What’s the difference between an intimate wedding and an elopement?  If you’re recently engaged and diving into the world of wedding planning, you’re probably seeing a lot of information about intimate weddings as well as elopements since they are the “it” thing this year.  But intimate wedding vs elopement – what exactly is the definition?  What’s the difference between them?  How do they compare to a full day wedding and how does it work in regards to photography?

What is the definition of an Elopement?

The true definition of an elopement is when a couple runs off secretly to get married.  Some people will “elope” and have their mom, dad, brothers and sisters with them but that’s about it.  Some couples simply use their photographer as the witness for the marriage register and have literally no one else there.  Elopements are typically last minute; while there’s no rule of thumb my personal opinion is 1 or 2 months.  Again, the true definition is to “run off and get married” which inherently implies a minimal amount of notice and planning.  In fact, most elopements happen during the week (Monday through Thursday).  Most elopements have a focus not on the ceremony (which can be only a few minutes long) but on a beautifully creative portrait session after the fact where the couple and the photographer create amazing images in amazing locations.

intimate wedding vs elopement, what is an intimate wedding, what is an elopement, elopement at the doctor's house, intimate weddings in toronto

What is the definition of an Intimate Wedding?

An intimate wedding is just a “normal” wedding day with a smaller guest list.  In lieu of the giant banquet hall and generic chicken + potatoes meal, you opt for a smaller location and a guest list of maybe one or two-dozen people.  Intimate weddings aren’t necessarily smaller budget weddings; in fact, a lot of the time a bride or groom will splurge more on their guests with intimate weddings because instead of using a $20,000 wedding budget to create an event for 120 people, they can use the same amount and give 20 people an amazing experience.  Intimate weddings are often very relaxed and to a certain extent, non-traditional.  Sometimes the bride and groom will get ready in the same house and simply have their first look casually in the hall way.  Sometimes there isn’t even formal seating for dinner.  While there is a focus on on beautiful portraits, there’s also a focus on photojournalistic images; a storytelling approach to the day in order to capture all the intimate moments between the few guests present.

Intimate Wedding vs Elopement: Photographic Coverage

Couples often need 2 or 3 hours of coverage for an elopement; that’s it.  It’s photographing of the ceremony and a beautiful portrait session.  There’s rarely any getting ready images and never any cocktail hour coverage or reception coverage because elopements don’t have those things.  Period.  The photographer’s job will be the 2 or 3 hours of work on the day to capture the ceremony and portrait session and provide an amount of images reflective of how many hours they photographed.

Intimate weddings, photographically, are the same as full day “traditional” weddings.  Couples almost always still want getting ready coverage, the ceremony, formal photos with family members as well as the couple and coverage of their reception.  A photographer can still spend 8, 10 or 12 hours photographing an intimate wedding day.

A photographer’s job, and thus the cost of their services, is not reflective of how many guests are present.  So intimate wedding vs elopement means you’re still going to pay, for the most part, the same hourly rate.  An hour of a photographer’s time is an hour of a photographer’s time – whether they are photographing 2 people, 20 people or 200 people.  They still process a number of photographs reflective of the number of hours they were shooting for.  If a photographer shoots a 12 hour intimate wedding and a 12 hour “traditional” banquet hall wedding, the clients will likely get similar amounts of images because both jobs are the same amount of work for a photographer.

Elopement: A Chronically Misused Term

There are a lot of couples now who will inquire about elopement services…. but a Saturday wedding 6+ months from now.  Sorry guys, but that’s not an elopement.  You’re just wanting a small amount of coverage on an otherwise intimate or regular wedding day.

Many couples are now starting to request “elopement” coverage (because the term is now so prevalent) but they are actually having an intimate wedding – or in some instances, a larger sized wedding!  The misuse of the term “elopement” is quite prevalent in the industry now.  Knowing the differences of intimate wedding vs elopement will help keep your wedding planning vision realistic as well as your budget for certain vendors.

What the couples actually want is just a small amount of coverage on an otherwise normal wedding day.  This is not an elopement and nor does that fall under “elopement” coverage – especially if it’s a Friday, Saturday or Sunday wedding  and here’s why…

Can a Photographer Survive on “Elopements”?

No!  Professional photographers keep a roof over their head, feed their family and keep the electricity on with the money they earn shooting weddings.  Full day weddings.  Saturdays are days that are reserved for full day weddings.  Many photographers also reserve Fridays and Sundays for weddings until about 8-10 weeks out; at which point they may accept an elopement.

It’s not reasonable to expect a photographer to reserve a date on a Saturday (or Friday/Sunday) several months in advance for only  2 or 3 hours of coverage.  It’s a date that can (and almost always is) filled with a full day wedding; the type of wedding that a photographer’s business plan is based on.  If your photographer is offering to reserve a Saturday that far in advance for only a few hours of coverage, they’re likely charging you close to a normal full-day rate for appropriate compensation.

A photographer cannot survive on elopements alone; elopements are icing on the cake which is why photographer’s can often offer true elopement packages at a slightly lower rate.

Do I hate elopements?  This article sounds cranky.

Absolutely not, in fact, I love elopements!  What I do find really unfortunate, though, is that there’s an increasing amount of people who don’t understand the value of what a photographer does and the value of the days of the week on which we normally work.  This blog article is meant to educate couples as to what an elopement really is, what a small or intimate wedding is and how photographic coverage relates to both of those.