Why Couples Shouldn’t Have a Short Wedding When They Elope
Whether you’re an established elopement photographer or an aspiring one (in which case you might also want to check out my “How to Become an Elopement Photographer” blog post!), you might have looked at an elopement session and wondered how the heck it lasts all day long? You’re not alone!
Couples who are eloping deserve just as much time to celebrate this moment in their lives as couples who are having big weddings—and it’s standard for wedding photographers to work 8-10 hour events to document a traditional marriage ceremony, so why is eloping any different? It all comes down to the standard that has been set in the industry—if a majority of photographers are only offering 2-hour elopements, then that is what couples shopping for a photographer will see, and that is what they will think they need.
If you want to be photographing all-day elopements and combat this misperception that elopements are only 2-hour events, you’re going to need to market all-day elopements while explaining WHY a couple would want to spend all day with their photographer. This is one of the most fun parts of marketing—you get to solve a problem for a client that they don’t even know they have yet! Eloping couples don’t yet realize just how great their day can be, and you have this amazing opportunity to show them the potential for their elopement. Ask them to imagine the best day ever—what they would do, where they would go, and what the whole experience would look like—and then show them their dream is possible! They get to have this awesome adventure with all their favorite things, and sometime during this epic day, they get married.
Below, we compare elopement MYTHS with FACTS we’ve seen from the data—after photographing hundreds of elopements over the course of many years, my team & I at Adventure Instead have begun to see patterns that directly conflict with the narrative that “couples who elope only want 2 hours of coverage.”
Keep reading to find out the truth about all-day elopements, what an all-day timeline looks like, how we get connected with couples who want all-day elopements, plus tips & activities you’ll want to use when planning elopements with your couples! Trust me—a market exists for clients who want epic, adventurous elopements that last all day.
MYTH: All-day elopements are just hiking elopements.
FACT: All-day elopements can be ANYTHING, and you don’t have to hike to have a full, fun day.
- There are SO many ways to “fill in the time” with activities that don’t involve hiking—plus, many incredible locations can be reached by vehicle, which can take a lot of time, especially when you’re talking about 4×4 backroads.
- If you simply took a traditional wedding timeline & removed the stress, entertaining guests, and gave the couple time to be present with each other, you’ll find that an all-day timeline actually doesn’t feel long at all!
- Elopements are for everyone – you don’t have to be able-bodied, fit, adventurous, or want to travel to have an epic elopement, you simply need the desire to have your wedding your way. Showing couples how accessible elopements can be will open doors to way more couples choosing this route.
MYTH: Couples who elope don’t want to invest in an all-day experience.
FACT: In our experience, couples who elope are MORE likely to invest in a memorable experience.
- It’s not at all true that eloping couples are looking for a “cheaper” experience. Yes, elopements often cost less than traditional weddings, but that’s mostly because hosting guests can be expensive! The ways in which couples invest in themselves while planning their celebration go far beyond monetary value.
- Spending more money doesn’t make the day more special—it’s about heightening the experience, and communicating this to your couples helps them fully comprehend the difference between value and cost. In every possible scenario, an elopement photographer is cheaper than a big, traditional wedding—but that’s really not the point here & eloping couples know that.
- Eloping couples who are looking for authenticity, a unique experience, and a day to focus on themselves are absolutely willing to invest—they simply need to be shown the ways in which an all-day elopement can fulfill those desires.
MYTH: You can’t charge as much for elopement photography because couples who want to elope don’t have the budget.
FACT: I charge MORE for elopements than I ever did before photographing big, traditional weddings & a huge part of that is because I am able to provide even more value for eloping couples.
- Elopement photography is MORE valuable than wedding photography—and it’s a huge missed opportunity to not charge as much. If quantity equates to value at all, it’s when you reduce the number of something— fewer people present to take photos means more valuable images.
- The amount of personalized planning & consultation that goes into crafting an elopement for a couple results in more work for you as a photographer—big weddings are long & difficult, but I’d just show up & shoot what happened. As an elopement photographer, I have a hand in each step of the process.
- Eloping couples absolutely have the budget for photography—especially when you consider they aren’t paying for a venue, caterer, planner, DJ, etc.
MYTH: Eloping couples don’t care as much about the images from their day.
FACT: Elopement photography is MORE important because it’s the only documentation of a couple’s day when there aren’t hundreds of guests taking photos on their phones.
- Eloping couples made the super intentional decision to make their wedding day about them—and being able to look back on those moments, which weren’t shared with anyone else, is priceless.
- The value of elopement photography isn’t in “doing it for the gram,” though we all love the epic images! What makes elopement photography so valuable to couples is the way in which it tells a story about their day. Choosing to go against the grain & elope means the images from that experience are the only thing left when memories begin to fade.
- Elopement photography is also the best way for couples to share their experience with their loved ones who weren’t there—and just because no one else was present doesn’t mean there aren’t folks your couples want to share their big moment with afterward!
What does an all-day elopement look like?
All-day elopements are quite literally anything the couple can imagine—sunset, sunrise, both, one location, multiple locations, or even multiple activities! I think a good place to start when you’re wondering, “what the heck do I do with a couple ALL day?!” is just to begin with a timeline more similar to a traditional wedding—getting ready photos, a first look, ceremony, portraits, & reception. Since big weddings include all-day documentation, take a page from that book & do something similar with your couples. At every stage, the photography doesn’t necessarily take less time, but there is less stress because of the fewer people present.
It was actually the experience of photographing my first elopement that completely shifted my business toward all-day intentional documentation—I had an amazing experience adventuring with a couple at sunset and had so much fun taking their photos. But the two hours passed quickly, and I actually found myself sitting in my car crying after their elopement—why was I so upset after such a great experience?! I realized I wanted the couple to have MORE! I knew they were going on to have a nice dinner after the shoot, and I’d heard all about their fun morning and afternoon hanging out, but they had no photos of those moments.
For me, photographing all-day elopements isn’t about getting just a full gallery—it’s about preserving the memories for a couple. No matter how amazing a moment is, the memories will fade, and I don’t want couples looking at a 2-hour gallery and missing the chance to remember the other 12+ epic hours of their wedding day!
All-day elopements aren’t about the epic shots and adventure—it’s also about capturing the slower moments where they have a chance to get stoked or wind down. Story-telling isn’t about just the “highs”—the journey and in-between moments matter too! Here are some examples of how to fill the timeline while adding variety to your couple’s day:
Getting Ready Photos
- 1-2+ Hours
- Couples can get ready together, separately, or even at different locations. They can get ready at the top of a trail after hiking up or at a rental cabin before beginning the adventure.
- The act of getting ready can involve a lazy morning of breakfast & coffee at their rental, or it can be much quicker.
- 1+ Hour
- This can happen at the same place the couple gets ready, at their ceremony location, or somewhere else entirely.
- A first look is still something couples can choose to do even if they get ready together, or partially get ready together, because it is an emotional moment connect over the “we’re about to really do this” feeling!
- 1-2 Hours
- This can occur before or after the ceremony, at the first look location, or somewhere else. Multiple locations can add a lot of variety into a couple’s portfolio if they want to experience different environments, but it also adds a lot of time as you travel between locations.
- Portraits can also happen throughout the day, mid-hike, or however makes the most sense for the timeline & environment. Remember though that a lot of people require a few minutes to relax in front of the camera, so more natural images often come from longer portrait sessions rather than many portrait sessions.
- 1-2 Hours
- This completely depends on the accessibility of locations, distance between locations, and the number of locations a couple is going to on their wedding day.
- Some travel can be documented—helicopter rides, hiking, etc.—whereas driving is often less documentable. Take this into consideration as you plan what you want to capture for their gallery.
- 1 Hour
- A ceremony can be ANY length—I’ve witnessed ceremonies that were 5 minutes and others that lasted nearly an hour. Adding in rituals, like handfasting, can add to this time.
- A ceremony can be just the vows, or it can be a whole scripted “performance”—couples going through the motions of playing music, reading letters from family members, and performing unity rituals.
- If the couple wants to “set up” anything for their ceremony, include that in the time. If they’re doing it all themselves or if they’re having a designer put the space together, it will be something to discuss during the planning process.
Reception / Picnic
- 2 Hours
- This can be just after the ceremony, portraits, or upon returning to their rental for the evening. It can be just them popping champagne & eating snacks or it can be a full-on private chef making them a home-cooked meal.
- Sometimes couples will choose to have an elopement ceremony but then get together with family and friends for the reception on the same day. In this case, consider the time it’ll take to travel back or “freshen up” again after the hiking/adventure experience.
How do you find couples who want all-day elopements?
Well, you don’t. Most of the time I actually SHOW couples what their elopement day can look like, and THAT is how they get the idea to have this epic experience. I still get inquiries from couples looking for 2 or 4 hour elopements—what turns those inquiries into all-day adventures is an intentional effort to help couples imagine how incredible their elopement CAN be!
One of the biggest challenges I’ve heard from other photographers in this moment is that they don’t want their inquiring couples to feel like they are getting “pushed” to pay more or that the photographer is “upselling” elopement packages bigger than what the couple wants. There’s a huge difference between what eloping couples WANT and what they ASK for, because many people don’t yet know to even ask for all-day elopements yet! If they don’t know it’s a “thing,” they simply asked for what they thought an elopement was—so don’t feel like opening their eyes to all the possibilities of an all-day elopement is just about the money when it’s really about the experience.
Eloping couples still want epic weddings, but it’s up to us as photographers to explain the breadth of their options—and this begins with what we show on our websites but continues into our consultations with couples. Don’t assume that a couple’s inquiry is the edge of their budget, but obviously respect their wishes when they do say, “We only have a budget for xx hours.” After explaining the value of all-day elopements, then it is up to the couple to choose what they want to experience—but until you’ve shown all your options, it’s basically your responsibility to show a couple just how amazing their day can be!
Think of it this way: You’d be heartbroken if after photographing a couple’s 4-hour elopement they said “we didn’t even know you booked couples for whole weekend adventures! We totally would have done that if we’d known it was an option.” All because you only offered couples what they ASK for! Explaining the benefit of the all-day elopements is offering value to your couples, which is truly a win-win for everyone in the exchange.
Some things you CAN do: While I do truly believe all-day elopements are something we need to show the value of to inquiring couples, you can pave the way for some of the interest by marketing all-day elopements all over your website and social media platforms. If those are the avenues couples use to find you, stoke their curiosity by showing them how fun all-day elopements are! Blog about the sessions you’ve photographed or set up styled shoots if you haven’t yet photographed all-day elopements (check out this blog post for my best tips & tricks to set up styled shoots locally & while traveling). In the same way that your marketing should cater to the type of events you want to photograph, you can also use this method to attract clients who want the length of events you’re hoping to shoot!
Follow these 3 steps to attract clients who would be interested in all-day elopement adventures:
- Don’t list photography packages with fewer hours than you want to work.
- Showcase events that require more hours, like hiking elopements!
- Explain the value of all-day elopements at every opportunity!
Tips for Planning All-Day Elopements
- Create “Buffer” Timelines: What this looks like is going to be totally different for each couple, but basically make sure that no one feels rushed at any time. All-day traditional weddings can feel super stressful, and the couple might spend the whole time running around without getting the chance to pause. One of my favorite things about elopements is that the couple can plan as much time as they want at each stage of the day, and their only obligation is to enjoy being present with each other! There aren’t guests to entertain, and therefore the ability to stop and breathe can be a huge game-changer when compiling the timeline for each elopement!
- Don’t Be Afraid to Add More Activities: Traditional weddings are so busy that 8 hours passes in the blink of an eye while only staying in one location—don’t be afraid to spend time exploring more than one location with eloping couples! It’s absolutely possible to spend all day exploring multiple scenic viewpoints, or even wildly diverse landscapes—especially with elopements that don’t involve a ton of hiking!
- Value Telling the Whole Story: There are no other guests present at this event except you as the photographer! Often, elopement photographers are the only witness to this incredible experience, which is a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly. Your documentation of the day is the only visual this couple will have to their story, and you’re in full control of the narrative—all-day elopement coverage means the couple will get the chance to relive the whole experience through your images.
Activities for All-Day Elopements WITHOUT Hiking!
You know it’s not just hiking elopements that can be all-day experiences, but what else can you do with couples who want an adventure?! Well, here are a few options plus my recommended minimum length of time for each activity (from experience):
Helicopter Tours –
- Length of Time: Min. 4 hours.
- You can get dropped off on top of a mountain, or a glacier, or a sand dune—helicopter tours are basically guaranteed to get you so far away from other people that you’re going to see a wild corner of the world from a perspective only the most experienced mountaineers could reach on foot.
Jeep Tour –
- Length of Time: Min. 4 hours, depends a lot on the location.
- Get out to a viewpoint where you can basically guarantee you’ll have the whole place to yourself because it’s so hard to get to—jeep tours are one of our favorite ways to find totally private ceremony spots!
Multiple Locations –
- Length of Time: Varied, depends on travel between places.
- See how many things you can fit into a day—turn this elopement into the most EPIC adventure throughout the region, the sort of day the couple will look back on for years!
Hot Air Balloon Ride –
- Length of Time: Min. 3 hours.
- You don’t have to perform your ceremony in the air—but you can & I think that’s enough reason to consider it!
Dog Sled Adventure –
- Length of Time: Min. 3 hours.
- You don’t have to be in Alaska or Canada to go dog-sledding for your winter elopement—Montana and other northern states have season sled tours that take you through some of the most gorgeous scenery!
Now that you have a TON of ideas for how to turn elopements into epic all-day adventures, you simply need to communicate the values of these experiences to potential couples. From the moment someone comes across your website or social media to the time you get them on the phone, you have many opportunities to communicate the value of all-day elopement photography! Couples deserve to have their whole wedding day documented—showing them that value begins with you.
So What’s Next?
Want to learn how to effectively communicate the value of all-day elopements through your various marketing channels—in just 7 days? Check out my 7-Day Elopement Photographer Challenge, which goes over all of this and much more!