How long should my elopement be? + other related wedding planning advice

The Hearnes :: Adventure Wedding Photographers


Elopement photography in Grand Teton National Park

One of the most common questions our couples ask us is how many hours they should have booked with us as their photographers for their elopement day! One of the many ways adventure elopements with us are unique to the more traditional weddings is how involved we are with your timeline planning. Typically when our couples first reach out to us, they have nothing planned other than a general location or date range (and sometimes they’re even completely open with those details!) so we come along side them right from the beginning to start planning out their elopement day(s), the activities they’ll do together during that time, the locations they’ll be eloping in, their outfits, food choices, vendors (like florist, officiant, hair + make up artist, etc!), lodging, and so on! We joke that while we’re hired as elopement photographers, we typically fill the role of elopement planners, legal witnesses, guides, and so on.

If you’ve reached out to us to photograph your elopement, you’ve seen that our pricing structure is built around hours booked, and while we have a few differing packages to start with, we often create a custom package for each couple that varies by hours based on their needs. Different elopement day plans require differing amounts of hours — there are many factors that can call for more hours in your timeline! While every single elopement day is different, I’ve created a general guide to what timelines, activities, and elopement day plans can be included in each standard amount of hours booked with us. I sure hope this is helpful! And please remember:

  • While this is based on our own experience, other elopement photographers will have differing advice. Everyone does things differently, so this guide will likely be most helpful for our own couples, although I hope everyone can find it helpful in some way!

  • As I mentioned, these details will vary by location, activity, and each individual couple. If you’re planning your wedding with us, we will work with you individually to ensure your timeline is perfectly created to fit your needs!

  • My biggest advice is to trust your photographer. Ideally you’ve found someone who has experience photographing adventure elopements and they can offer advice on timing, the best lighting, the best activities for you in the location you’ve chosen, and so on.

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Elopement Day Timeline :: Four to Six Hours

Our minimum amount of time booked for elopement days is four hours. While some photographers will do shorter elopements, we have found that four hours is the best amount of time to have at least two locations, a first look (if the couple chooses to do so), time before the ceremony for them to focus in and get ready (it’s a big deal!!), a non-rushed ceremony, a post-ceremony picnic, and plenty of time for epic portraits with a lot of variety. This amount of time tends to be perfect for a couple that doesn’t want to spend the full day with us (don’t worry, we won’t be offended 😜), maybe wants a short hike, and has 5 guests or less. Here are a couple examples of what’s possible with 4-6 hours booked:

  • A 4-6 mile (round-trip) hike out to a beautiful location, typically timed to align with sunrise or sunset, meaning half of the miles are likely in the dark with headlamps (so fun!). While the average human hiking pace is 30 minutes per mile, giving ourselves an hour per mile allows for photos along the way as well as time at the destination location for a ceremony and small celebration, as well as plenty of portraits at the destination location during sunrise or sunset. The shorter the hike, the more time we’ll have out at the location, as well as time for a picnic, champagne, cake, and so on. If the couple has guests, we reccomend more time per mile to allow for everyone to go at a comfortable pace.

  • A shorter hike (2-3 miles round trip) with just the couple as well as time for a ceremony and celebration with guests at a more comfortable and easily accessible location. For example, we could start with a sunrise hike out to a beautiful location for the couple’s first look, followed by a ceremony back at the trailhead (you’d be surprised how many trailheads are absolutely gorgeous ceremony spots!!) or nearby with their guests, then a small picnic celebration and formal portraits with guests

  • While hiking is the most typical activity our couples choose to incorporate on their wedding day, this can be exchanged with Jeep touring, rock climbing, repelling, kayaking, mountain biking, you name it!

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Elopement Day Timeline :: Eight to Ten Hours

Now, I know what you’re thinking — how in the world are you supposed to have your photo taken for eight hours?! But no worries, we aren’t non-stop clicking the shutter the entire time :) One thing a lot of people don’t realize is how much of our time is spent hiking, hanging out, driving to locations, and so on. We aren’t necessarily posing, directing, and shooting the entire time! Especially with these longer timelines, we won’t be shooting the *whole* time, although we will pretty much always have a camera (or two) in hand to capture the sweet candid moments as they come! These longer timelines are typically great for more adventurous elopement days that require longer time commitments like canyoneering, helicopter/airplane tours, lots of driving, multiple locations, or multiple day-of activities. We also reccomend at least eight hours for couples with more than 20 guests. Here are a couple examples of what’s possible with 8-10 hours booked:

  • An 8 mile (round trip) hike. This could be for a longer day hike, one that we’d probably start super early and try to align with sunrise (which is safer to do than planning to hike 4-5 miles in the dark after sunset). This is only recommended for couples with 0 guests, or couples who are extremely confident in their guests abilities to hike! For longer hikes longer than 8 miles, we’d reccomend booking out two day package and doing an overnight trip (more on that below). With this timing, we’d be able to do your ceremony and a picnic celebration at the location, as well as plenty of stops along the way for photos. Bonus, when we’re hiking in the dark we can take some long exposure star photos if the sky is clear! 

  • A 4-6 mile hike with just the couple, as well as a relaxed ceremony + celebration with guests at a different location. We could plan the hike around sunrise and have a late-morning to mid-afternoon ceremony, or flip the timeline and have the hike around sunset following the ceremony!

  • As mentioned above, any of the hiking options could be substituted with a Jeep tour, helicopter tour, hot air balloon flight, cooking at your campsite in the morning, or whatever else feels exciting to you! With the full elopement day booked, you can truly make the most out of your day and enjoy multiple activities, explore really far into the wilderness, or splurge on some super cool experiences in the place you’ve chosen to elope in! 

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Elopement Timeline :: Multi-Day

Did you know we offer multi-day elopement packages? We only do a few per year, but in my opinion they’re the absolute best way to get as much as possible out of your elopement experience! Booking multiple days with us allows for some really epic opportunities, from backpacking into the wilderness to having a day for your and your guests as well as a day fo just you two! This package would be best for a couple that has traveled far for their elopement and wants to fully experience the place they’re eloping in, or for a couple who wants to include their guests on some of the fun activities, but also wants to have plenty of time dedicated to just the two of them. Here are a couple examples of what’s possible with multiple days booked:

  • A day spent with guests joining on the hiking/jeeping/etc, as well as a day just the two of you doing something special together, like canyoneering, skydiving, rock climbing, or relaxing at your cool hotel (side note, have you heard of Under Canvas? DREAMY) followed by a fun adventure.

  • A backpacking trip deep into the wilderness, accessing a place with no people and pristine landscapes. If you still want to incorporate guests, we could also structure your ceremony in a more easily accessible location before or after the backpacking trip

  • Spending Day one as your “wedding day” and Day two as your “Honeymoon” and having photos of both!

  • A fully booked expedition through a location guiding company, think kayak touring in Alaska, Glacier Trekking in Patagonia, riding camels to a desert camp in Morocco, or back country ski touring in Switzerland.

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Honestly, the beauty of eloping is how much control you have over your experience. There is no “right way” to do things, you essentially choose what you want to do, incorporate a meaningful ceremony to pledge your life to each other, and bring us along so you’ll have incredible photos to look back on until you’re cute old wrinkly buddies in 100 years from now :) If you’re a couple that’s booked with us and you’re in the early stages of planning, I sure hope this was helpful information for you! Please, don’t hesitate to reach out to us, ask questions, and seriously — we’re always full of new ideas!

Oh, and if you’re in the process of planning your own elopement and you haven’t reached out to us yet, what are you waiting for?! E-mail me right now — let’s get to planning!

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