You might be here because you realized the idea of a big traditional wedding makes you want to run for the hills. But what are the other options? What is an elopement? I’m going to go over exactly what a modern elopement is, the differences between a big wedding, and how you can also have something in the middle! Continue reading to figure out what an elopement is.

What Exactly is an Elopement

In todays age, the modern elopement is about having a smaller, experienced based wedding day that prioritizes what the couple wants. When I say smaller, I don’t mean equaling to less value. Elopements are just as important as big weddings. Bigger traditional weddings normally follow a specific framework based around religious customs and some “old school” ideologies.

Elopements are about creating your own traditions. Most couples still include a ceremony, but choose to spend the rest of their day celebrating in a way that is unique to them. Elopements are a wedding day experience where the couples chooses to include adventures or activities outside of the norm to have a non-traditional experience.

Define “Elope”

If you google “Define Elope”, you will see this result: “run away secretly in order to get married, especially without parental consent.” This is no longer an accurate representation of what an elopement is. Over the years, many couples have been drawn to a different kind of wedding day. Many thought the idea of just the two of them sounded far more relaxing, fun, and intimate.

This is how elopements began to transform into something bigger. Instead of just going to the courthouse and sign documents, couples thought, “why don’t we also get some pictures taken at the nearby state park? I suppose we could also celebrate with some dinner and champagne. Maybe we could hire a private chef.”

It was ideas like these that took the old-school fundamentals of eloping and turned them into intimate, unique celebrations. Couples continued to assign more and more value to these smaller wedding days and make the day important through other factors. This includes examples such as having their closest friend officiate somewhere beautiful and hiring an actual photographer, to inviting a few guests and exploring a National Park together before joining for dinner at a rental cabin.

what is an elopement

Eloping started to gain some popularity in 2015. I would say that’s around the time we started seeing “all day elopements” and photographers transitions to shooting exclusively elopements. Elopements truly became popular during the pandemic in 2020. This is because couples had to cancel their big weddings, and still wanted to get married.

So many couples chose to have an elopement instead and realized they never wanted the big wedding in the first place, but weren’t aware of any other options. As these photos and stories spread on social media, other couples realized that’s exactly kind of intimate wedding day they wanted themselves. Now in 2024, they’re a common options that engaged couples choose regularly!

Is Eloping Right for Me?

Now that you know what an elopement is, you might wondering if it’s the right choice for you. As I mentioned earlier, neither a big wedding or small wedding is more important than the other. So try asking yourself some questions factually. “Will I be sad if I don’t invite all of my friends and family?” “Do I want the comforts of an actual indoor venue?” “Do I want a big dance floor?” “Do I want to walk down an aisle in front of everyone I know?” “Do I want the bells and whistles of a fully decorated venue, florals, table arrangements, etc?” If you answered yes to these, then eloping isn’t right for you.

Alternatively, try asking yourself these questions as well. “Do I want to feel like I’m performing in front of a big group saying my vows?” “Would I rather spend my money on an all-day experience than a 20k venue?” Would I be happier spending my wedding day out in nature?” “Would I rather dance under the stars with just a small group that’s closest to me?” Think about your needs, and what you want out of your wedding day, and you will find the answer.

Is There a Middle Between Eloping and Big Weddings?

Now that we’ve answered the question of “what is an elopement?” You might be curious if there’s an in between point. Generally, elopements cap guest counts at around 25 people. This is because the main focus of an elopement is to prioritize the desires of the couple. Once there is more than 25 people, it becomes very easy to worry about their needs instead.

Although, intimate weddings can have up to around 50-70 people and still have some of the same flairs as an elopement. You can for example, still have your ceremony in a National Forest, National Park, BLM land, etc. Most public land allows up to 75 guests for these events! There are also much smaller venues to accomodate these intimate smaller groups. One of my favorites is one on a mountain in Oregon that you take a ski lift to. You can check out my list of intimate wedding venues in Oregon here! You can even do things like rent out an entire campground with cabins for a day like this. Read my guide on that here.

what is an elopement

Major Differences Between Elopements and Weddings

I could list out all of the differences between an elopement and a traditional wedding, but it might be easier to tell you what’s the same. Both include a couple that loves each other getting married, a ceremony, and a celebration. The way they differ can be massive. You can say your vows at a venue in front of 200 people for a traditional wedding, or say them on a glacier in Alaska for an elopement. Couples have even taken helicopters to their elopement location!

For a celebration, you can have a traditional sit down dinner in your venue. But if you elope, your options could be: a luxury picnic on the coast, a private chef serving you a five course meal at a stunning Airbnb, a fancy dinner at a hotel in the Italian Dolomites after a hiking ceremony in the mountains. The main difference is elopements give you the opportunity to do all of these things in an incredibly unique way that resonates with you and your partner.

Price Differences Between Elopements and Weddings

The main difference between price for an elopement and traditional wedding is that a top-dollar luxury elopement experience budget would be $25,000, whereas that’s not even the average cost for a traditional wedding, which is $33,000 as of 2024. The average cost for a traditional wedding venue is $7000-$10,000.

Your budget for an elopement is so different because you aren’t hosting a huge party for a massive crowd. Let’s say you want to spend HALF of the average amount a traditional wedding. That would be around $15,000. With this budget, you could travel to any location in the world with first class plane tickets. You could treat yourselves to incredible food, activities, vacation rentals, and vendors.

Where Can I Elope?

Short answer: almost anywhere in the world. Kind of. Basically, most public land has regulations. No matter where you elope, you will have to make sure you follow the right steps. Most locations require getting a permit, which is wildly cheap and incredibly easy. I’m an elopement photographer that helps couples plan and I help them through this whole process.

But for example, a popular elopement location is Big Sur, California. There are some serious restrictions on what you can do here. For example, you cannot have over more than eight people at this location, and that includes your vendors. And, the only vendors allowed are an officiant, photographer, and planner. You also cannot set up any decorations or block any trail heads. Not planning on doing any of this? Perfect, you can go ahead and get your permit. Most locations aren’t this strict, but you always have to do your research, or hire someone like me who will do it for you.

mt rainier elopement

Ideas For Eloping

The list is quite endless due to being such personalized experiences . I’ve never seen two elopement days look the same because of how unique they are to each couple, and how they choose to spend it. But here is a list of ideas to get you brainstorming.

  • Elope at scenic destination
  • Have an adventure elopement that includes hiking, climbing, waterfall exploring, etc
  • Destination elopement in another country
  • Helicopter elopement
  • Cultural elopement
  • Multi-day adventure elopement
  • Road trip elopement
  • City elopement
  • National Park elopement
  • Glamping elopement

Those are just some ideas, but the true magic of elopements are in how you choose to spend your day. I help my couples by sending them a customized elopement location list for them to choose from, and then help them build out their entire day-of timeline while giving a ton of unique activity suggestions.

What Does an Elopement Cost?

The average range is between $5,000 and $25,000. There are couples who of course spend less, and couples who spend more. For example, there are couples who simply do a backyard or courthouse elopement and are wildly happy with it. Then, there are couples who will rent out part of a luxury resort such as Amangiri and manage to spend more.

oregon elopement packages

How Much Does an Elopement Photographer Cost

To your surprise, elopement photographers can actually cost the same or more than traditional wedding photographers. Here’s why: a traditional wedding photographer has a planner that does a lot of the heavy lifting for them. The planner tells them where to be and when, when the ceremony is taking place, organizes group photos, etc.

Elopement photographers do a massive amount of work for their couples. Elopement planners aren’t really a thing. So as elopements became more popular, photographers took it upon themselves to help with providing location recommendations, telling couples what to pack, helping them secure permits, and helping them build a timeline.

There is a lot of planning work involved. Elopement photographers don’t just show up for a few hours and take photos. We take a lot of time to get to know you so that we can provide the correct recommendations for your elopement day. We also help keep the day moving along and are prepared with backup plans in case of any bad weather or any other issues that could arise day of. Typically, experienced elopement photographers charge between $4,500-$9,500. Most couples allocate a decent percentage of their budget towards a photographer as their crucial to planning. You can read more about how much elopement photographers cost in my thorough guide here.

How to Plan an Elopement

So, you asked “what is an elopement?” And now you’re curious how to plan one. Choosing to have an elopement can be incredibly relieving now that you don’t have to deal with the stress of a big traditional wedding. You also now know that elopements or extremely personalized experiences and that your options for having one are basically limitless. This can feel overwhelming at first. But rest assured, you can plan your own elopement with 11 steps. You can read my blog post here for all of the steps!

As an elopement photographer who has planned 100+ elopements, I have the planning process down to a science and work hard to ensure my couples that any of the stress they’re feeling is transformed into excitement when we start planning together. Still have questions? Let’s chat! My complimentary consult is a low-pressure way for you to ask any questions you might have, learn more about eloping, and get to chat with me to start brainstorming your own ideas!

Elopement Packages

Elopement photography by Emilee Setting Photo, and everything included in my packages:

  • Explore anywhere within the united states, all travel fees included in the price!
  • Packages from half day elopements to multi-day elopements
  • Recieve a customized location list
  • Included timeline design
  • Activity reccomendation
  • Help obtaining your permits
  • A planning checklist
  • All of your stunning photos delivered under three months
  • Day of polaroid sneak peeks

Elopement packages starting at $6400. Want more information on my pricing and what’s included? Click here

Don't forget your free elopement planning checklist


You see a stranger’s puppy & it takes everything in you not to run up & cuddle it.

Your dress gets dirt on it, and you shrug.

You think ice cream & wine is always an acceptable dinner option. Always.

You LIVE for the feeling of sunshine on your skin & wind in your hair.

You’re already screaming YASSSS WHERE DO I BOOK YOU?

I'm Emilee

I'm an elopement photographer who specializes in planning, crafting, and documenting untraditional weddings. I believe a wedding day should be filled with traditions that resonate with you. I'm here from start to finish to make that happen. Want to chat about your plans? Click below to set up a free consultation! 

You see a stranger’s puppy & it takes everything in you not to run up & cuddle it.

Your dress gets dirt on it, and you shrug.

You think ice cream & wine is always an acceptable dinner option. Always.

You LIVE for the feeling of sunshine on your skin & wind in your hair.

You’re already screaming YASSSS WHERE DO I BOOK YOU?

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