How much time do you need for your elopement?

A big part of planning your elopement day is deciding on how much time and how much photography coverage you need. Elopements are incredible because you can do whatever you want all day, but also overwhelming because….you can do whatever you want all day. You’re not confined to the time limits at a venue or a traditional wedding day timeline. Its easy to think you only need a couple hours- after all how long could a ceremony and a few photos take? But don’t sell yourself short! Its not unusual at all for traditional weddings to have anywhere from 8-12 hours of photography coverage; and while an elopement day is different than a big wedding, it is still your wedding day and deserves to be celebrated!

Misconceptions about elopement timelines

Myth: Keeping things simple means having a short timeline

  • Longer timelines aren’t necessarily more complicated! It just gives extra time to slow down and really experience each thing that you have planned. Shorter timelines can actually end up feeling less “simple” because the end up being so fast paced.

Myth: Long timelines only make sense if you’re hiking

  • The majority of couples who elope aren’t interested in doing a long hike on their elopement day. There are several couples who have had 8 hour days and didn’t hike at all! Instead, they chose to include activities like cooking together, hiring a private chef, horseback riding, or going on a jeep tour.

Myth: longer timelines only make sense if you’re including family

  • Having a longer timeline does help if you’re including family. It gives you the option to adventure on your own and spend time with your guests, but even a two person elopement benefits from a longer timeline! Elopements are about not rushing from thing to thing, activity to activity. They give the freedom to really slow down. That means taking time for a picnic instead of two quick bites. It means taking time to hug each other and talk after your ceremony.

How are elopement days typically structured?

Before we get further into this part, remember- there is no one size fits all template for an elopement day. Timelines can be done in any order and include (or exclude) whatever is the best fit for the two of you!

Elopement days and their structure change based on how you want your day to feel, if guests are included, how many locations you want to visit, and what activities you want to include. Below are some examples of the progression of an elopement day.

For elopements without guests or hiking:

  • Getting ready -> first look -> travel to ceremony -> ceremony -> couple’s photos at a 2nd location -> celebratory meal -> cake -> first dance

For elopements with guests and no hiking:

  • Getting ready -> travel to ceremony site -> first look -> ceremony -> photos with guests -> couple’s photos at a 2nd location -> regroup with guests for dinner -> toasts -> first dance
  • Getting ready -> first look -> activity (like jeep tour) -> ceremony -> picnic -> couple’s photos at different location

For elopements with no guests and hiking

  • Begin hike to location -> refresh and get ready -> first look -> pick out ceremony spot -> ceremony -> picnic -> first dance -> couples photos -> hike back down

For elopements with hiking and guests

  • Begin hike to location -> refresh and get ready -> first look -> private ceremony -> couple’s photos -> hike back down -> meet up with family -> officiated ceremony -> group photos -> picnic -> toasts -> first dance

Why a timeline is so important in your elopement day experience

A good timeline will help you visualize how your day will come to life. It allows you to see how everything will be laid out and to not have to keep track of time on the day of. A good timeline also has buffer time, because things to take longer than expected! On a normal day, putting on a suit or dress may only take 5 minutes, but on a wedding day, especially with making sure everything looks perfect, the anticipation of what you’re about to do building, and the moments being photographed; the whole thing can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes. The same thing with getting in the car to head to a location- gathering everything that’s coming with, double checking, and then getting into the car in wedding attire all takes longer than two minutes. Accounting for these things ahead of time allows you to float through the day stress free because you won’t be running behind!

Full sample timelines

Now that we’ve talked about how important a good timeline is for your elopement experience and what moments elopement days can be made up of, here are some real elopement day timelines! I do want to reiterate that your day of timeline should be completely custom to what you want, but these are a good jumping off point to get ideas going.

4 hour elopement timelines:

4 hour elopement timeline (no hike)

3:45 PM: Photographer Arrival Time

3:45 PM- 4:00 PM: Detail photos

4:00 PM – 4:30 PM: Both partners final getting ready and put on attire

4:45 PM – 5:00 PM: First Look

5:15 PM – 5:45 PM: Travel from Hotel to Ceremony

6:00 PM – 6:15 PM: Ceremony 

6:15 PM – 6:30 PM: Group photos

6:30 PM – 7:00 PM: Cake and champagne toast

7:10 PM – 7:20 PM: Travel from Ceremony to Portrait Location

7:20 PM – 7:45 PM: Couple’s photos

7:45 PM: Photographer Departure Time

4 hour elopement timeline (with hike)

2:00 PM: Photographer Arrival Time

2:15 PM – 3:45 PM: Hike to lake, taking photos along the way

3:45 PM – 4:15 PM: Change into wedding attire

4:30 PM – 4:40 PM: Ceremony 

4:50 PM – 5:10 PM: Picnic and relax

  • Detail photos during picnic

5:10 PM – 5:30 PM: Couples Portraits

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM: Hike back down to trailhead

6:30 PM: Photographer Departure Time

When is 4 hours a good fit?

A four hour elopement timeline is perfect for couples who want a simple, intimate ceremony with just a few key moments captured. You’ll have enough time for a beautiful ceremony, a few stunning portraits, and perhaps a short celebratory toast and picnic. It’s ideal for those who prefer a more minimalist approach but still want to preserve the magic of the day.

Click below for full elopement galleries:

4 hour non hiking elopement with guests
4 hour non hiking elopement with guests
4 hour hiking elopement with kids

6 hour elopement timelines:

6 hour sample timeline (no hike)

1:00 PM: Photographer Arrival Time

1:00 PM – 1:30 PM: Getting Ready & Details

1:30 PM – 1:45 PM: Partner 1 Puts on Attire

1:45 PM – 2:15 PM: Partner 2 puts on Attire

2:20 PM – 2:30 PM: Travel from Airbnb to Ceremony

2:40 PM – 2:50 PM: First Look

2:55 PM – 3:05 PM: Ceremony 

3:10 PM – 3:30 PM: You’re married!!! Hang out, pop champagne, read letters from family.

3:45 PM – 5:00 PM: Couples Portraits at various spots around the lake. Take time to enjoy each spot and the scenery with each other (not super fast paced/rushed couples photos- more experiencing the moment with some gentle direction)

5:00 PM – 5:15 PM: Travel back to Airbnb

5:15 PM – 6:30 PM: Sign marriage license and dinner

6:30 PM – 7:00 PM: Cake and first dance!

7:00 PM- 7:15 PM: Candids and relaxing with the animals

7:15 PM: Photographer Departure Time

6 hour sample timeline (with hike)

2:00 PM: Photographer Arrival Time/begin detail photos

2:30 PM – 3:15 PM: Getting ready and photos of couple putting on attire

3:15 PM-3:30 PM: Get set up for first look and first look

3:30 PM – 3:50 PM: Ceremony 

4:00 PM – 4:30 PM: Cake and food!

4:45 PM – 5:15 PM: Travel from Airbnb to lake trailhead

5:15 PM – 6:00 PM: Hike up to lake taking pictures along the way

6:15 PM –7:30 PM: Couples Portraits and first dance

7:30 PM –8:00 PM: Hike back down, photos along the way

6:00 PM: Photographer Departure Time

When is 6 hours a good fit?

For couples who want a bit more time to soak in every moment, a 6-hour elopement strikes a perfect balance. This option allows for a relaxed timeline, giving you time to get ready, have a heartfelt ceremony, enjoy an extended photo session in multiple locations, and even share a small meal or cake cutting. With six hours, you won’t feel rushed, and you’ll have ample opportunity to capture the essence of your special day in a variety of beautiful settings.

Click a photo below to view elopement galleries:

6 hour non hiking elopement with no guests
6 hour multi location elopement with no guests
6 hour multi location elopement with guests

8 hour elopement timelines:

8 hour sample timeline (no hike)

12:30 PM: Photographer Arrival Time

12:30 PM – 1:00 PM: Getting Ready & Details

1:00 PM – 1:15 PM: Partner 1 Puts on Attire

1:15 PM – 1:30 PM: Partner 2 Puts on Attire

1:45 PM – 2:00 PM: First Look

2:15 PM – 3:00 PM: Travel from Airbnb to First location

3:15 PM – 3:30 PM: Ceremony 

3:30 PM – 3:45 PM: You’re married!! Celebrate with a drink of choice!

3:45 PM – 4:00 PM: Travel from overlook to nearby secondary spot 

4:00 PM – 4:30 PM: Couples Portraits

  • Exploring/walking around the area

4:40 PM – 5:40 PM: Travel from 2nd location to Mountain Pass

  • Pick up pizza on the way

5:50 PM – 6:45 PM: Couples Portraits at sunset

  • Exploring/walking around the area
  • First dance

6:45 PM – 7:15 PM: Picnic and cut cake with fairy lights and lanterns

7:20 PM – 7:50 PM: Drive to final viewpoint for star photos

8:00 PM – 8:30 PM: Star photos

8:30 PM: Photographer Departure Time

8 hour sample timeline (with hike)

6:30 AM: Begin hike at trailhead

6:30 AM – 9:30 AM: Hike to first lake

9:45 AM – 10:00 AM: Partner 1 Puts on Attire

10:00 AM – 10:15 AM: Partner 2 Puts on Attire

10:20 AM – 10:30 AM: First Look

10:45 AM – 11:00 AM: Ceremony 

11:00 AM – 11:45 AM: Couples Portraits 

11:45 AM – 12:00 PM: Pop champagne and first dance

12:15 PM- 12:45 PM: Picnic

1:00 PM- 1:45 PM: Hike over to second lake

1:45 PM – 2:00 PM: Couples Portraits

2:00 PM- 2:30 PM: Hammock/hang out time

2:30 PM: Photographer Departure Time

When is 8 hours a good fit?

An 8-hour elopement is ideal for those who want the full wedding experience on a more intimate scale. This extended coverage lets you savor every detail, from getting ready in the morning to celebrating with a private dinner in the evening. You’ll have plenty of time for a leisurely ceremony, multiple photo sessions at different locations, and capturing candid moments throughout the day. Choosing this option ensures that every precious moment is documented, providing you with a comprehensive and unforgettable story of your elopement.

Click below to view elopement galleries:

8 hour hiking elopement with no guests
8 hour non hiking elopement with no guests
8 hour non hiking elopement with guests

Need help figuring out how to create your best day ever?

I’m Sam! An elopement photographer in Colorado all about helping couples who don’t want a one size fits all template for their elopement day. I help throughout the entire planning process, anything from suggesting locations to creating a timeline based on your ideas to helping put in veils and tie shoes the day of. I want to take as much off your plate as possible, because at the end of all of this, I want you two to go “everyone should get married like this!”.


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