how to plan an elopement- california elopement photographer
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How to Elope: Everything You Need To Know To Plan A Truly Incredible Elopement Experience

Filed in Elopements, Planning Tips — August 22, 2023

how to plan an elopement- california elopement photographer


So you’re engaged and ready to set out on the adventure of a lifetime with your partner? Let’s dive into the timeless world of elopements, where cinematic vibes, authentic moments, and exciting plans come together to create a romantic celebration like no other. Don’t worry if you’re not sure where to start – I’ve got your back! Let’s embark on this journey step by step. Here’s everything you need to know to get started with planning your elopement.

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What is an Elopement

Ever wondered what it really means to elope? Imagine wedding day freedom at its finest! Elopements are your canvas to paint your unique love story: exchange vows atop misty mountains, gather your closest pals in a special spot, say “I do” at San Francisco’s iconic City Hall followed by an epic party, or escape to Hawaii for a week of ocean play after a private jungle ceremony. Seriously, your adventure, your rules!

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Finding Your Why

Now, let’s dig into the heart of the matter – your “WHY.” Elopements are intentional, reflecting your desire for adventure and inspiration. Maybe you’re yearning for a wedding day filled with excitement, or perhaps the idea of a small, personal affair speaks to you more than a grand event. Whatever the reason, keep it close as you navigate the elopement planning process to ensure your day is truly yours.

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Imaging Your Dream Day

Picture your dream day – a day that oozes authenticity and meaning. Envision your morning with your partner, the scenery that surrounds you, the adventures you’ll embark on, and the emotions you’ll feel. This vision sets the tone for planning your elopement, infusing every detail with heartfelt significance.

Choosing Your Location

Choosing the perfect elopement location is a thrilling chapter. Think about places that hold meaning for your relationship or explore uncharted territories for added excitement. Consider the scenery that resonates with you – the beach, a mountain peak, a desert oasis, or somewhere else entirely. Your chosen backdrop should embody your personalities and love story.

Consider The Weather

Weather and time of year play a role too. Match your destination with the season – for instance, opt for a spring or fall desert elopement to avoid scorching temperatures. Consider accessibility, especially if guests or mobility issues are a factor. And don’t forget privacy – you want your ceremony to be intimate and distraction-free.


If you’re inviting folks, it’s worth giving a thought to the spot you pick. Think about any older relatives or pals with mobility issues you might be including – you’d want them to have a good time too, right? So, scout out spots with flat ground or shorter trails for an easier stroll. And hey, don’t forget about you and your partner! If hiking like a champ isn’t exactly your idea of a blast on your big day, fear not. There’s a world of spots that are a cinch to reach, even if you’re just rolling up with your love. (Glacier Point in Yosemite is a GORGEOUS ONE!) The name of the game is fun and ease, my friend! 🌟

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Alright, let’s chat about keeping the good vibes rolling at your elopement location! We’re all about those intimate, cozy feels, right? So, here’s the scoop on privacy – having random folks hanging around can totally throw off the groove of your ceremony. Not exactly what we’re aiming for.If you’re set on a super popular spot or a place where everyone’s welcome. No worries – aim for a weekday or sunrise showdown. It’ll be totally worth the early wake up call to dodge the crowds and snag some quality alone time with your partner for that sweet private ceremony.

But, wait, there’s more to this tale. If you’re eying a spot that’s a tad trickier to reach, guess what? It’s naturally gonna be a more private affair. High-fives for that! But, here’s the flipside: it might be a bit tougher for your guests to get to. So, you’ve got to strike that balance between exclusivity and accessibility. It’s all about making memories that are just right for you and your squad! Or, if privacy is your thing, stick to a good ole’ fashioned private ceremony and just use me as your witness! 

Plan Your Adventure

Your elopement day isn’t just about the ceremony; it’s an all-day adventure! We’re talking about soaking in every darn moment. 

So, let’s brainstorm! How do you wanna kick off your day? What’s the vibe as you lead up to the big “I do”? And guess what – the fun doesn’t stop there! After the main event, the world’s your oyster. Feel like conquering a hike and going all nature warrior? Go for it! Or maybe an adventure or some cool activity floats your boat. But hey, if “chillin’ like a villain” by the beach or a picnic scene is more your style, go ahead and own that vibe.

Just remember, the location you choose can set the tone. But the beauty of it all is that it’s your canvas to paint, so grab those brushes and create a masterpiece of memories that’s all about you! Whether it’s hiking, exploring, picnicking, or simply enjoying a beautiful view, make it a day to remember.  

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What to Tell Family

Bracing for those family conversations? It’s not as hard as it seems! Share your elopement plans thoughtfully, and remember, it’s your day. If you’re unsure how to break the news, check out my blog post on “How to tell Family You’re Planning to Elope” for some helpful tips.

Choosing a Date

When it comes to planning your epic elopement, the urge to nail down a date can be pretty strong. But here’s a fun fact: if you’ve got some wiggle room, you’re setting the stage for an absolute dream day! Flexibility is like your secret weapon, and here’s why.

Your elopement date goal should vibe perfectly with your chosen spot, the weather plays nice, and your epic plans sync up like a rockstar band. Now, let’s break it down. Say you’re crushing on a Tahoe Elopement – rad choice! If you’re all about basking in the great outdoors and not so much about teeth-chattering cold, go for a late spring or summer date. It’s a match made in adventure heaven. Keep in mind that trendy locations usually mean lots of competition, so consider a weekday if you’re spot is a popular choice right now.

But hey, if you’ve got your heart set on a specific date that’s a sentimental jackpot for your relationship, I’m all about that too! Just remember, it’s like piecing together a puzzle. Every element matters – the location, the weather, and all those awesome things you wanna do. So, go ahead, flex those planning muscles and make it a day that’s legendary in every way! 💫

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Finding Vendors

Now, let’s talk about the magical people who’ll make your day unforgettable. First and foremost, your elopement photographer is a pivotal part of this team – they’ll capture the magic and emotions of your story. It’s essential to find a photographer whose style resonates with you and with whom you connect on a personal level. Wanna hear some more about what it’s like to work with me? Check out my Experience page here!

Next up is your officiant, who will lead your ceremony and legally bind your union. You can choose a professional officiant or even have a friend or relative ordained online. Additionally, consider a hair and makeup artist to ensure you look and feel your best, and a florist to create a stunning bouquet that complements your style and adds a touch of natural beauty to your day.

Need some suggestions? Ask me about my vendor guide when you fill out this contact form!

Dress it Up!

Just because you’re opting for an intimate celebration doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to that dream dress or that killer suit you’ve had your eye on forever. Seriously, the style game is wide open and it’s your time to shine!

Here’s the deal – every bit of your day is a canvas for your self-expression. What you rock is totally in your hands. So, go ahead and pick something that makes you feel like a million bucks, radiating confidence and comfort. You do you, and you do it fabulously!

Now, let’s dive into the fun part – planning your ensemble for the full day. Think about it: what’s on the agenda before and after you say your vows? Hiking? Chilling? Exploring like a champ? Consider all the possibilities, and don’t shy away from those little details that’ll elevate your experience. Will you need a change of outfit, maybe some hiking boots for a trail adventure, or even a trusty rain jacket? These are the small things that’ll make your day super smooth and keep you looking fly. Pro tip: you can sort out these details towards the end of your planning journey, just don’t leave them till the last minute. Your elopement look is your statement – own it, rock it, and make it unforgettable! 

Making it Legal in California

Sorting the legalities is crucial – make sure you’re prepared with the right documents for a smooth process. Marriage licenses vary, so do your research. And if the legal part isn’t on the same day, don’t fret – it’s about your commitment. 

In order for an elopement to be considered a legal marriage in the state of California you need to obtain a license. My recommendation is to pickup the license in the county you plan to hold the ceremony a couple days prior to your planned wedding date, and then turn it back in the next business day after.

Marriage licenses in California require you to have an officiant, one witness of an age old enough to know they’re witnessing a marriage and be able to sign the form, and the bride and groom. That’s it! If you prefer to keep it private there are some other less common ways of getting married without a witness, that are not “self-solemnization” since that isn’t legal in California (yet), but they’re much more of a complicated process and are done much more rarely.

If you prefer to keep your marriage ceremony more private for whatever reason then here are some examples of how to legally marry without having to bring a friend to witness:

Example one:

You have a court-house or city hall elopement with the photographer as your witness.

You have elope at your desired location and hire an officiant and use the photographer as your witness.

You have a mountain elopement and let the photographer who has been ordained “officiate” your marriage by allowing you to exchange vows you both wrote for each other, and the photographer brings an assistant along to serve as your witness. In this case the photographer wouldn’t “perform the ceremony”, but would be there to sign the papers after you two “self-solemenize”. This the option I provide for my clients if they’d like me to act as their officiant and photographer.

Let’s Talk Budget

Alright, buckle up for the money talk – you know, the one that makes everyone a bit uneasy. But guess what? I’ve got your back and we’re diving into this budget adventure together. You’ll find this section right at the bottom for a reason – it’s like the dessert of this whole planning feast!

Now, here’s the thing. Many couples get caught up in setting a budget first, and then they try to cram their dream day into it. But let’s be real – how can you figure out a budget when you’re not even sure what it’s supposed to cover? We’re all about keeping it real here. Sure, we don’t want you throwing a money party you can’t afford, but there’s a golden nugget here. Hear me out.

You’re allowed to dream big – I mean really big. Imagine your perfect day, let those visions run wild, and then peek at the price tags. Yep, this is where you tweak and fine-tune. Trust me, your jaw might drop when you realize how fantastically epic your day can be without blowing the bank. You don’t need to break the bank for a stellar celebration. Your elopement can be absolutely incredible without the sky-high costs of a traditional wedding.

So, let’s break down what you might be budgeting for:

– Flights, rental car, or gas for those awesome adventures

– Sweet accommodations that make you feel like royalty

– Your killer attire and those shiny rings

– Permits and fees to lock down your dream location

– The essential marriage license to make it all official

– The dream team of vendors (photographer, videographer, florist, hair, makeup, and more)

– Delicious food and drinks to keep the energy high

– Activities and excursions that make your day one for the books

Now, here’s your secret recipe: start by dreaming up your dream day. Yep, picture that epic scene in your mind. Then, work out the costs – ask those vendors for quotes, get down to the nitty-gritty. Finally, stack that against your financial scene. It’s like a puzzle – if you need to shift some pieces around, it’s all good. Don’t toss out your dream because of a budget fear – you’ve got the power to make your day rock within your means.

This is your wedding day, friend. It deserves to be everything you’ve imagined, and we’re here to make it a reality! 

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In the grand scheme of things, planning your elopement is all about crafting a wedding day that screams “you guys!” It’s the day you and your partner tag each other in for a lifetime of awesome adventures. This day will be a highlight reel you’ll replay for a lifetime. 🎥🌟

Here’s the deal – there are no rulebooks here. Zip, zilch, nada. So, go wild and have a blast crafting your perfect day. Whether it’s hiking up a mountain, dancing on a beach, or basking in the glow of city lights, it’s all on the table.

Now, if you’re on the hunt for a photographer to capture every minute of this whirlwind, I’m here waving my hand, and I’d love to be considered! Elopements are my heart and soul, and I’m all about turning your day into an emotional masterpiece. I’m talking memories that resonate deep and feel like you – genuine, heartfelt, and oh-so-real.

Need more help with planning your elopement?

Visit this page to get a copy of my ULTIMATE ELOPEMENT GUIDE for free!

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