Elopement vs. Wedding Photographer: What’s The Difference?

As elopements creep into the public consciousness, you may notice that some photographers (like me!) specifically call themselves “elopement photographers” instead of the usual “wedding photographers.”

What’s the difference?

Is that something you need to pay attention to when choosing a photographer for your wedding day?

Is there a difference in price? Or services?

All those answers and more after the jump.

What’s The Difference Between An Elopement and a Wedding?

Hey, great question!

Different folks will have different answers. Some photographers make the distinction based on the number of guests — 25 guests is a pretty common cutoff these days. Others will say that any celebration that involves more than just the couple and an officiant is a wedding and not an elopement.

There are so many different ways to answer that question, but here’s what I think: It doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters is the way the day feels.

Here’s a pretty typical wedding day timeline:

12:00 PM – Photographer arrives for getting ready photos

1:00 PM – First Look

1:30 PM – Portraits of The Couple

2:00 PM – Wedding Party Photos

2:30 PM – Family Photos

3:00 PM – Guests Arrive for the Ceremony

3:30 PM – Ceremony

4:00 PM – Cocktail Hour Begins

5:00 PM – Reception Begins

5:15 PM – Couple is Announced

5:20 PM – First Dance

5:30 PM – Salads are served, Toasts.

5:45 PM – Dinner is Served

6:45 PM – Cake Cutting

7:00 PM – Dance Floor Opens

9:00 PM – First Guest Shuttle Back To The Hotel

10:00 PM – Sparkler Exit

Here’s an example elopement timeline:

Note: There isn’t really a “typical” elopement day. I have never shot 2 that are the same! This is an example, but they vary wildly.

4:30 AM – Couple and photographer meet at the trailhead

6:15 AM – Couple changes into wedding clothes

6:30 AM – Sunrise first look at the overlook

6:45 AM – Make coffee and breakfast on the camp stove

7:45 AM – Portraits and exploring

8:30 AM – Begin hike back to trailhead

10:00 AM – Arrive back at parking lot

10:30 AM – Begin drive to second location

11:30 AM – Arrive at second location

12:00 PM – Friends and family arrive

12:30 PM – Begin short hike to ceremony spot

1:15 PM – Ceremony

1:30 PM – Group photos

2:00 PM – Sandwiches and Champagne

2:30 PM – Toasts and well-wishes

3:00 PM – Friends and family hike back to cars

3:15 PM – Portraits and private vow exchange

3:45 PM – Couple and photographer hike back to cars

4:15 PM – Arrive back at cars, head to Air Bnb

5:15 PM – Arrive at Air Bnb

6:00 PM – Private caterer serves dinner

7:00 PM – Campfire and s’mores

8:00 PM – Photography coverage wraps up

What Are Some Things Elopement Photographers Do That Wedding Photographers Don’t?

  • Scout for locations
  • Plan your timeline
  • Recommend lodging and vendors
  • Help with planning and activity ideas
  • Provide multiple consultations and meetings before your wedding day
  • Sign your marriage certificate
  • Help with securing location and special-use permits
  • And more!

Note: Services provided will vary from photographer to photographer, but these are some of the things I help couples with as a part of every elopement package. Be sure to ask your photographer about their specific offerings.

Are Elopement Photographers Cheaper Than Wedding Photographers?

Short answer: No.

Some photographers will have low-priced “elopement packages” that just include a couple of hours of photography coverage and none of the additional planning help, but I would encourage couples to look beyond those options.

Your wedding day will always be your wedding day whether you have 2 guests or 200, and it deserves the same amount of respect, celebration, and coverage either way.

Many elopement photographers will be significantly more expensive than traditional wedding photographers.

Once More For The People In The Back: Elopement Photographers May Be Significantly More Expensive Than Traditional Wedding Photographers.

When I am working with my eloping couples, easily 2/3 of my work is done weeks and months before their wedding day ever arrives. From researching locations and securing permits, crafting a timeline, researching vendors and activities, having calls and planning meetings with the couple, etc.

I am doing so much more than showing up for a handful of hours on the couple’s wedding day, and I take significantly fewer bookings per year than your average wedding photographer (10-15 per year versus 40-60 per year!) to make sure that I can provide be there to help from day 1.

Check out my pricing and packages here to see everything that’s included!

How Do You Decide Whether to Hire An Elopement Photographer or A Wedding Photographer?

Elopement Photographer

  • You are not interested in a lot of the components of a “traditional” wedding celebration.
  • You are looking at remote locations or places other than standard wedding venues.
  • You want help choosing activities, locations, and vendors in places where traditional wedding planners may not be able to help you.
  • You are having few to no guests.
  • You are looking to keep things simple, and are placing more importance on your experience of the day than on the pomp and circumstance.

Wedding Photographer

  • You are looking at more traditional wedding venues like churches, event spaces, country clubs, manor houses, etc.
  • You love weddings exactly the way they are.
  • Working with a wedding planner to secure your vendors and venue just makes sense.
  • You are hoping to have more than about 25 guests.

Should You Elope?

Take this Short, No BullSh*T Quiz and Find out.

Okay, I think maybe I am looking for a wedding photographer, can I still hire you?

No. I stopped booking traditional weddings in 2019 so that I could focus on helping to make beautiful and meaningful elopements more accessible to couples in Virginia and North Carolina. While I still have a couple of larger weddings on my book through 2022 due to COVID-19 postponements, I am no longer accepting new large wedding bookings. Not even for friends and family.

However, there are so many great wedding photographers who I know will take amazing care of you.

Recommended Wedding Photographers And Planners

If you’re in the Richmond, VA area, check out the work of Shawnee Custalow and Carly Romeo & Co. These are two women-led, LGBTQ+-friendly, antiracist wedding photography companies who are very much after my same heart and philosophy, but who focus on weddings instead of specifically elopements. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

I also recommend reaching out to The Hive Wedding Collective, a local, Black-owned, women-led, powerhouse of a wedding planning company. Their work is incredible, and they will help you plan the wedding day of your dreams.

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