How to Plan Your Elopement

Congratulations, you’re engaged! Now all of the planning can begin! If you’re on this blog, that means you’ve already made the first step — decided that you want to elope or have an intimate wedding, and are now wondering how to plan your elopement.

Decades ago the term “elopement” was used to describe a couple running off to get married without loved ones having any knowledge about the union. This type of way to get married might have been frowned upon then, but today, elopements are so much more than that. Eloping is the desire for couples to be uniquely themselves. They are adventure seekers and want the freedom of getting married THEIR way.

However, all of this freedom and creative flexibility means some planning must be done. If you think about it because you can get married practically ANWHEREEEEE, how do you possibly choose?! There isn’t a template on what an elopement day should look like and you are probably wondering how to plan your elopement if there are no restrictions... The freedom of being able to do whatever you want can be incredibly overwhelming.

While elopements and intimate weddings do not have the stress, pressure, and financial obligation of a large “traditional” wedding, don’t underestimate the planning it takes to bring your dream elopement or intimate wedding to life! We are by no means saying this to scare you or try to convince you that an elopement / intimate wedding isn’t the way to go (because it 100% is and we love them - if you don’t believe us, please view our reasons why you should elope), but it takes a little planning for your perfect elopement day!

The good news is that, in true Early Night fashion, we promise our couples that we will slap any and all stress in the face (gently) and put your priorities on a pedestal that no one can touch! So, we’ve got your back when it comes to planning your elopement and we’re here to make it easier on you — which is why we’ve put together this guide on how to plan your elopement! It includes some goodies, like our own personal general timeline you can use for planning your elopement or intimate wedding!

Imagine Your Dream Day

This is the perfect place to start planning your elopement. Think of what your dream day would look like and what that may include. Here are some questions that may help you think of what you want:  

Discover The Key Components You Want to Incorporate

These components can be small or large, but they are what will make your day special, unique, and customized exactly to your elopement. Think about the events that you want to have captured as another starting point on how to plan your elopement.

Here are some ideas:

Find Your Vendors!

While having elopement photographers picked out to capture your special day is super important, there are quite a few other vendors you may need to consider hiring. The type of elopement you’re having will determine whether or not you need vendors with specific experience and also determines where to start in how to plan for your elopement. The more remote and wild the wedding location, the more important it can be to find vendors with an outdoor experience. If you have vendors in mind that you already know you want to work with, do not hesitate to reach out as soon as possible! Even in the elopement world, vendors are getting booked up a lot further than they were before. Once you have your date, definitely get in touch so you can work with your top choices!

Create Your Timeline

An added bonus to working with Early Night - we help all our couples who are planning their elopement with their timelines. Once we nail down the location and important elements to incorporate, we craft your elopement timeline! We set realistic expectations if certain things won’t fit in your day and suggest alternatives! To give you a sneak peek, here is a real example of an eight-hour elopement:

Once you start considering all of these things, it becomes pretty easy to figure out where to have the most perfect day with your partner or decide what that perfect day means/looks like to you! There is nothing more amazing than creating a day that truly reflects who you are as a couple; we hope that this guide helps you to create the most intentional, meaningful, unforgettable, absolutely perfect day possible.

If you need some additional resources, check out more tips on our blog, or get in touch! 

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What You Should Pack for Your Elopement

We are a bit ~over the top~ when it comes to what we pack for elopements, but what can we say, we like to be prepared. The good thing is that since we bring almost everything imaginable to your elopement, there isn’t too much that you need to worry about. As your favvvv California elopement photographers doing this for as long as we have, we know how to make your lives easier and we’re here to make this day run as ~smoothly~ as possible for you.

So, without further adieu, here is our simple elopement packing list to help you make sure you have everything you need to have the *best* elopement ever. 

Wedding Attire

Dresses, Suits, Sweatpants, Whatever Your Heart Desires

While we like to think that most people won’t forget their elopement clothing, this is something that is kindddaaaa important so it’s at the top of our list. While you may already have your wedding attire, consider the environment for your elopement! You may want to bring some underlayers just to be on the safe side and comfortable.


Again, we don’t think you’ll be showing up without shoes, but it is important to consider the environment again. Depending on the location, it may be worth wearing some comfortable sneakers and changing into your fancy footwear once we get to your elopement location or even switching between them for photos. Or just keep the sneakers on! It’s your day, you do whatever you want! Another tip: if you’re opting for said fancy footwear, pls pls break them in before your elopement (yes, we have GlacierGel™packed for blisters, but we do *not* want to have to use it!).


There is not much to add here or additional tips. We beg you - please don’t forget the rings. But also don’t be surprised if Nancy fashions one from some string if they are forgotten!

Marriage License 

Fortunately, this is the only important document you will need to bring to your elopement! Your officiant and witness will sign this after your ceremony. If there's one single thing you should pack for your elopement, this is the absolute most important one.

Here is some additional info on applying for and obtaining your marriage license, because like we said, we like to make sure we are there for you through it all -  If you are eloping in California, you can get your marriage license at any County Clerk’s office. Most counties do have a place where you can apply online, but you will still have to go to the physical office to pick up the license. California’s marriage law requirements and the documents you will need to bring with you when you apply for the marriage license are as follows:

Backpack of Personal Items


Handwritten vows are an amazing keepsake (even if you are reading traditional vows, it’s a great memento to have plus they look cute in photos). If you are writing your vows in books, do not forget to pack the books! Another option that is easy is having them on your phone (perhaps do this as a backup too in case you forget the books). Regardless, no matter what you will be reading your vows on, don't forget to bring them! If you’re looking for some vow books, we recommend supporting a small business owner - browse Etsy for some gorgeous hand-crafted vow books. 

Makeup & Hair Products

You never know when you may need to touch up your hair and makeup. It’s a great idea to pack the products you love and will be using on your wedding day so that we can do any quick fixes! You may be crying, it may be windy… sometimes hair and makeup can’t stand up against these unstoppable forces. Additional recommended toiletries: perfume, cologne, tissues, handkerchief, medications… 


Don’t forget your phones in case we need to get in touch with you! If you are going to be playing music from your phone during the ceremony, pack a speaker!

Picnic Items

Extra Clothing

As we said earlier, consider the environment you’re eloping in and pack some underlayers in case you get cold. It’s also a good idea to bring a rain jacket/poncho or jacket for outerwear that you can easily take on and off between photos. 

Alrighty, those are the basics of what you’ll need to pack for your elopement! If there is anything you’re wondering if you should bring, do not hesitate to ask us - we are here for you.

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How We Pack for Elopements

If you know us, you may know that we always try to make sure we’re overprepared when it comes to our work (if you don’t know this already, hello and welcome! We’re Eddie and Nancy and we may over-pack for elopements, but we promise everything has a reason). We want our couples to let go of stress, be their authentic selves, and have the best.elopement.ever. 

Planning your elopement is such an exciting time, but, like any life event, it can be a little stressful at times and we want to make sure we are there to help you through it all to create the most awesome day of your lives so far! Though elopements tend to be more laid back than a traditional wedding, there’s still a good amount of planning involved so we like to do our part; an essential part of making the elopement run smoothly is making sure we are prepared for any and every possible situation big or small that comes our way (well… as much as we realistically can).

Like most photographers, we’ve learned a thing or two over the years on how to prepare for any session. However, unlike most photographers, we’ve got our packing for elopements down to a ~science~. So, take a look and see what we’ve got ready for ya! We think that we have thought of it all, but let us know if we missed anything because we will most certainly be adding it to our list.

Pssst, before we get into it - a little disclaimer to ease any potential worries that may come from reading this list. Aside from all of our camera gear, we bring all of this stuff just to be fully prepared. We rarely need to use every single thing on this list, but sh*t can happen and we want to be ready for it. You'll have the best day ever, you’ll forget about the lil hiccup and we’re gonna have a good time. 

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The Camera Gear 

Okay, we would say this is the most important. Let it be known we will NOT be showing up to your elopement without a camera. We’re also not showing up with just a single camera. When we pack for our elopements we run through our checklist and make sure we’ve got:

The “Oh Sh*t Kit”

California elopements mean we can literally be anywhere from the snow in Big Bear, the beachy waves of San Diego, the billowing desert winds in Joshua Tree National Park, lush meadows in Sequoia National Park, the gentle giants in our Redwood Forests, or the incredible mountains in Yosemite National Park. What that means for you is that Nancy’s little *what if this happens* scenarios for each environment mean we’ve really thought of it all when we pack for elopements. It’s the best and worst part of our little anxieties that you get to benefit from!

Here’s what we’ve got packed in case of oh sh*t moments (aka emergencies):

The Toiletries 

Yes, there is even more stuff in our bag when we pack for our elopements (where do we even fit it all?) All of those travel essentials you’d regularly bring on a trip, we’ve got them on the ready! 

The Basics

Then of course we aren’t leaving our house for an elopement or really any session without packing these essentials. 

The ~Other~ Things We Pack For Elopements

As we said before, our elopements have taken us to a lot of really rad places and we’re ready for any location you throw at us (though we’ll just make sure we won’t hike super duper far, #sorrynotsorry). If we’re going to be out in the desert or really any remote location, you can’t be too prepared. 

And on top of it all… If you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the wilderness like Nancy frequently does because the water has gotta go somewhere, we’ve got you covered with a cat hole trowel and portable bathroom bags. 


That is pretty much everything! We probably have tons more, but these are the crucial few we have to pack.

This list definitely looks a bit long, but we’ve been doing this for so long it’s second nature at this point. As we said earlier, we want our couples to be stress-free so they can enjoy their day and be their authentic selves. You can be worry-free knowing that we’ve got your back (and we’ve got our own backs covered with a backpack to make sure we have everything). We take pride in being there for *you* every step of the way leading up to your elopement, during, anddddd even after your special day, we’ll probably still be your friends…if you want (like it’s not necessary but just naturally happens?). Now if you’re interested in wondering what YOU should pack for your elopement stay tuned because we’ve got another blog coming.

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How Many Hours Do I Need With My Elopement Photographer?

One of the most important decisions you'll make when planning your elopement is choosing a photographer. Your photographer will capture the memories of your special day, and the images they create will be treasured for years to come. But how many hours do you actually need with your elopement photographer? If you have this question about elopement photography coverage, keep reading! We'll look at some of the factors that go into this decision and help you determine the right amount of time for your elopement photography.

This is going to be an unpopular opinion... (Actually very popular amongst us elopement photographers.) An elopement is still your wedding day. And as your photographers, we treat it as no less than a bigger "traditional" wedding. That means you DESERVE full-day coverage and not just the typical "I only need 1-2 hours because it's just a little ceremony and some photos" that we usually hear from couples looking for elopement coverage. We're not about that mindset, and neither should you.

1. How Long Should My Elopement Be?

To help you decide how long you want your elopement day to last, you should plan out how you want to spend it with your loved ones or each other! Elopements can range from a quick ceremony at the courthouse to a full-day adventure in the great outdoors, though even with a small courthouse ceremony, we believe you need three or more hours with your elopement photographer to truly capture your day perfectly.

Most couples who hire us typically book around 8 hours of coverage, and we honestly feel like it's NOT enough. And while we do get inquiries for less than three hours, we genuinely believe that a meaningful, memorable elopement cannot be squeezed into just two hours or less. By organizing a day full of activities, you're able to create the perfect elopement, which can even stretch to two full days! 

Your elopement should be an experience full of memories and intentionality - not an all-day photoshoot. It's a day you're going to look back and remember all the moments from sunrise to sunset that get to be captured.

2. Why Should I Hire An Elopement Photographer All Day?

You might be wondering why you would need to hire an elopement photographer for the entire day. After all, won't a few hours be enough to capture all the important moments?

As professional elopement photographers, we know the ins and outs of capturing an elopement. And we've come down to one singular conclusion — no two elopements are the same. It makes crafting and photographing your wedding day that much more fulfilling.

While it's true that you can get some great photos in just a few hours, hiring a photographer for the entire day has some benefits. Even if you're only having a simple ceremony, hiring an elopement photographer for the entire day can be a great investment. Your photographer can capture not just the ceremony, but also the moments leading up to it, the celebrations afterward, and all the adventures in between.

What would your perfect day look like? When you wake up, do you see the walls of your tent or a cute little cottage with a beautiful view? Are you going on an epic hike to see breathtaking peaks and valleys? Maybe you're envisioning a romantic stroll on the beach with a picnic of your favorite dinner and drinks? Spend some time brainstorming a day full of adventure and romance and how you'd like to FEEL on your wedding day.

Having an elopement photographer with you all day means that you'll have a visual record of your entire elopement experience. It means that you can take your time and enjoy every moment. You'll be able to look back on the memories of your day, from getting ready early in the morning to the last dance under the stars. Your elopement day is your special day to celebrate the love you have for your partner, and there are so many possibilities!

3. How many hours do I actually need with my elopement photographer?

So, how many hours do you actually need with your elopement photographer? First, understanding the real value of having your photographer for 8+ hours will help determine how many hours you need with your elopement photographer. 

There are three things you want to remember, consider the time it takes to get from Point A to Point B, add 5-15 minute buffers between EVERYTHING (we mean it, absolutely don't skimp on this), and make you and your love the central point of your day.

Simple Ceremony ELopement: 4 Hours

If you're having a simple ceremony with just a few guests or no guests, you might only need 4 hours with your photographer. This will give you enough time to capture the ceremony, some portraits, a few candid moments afterward, and a small picnic + first dance

Half-Day Elopement: 6-8 Hours

If you're planning a full day of adventures, such as hiking to a remote location or exploring a national park, you'll likely need more time with your photographer. A 6-8 hour package will give you plenty of time to capture all the moments of your day, from the early morning preparations to the late-night celebrations.

Full-Day Elopement: 8-10 Hours

If you're traveling to a new location for your elopement, you might want to hire your photographer for the entire day. This will give you plenty of time to explore the area, take photos in different locations, and capture all the special moments of your destination elopement.

Of course, these are just general guidelines, and you should work with your photographer to determine the best package for your needs. Your photographer can help you create a timeline for your elopement and suggest the best amount of time to capture all the important moments.

Hiring an elopement photographer for the entire day can be a great investment. Not only will you get beautiful photos of your special day, but you'll also have someone there to capture all the little moments that make your elopement unique. When deciding how many hours you need with your photographer, consider the length of your elopement and the activities you have planned, and work with your photographer to create a package that fits your needs and budget. With the right photographer and the right amount of time, you'll be able to look back on your elopement memories for years to come.

Book us for your 2024 elopement!