March 17, 2021

Elopement Planning

Elopement Planning & What You Need To Prepare a Client For

Taking the extra steps to ensure your client is fully prepared before a photo session will not only keep them safe—it will also be the best thing you can do to ensure they have a stress-free experience. Doing the work early to prepare your clients can have a direct impact on their enjoyment of their wedding day—that’s enough reason to go the extra mile!

There will be many questions that arise throughout the planning process, but my no. 1 bit of advice would be you don’t overestimate what your clients know about elopements. The whole concept might be pretty new to them, and it’s your job to open their eyes to the possibilities. Most eloping couples have never attended an elopement—they simply might not even know what questions to ask, so you should preemptively provide the information they need to prepare themselves for what an elopement is in reality. 

Below, there are 10 planning stages that I go through in detail with my clients to prepare them for the best wedding experience possible. Keep reading to learn why each of these steps is an essential conversation to have with your clients, best ways to approach each subject, and how to personalize any advice to fit each situation. 

How to Dream Up Their Dream Wedding

This might sound a little silly at first, but most couples actually don’t know what a wedding day can be! They might have turned to friends, parents, or the internet for ideas, but most of that advice will align with traditional wedding expectations—elopements and intimate weddings have expanded to include wedding ideas that go so far beyond that many couples know is possible!

The last thing I want is for a client to realize the possibilities after their wedding day and say, “I wish I’d known that was an option!” Don’t assume that the day described in a client’s inquiry form is their “dream wedding,” it might just be the beginning of an idea. At the earliest stages of wedding planning, I prompt clients with questions to get them really thinking about their vision for their day—depending on how they answer those prompts, I send location ideas, activity suggestions, and more. 

Each client will also have different needs that inform their choices—kids, grandparents, guests, mobility requirements, and other factors will all have to be considered as you make personalized suggestions suitable for their needs.

Some prompts I ask clients at this stage:

—What have been the best days that you two have had together as a couple? Where were you and what did you do together?

—Close your eyes & picture your perfect wedding. What is it like? Who is there? What is the scenery? How are you feeling?

—How much time would you like to dedicate to your elopement? Is it part of a honeymoon trip? Is it somewhere you’ve been before or somewhere new?

How to Decide Who to Invite, How to Involve Them, &  How to Tell Them

Elopements with guests are more common than some people think—it’s not choosing between everyone or no one. Talking through who will be present and how to involve them in the wedding actually informs a couple’s decision more than they might realize early on. For example: they want to elope somewhere beautiful, but they really want to involve family members who can’t hike far. I might in this case suggest somewhere with an accessible ceremony location so that family can be present and then a gorgeous nearby overlook for the couple’s portraits in the scenery they envision.

One of the biggest concerns couples have when eloping is the feeling of leaving someone out or having to choose between loved ones if they want to have a small group—but couples can creatively incorporate friends and family into the wedding process, even if they won’t be present on the day of the elopement. There are as many ways to navigate family as there are unique family dynamics, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. But the first step is having the conversation—to get couples thinking about ways their choices can alleviate stressful feelings about family without reducing their excitement for their own plans.

Some prompts I ask clients at this stage:

—When you think of getting married, who do you want to be there?

—How much time would you like to spend with family or friends on your elopement day?

—Are there family dynamics that need to be navigated when choosing whether to include guests in your plans?

How to Pick the Right Location, Obtain Permits, & Backup Locations

Sometimes clients inquire with a specific location in mind, and other times their location or date is flexible. You’ll be able to make suggestions depending on the weather, activities, attire, and scenery they want. It’s important to go through the process of determining what their vision is and possibly making adjustments based on the reality of their location at any time of year—a strapless thin dress probably won’t do if their location is expected to be snowed in on their date, for instance.

Not all locations require permits, and some only require permits depending on the group size or scope of the event. It’s important to be aware of how long the permitting process is for a client’s chosen location so applications are submitted in time.

A backup location should be a place nearby the initial location that can be switched to in the case of poor weather conditions. Maybe it’s somewhere indoors, at a lower elevation, or a place likely to have different weather. In Colorado, we don’t have to go far to find a spot that is a wildly different climate—just a couple thousand feet of elevation can make it seem like a different season! It’s important to go through a backup spot with your clients so they aren’t forced into a cancellation or postponement due to weather. 

Some prompts I ask clients at this stage:

—When you visualize your elopement, what is the scenery like?

—What is the weather like?

—What is your ideal attire? What are you most comfortable wearing?

—What activities would you like to incorporate? Are they season-dependent?

How to Book Travel & Lodging

This stage in the planning process depends heavily on the couple’s individual plans, their timeline, and their goals. Whether they are having a local elopement down the road or a destination elopement on the other side of the world, I recommend sending a reminder to book early, consider photos at their rental/home, and think about travel time between locations.

How familiar your clients are with traveling will also inform how involved you should be in this step of the process—if they’ve never traveled abroad before, some things that might seem obvious to us avid travelers could easily slip their mind.

Some things to consider when choosing lodging or booking travel:

—Do you need a passport or special travel documents? How far in advance should you apply for them? Double check the expiration date on your passport—it needs to be valid at least 6 months out from the return date.

—What is the travel time between your lodging and ceremony location? Does it fit your timeline?

—Are you getting photos taken at your rental (getting ready images, first look, etc.)? If yes, does the place have good lighting & aesthetics?

—Are there any current travel restrictions that could cause your plans to fall through?

How to Choose Vendors

It is very common with elopements that photographers are the first vendor a couple hires—maybe they were inspired to elope because of the epic images or maybe an elopement photographer opened their eyes to the possibility of eloping in the first place. Unlike a traditional wedding, where the planner or venue is often the first vendor hired, eloping clients might not really know which vendors they need to bring on.

It’s important to remind couples that they can have as many or as few details as they want incorporated. If budgeting is a concern, there are many DIY alternatives to the “stuff” they might otherwise invest in for their day. At Adventure Instead we are all ordained, so theoretically a couple can hire us as the single vendor and still get legally married. 

Elopement vendors are a special subgroup of wedding vendors. Often, we work in non traditional venues, travel for events, and work on a smaller scale. It is important when recommending vendors to your clients that you have a list of elopement-friendly individuals who are willing and able to accommodate unique schedules, locations, and requests.

Some vendors that you couple might want to incorporate and request recommendations for:

— Officiant

— Videographer

— Planner

— Musician

— Private Chef/ Caterer

— Florist

 — Dress Designer

How to Choose Activities

Eloping isn’t “just getting married,” and the number of ways to personalize the experience are endless! Clients are not limited in their activity choices to acts traditionally associated with wedding days—if it’s their thing, they can do it on their elopement day. As you begin discussing bucket-list elopement plans with your clients, be both realistic and encouraging. While the only limit is their imagination—they must also narrow decisions by season, location, and time.

Elopement day activities can run the gamut from a chill morning drinking coffee at their Airbnb, to renting a helicopter to take them out to a remote ceremony location. Clients can hike, run, cycle, paddle, sing, dance, climb, and laugh their way through their elopement day—no plan is too wild to consider!

A man and a woman stand in a field with the starry night sky lit up above them.

Some prompts I ask clients at this stage:

—Do you want to include any activities that are seasonal (hiking, skiing, backpacking, bike riding, kayaking, etc.)?

—Imagine your perfect day: what are you doing together?

—Are you open to trying something new, or do you want to choose activities you’re familiar with?

How to Choose Wedding Attire & Footwear

Layering, preparing for the weather, and mobility are all safety considerations when advising clients on wedding attire. However, style is just as important! There are no rules when it comes to elopement attire—clients don’t have to choose a white dress/ black suit combination. No color is off-limits, and no cut/pattern/item of clothing is wrong for a wedding. 

I do encourage couples to choose pieces that make them feel their best, but any guidance isn’t based on set-in-stone rules. Certain colors will stand out in certain locations, but that doesn’t mean clients need to wear something specific—I make it clear that their individual styles should feel free to shine through when it comes to their clothing choices.

If clients ask me what clothing will be best for an outdoor elopement, my only advice is they pick something they can easily move in. A flowy skirt or billowy dress will also look amazing in pictures! 

On the other hand, I’m a bit more strict about footwear—the wrong shoes can ruin an outdoor experience, and no one wants to twist an ankle or get blisters on their wedding day. Because a lot of my couples hike, a lot of them choose to wear boots. Depending on the locations you’re often shooting in, there is likely a footwear recommendation best for your couples to keep them dancing all night long!

Some prompts I ask clients at this stage:

—Does the attire you want to wear match the scenery and season? Will you be warm enough?

—You do have the option to change into your wedding attire when you reach your destination (rather than hiking in a dress). Does this change your plans?

—If you want to do something active (hiking, etc.), are you planning to wear the proper footwear?

—Do you want to get something custom-made? What is the lead time for the designer?

—Are you open to purchasing secondhand, using reclaimed materials, renting, or otherwise choosing a sustainable option? I can connect you with designers or shops if you’re open to this idea!

How to Plan a Timeline

It’s not uncommon for a timeline to be finalized pretty late in the planning process—once clients have decided on their activities and locations, you can break down their day into a manageable hour-by-hour schedule. From the photography point of view, getting the best images is a huge priority, but how that happens isn’t always clear to clients—explain that morning or evening light is best, and plan around which end of the day they are more interested in. How many hours clients have booked for their elopement will also inform how the day gets scheduled—for some, sunrise AND sunset might be an option!

This is also the point in the planning process when you have to be very realistic with your clients—no, it’s not possible to go to 3+ locations for photos if they only booked you for 4 hours. Doing too much with not enough time is a surefire way to run the whole day with heightened anxiety. It’s time to prioritize what is most important to them, and that might mean adding some hours to their package or cutting out a couple of activities.

While planning the timeline, offer portrait tips and examples from past elopements so your couples can see the practical application of your ideas. For instance, if they want to hike to the top of a mountain for their ceremony after getting hair and makeup done professionally, you might suggest getting detail shots and portraits done before they start hiking. That way they will look fresh in some images, whereas others can tell the story of their adventure!

Some things I discuss with clients at this stage:

—Are you a morning person or a night owl?

—It’s time to start thinking about what you want to incorporate into your experience: getting ready photos, a first look, your ceremony plans, portraits, activities, a post-elopement reception, etc.

—How much time do you want to dedicate to your elopement experience? A day, two days, more?

—Don’t feel the need to pack your schedule. Leave plenty of time to enjoy each stage in the day.

How to Pack & Get Ready to Go

The final stages of elopement planning involve taking all these ideas and making sure they make it into the suitcase. In a perfect world, clients would never forget anything important and you can just show up and shoot—this is almost never the case. I have a go-bag that comes to each elopement filled with little things many clients forget—a first aid kit, spare gloves, umbrellas, snacks, etc. I always send a followup reminder to clients when they reach the packing stage to encourage them to remember items that are necessary for safety, accomplishing their elopement-day goals, and simply enhance the experience. 

“What should we pack for our elopement?” is a question that would take a whole other blog to answer in detail. Essentially, the list will be wholly dependent on the location, season, and activities your clients have chosen for their date. Some basic items—like snacks, and water—are surprisingly often forgotten. Other things clients might not have even considered can level up their experience—a bluetooth speaker for amplifying their wedding playlist (if allowed at the location, as some places don’t permit any kind of amplified music), a blanket so they can sit down on the hike without dirtying their clothes, and lights so you can continue taking photos after the sun has set. 

Questions to ask clients as they finalize their packing list:

—Do you have everything you need for your wedding-day attire? Example: Dress, suit, shoes, jewelry, hair accessories, etc.

—Do you have everything for the activities you want to do? Example: Change of clothes, outdoor gear, permits, etc.

—Have you packed things for comfort or extreme weather? Example: Rain gear, picnic blanket, gloves, hats, wool socks, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.

—Do you have everything you need to travel? Example: Phones & credit cards that will work, travel papers, travel insurance, printed copies of reservations, passports, etc.

How to Have the Best Day & What Happens Next

Preparing clients for what happens after their elopement is just as important as preparing them for the day itself. The last thing you want is impatient emails asking where the photos are, and they don’t want to be sitting around wondering when they’ll finally get the gallery email. Setting clear and concise expectations at the outset—even providing an exact date they should expect their gallery by—gives you the perfect opportunity to exceed their expectations and deliver early. 

Our job preparing clients for their full experience does not end when they go home the evening of their elopement—how they receive their images and how well post-event expectations are communicated can affect how they view your services. One of the best ways to gain another 5-star review is simply by delivering images early and exceeding expectations throughout. And to exceed expectations, you first need to set expectations. 

Next steps to discuss with clients:

—Go through the photo delivery expectations in detail: how long clients should expect to wait before seeing images, how to use your delivery system (digital, IPS, etc.), how to download & backup their photos.

—If you sell products, explain to your clients how they can use your store to get prints of their images, albums, etc. 

— Holiday gift ideas, “we eloped” announcements, & printed goods are a great way to commemorate your epic elopement!

I go through all of these preparation steps and planning ideas (in much more detail) in The Elopement & Intimate Wedding Planning Guide + Design Template—this guide is the perfect way to get your clients up to speed immediately on what they can do to plan the ideal wedding experience for them. 

Prepared clients will not only have the tools to plan a more elaborate wedding, they will also have a better time and be safer while exploring an epic outdoors location. The majority of things that could go wrong can be prepared for in a manner that won’t derail a couple’s day—they simply need the tools and expertise you offer to ensure they can be flexible in the face of weather, trail closures, or other less-than-ideal circumstances. 

Thoroughly explaining what it’s like to work with you will also help your client’s feel supported and able to avoid surprises—they’ll rave about your process and professionalism from beginning to end, because you heard and responded to their vision with applicable suggestions. 

Surprises can be fun sometimes, but a wedding day isn’t one of those times. Being more clear throughout the planning process will always be better than assuming clients are on the same page as you.

By walking your clients through each stage of the planning process outlined above, you’ll be exceeding their expectations as a service provider and delivering 110% each time.

Written by

Maddie Mae

Award-winning Destination Elopement Photographer + Business & Marketing Coach

Founder of @adventureinstead

I help wedding and elopement photographers discover what sets them apart—and make that their “secret sauce” to building a thriving business.

Adventure Instead Academy

YouTube Channel

FREE Masterclass

3 Secrets to booking all day elopements

Join the


Related Articles

Snag my most popular freebies

39 Creativity Prompts to Spark Ideas & Break Routine

free download

Hiking Camera Bag Tutorial

free download

What’s in My Camera Bag?

free download

29 Ways to Competition-Proof Your Business

free download

Check out the

Adventure Instead Academy
YouTube Channel

Craving more knowledge nuggets?

Continue learning and get the latest business tips, actionable advice, and my newest freebies, directly in your inbox

No spam, I promise

FREE Masterclass

Competition-Proof Your Business

Or ask me anything in

Weddings & Wanderlust

An empowering online community of 26,000+ of the best (and coolest) wedding & elopement photographers on the planet.