10 Important Elopement Planning Tips | Michigan Elopement Photographer


Tips for planning an elopement wedding day.

I created a list of the 10 most important elopement planning tips to help you as you curate your special, intimate celebration. These tips are listed as a series of steps, in order, to help you stay organized as you plan. If you’re recently engaged and decide to elope, I’m sure you’re wondering “How do I plan an elopement?” Or “What do I need to know about eloping?” If you’re in Michigan, you could be asking yourself, “How do I elope in Michigan?” Well, I’m here to answer those questions and more! If you want to plan your intimate celebration with ease and confidence, keep reading.


1. Communicate your desire and intentions with your partner


Before you jump into all the planning, take time to sit down with your partner and communicate your desires and intentions fully. Ensure that you two are on the same page about why you want to elope. Remember, that elopements don’t hold the same taboo feeling that they once did. They are no longer secretive and scandalous. Rather, an elopement is a wonderful opportunity for you and your partner to honor your desires to have a private or intimate celebration. A large, wild party isn’t everyone’s idea of an ideal wedding, and it doesn’t need to be yours either.


But if your partner wants to get married with all their family and friends, and you want to be completely alone on a mountaintop, you may need to take some serious time to talk through your desires for your wedding day. It is possible that you could plan an intimate elopement and a larger celebration at a later time. Or maybe, you compromise for a micro wedding, which is typically a smaller wedding with 50 people or less.


Couple after elopement wedding in Metro Detroit.

2. Create a list of priorities with a budget


Yes, even though elopements are typically cheaper than traditional weddings, they still need a budget. According to The Knot, an average wedding in Michigan costs about $30,000. If you plan on eloping, you can expect to spend half of that, or even less depending on what you prioritize. The largest investment for traditional weddings are the venue, food, and alcohol, with decor and florals coming in second.


However, if you’re planning an elopement, you won’t have the large expense of a venue or the need to spend on entertaining guests. You can expect to spend the most on hiring a photographer and videographer, or travel and accommodations if you are heading out of state. But don’t forget about the investment of an officiant, florist, hair and make-up artist, and attire.


Detroit elopement photos of couple. Photographed by Nicole Leanne Photography.

3. Select your location and choose a date


When planning a larger wedding, typically couples choose their dates based on the venue’s availability, but for an intimate elopement, you may have more freedom with your wedding date. Nonetheless, if you have a spot that your heart is set on, inquire about their availability before putting your date on the calendar.


Depending on where you are getting married, you may have the flexibility to choose any date as the location may not require any rental fees or reservations, but make sure you always call ahead to check. There have been times when websites of parks have been outdated and couples were disappointed to find out that their dream spot had been reserved.


Sand dunes elopement in Northern Michigan. Photographed by Nicole Leanne Photography.

If you’re planning on eloping in the city, I created a list of the top elopement venues in Detroit, you can check it out here! If you are planning to have an intimate elopement, but want to have a dinner or small reception following with family and close friends, I would recommend choosing a spot that is also a restaurant and bar, like Atwater Brewery or Punchbowl Social. Likewise, if you’d love to stay downtown after your elopement, you can reserve an elopement venue that is also a hotel or inn so you can stay the night in the same spot you said your vows. My two favorite inns in downtown Detroit are The Inn at 97 Winder and The Inn on Ferry Street.


You’ll also want to consider the vibe for your elopement, do you want to get married deep in the woods or on the water? Do you want to get married on a rooftop while the sun is setting or in an eclectic art gallery? When you elope you have much more flexibility as you're not constrained to your guest list. So make it unique, make it you, and make sure it fits your interests.


Eastern Market elopement wedding in Detroit. Photographed by Nicole Leanne Photography.

4. Hire a Photographer and other vendors


Yes, as a photographer, I put a photographer first, but it’s not just because I’m a wedding photographer. Photographers are typically booked at least a year in advance and many fill their schedules for the upcoming year before it even begins. That means that once you have a date selected, you’ll want to look for your photographer next. Typically, couples plan elopements in less than a year, sometimes only a few months, so if you’ve had your eye on a photographer don’t delay in reaching out. I’ve even had couples inquire before their date is set.


When selecting a photographer, make sure they fit the vision of your day, that you trust them to document your story, and that you vibe with them! They’ll be with you for most of your intimate wedding and helping you along the way, so it’s important that you get along well! If you’re looking for an elopement photographer and you think we’d be a great fit, you can reach out here! Don’t forget that many of your friends and family members will only have your photographs to look at since they likely won’t be in attendance, so you want them to be stunning!


Nicole Leanne Photography taking photos of Downtown Detroit elopement wedding.

If you’d like to hire a videographer, your photographer will likely have recommendations. Having your elopement filmed is a sentimental way to share that moment with family and friends as well. When hiring your photographer and videographer, consider if the location has any restrictions on photographs or videos being taken. This is unusual, but can happen! Also, your location may require a photography permit, so that’s another expense to consider.


While planning an elopement typically includes fewer vendors, the vendors you do hire truly matter! Your small vendor team will have a direct impact on the feeling and flow of your elopement. If you want to have an elopement but want to skip the planning altogether, consider hiring an all-in-one elopement planner, like The Lost Forty. Kayla, from The Lost Forty, plans sustainable elopements and is an all-inclusive officiant, florist, and coordinator! She also offers hair and make-up services and photography services. If you love what she’s about and would love to have me document your elopement, you can request me to be your photographer. It doesn’t get much better than that!


Wooden arch with dried florals in forest for elopement wedding in Michigan.

5. Make it an experience


Your elopement doesn’t need to be a 10-minute ceremony and then done. Remember, you have the freedom and flexibility to make it anything you’d like! You can make it a full-day experience with activities, you can plan a trip around it, even if it’s just one or two nights! You could have a destination elopement that kicks off your honeymoon.


If you want to elope up north, you can make it a full-day experience of trekking through trails, visiting Pictured Rocks, and ending your elopement on the black rocks of Presque Isle. You could elope in Traverse City and create an entire minimoon weekend filled with wine tours. Or you could stay local and elope at a bed and breakfast, like Maple Cove B & B. Wake up, get married, and then stay in a cozy place together for a lowkey, chill evening.


Northern Michigan elopement wedding photos at Black Rocks park.

6. Don’t forget about the details


Once you have your venue, date, and vendors set, don’t forget about the other details. Sure, planning an elopement doesn’t have as many moving parts, but you still need something to wear! As you are planning your attire, consider the shoes that you’re wearing. If you’re hiking for your elopement, heels are the best choice. Likewise, if you’re heading up north for an elopement, be prepared for it to be a bit chiller and windier. For an elopement on Mackinac Island, it was 20 degrees cooler and much windier than it was in Metro Detroit, so pack layers!


Intimate wedding elopement photos of bride and groom.

If you’re getting married out of state, research what you need in terms of an officiant, marriage license, and witness. If you live in Michigan, you need to get your marriage license from the county you live in and it is good for 33 days, meaning that you need to get married within 33 days of applying for your marriage license. You’ll also need an ordained officiant and two witnesses over 18 years of age. Your photographer can be one of your witnesses! Make sure you bring your marriage license to your ceremony so that it can be signed by all parties before you send it back to your county to make things official. For more marriage legalities, check out this page!


7. Create a timeline and back up plan


Even though your elopement timeline will be short, you still need an order of events. Once you’ve got your ceremony time finalized, you can backtrack from there to figure out the other details. You’ll need to know when you need to start getting ready, when hair and make-up needs to be complete, when you are having a first look, if you’re having one, and when you need to leave to head to your ceremony. If you are walking somewhere, always allow for extra time. After your ceremony, consider how much time you’d like for photographs and if you are having a celebration that evening, be sure to account for that when planning your timeline. As a photographer, I help my couples create timelines since I’ve done this before!


You’ll also want to create a backup plan, mostly for the weather, and especially in Michigan. If you live in Michigan, you know the weather is temperamental. If your vendor team is flexible, you can select a backup date on the calendar if you’re planning an outdoor destination. Or, if you have the option to reserve a rad indoor spot nearby, that’s a great option as well. Some venues, like The Monarch Club, have the option of a rooftop ceremony overlooking Detroit, or if the weather is crazy, you can head inside to their moody, beautiful lounge area.


Rooftop elopement wedding photos in Detroit.

8. Determine your guest list (or not)