A simple exercise to help you decide how many people to invite, if any, to join on your wedding day | elopements vs. weddings


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We were talking with some friends recently about our opinions on big weddings vs. elopements. We discussed the obvious things like cost and location, but after going back and forth a few times I came up with a little illustration to help them decide who they'd want to invite on their wedding day. Now, I'm not saying this is fool-proof, but it will at least help you and your partner talk through some ideas and have a better understanding of what you want. For some people, it might help to actually draw this on paper - whatever you need to do to visualize:

Imagine your closest friends and family as an inner circle. Try to keep this down to 1-5 people if possible. Create a bigger circle around them of more family/friends (maybe 5-10 people), and keep making bigger circles as you go. Each circle out is a larger group of people that you have a slightly less-close relationship with. 

Refer to this circle strategy when making your wedding guest list. Think about the fact that if you choose to invite 5 circles, you're including everyone in circle 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Depending on how you drew your circles, that could be 100+ people. Some people go all out and invite tens of circles (hundreds of people). In some ways that is super rad because it might mean your old college buddy from circle 9 being in the same room as your uncle from circle 3, and when else will that ever happen? It's your wedding day, so it's temping to embrace "the more the merrier" mindset, trying not to offend anyone, plus - we all know those gifts won't buy themselves...

But here's the thing you have to realize: for every additional circle you invite, you will spend less time with the inner circles. You will be spread more thin and make memories with more people, but the memories will be different than if you just invited a circle or two. Also, keep in mind that you’re getting married now, and circle 1 is your spouse. When planning your wedding day, take into consideration your person and people. Who do you want to spend that time with? Who do you want in your memories from that day? Do you want to spend time with circle 8 buddies when your circle 2 family is hanging out nearby? Do you want to spend any of your wedding day with anyone but your spouse?

The answer is different for everyone. There is no right or wrong answer, but too often people just assume they have to do one thing because it's what's socially acceptable, when in reality you have so much freedom to plan what you do with your wedding day! Aside from a few legalities, it's all up to you how it goes down. If you can't imagine getting married without your entire village surrounding you, an elopement probably isn't your thing, but if you think having your aunt/mom/sister/whoever there will stress you out, maybe consider putting yourself and your spouse first and elope just the two of you! Here are a few examples of different weddings + elopements we've photographed with varying guest counts:

Vicky + Ben in Yosemite (0 guests)

Chris + Jenn in Yosemite (20-30 guests)

Christina + Dan in Olympic National Park (20-30 guests)

Erin + Ryan in Mount Rainier National Park (20-30 guests)

Matt + Laurann in Crested Butte (75-100 guests)

Jena + Kyler in Washington (100+ guests)

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We'll be sharing more elopement tips like how to start planning (yes, a few things still need to be planned!), how to pick a location, and how to make your family feel special (even if you elope without them) in the coming weeks, so be sure to follow along on instagram and stay tuned for new blog posts!


The Hearnes Adventure Photography is run by Abbi and Callen Hearne, a husband & wife wedding photography team with an emphasis on adventure. They live on the road as full-time nomads in their big white van, allowing them to serve a large portion of the western US including California, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming. They believe love is the greatest adventure and strive to create photos that are epic, romantic, true, and timeless.

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