How to Plan the Perfect Micro Wedding or Elopement Timeline

Planning a micro wedding or elopement timeline feels like a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. Which, statistically, most of you haven’t.

It’s something of a catch-22 sometimes, isn’t it? You need to book your vendors early enough that they’re still available for your date. But when it comes time to book a photography package based on hours, how on earth are you supposed to know how many you need this early in the process?

Two marriers walk away from the camera down a forest path, surrounded by trees. They are holding hands, and one is holding a bouquet.

How Long is an Average Elopement?

This is as good a place as any to start when you’re estimating your timeline. And depending on what you’ve seen out there on Al Gore’s Internet, it may surprise you a wee bit.

Most couples book me for an average of 7-9 hours.

Not 3, and certainly not 1, which some people out there would have you believe is “all you need.”

Here’s the thing, though: this is your wedding day, not a contest to see how little you can get by on. (And even then, 3 hours won’t really cut it, friends.) When you think about a big wedding, they’re typically an “all day” affair, aren’t they? Why on earth wouldn’t your wedding deserve the same level of celebration?

Just because you’re celebrating differently, doesn’t mean you deserve less.

What is an All-Day Elopement Like?

Let’s bust some myths real quick before we get any further. For starters, just because your micro wedding or elopement doesn’t have a lot of guests doesn’t mean your photographer is going to be up in your face for 12 hours straight. It’s not an elaborate photo shoot that requires model-level stamina and an infinite variety of complicated poses. Especially with my style of photography, your day is going to be structured around what you and your partner want, not what I’d like in my portfolio. I’m here to document what your elopement looks and feels like, not control it.

Another myth is that you either have to follow the strict, traditional timeline, or you’ll run out of “things to do.” Plenty of couples borrow from traditional wedding days, and that is perfectly fine! Getting ready is a universal thing, as are a ceremony and a celebration. You can stick to this timeline if that’s what you’re into, but you don’t have to. One of the (many) beautiful things about eloping is the freedom to do whatever you feel like doing. And I’m kind of an enabler on that front, so…no worries there.

How to Build a Rough Micro Wedding or Elopement Timeline

Building the best micro wedding or elopement timeline for photography is one of the many things I do for my couples. There’s a lot that goes into it, but if you’re in the early planning stage and just want a rough idea of how long you should book me, here’s some info that should help:

  1. Daydream first, without worrying about the clock. Think about where you are, what time of year it is, and what you’d love to be doing.
  2. What type of day are you envisioning? Do you see yourselves spending the day hiking, flying in a helicopter, and running around in the mountains until after the sun goes down? Or are you looking for a slow and relaxed kind of day? Maybe start with some yoga at sunrise, then have a quiet breakfast together, an easy hike to an alpine lake, and a picnic by the fire.
  3. Sketch out some of the most common parts of an elopement day: allow for 1-2 hours for getting ready (hair and makeup can take longer, but I don’t necessarily need to photograph the whole thing), ceremonies range from 10-40 minutes, group photos are about 1-3 minutes per grouping, and I allow 45-60 minutes per mile of hiking.

Micro Wedding and Elopement Timeline Examples

Thinking about what your elopement day could look like is one thing. Seeing it all written down is something else. I often have couples start out thinking they need 4-6 hours but then add on time later. This usually happens when either they didn’t realize how much time their day would really take, or they’ve added something into their dream elopement.

If you think you may end up in that position, there’s no need to stress. The retainer you pay to book me and hold your date is the same no matter how many hours you book me for, so you can always add on hours after you’ve booked!

Anyway. Your timeline will be custom-made for you and your partner, for your unique vision. But to kickstart the daydreams, here are some micro wedding and elopement timeline examples to help you visualize what different wedding days can look like.

Two-Day Elopement Timeline Example

Day 1:

  • You and your partner get ready for your day, enjoying your morning together.
  • Near your cabin rental, you share a first look, seeing each other in your wedding clothes for the very first time.
  • We leave to drive to the trailhead, meet up with your loved ones, and then hike to your ceremony location.
  • You have your ceremony, followed by group photos
  • Your loved ones head back to the trailhead while you explore a wee bit farther.
  • We head back to your cabin for a celebratory meal with your loved ones, catered by a private chef.

Day 2:

  • You get ready together this time, helping each other get dressed and fix all the details.
  • We head out for your helicopter tour, then take off for the first location.
  • We land at your first location, then explore and take portraits.
  • Back in the helicopter, we visit several other locations. You stop to exchange private vows and then enjoy a picnic dinner together as the sun goes down.
  • We return from the tour and take some star photos.

8-10 Hours Elopement Timeline Example

  • We meet at the trailhead, sort out our gear over some caffeine, and start hiking.
  • You get changed into your wedding clothes at the top, then have a first look as the sun starts to creep over the mountains.
  • After scoping out the perfect spot, you exchange private vows with the sunrise, then take portraits.
  • We hike back down, then head off to the next location to meet up with your loved ones.
  • We arrive at the next location and hike the gentle trail with your loved ones to get to the ceremony spot.
  • You have your ceremony, surrounded by your people in front of a beautiful view, followed by group photos.
  • You all enjoy a picnic brunch celebration together.

4-5 Hours Elopement Timeline Example

  • We meet at the trailhead, hike up to your ceremony location, and explore around to find the perfect spot.
  • You have your ceremony just before sunset, followed by portraits.
  • You and your partner cozy up to watch the last of the sunset, sharing a celebratory meal.
  • We hike back under the stars, then take a few night photos.

Eloping in Ireland? Check out the Ireland Elopement Guide for Ireland-specific timelines!

Best Tips for Planning Your Micro Wedding or Elopement Timeline

The logistics side of things can feel like a chore to some people, which is part of why I try to take as much of it off your hands as possible. But when you’re thinking about your timeline, try looking at it as an opportunity. You get to spend time with your partner dreaming up an incredible day, one you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. How cool is that?

Don’t worry about tiny details or the driving time between locations. Allow yourselves to fall into the feeling of what your day will be like, and go from there. It’s one of the easiest ways to make sure your elopement is just right.

On the daydreaming side of things, here are my best tips when it comes to planning a wedding day:

Allow For More Time Than You Think You’ll Need

The main goal with your timeline is to make sure there’s…enough time. And I mean for everything. Pad the timeline with extra minutes. For one thing, nothing ever goes 100% to plan. We may change something on the fly, or pivot if something comes up. For another thing, the last thing you want is to be rushing from one thing to the next, constantly watching the clock. I’m stressed just thinking about it, and I remember the stress of big weddings, way back when I used to photograph them. Running around like that sucks, and it makes it harder for your brains to soak up the details to remember later.

Another thing I consider when making your final timeline is the “extra” minutes. Yes, it’s 40 minutes from your AirBnB to the trailhead. But we don’t teleport to the car and then teleport out with our backpacks on. You have to allow time to transition. All of these considerations help us make your day an enjoyable one.

Daydream First

There’s no sense in fussing over details if you don’t have the big picture yet.

What kind of day do you want to have? Slow and laid back, or more active? Are there any particular activities you’d love to do? Are you planning on inviting loved ones?

Cuddle up together, then close your eyes and let your minds wander. Think of your elopement day, and see what comes to mind. Where are you? What time of year is it? What does it feel like? Daydream big, and we can focus on the little details later.

Be Honest With Yourselves

Big, traditional weddings have a lot of pressure to do things a certain way, and as much as I hate to say it, there’s some pressure in the elopement world, too! Social media is full of epic adventure weddings. If that’s your jam, go for it. If not? Please don’t feel like you need to hike 10 miles or go skydiving in order to have an amazing elopement experience!

Be honest with yourselves about what you truly want. That’s the type of day that will make you the happiest.

Stick to What You Want

We’ve gotten to the feisty part of the article, friends.

This doesn’t always happen, and I hope it doesn’t, but it can, so let’s talk about it: the people in your life may have some strong opinions about your wedding day. They may not be on board with you eloping at all (don’t invite them, elope anyway), or they may tell you that your plans don’t make sense, or they’d do it another way.

Obviously, take well-meaning advice on board, I’m not advocating Hulk transformations here. But at the end of the day, it’s your wedding day. And you get to do what you want. Remember that when people offer unsolicited advice. Stick to your vision.

Talk to and Trust Your Photographer

This isn’t self-serving, I promise. It’s for your sake! I do my very best while putting together elopement timelines, but the more information I have, the better it’s going to be. I send out various questionnaires to my couples, and one of them is the nitty-gritty of timeline details. This keeps all the info in one place, and then your timeline will be assembled in a Google Doc that we can go over and change together. Again, the more I know about your vision for your elopement, the better chance we have of bringing it to life.

Beyond open communication, another way to get the best timeline is to trust me. Or whoever else you hire (I’ll get over it, I guess). I know what I’m doing. I know what kind of light is best for different parts of your elopement, I map out exactly where the sun is going to be at various locations, and I have good estimates for how long things take. Help me, help you.

And if this sounds like something you want to chat about, you can always email me! I’m happy to talk things through with you and help you rough out your timeline.

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  1. […] For more on this, there’s an in-depth article about dreaming up your own perfect wedding day, and you can read it here: How to Plan the Perfect Timeline […]

  2. […] For more example timelines and info on how to start thinking about your own elopement dream, you can read this article. […]

  3. […] If you’d like to read more about timelines and what all-day elopements are like, I have an article just for you. […]

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