for certain activities  
  • Be familiar with the times of day for the best lighting
  • Be familiar with the regional weather patterns
  • Know where and when are the more private times of the day/season

How Do I Get Started in Planning my adventure elopement?

Feeling inspired to start planning your celebration and elopement timeline? I recommend checking out these epic ideas and planning tips for your dream elopement to get you started. If you still have questions about your elopement photography timeline, or how long you should plan for your elopement, reach out! There is nothing I love more than helping you plan and capture the celebration of your dreams!

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  1. I love this resource so much! It’s super helpful to know from an expert how much time is needed for an elopement. Thank you for the table of contents as well, which makes it so easy to navigate!

  2. I’m also an advocate that elopement should be treated like a real wedding (cuz it is) so it does need to be longer than two hours! I love this educational post <3

    1. It’s one of the most important days of your lives together and should be treated as such – I’m glad you agree!!

  3. WOW. This is seriously one of THE most helpful posts ever, for both couples AND photographers. This is inspiring & useful for new elopement photographers like myself. I’m definitely saving this to look back on as it has so much in depth information!

  4. Yessssssss! I keep wanting to raise my minimum duration because longer is better (in my opinion) especially for elopements!! Having that time for you and doing just what you want to?? Priceless!! So much great information and always wonderful for couples to see timeline examples for how their day may go and what it might feel like. Love this and gorgeous photos as always.

    1. You should raise the minimum. I feel like it’s important for us to help couples understand the importance of devoting the time they deserve, so they have no regrets.

  5. This is sooo hlepful! A lot of couples really don’t think of how long they truly need to plan without too much stress & then how much time they need for their elopement day.

  6. WOW. I’ve never seen such a detailed guide for elopement timelines. I love how you gave example timelines. This is SO HELPFUL!!