How Does an Elopement Ceremony Work


How Does an Elopement Ceremony Work | Tips, Ideas, and How to Make Yours Meaningful

So you’re eloping (or at least considering it) and you’re wondering, “How does an elopement ceremony work?  That’s totally fair!  We’re elopement photographers and guides who have seen many, so we wanted to give you some insight on what to say, when to say it, and how to celebrate it!  We’ll cover choosing your ceremony location, drafting your ceremony, and ideas as to how to make it special for you both.  So let’s hop to it! 

There are many guides detailing a traditional ceremony including rings, vows, a prayer or meditation, all the way down to that cutie toddler bounding down the aisle and dropping all those flower petals down to the stereotypical officiant performing it.  Elopement ceremonies do not have that standard picture in our minds, and that’s a good thing!  So when you find yourself asking, “How does an elopement ceremony work?” that means we get to create your ceremony from scratch including your elopement location.


How does an elopement ceremony work regarding your elopement location:

How does an elopement ceremony work in such an adventurous location?  You’ll need to consider a few things for choosing your elopement location: 1) do you want to go somewhere nostalgic and already meaningful or do you need to adventure somewhere new for your wedding day? 2) How many guests (if any) are you bringing and will they need an easy access location?  3) How much privacy will you need to feel comfortable during your elopement ceremony?  And lastly, 4) Can you handle the terrain of the elopement ceremony location you’re considering?  We love to show couples the best places to elope in the us as well as help them choose an Airbnb for their Airbnb elopement!  Let’s chat if you need a little location scouting help for your elopement!

How does an elopement ceremony work compared to a traditional ceremony:

Once you’ve gotten a grasp on these 4 details about the location, we can begin to truly answer, “How does an elopement ceremony work?” by drafting your personalized ceremony! Before we get overwhelmed though, it’s helpful to think of 3 categories that may fit into your ceremony: words, symbols, and celebrations! (More on elopement officiants after we cover these!)


couple exchanges vows during elopement ceremony

Enough beating around the bush: “How does an elopement ceremony work?”  

While we believe there is no “typical” elopement ceremony, we also know there are a few common elements most feel necessary to commit themselves to one another in an elopement ceremony. Typically there are vows–hence the words.  Rings, other jewelry, and even tattoos–hence the symbols.  And champagne popping, adventurous activities, or a dope picnic on top of a mountain–hence the celebrations.  Let’s walk through each and give some interesting options to personalize your elopement ceremony!


How does an elopement ceremony work with your vows?

How does an elopement ceremony work with vows?  Oh sweet vows!  Elopement vows are guaranteed to make this photographer cry, and that’s simply because eloping couples (when I can actually hear the vows) drench their words in meaning, funny anecdotes, and lifelong promises.  I’m always overcome with their love for one another, and I think there is a tried and true formula for vows that cover the depth of your relationship while stating intentions about your marriage to come that still gives you room to create an elopement ceremony that is truly reflective of you both.


The formula is typically as follows:

  • A gratitude for *this wedding day* actually coming to be
  • A summary of the your experiences throughout the beginning and varying seasons of your relationship (no doubt with a few funny inside jokes, embarrassing moments, or gut wrenchingly funny stories)
  • An intent statement as to how you are committing yourself to your partner


A short and general example may be:

“I can’t believe this day is finally here.  We’re standing on this stellar mountain top, and I am so ecstatic to finally be marrying the one person I know I can love, trust, and adventure with for the rest of my life.  I knew from our second date (not, the first one–you were awkward on the first one lol) that I wanted to spend the rest of my days with you.  I remember how you were there for me when I lost my job, and I cannot thank you enough for the support you’ve given me as I’ve learned to reacknowledge who I am, my giftings, and my new trajectory in life.  I would’ve never learned all these things without you.  Also, I remember that time you accidentally spilled the koolaid all over my grandma at her 86th birthday party!  I still cry laughing everytime I think about how she hated you ever since even though it was purely an accident.  And then her dog randomly threw up at the some time!  What a weird birthday party?! Old people are so cranky!!  All of those stories make up who we are and all the things I love about you,  I can’t wait to be your biggest encourager too.  I’m going to live everyday to prove your worth to you–to support you in all you try to do–and to help you raise our sweet puppies at home. 🙂  From the depths of who I am–I love you, and I am honored to give myself to you for a lifetime.”


Anyone else crying yet?  Just me?  Okay, cool.  Vows can take any form, and you get to create your elopement ceremony vows however you please so do not take this example as a hard and fast rule.  Rather, use it as inspiration and build upon it.

I’d also like to note that elopement vows are very intimate and meaningful.  Thus, as I photograph eloping couples day in and day out, I give adequate space so you can feel peace and comfortability and you express yourselves in a very vulnerable way.

Next we’ll cover how does an elopement ceremony work with things like rings and typical symbols involved in a wedding ceremony!


couple shares vow during elopement ceremony

How does an elopement ceremony work with things like rings and other symbols?

Now onto the symbols!  In a traditional wedding ceremony, couples often use rings, a 3 strand cord, planting a unity tree, etc. to symbolize their union.  Since you’re eloping, you get to craft our own symbols to be reflective of your relationship!  There are some questions to ask when considering which symbols might be most appropriate for your adventurous elopement ceremony: 

  • Is it important that this symbol of our marriage is long-lasting?
  • Do we want to have this symbol permanently on our person?
  • What symbols are already meaningful in our relationship that we can incorporate into our elopement ceremony?


Rings are a simple and tried & true symbol that most eloping couples use, but I also encourage couples to think out of the box and have a few symbols of their wedding day that can be kept to remember the day and their commitment.  If you’re eloping on a mountain top, a great symbol might be a patch from the gift store with your wedding date embroidered on it.  Another great option may be getting a tattoo of the latitude and longitude of exactly where you said your vows if you’re into tats (which I am & would be totally hype to photograph you both getting tattoos)!  Maybe you guys are into watercolor!  You could bring some simple watercolor supplies up the jagged mountain peak or to the rocky black coast for your elopement ceremony and symbolize your ceremony by creating some art to be displayed in your home.  

However you both are already connected symbolically is worth exploring for your elopement ceremony symbol(s).  Oooo and one more note:  even though rings are typical, no elopement ceremony is typical so feel free to opt out of using rings as symbols if they’re not really your style.  We’re all about helping couples answer the question, “how does an elopement ceremony work?” all for themselves.


How does an elopement ceremony work in regards to celebrating?

We’ve covered your words, your symbols, and now we’re off to discover how does an elopement ceremony work considering your ceremony celebration!  I love all parts of an elopement day, but this one is certainly what brings our couples the most joy!  They know they’ve sealed the deal with their vows & symbols, but now it is the time to celebrate their commitment by doing something that is truly them!  

If you’re choosing an elopement, you’re already a balls-to-the-wall kind of person!  So you likely have interesting mutual hobbies that would be a joy to engage in to celebrate your elopement ceremony!  In fact, most eloping couples spend the majority of their elopement day celebrating by having dinner with their immediate families, hiking their favorite trail, stand up paddle boarding, going on a dog run (if they’re eloping in Alaska of course lol), chugging beer, or cross country skiing!  The good news is if you’re not into any of the above celebrations, you get to (you guessed it) create the celebration list you would most enjoy for your day!  So how does an elopement ceremony work?  It works like your favorite vacation might work!  For example, if you chose a Glacier National Park elopement (which is one of our fave locations to take couples to), you might spend your afternoon celebrating your sunrise elopement by kayaking Lake McDonald!  Of course you’d need to consider the best time to go to Glacier National Park for your elopement ceremony, but we’d love to you research out the perfect time for your elopement ceremony as well!

As with words and symbols, there are some questions to ask that help to inspire brainstorming:

  • Do we have guests we want to celebrate with us?
  • What outdoor activities do we already enjoy doing together?
  • Is there anything new & adventurous I’d like to try?
  • Do we want our elopement ceremony celebration to be relaxed, exhilarating, or a mix of both?

Once you’ve given thought to these questions as to how does an elopement ceremony work you’ll be equipped to draft what might be great elopement ceremony celebrations for you & your boo!  The good news is we send every eloping couple of ours an elopement timeline questionnaire to help you determine what might be the best celebration(s) for your elopement day!  The sky is really the limit, and we’ll be stoked to help you dream up ideas!

eloping couple at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

How does an elopement ceremony work with finding an officiant?

Finally, all you need to know on how does an elopement ceremony work with an officiant!  Elopement officiant requirements vary from state to state for elopement to be legally legitimate.  For example, Colorado allows you to self-solemnize your elopement so you won’t need an officiant.  Montana allows any ordained individual to legitimize your ceremony so a family member can get ordained online and perform your ceremony.  Lastly, North Carolina is an example of a state that does not recognize online ordinations and requires a legal or religious officiant to perform your ceremony and sign your license.  

No matter what state you decide to elope in, there is always the option of doing the legalities of the marriage before your elopement in your home state to make things easier.  Then you would perform your elopement ceremony with no officiant, because you are already legally married.  Some couples don’t like this idea, but we’ve found eloping couples truly understand that just because you’re married in the government’s eyes doesn’t mean you’ve truly committed to one another unless you have shared your vows.  It depends upon your personal preferences and what your elopement state and specific location requirements are.  

The good news is we are legally permitted to perform elopement ceremonies as a part of our elopement packages in most states, so a lot of our couples use our officiating services so they don’t need to hire an officiant to come alongside us.  The truth is legalities vary so much from state to state that you’ll need an elopement photographer well-versed in research abilities in order to get you legally married during your elopement ceremony.  We are well equipped to help you navigate all the legalities of your elopement ceremony, and we’ll be stoked to be a part of your day!


How does an elopement ceremony work in regards to an official script and order of events?

All of the legalities are cool and all, but what does an elopement officiant actually do during your ceremony?  If you hire an officiant, they are typically heavily involved in the actual ceremony time while not being overly involved elsewhere in your elopement experience.  You can usually dictate most of your ceremony, but they will have requirements by the state they must complete.  If you elope somewhere that allows a friend, family member, or photographer to officiate your ceremony, there is much more flexibility in the course of your ceremony.  You can truly create the flow & script according to your preferences when you have the freedom of using a friend, family member, or photographer to officiate.

How does an elopement ceremony work when we officiate?  When we are allowed the privilege of officiating an elopement ceremony, we consult our couples heavily as to the flow, content, and activities of their ceremony.  Then we find the best way to add in any legalities we must perform so that they are not a distraction from an otherwise meaningful ceremony experience by placing legalities at the end of their ceremony so they can be fully present during their ceremony while we photograph from afar to give them privacy.



There are typical elements of an elopement ceremony like words, symbols, and celebrations!  However, each elopement ceremony is (and should be) unique!  So you have the freedom to create your own ceremony from scratch in a gorgeous location that is meaningful to you.  Knowing the ins-and-outs of elopement officiant requirements is tricky business, so we recommend hiring a photographer who has experience in your elopement location or has resources to research alongside you (heyyyy, that’s me!).  Alternatively, we are also ordained and can officiate weddings in most states.

Your vows, ceremony activities, and your celebration(s) should be 100% authentic to you as a couple, and we’ll be stoked to help you find out how your specific elopement ceremony should work for you and bring you joy on the day you commit yourselves to one another for a lifetime.

Additional Resources for Couples:

Check these freebies out while you’re sticking around to explore more of how you can craft the perfect elopement experience for you both!

Pros and Cons of Eloping | In case you’re a little type A (like myself lol) and need an official list

How Much Does it Cost to Elope | Because it’s a real question we all need answered

How to Elope | For all inclusive planning guide and checklist to unlock the ultimate elopement day! <3

Eloping in Montana | If you want to get married at the Crown of the Continent in Glacier National Park


Hey, it’s us!

We’re Des & Dan! Husband & wife elopement photographers, planners, and officiants! We help couples like you create elopement days full of meaningful details, authentic moments, and creative experiences because we believe you deserve a wedding day where you are truly heard—a wedding day you can truly remember.

We’d love to help in any way you can, so check out our other free planning resources or send us an email by hitting contact! We’d love to hop on the phone and see what you’re envisioning for your elopement day.

You deserve this.

Des & Dan


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