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How To Plan An Elopement : Creating The Perfect Timeline

Elopements have evolved from secretive, last-minute decisions to intimate and intentional celebrations of love. These small, heartfelt gatherings allow couples to focus on what truly matters – their commitment to each other.

It's your wedding day, plan it however you want to!

Elopements give you the freedom to create an unforgettable day tailored to your personalities and desires, but planning them can be extremely stressful and time consuming (not to mention stressful!).

As a wedding and elopement photographer with years of experience I believe the secret to a perfect day is all in the planning process aka the timeline. To ensure your elopement goes off without a hitch, it's crucial to have a well-thought-out timeline.

In this guide, we'll walk you through each step of planning your elopement, from initial inspiration to the magical day itself - end result - a timeline you can use for your own elopement! Here we go!


The absolute first step in making your timeline is coming up with a list of everything you want to include for the day.

And next to each item add allotted time for each item.

Next be sure to add the amount of time it takes to travel from location to location.

The great thing about planning elopements is that there are literally no rules! You can get together seprately or together. You can choose to do a first look or not! We can stop at a pizza resturaunt and get a pizza thats half pepperoni and half olives. We can literally do whatever you want to do, however you want to do it.

The important thing is to do it however you want to do it. Each couple is different.

Here are some timeline Items to consider:

  • Getting ready photos (1-2 hours)

  • First Look (about 20 minutes)

  • Ceremony (average length is 20 minutes)

  • Family Photos (20 minutes)

  • Signing Marriage License (5 minutes)

  • Reading letters written ahead of time from family members and friends (10 minutes)

  • Newlywed portraits (1 - 3 hours)

  • Intimate Dinner / Reception (1 - 3 hours)


This is the best time to get those beautiful detail shots. Even if you didn't send out any invites there are so many details you're going to want to remember. Example: the airbnb you stayed at, your soon to be husband writing his vows in his vow book that morning before he gets ready, every detail of the day will be special.

Remember: you can either choose to see each other or we can sneak around the air bnb and plan a first look to capture the emotion.

Will you be incorporating any family heirlooms into your day? If so you'll want photos of these.

I like to tell all of my couples to put all the details that they'd like in a box, when I get to the site I stop and say hello and the first thing I do is pick up this box + any wedding attire to photograph these first since you'll need to put them on after.

FIRST LOOK (about 20 - 30 minutes)

During a traditional wedding I push HARD for a first look, during an elopement this can go either way. If you're each getting ready at separate locations I see no need. We'll be able to capture this excitement as you're walking towards each other during the ceremony no problem. But, say you choose to get ready at the same location and ride in the same vehicle to the ceremony location we should absolutely plan for a first look!! I'm here for whatever you're thinking either way. I've seen so many cute things done here I'd hate to put anyone in a box.


The average elopement ceremony takes about 20 - 30 minutes depending on what you've all got planned. This can be religious or not religious. Religious ceremonies tend to be slightly longer. The main events during an elopement ceremony are:

  • Reading vows to each other

  • Exchanging rings

  • First Kiss


If you are planning to have any family or friends at your ceremony you should leave a few minutes after the ceremony to take some photos with them and/or do a celebratory toast.

Things to consider:

  • How long is the guest list?

  • Will you have a wedding planner or day of coordinater there to help pull this off or should you plan a little extra time to have one of your guests pour champagne after the ceremony is over?


This doesn't take too long but giving any less time than 5 minutes to sign your marriage license would be a disservice. There is more writing than you'd think and it can be confusing! Plus I usually like to take a couple fun photos with the document afterwards.

Things to consider:

  • Your specific locations marriage laws.

  • Will you have a witness signing also? If not we can do this on the shorter end.

  • In Colorado you can have your dog as a witness, this takes a little extra time.


Plan about 2 minutes per letter.


You've exchanged vows and you're married now it's time to have some fun!! What should we do to incorporate a feel for the day? Should we charter a sailboat? Or hike for sunset on the side of a cliff?

Adventure elopements and destination weddings are so much fun! I love to plan epic photos that encapsulate the spirit of the day. Just make sure to add in plenty of time so you won't feel rushed during your planned activity.

Things to consider:

  • Are you hiring a photographer and/or videographer? Plan exra time if you have both!

  • How long is your "MUST HAVE" shot list?

  • Plan extra time for any activity


If you're planning a dinner you'll want to add on some photos of this. We can also plan a toast to your love instead of a dinner. Think about having an extra bottle of champagne just for popping in photos.

Consider going outside for sunset photos and taking a moment to reflect on your elopement.

It's super sweet to plan a first dance, even if it's just the two of you! Download a song so we can listen to it offline and ask me and I can bring my speaker.

I've photographed a few elopements that did fireworks or sparklers after sunset.


  • Consider incorporating 5-10 minutes of extra time through out your day to ensure you won't be rushed

  • Will you be waking up early for a sunrise elopement? Do you or your partner tend to move a little more slowly in the morning?

  • Consider the season and add some extra travel time just incase there is a chance of bad weather.

  • If you hire a professional photographer they will most likely want to work with you while you plan your timeline. Each photographer has a specific time of day they like to use to get the look they love. I personally offer timeline planning services with all of my elopement packages. In the end you'll not only have a well thought out timeline complete with a plan A and a plan B, it will also look cute! I'll design it to match whatever vibe you're planning.


Start by working backward from the time you want your ceremony to begin.

Consider the sunrise or sunset if that's an integral part of your vision.

Allow extra time for commuting between locations, factoring in potential traffic, weather conditions, and any unforeseen delays.

It's advisable to add at least 30-45 minutes of buffer time for travel to ensure you're not rushed and can fully savor each moment.

Once you've established your ceremony time and commute allowance, slot in activities such as getting ready, capturing pre-ceremony photos, and any personal touches or decor setup.

Remember to be flexible in your timeline, as the unexpected can happen, having a well-structured plan will help keep things running smoothly on your special day.

Are you ready to pick a photographer? Now that you've learned how to plan your dream elopement, it's time to think about who's going to capture those precious moments. Lauren Wylie Photography specializes in elopement photography, ensuring that your day is preserved in stunning imagery. Visit to see some of our previous elopement work and get in touch to discuss how we can help you capture the magic of your own elopement.

Don't miss the chance to have your wedding day told through breathtaking photos – book your elopement photography session today!

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