Donna Marie

PHOTO CO.

Elopement Timeline: How to Nail It

Elopement Timeline: How to Nail It

Maybe you already know that you want to elope, or maybe you and your partner haven’t yet decided but you know that a big traditional wedding is a hard pass. Either way, you’re curious in knowing what a perfect elopement timeline would look like. Let me breakdown what it takes to craft the perfect elopement timeline and give real examples of what different elopement timelines have looked like.

First things first, my top priority for your elopement timeline is pretty damn simple: to ensure you have a great wedding experience and get bombass photos to back up your adventure stories. But—how do I make sure that happens?

The answer: Plan around sunrise and sunset! Since all of my couples prioritize beautiful photography, I consistently plan every elopement around sunrise and/or sunset. It’s during these times of day where the lighting is the softest, and when there’s no clouds it casts beautiful hues of orange, purples and pinks around your skin and the scenery you’re surrounded in. When it is cloudy, the lighting still softens up and gives us different shades of blue and moody environments.

Newlywed couple walking together

Some couples opt to have a sunrise first look, take a break half way through the day, and finish off with a sunset ceremony.

Some couples opt to hike during the day, so they can have a sunset ceremony on a mountain top, first dance, and portraits as it gets darker.

Most couples like to have their ceremony at an easy, accessible location mid-day so they can include friends and family. Then, we whisk away at sunset to get those epic sunset newlywed portraits.

One thing I cannot stress enough: Plan buffer time! RARELY does an elopement timeline go exactly according to plan. Sometimes there’s a struggle bus finding the hair pins we packed, or the exact socks we wanted to wear. Stuff happens, and buffer time will allow all of us to relax and go with the flow.

Be Aware of Your Elopement Priorities

Since I put your priorities and your experience first, I first need to know what those are. After you sign your contract and pay the retainer, I send over a questionnaire to help me understand what your priorities are—because each couple varies!

Once I have your finished questionnaire, I’ll start using my experience to plug those into your wedding day. If you want to hike, you got it. If you want to have a first dance or a gift exchange you got that too. Want to listen to your favorite records on vinyl and sip wine in a cabin? Done deal. Or maybe you want to play fetch with your doggo? I’m game.

Don’t forget to set aside 15-30 minutes for your marriage license/certificate!

Newlywed couple at sunset in a field.

That means that you should book your photographer for the full-day, just as you would for a traditional wedding.

A full-day elopement shares some of the same highlights of a traditional wedding. From getting ready, to first look, the vow exchange, your newlywed portraits and anything else you want to include. All of those things are impossible to cover in 2 hours, and really damn difficult to cover in 4. It will feel rushed. We don’t want that. Your wedding should be crafted with the INTENTION of doing things at your pace and letting the day unfold naturally around a few key points (such as the newlywed portraits at sunset, and stargazing for example).

Your wedding day should include everything that you want, and nothing that you don’t. It really is that simple.

For those of you still wondering what a full-day elopement would look like, take a gander at this example timeline that I’ve constructed that details an 8.5 hour wedding day.

Example 8.5 Hour Elopement Timeline:

1pm — Arrive at Elena + Damon’s hotel/AirBnB
– getting ready shots
– detail shots
– first look in a nearby location

2:30pm — pick up food, small details, and necessities for a picnic lake side

3:00pm — head to lake, have picnic
– detail shots of picnic set up
– couple enjoys picnic
– take some lake side portraits

4:30pm — Intimate ceremony with just the two of them (and an officiant) on Lake Ontario

5:30 — Couple heads to town, meets with 15 closest family + friends at local Roller-Skating Rink
– have first skate (dance) together
– party/reception portraits
– enjoy brews + pizza/wings

7:30pm — Couple adventures around downtown Watertown with stops for portraits along the way
– potential Ice Cream Shoppe/Smoothie Shoppe stop
– Parking garage top portraits at sunset

8:30pm — Hit up the local arcade + have fun as a newlywed couple

9:30pm — Photography coverage ends

As you can see, an 8.5 hour elopement timeline gives you just enough flexibility to really enjoy the day. Imagine a 10-12 hour timeline. Yes, I’d be with you the entire time, but I’m not constantly shooting the entire time. You’re not propped up in front of the camera with me shooting like it’s an editorial photoshoot. Nah. This is about experiencing the day and everything you want on your wedding. I document things as they unfold in an unobtrusive style, with minimal direction.

Give Yourself Extra Time

You have to be honest with yourself here. If you normally take an hour to get ready for the day but actually end up taking a little longer, account for that on your wedding day. It can happen. And having that buffer time is key to ensuring that you don’t feel rushed or stressed on your wedding day. Things outside of your control can also happen, like hitting traffic, less than stellar punctuation of a friend, family member, or other wedding vendor. Planning an extra 15-30 minutes throughout the day will absolutely go a long way in ensuring you have the least amount of stress as you progress through the day.

Schedule Time to Soak it in

When I shot traditional, large weddings, I could not emphasize this enough to my couples. Please, please, please schedule time to just breathe and chill with your partner. Soak in the fact that you’re experiencing your wedding day. Not some rigid day-long tour of an area that happens to fall on your wedding celebration.

More example timelines for you to consider:

Example 12 Hour Elopement Timeline:
10:30a — Hair + makeup starts
12:00p — Photographer arrives at AirBnB (that’s me!), getting ready + detail shots
12:30p — Wedding attire on
12:40p — Set up first look location + get you in place
12:45p — First Look
1:00p-1:30p — Drive to ceremony location, meet officiant
1:30p-3:00p — Explore + take photos
3:00p-3:30p — Ceremony
3:30p-4:30p — Celebration + group photos
4:30p-5:30p — Drive back to AirBnB
5:30p-6:30p — sparkler photos + get ready for dinner
6:30p-7:00p — Toasts/speeches
7:00p-8:00p — dinner
8:00p-10:00p — Dancing, bonfire, stargazing

Example 6 Hour Elopement Timeline:
2:30p-3:00p — Arrive, take detail photos + set up first look
3:00p-3:30p — First Look
3:30p-4:00 — head to nearby waterfall and take photos
4:00p-5:30p — hike to waterfall and take photos
5:30p-6:30p — hike back
6:30p-7:00p — Drive to ceremony location, meet officiant
7:00p-7:30p — Ceremony
7:30p-8:30p — Celebration + sunset photos

Example 4 Hour Elopement Timeline:
5:00p — Arrive at Ceremony Location
5:00p-6:00p — Ceremony + Celebration
6:30p — Photos of family + friends in attendance
7:00p-9:00p — Hike, explore + take sunset photos

Here are some other resources to help you along in your wedding planning process!

10+ Dinner ideas for your elopement or intimate wedding
Top 8 reasons to ditch tradition and elope instead

"The moment I spoke to donna I knew we'd made the right choice by reaching out—she was instantly so invested in capturing our lovestory and couldn't be more pleasant to work with."

Claire + Justin