Eloping bride and groom eat fresh strawberries at their elopement picnic. Fresh flowers are in small glass vases on the wooden table

How To Create An Elopement Timeline

Table Of Contents:

  1. What is an elopement timeline?
  2. Elements of a timeline
  3. Things to consider
  4. Elopement Timeline Tips
  5. How long does an elopement take?
  6. A real all-day Oregon elopement
  7. 5 steps to create your wedding day timeline
  8. Example elopement timelines

What Is An Elopement Timeline?

An elopement timeline is what you’ll use to plan out your entire wedding day. From waking up to going to sleep, your elopement timeline will help you keep track of every event, your vendors, and know what to expect next. Creating the elopement timeline is KEY to ensuring you’ve got everything you need to have the perfect elopement day. It’s one of those final checkpoints to make sure you and your partner are good to go to get married.

Crafting the ideal elopement timeline might sound really simple, but it can actually be pretty tricky. Especially when you start to really consider travel times, pee breaks, sunrise or sunset, tide times, and everything else, it can be really difficult to fit everything into the best possible spot. If you’ve not been married before, you might not realize that having your ceremony at noon isn’t a great idea for lighting purposes. Or maybe you weren’t aware that the coast would look entirely different at 9 am versus 5 pm. These details really, truly matter when crafting your ideal elopement day!

As an elopement photographer and planner, I always help create elopement timelines for couples based on everything they’ve told me they want to be included in their day. From the moment we get on a consultation call, I’m always jotting down notes of what you feel is important for your day, special things you plan to include, and key moments you want me to capture.

How To Plan An Elopement

Like anything else, your elopement day will have a beginning, middle, and end. However, UNLIKE a traditional wedding day, what you choose to fill each part with does not have to be what you might first expect. For example, you could start your day with vows at sunrise and then have breakfast. There isn’t a rigid rule that you have to follow when you arrange your day.

It might help you to first write out all the different elements you plan to include in your day. These might be the time you want to wake up, eating times, vows, ceremony, first look, hiking, rest times, dancing, ring exchange, etc. This way you can cross them off as you go once you’ve included them in your timeline.

What To Consider Before Making Your Elopement Timeline

Before you sit down and write out each hour of your elopement day, you’ll want to have (probably several) conversations together about what is important to you. These items might change throughout your planning process, which is why I don’t recommend creating a “rigid” timeline until about a month or so from your wedding day. With my clients, I usually send their final questionnaire with timeline details about 3 months out and then we hop on a Zoom call a couple of weeks later to go over the timeline I created for them.

Here are some of the questions I recommend you discuss before trying to create your timeline:

  1. Do you want to have a sunrise or sunset-based day?
  2. How far will you need to travel from your lodging?
  3. What activities do you want to do?
  4. Are there any other people you need to consider in your timeline?
  5. Will you need plan B ideas for the weather?

Don’t plan every minute of the day. I always create loose timelines for my couples because nobody wants to feel like they’re being micro-managed. That’s what a traditional wedding is for and we don’t want that!

Give yourself space. Some items of your day might take longer than you originally planned and that’s okay. Allowing that space within your timeline from the very beginning will ensure that you don’t have any stress on the day of if you get a little behind.

Consider transition times. You will never be able to be instantly dressed and then in the car to leave. You’ll need to pee, check your bag 80 times for everything, go back and shut off the lights, take forever to figure out how to sit in the car with a dress, wrangle your flowers, and so many other teeny tiny little things that add up fast. I always add on at least 10 extra minutes for all the transition times because trust me, you need it.

How To Plan The Perfect Elopement Timeline

Avoid the middle of the day. I don’t usually recommend having your ceremony or anything super important to you at midday because that is when the light is the worst.

Value your elopement. It might seem obvious, but humans always try to pack too much in a very short amount of time. Make sure you’re actually doing the things you really want to on your elopement and that you’re creating time for it all to feel special. You both deserve a really amazing wedding day and it never fails to go by faster than you can imagine.

How Long Does An Elopement Take?

No, really! Almost every single couple I photograph hires me for the entire day. I know it sounds crazy and long, but please believe me when I tell you it’s not as wild as it seems.

A huge misconception about elopements is that they are somehow less than a traditional wedding day, that they are “cheap”, and that they’re really short. All of that is wrong and if you’ve been consuming any of my content already, I hope I’ve proved that to you.

Your elopement is just as important as a traditional wedding and you’re likely still including much of the same things. There are the getting ready times, first looks, vows, your ceremony, ring exchange, dancing, laughing, the “after-party”, and so much more that each deserve their own space in your day. I preach about telling your WHOLE STORY and I really mean that. I cannot tell much of a story if you only want a few hours of coverage. At that point, it’s really not a story but rather just a snapshot of something that happened that day.

How Many Hours Do We Need To Elope?

I recommend at least six hours but you can go all the way up to twelve or more depending on what you plan to do! You can check out the timeline examples below to really see the difference between the elopement day depending on how many hours of coverage you have. Every moment you have without your photographer is usually going to be a memory you won’t remember a few months later, let alone 50 years down the road.

One of the first questions I get from inquiring couples is how an elopement is different from a photoshoot. Let me clear the air right here, right now that an all-day elopement is NOT an all-day photoshoot. That would be exhausting. For all of us.

My camera isn’t up every second we’re together and I’m not meant to be this huge cumbersome object on your day. None of your elopement is about me so while I’ll be there with you every step of the day, you probably won’t even notice. I’ll be in the background, keeping an eye on you, supporting you, and making sure you’re having the best day ever. Kind of like your dad probably did when you went to the amusement park as a kid. Did you always know where he was? Probably not, but he was letting you enjoy yourself and making sure everything was staying on track. I’m your elopement dad.

Full-Day Oregon Elopement Timeline

When Andria & Brenton first inquired with me they were thinking they only needed a couple of hours of coverage for their elopement. By the time we started talking about everything they wanted to include and how important it was to them, they ended up going with my eight-hour package.

Sample Elopement Timeline

Here’s what we did all day:

Andria and Brenton had a nice, slow morning munching on breakfast and cutting up their cheeses for their picnic later in the day. Once I arrived, I started taking some establishing photos of their Airbnb, their rings, outfits, and any other special bits. They got ready together and helped their daughter, Layla, tie her boots.

We made our way to a nearby trail and it started to rain. No worries though because I brought along some clear umbrellas so they could stay dry while still getting some photos. Brenton taught forest school and knew everything about all the critters and plants we passed, and it was so sweet to them to stop and munch on some leaves or chat about their favorite tree.

We crossed this bridge where Layla had a snack and we took some bridal portraits. I loved this little spot because of how perfectly quiet it was. Listening to the stream in the background was amazing!

Eventually, we found these two cedar trees that made the perfect spot for their picnic. They all enjoyed their food, Layla made some jokes, and they just enjoyed being a family together on their elopement day. Does it get better than that?

Andria and Brenton brought a gourd to exchange some wine and symbolize their unity, which was a nod to her Korean heritage. Then they did some chatting, kissing, and dancing surrounded by big tree roots. These roots were one of the big reasons we chose this particular trail, as Brenton fell in love with them while location scouting.

Before we left the trail, we stopped back at the bridge and they wrote their vows to each other. They loved doing this together and I used my longest lens to give them the space to be. It was so romantic.

We made a little pit stop at a local hotel they always stay at to warm up and eat some chili. After that, Layla got her kite ready and we went out to brave the windy beach. There’s just something about two parents watching their kid fly a kite that hits you in the feels.

During sunset, we had our own small ceremony and found two strangers to sign as witnesses on their marriage license. It was perfect.

At the end of the day, we went back to their Airbnb, ate some cake, made some toasts, and prepped for enjoying the night in the hot tub. Andria and Brenton did the thing that all of my couples usually do at some point in their elopement where they stand together, lean on each other and just breathe. You can see in their faces that it really sank in that they just got married and it was the most perfect day.

How To Plan Your Elopement Timeline

Five Steps to create your own wedding day timeline

Step One

Start creating your elopement day timeline by writing out EVERYTHING you plan to include on your day. This can be anything from activities to vendor arrival times to low tides. Write it all down in a list so you can cross it off once it’s been added to your timeline.

Step Two

After you’ve got your jumbo list, you should create a template document with your times written out on the left side. This would look something like this:

9:00 am:

9:30 am:

10:00 am:

I recommend starting with half-hour increments so you can be pretty precise.

Step Three

The first thing you’ll add to the template will be anything you can’t change. These items include tide times, sunset/sunrise, vendor arrival and departure times, check-in times, etc. These entries will give you the base to go off of for the rest of your day. You probably don’t want your photographer to arrive 2 hours before your hair and makeup is set to start!

Step Four

Fill in the rest of your activities! Try not to think too hard about it as you put each item down. It’s okay to have multiple drafts and things may change later on. Your timeline is just supposed to be a helpful guide for all the people on your day rather than a rigid list to abide by.

Step Five

Tweak as needed throughout the rest of your planning. Most elopement photographers will create this timeline for you! I always get all the necessary details from my couples and then put the timeline together for them. I have loads of knowledge on the best times for your ceremony and vows based on light and shadows that I can apply to make sure your day looks the way you want it to.

Here are a few real elopement timelines from weddings I’ve photographed. The main things I try to include in every timeline I create are your ceremony, portraits, and any other details that are really important to you. I always want to create enough space to really give you time to relax as well as ensure I have plenty of time to get those intimate and artsy photos you see all over my site! You can use these elopement timeline templates to plan your dream wedding day!

Example 4-hour Elopement Timeline

This is a very quick day with not a lot of relaxed coverage for each activity but is doable for a one-location or courthouse elopement day!

  • 5:30 pm: Photographer arrives for the end of getting ready
  • 6:30 pm: Leave Airbnb, drive to Trailhead (17 min drive)
  • 6:45 pm: Arrive at trail and start hike
  • 7:10 pm: Take some portraits and set up for your ceremony
  • 7:25 pm: Ceremony
  • 7:40 pm: Finish ceremony, more portraits, and drink some wine
  • 8:23 pm: Sunset
  • 8:30 pm: Begin hiking back to cars
  • 8:55 pm: Leave trail and head back to Airbnb
  • 9:15 pm: Hop in the hot tub at Airbnb and enjoy snacks
  • 9:30 pm: Photography coverage ends

Example 6-hour Elopement Timeline

These extra two hours can really change the game if you’re still wanting a quick wedding day. Having a little extra time for each activity gives you peace of mind!

  • 2:00 pm: Photographer arrives
  • 2:15 pm: Detail photos of attire, cabin, and jewelry
  • 2:30 pm: Photos of the end of getting ready
  • 3:00 pm: Get dressed
  • 3:15 pm: First look outside
  • 3:45 pm: Pack up for hike
  • 4:00 pm: Head to trail (~30 minutes)
  • 4:30 pm: Begin hike to beach area
  • 5:30 pm: Portraits at beach
  • 5:45 pm: Start ceremony
  • 6:15 pm: First dance
  • 6:30 pm: Handfasting ceremony
  • 6:45 pm: Portraits while we walk along the waterline
  • 7:00 pm: Begin hike back
  • 8:00 pm: Photography coverage ends

Example 8-hour Elopement Timeline

An eight-hour timeline is my go-to elopement day. It works for most plans and gives you enough time for every activity without feeling pressured or bored.

  • 12:30 pm: Photographer arrives
  • 1:00 pm: Getting ready & detail photos
  • 1:30 pm: Helping each other get dressed
  • 2:00 pm: Portraits in the cabin
  • 2:30 pm: Explore the forest
  • 3:30 pm: Travel from cabin to trail (~20 minutes) 
  • 4:00 pm: Explore trail
  • 4:30 pm: Have picnic under the trees
  • 4:45 pm: Korean gourd wine exchange
  • 5:00 pm: Portraits next to the trees
  • 5:30 pm: Head from trail to coast (~35 minutes) 
  • 6:15 pm: Warm up and start kite flying
  • 6:45 pm: Have ceremony and find hikers to sign license
  • 7:00 pm: Head back to Airbnb (~20 minutes)
  • 7:30 pm: Arrive at Airbnb
  • 7:45 pm: Bring out lanterns for final portraits
  • 8:00 pm: Cake cutting and final toast inside
  • 8:30 pm: Photography coverage ends

Example 12-hour Elopement Timeline

I recommend a longer elopement timeline, like 12 hours, on days where you want to do several different activities, have several guests, or are planning a longer hike.

  • 9:00 am: Make waffles together in Airbnb kitchen
  • 10:00 am: Morning stroll with doggos
  • 10:30 am: Photograph details, attire, and Airbnb
  • 11:00 am: Soak in the tub with morning light OR sexy photo session
  • 12:00 pm: Getting ready (you can get ready together or separately – both are amazing)
  • 12:30 pm: Individual portraits
  • 1:00 pm: Couple’s portraits
  • 1:45 pm: Final touch ups
  • 2:00 pm: Head to adventure spot
  • 3:00 pm: Begin hike/walk to ceremony area
  • 4:00 pm: Read personal vows in meadow
  • 5:00 pm: Ceremony right before sunset with just the two of you
  • 5:30 pm: Sunset
  • 6:00 pm: Hike back with headlamps
  • 7:00 pm: Evening stroll through downtown/blue hour portraits/smores/etc
  • 8:00 pm: Personal chef makes you an amazing meal
  • 8:30 pm: Enjoy drinks while eating, cut cake, do a puzzle
  • 9:00 pm: Photography coverage ends

Example Multi-day Elopement Timeline

A multi-day elopement timeline can look like a lot of different things! For me, these usually include a longer day followed by a short day. These are great for when you’re still including family on your elopement but also want some undivided personal time with just the two of you or if you want to go off and explore this epic hike.

Having a multi-day elopement doesn’t have to be as bougie as it sounds and is really more about removing the stress of trying to fit everything in on one day. Imagine that you decide to go big and elope in southern France. Do you really think you could fit EVERYTHING in one day? Absolutely not! Having a separate photo session the next day is the perfect way to get more than one look without the extra stress of coordinating everyone.

Creating your elopement day timeline doesn’t have to be another hard thing to tackle! Take it step by step and before you know it, you’ll have your whole day planned out. And because you chose to elope, you already know that every minute is going to feel intentional and make you happy! It’s a win, win, win!

Similar Posts