A common misconception is that eloping is just two people, an officiant and a photographer. And it CAN look like that! About a quarter of my couples who elope choose a “just us” experience. But most of my couples who choose to elope actually invite a handful of guests to be with them. Often, it’s their closest family — parents, siblings, grandparents. But sometimes it’s just a few friends or maybe the couple and their kids. It really can be any combination of people you’d like, but I use this loose definition: elopements are a celebration with fewer than 15 people, including the couple.
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In Shenandoah National Park, if you have more than 16 participants total, including the officiant and photographer, you must apply for a special use permit. Additionally if you want to set up any sort of arch or chairs you must have a permit regardless of how small the group is. But if you keep your group small and rely on the natural beauty of the space around you as decoration, then a permit isn’t necessary.
It’s worth noting, probably due to COVID, Shenandoah National Park is as busy as I have EVER known it to be this year. My theory is that there are a lot of cooped-up people who want to maintain a social distance while relaxing somewhere outside of home, , so more are heading to parklands.Which is great for everyone’s overall health, but it does make it a little harder to avoid the crowds. The best days and times for beating the crowds are definitely Tuesday and Wednesday at sunrise.
One of the beautiful things about eloping is how flexible you can be with the flow of the day, what you do and who you include. But here are a couple ideas for how to include guests and structure your elopement day to get all of the elements you want in.
This kind of elopement is going to flow very similar to a bigger wedding celebration. You’ll get ready in the late afternoon with your friends or family, have a first look, a ceremony, family photos, couples portraits and a celebration — usually a dinner party with your guest list. It’s basically a smaller take on the traditional wedding — but a lot less stressful and you have much more time to hang out, talk to everyone and actually eat the food!
If you’re downsizing from a bigger celebration but still want your friends and family to “be” there who can’t be there in person, streaming your ceremony is a great option. There are a couple options for how to do that:
Hire someone to stream it with a camera and wifi connection
Stream via data on your phone
To stream your ceremony with a camera, you’re definitely going to need a venue — even if it’s a VRBO or Airbnb — with really strong Internet. This is your best option if you have both in-person and remote guests.
Streaming with a phone or computer is a little more tricky. One of my couples did this as a “just us” ceremony, and then everyone — even their officiant — called in via Zoom. We set up one of their phones on one of my tripods with a gorillapod holding the phone in place, and they used airpods so everyone (except me) could hear the ceremony and them when they said their vows.
It worked surprisingly well because with the air pods we were able to cut down on wind interference that guests would have heard if the phone had just been on speaker. But if there had been any in-person guests this plan wouldn’t have worked as well. You could stream on a tablet or phone if you were inside, though — either using data or wifi.
Another idea I’ve seen some of my couples do — especially when they are having a “just us” experience — is to ask their friends and family to write them letters or make short videos they can read/watch after their ceremony.
This idea works no matter how big or small your celebration, because it can be a really beautiful, intentional way for your loved ones to express their love for you and your partner.
With letters, you can bring them with you and sit on a blanket or at the top of the mountain and read them together after your ceremony while drinking champagne. With videos, you can download them before you go (many of the locations I frequent for adventurous elopements do not have cell phone service) and then watch them together while the sun comes up or goes down.
What keepsakes these messages prove to be!
Most of my couples rely on still photography for their elopements, but hiring both a photographer and a videographer gives you the opportunity to have the whole shebang captured for sharing with family and friends and keeping for memories.
Few professionals in Virginia specialize in adventurous elopement videos — if any — so I’ve started adding videos to my packages for couples who are interested in them!
What that looks like is I bring one of my second shooters for your elopement day and we work as a team to take still and video footage. I then edit and deliver a still photography gallery and a highlight film, as well as a ceremony film, if that’s something you’re interested in.
As of writing this blog, I’m offering really good deals on my videos to build my portfolio, so get in touch to learn more about those. As a taste of the magic of elopement videography, here is a recent video I shot.
As of August 2020, I offer three elopement packages — four, six and eight hours. My four-hour package is continuous — we do four hours of coverage in a row, but my six- and eight-hour packages are splittable, as the work occurs on the same day. Meaning you can do four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, if you’d like.
In other words, you can do a “just us” experience in the morning and then a group celebration in the evening, or vice versa. Typically what that looks like is a sunrise adventure session/private vow reading with just the couple and then a public ceremony and celebration with guests at a venue or vacation rental at sunset. In between you get to relax, take a nap, eat lunch and then regroup to do the whole getting ready with parents or friends for the dinner-party experience in the evening.
One of the best things about elopements is that with fewer people, your budget goes a lot farther. You can do a LOT of things with 15 people that you couldn’t do with 200, including planning a whole weekend getaway for the crowd.
You can book a big house where everyone can stay at together, or pick a place with lots of cabins in close proximity and spend the weekend doing lazy tube trips or visiting some of the many craft breweries and vineyards in the Charlottesville area. Or you can grill out and play cornhole or plan a group hike to a swimming hole or book a canoe trip or hire a wedding planner to decorate your airbnb and a private chef to make an amazing five-course meal for the group, rather than feeding everyone buffet-style (not that buffets are bad — especially, to my mind, when it’s the lunch buffet at an Indian restaurant).
But basically you take a couple days and just enjoy the people you are closest to with the goal that at some point, you’ll get married and it will be relaxed and fun and a weekend to remember forever.
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