What is an Elopement | Tips & Tricks for Eloping | Our Arizona Elopement Photography Guide |

What is an elopement? | Tips & Tricks for Eloping in Arizona | Most Beautiful Places to Elope in Arizona

What is an elopement and what does Arizona require? | Our best Tips & Tricks for eloping in Arizona

What is an elopement? Is eloping the right type of ceremony for you? This is a tough question to answer, simply because everyone is different. Everyone deserves to be authentically themselves on their wedding day and to have a day that feels right for them. Sometimes, for people who don’t connect with large weddings, a ‘traditional’ wedding day can seem like you’ve been put into a box, whereas elopements are all about throwing that box out the window.

Some couples feel that the authenticity—the real reason behind getting married—was swallowed whole by the wedding industry in expectations that didn’t simply make sense to them. We have had couples tell us they don’t want a wedding FULL of ‘cookie-cutter’ traditions that don’t always speak to who they are as an individual or as a couple. When you sign up for a big wedding that doesn’t feel authentically you, you sign up for so much more that you may struggle to connect with.

Big weddings can be expensive and a lot of stress. Maybe you want a small gathering with your closest friends & family, or perhaps even just the two of you! (Yes, we have been the witnesses before!)  It can be easy to get caught up in other people’s expectations, but ultimately, it boils down to what is right for you and your partner. Or perhaps you are downsizing your wedding in the wake of the pandemic, and the thought of having to wait another 6-12 months to get married just doesn’t feel right. These days, you don’t just have to go to a courthouse. Arizona has such stunning natural landscapes to utilize, allowing you to have a more personal, intimate ceremony reflective of you and get amazing photos as well! There is also the group of couples who are adapting to this weird time we are living in right now. Some couples are choosing elopement now and party later instead of changing around any restrictions.

For so many couples, a big, traditional wedding isn’t an honest, true reflection of who they are or what they want, and that’s 100% OKAY! Just like it’s OKAY to want to have a big, traditional wedding, too! Just try to stay focused on what you vision your wedding day looking & feeling like! Now that you have decided what type of ceremony is right for you….let’s talk strictly elopements, because that’s why you are here! 😉

When you elope, you throw out the whole rulebook and get to start from scratch. Eloping means your wedding can more specifically represent who you are as a couple—you can go on a hike with your dog, take a mini-road trip, stop and soak in the views, or end the day by turning on your favorite song and dancing by firelight.

Because, at the end of it all, your wedding day is about the two of you— about the love you have for each other and the life you’re going to build together.

So, if you’re reading this saying to yourself, “Yeah! This sounds like a dream!”, then eloping is absolutely for you!


In the technical sense, “to elope” means “to run away,” but modern times have linked eloping directly to weddings and marriage. People use “elope” to describe a few different scenarios nowadays: when couples get married without telling anyone at all until after they are married, conducting the ceremony with just the bride and groom after having informed family and friends about your plans weeks or months prior to the elopement, or having a very small affair with a few close witnesses.

When choosing to elope, ensure you and your beloved decide together which option makes the most sense for you and your families.Most couples choose to elope today because they want a wedding experience crafted just for them. Maybe your families are spread all over the world and the thought of getting them together would cost enough to make Warren Buffet think twice. Maybe the thought of standing up in front of all your family and friends (some of whom you only see a couple times each year) to pronounce your love just feels weird. Maybe you don’t want to play host to all of those people on your special day. Or maybe you’re just worried about family drama! All of these are common reasons that people choose to elope. So what is an elopement… well whatever your reason, just do what feels the most authentic to YOU!

You may hear small weddings being referred to as a million different things from micro weddings to an adventure elopement. They have been on the rise over the last few years and especially now with the current pandemic, couples are choosing to celebrate their marriage in a different way.

We consider a small wedding (or intimate wedding, micro wedding) to be less than 40-50 people but typically has a reception. An elopement, is less than 20 people, often without a reception or a small dinner reception afterwards. Most full day weddings that we photograph are between 50-150 people with our largest weddings at 300+! That’s quite a range of people!


Arizona Marriage Requirements:


  • Both parties must be 18 or older
  • You do NOT need to be an Arizona resident to apply for a marriage license in Arizona.
  • Both parties must be present to apply for your marriage license
  • There is NO waiting period and the marriage licenses are valid for 1 year after receiving it
  • You are required to mail the license to the courthouse within *30* days of your ceremony to be properly recorded
  • The cost for a marriage license in Arizona is $70-$86 depending on the county fees due at the time of application
  • When applying, you’ll need a valid ID for both parties (ex: Driver’s license, passport, military ID)
  • Social security numbers must be provided
  • See all requirements for Maricopa county here.

Fun fact, Stephen is actually ordained…by the Universal Life Church. Your officiant can be a friend who’s been ordained online, or you can hire one of the many wonderful officiants here in Arizona to perform your ceremony!

Choosing an Elopement Location in Arizona

Ohhhh here is the fun part…we think so anyways! 😉 Choosing a location to elope can be overwhelming for some though, especially in Arizona with so many beautiful natural locations. The location can have special meaning to you, like where you had your first hike together, first date, where they popped the question, or it can simply be a place you just love for no other reason than it’s beautiful! When you elope outside the courthouse, you trade ugly fluorescent lighting for beautiful natural light, the ability to have your ceremony on your own time and in your own way, and do whatever the heck you want!  You aren’t limited to the courthouse’s weekday hours and schedule and a bunch of random strangers watching you say I do!

Phoenix and it’s many surrounding cities; Scottsdale, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, Glendale & Queen Creek have so many beautiful outdoor scenic areas to elope.  Best of all, they are close! Arizona also makes a stunningly beautiful destination elopement location, which may be our favorite of the bunch! One of our favorite things about Arizona is the ability to drive 2 hours and you go from giant Saguaro Cacti to a lush green forest and towering mountain tops! Sedona, Flagstaff, Payson, and Prescott are all within a 3 hour drive from the valley.

| Phoenix Elopement Photography Locations|

– The Salt River –

There are multiple locations all up and down the salt river that work best at either sunrise or sunset for an elopement wedding!

arizona elopement photography salt river water usery pass arizona elopement photography salt river water usery pass

– Lost Dutchman State Park-

This may be one of our all time favorite locations in the valley if you are wanting the iconic Superstition Mountains in the background. There are many different trails that will lead you to various stunning views of the mountain. Lost Dutchman State Park Engagement

– Various Desert Elopement Locations –

We have a million locations in the ‘desert’ theme that you may be looking for and have an entire location guide that we send to each of our couples that book. It has a more in depth look at all of our locations throughout the valley for stunning views of the landscape. Chat with your photographer and figure out what you are looking for specifically out of your location!

elopement photography guide

Desert Botanical Garden Elopement

Desert Botanical Garden is located centrally and is gorgeous! You can gain entrance with a nominal entrance fee and it provides a HUGE variety of locations inside that will make you love this option for your elopement wedding. They also rent out multiple locations on the property if you are wanting a larger intimate ceremony as well!

Arizona Wedding Photographers | A Desert Botanical Garden Engagement | Melaney + Sam

Sedona Elopement Photography

‘The Land of Epic Locations’

Sedona has our hearts because of the wide variety of elopement locations packed into one town. We can list SO many locations in and around Sedona that would make you want to run away for the mountains to elope! We call it our ‘land of epic locations’ for good reason! 😉

Sedona Arizona wedding photography stephen and melissa

Secret tip, there are two sections to Cathedral rock, the bottom lower pad that is easily accessible….

Sedona Arizona wedding photography stephen and melissa Sedona Arizona wedding photography stephen and melissa Sedona Arizona wedding photography stephen and melissa

And then there is the EPIC mountain top section that requires a 45 min-1 hour hike UP, but provides these views…

Sedona Wedding Photographers | Intimate Cathedral Rock Elopement

Here are some other locations in Sedona that we love :  Frank + Linkda  |  Kat + Stephen  |  Amanda + Dillon

Mogollon Rim | Payson Elopement

Whether you are on the Rim and eloping in the forest, the Mogollon rim is another location with a TON of options and space for eloping.

Snowbowl Arizona, Flagstaff Elopement

Another Elopement location in Arizona is Flagstaff!  There is a hefty list of Flagstaff locations we have available to our couples!

The Salt River

Prescott Elopement Locations

Prescott has multiple gorgeous lakes in town that are amazing for an elopement and you are able to stay close by! Downtown Prescott is famously known for their ‘Whiskey Row’ and makes for a really fun weekend adventure!

We could go on and on about the amazing places, we didn’t even mention The Grand Canyon or Horseshoe bend as potential options! Arizona is incredible and the locations are almost ENDLESS considering you are able to get married here almost year-round!

‘What Would Our Elopement Timeline Look Like?’

This is a great question and sometimes it’s hard to get a good idea of what your day would look like aside from showing up for a half an hour ceremony. That’s why this is the fun part! Now you can really dive in to what day of activities you might want to do. This is a great way to create a unique and personal elopement that you will love every second of. Think about how you want to spend your day, and what’s meaningful to you. Your elopement day can be as adventurous or laid back as you want it to be.

Wherever you are eloping, there are probably endless options of things to do, whether you want to spend the day taking a helicopter tour to a gorgeous glacier, or maybe take a mini road trip and explore the diverse country you are eloping in, or even just spend the evening barbecuing with your family and dancing around a campfire. Whatever you choose to do, make it unique to your relationship.

Start to think about how many days you want to plan for! Your elopement activities don’t have to be jam packed into one single day. They can take course over two days, or even a full week!

Once your elopement vision starts to take shape you can make a list of all the experiences you want to have. Once you have a general outline of how the day might flow, it’s time to put it all together and make an official timeline. Give yourself plenty of time throughout the day so you aren’t stressed, or rushing. Work with your photographer to plan around lighting, crowds, and other factors that might affect your day. We always help create timelines with our couples and is part of every collection because it helps the wedding day go off smoothly!

Remember, this is YOUR day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of what a wedding day should look like. There is no right or wrong way to plan an elopement. Do things how you want to do them. For example: does the idea of reading your emotional vows in front of family and friends make you cringe? Plan a private vow reading before the ceremony! Make the day unique to Y.O.U!!

Things To Consider When Planning Your Elopement Timeline

Ask yourself some of these questions when creating your elopement timeline :

  • Where do you want to get ready? | Getting ready is such an amazing part of the day. There are so many emotions, and anxious jitters leading up to the big moment. You’ll want to consider if you want to get ready together or separately. Be intentional about where you get ready. If you are in some crappy hotel bathroom filled with clutter, makeup bags, and trash left over from breakfast it will stress you out. I recommend getting ready somewhere with lots of windows for soft natural light. Have your thoughtful wedding details placed out, and your dress hanging in the window, or maybe the front porch.
  • How do you want to spend your morning? | Do you want to go on a morning walk together to a local coffee shop, maybe a quick dip in the ocean before you get ready, or sleep in and make breakfast together.
  • Do you want to do a First Look? | This is a super personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer! Having a first look is a great way to build up the anticipation and emotions of finally seeing each other on your big day. If you do want to do a first look, consider where you might want to do it.
  • Do you want a morning or evening ceremony? | Consider whether you would prefer a morning or evening ceremony. Lighting plays a huge role when creating your elopement day timeline. Typically ceremonies held in the morning will be right around sunrise, and typically ceremonies held in the evening will be a few hours before sunset. There are also many other factors to consider such as the weather, location, and the day of activities. Talk to your photographer if you aren’t sure when to have your ceremony.
  • What is the travel time? | Make sure to take into account the amount of time needed to get from place to place when making your timeline. I always recommend to give yourself a little extra wiggle room just in case!
  • Sunset/Sunrise photos somewhere EPIC (not a question) | Lighting for photos is always very best around sunrise and sunset. It’s always a good idea to plan to take bridal photos somewhere incredible around this time. Even if it’s a different location from the ceremony because we had to hike to it, plan it!
  • Reception + Post Ceremony Activities? | Whether you are having guests at your elopement or not, it’s always great to celebrate your marriage! Set up string lights in the trees and a Persian rug dance floor, drink local beers and play board games, or stargaze with some champagne in hand. Think of something uniquely you to celebrate your first day MARRIED!

what is an elopement our how to guide

The Final Step | Putting it All Together

Once you know what you want to do for your elopement day, it’s time to figure out how it all comes together! Here’s where I come in: we can help recommend how much time to reserve for hiking to a ceremony location, how much time it takes to drive to a location to catch that perfect light, what time of day is best to avoid crowds and find privacy, etc. We can help build the perfect timeline so that even if your whole day is at an Air Bnb, the day flows naturally! We always recommend that you buffer extra time into your day for getting ready (it always takes longer than expected), and you set aside time for just the two of you if you have guests attending your elopement.

 |Example Elopement Timelines |

Here are just a few example timelines for different types of elopements, you will see one common theme….every elopement timeline will look completely different and uniquely you! 😉 When you are deciding on your elopement photographer, they will probably have a variety of elopement packages for you to choose from, the amount of hours is going to be your biggest decision! Randing from a few hours to all weekend, deciding your day’s activities will help you make this decision. Here are some example elopement timelines to help you figure out how much time you think will be need on the big day!

– Sedona AirBnb Elopement –

Hours of Photography Coverage: 9

9AM – 12PM -| Spent the morning with family and friends, relaxing, morning walking and hanging out.

12PM – 3PM |  Start getting ready. Hang out with family, friends. Photographers Arrive

3PM – 4PM | Bride + Groom (photos separated)

4PM – 530 PM | First Look at Air Bnb + Couples photography

530PM – 6PM | Family Portraits

6PM – 615PM | Ceremony + Champagne Pop!!

615PM – 700PM | Just Married Sunset Photography

7PM – onward | Post ceremony activities  (Dinner, speeches, dancing, drinking campfire, games, ect.)


Sedona Arizona wedding photography stephen and melissa

– Cathedral Rock Elopement –

Hours of Photography Coverage: 5

9AM – 12PM -| Couple spent the morning with family and friends, relaxing, brunch, and hanging out.

12PM – 2PM |  Start getting ready, pick up bridal bouquet and boutonniere.

2PM – 3PM | Arrive at location + First Look!

3PM – 330 PM | Ceremony + Marriage License!

330PM – 400PM | Friend pictures

400PM – 630PM | Husband & Wife Photo time – Just Married at Sunset

7PM – onward | Post ceremony activities at Air BNB  (Dinner, dancing, speeches, mini dessert)

The Grand Finale – Enjoy your Elopement!

After all the planning and preparation, it’s finally your big day! The day that you commit your life to your person. Enjoy every second of it, and soak it all in.

Now it’s time to have an incredible elopement day! Don’t focus on the small details and allow yourself to have fun and go with the flow! No wedding day ever goes completely according to plan, and that’s okay! All that matters is that you are marrying your soulmate, and having an incredible, unforgettable experience. It’s going to be the best day of your life. No matter what you choose to do for your elopement, it is going to be perfect for you.

  Sedona Arizona wedding photography stephen and melissa

| Extra Tips & Tricks From the Elopement Photographer Perspective |

  • To avoid crowds, particularly at popular locations, plan to elope on a weekday
  • Avoid holding your ceremony midday, when the light is the harshest, and aim for 1.5-2 hours before sunset when the light is golden and  pure MAGIC
  • Plan for at least an hour and a half for hair and makeup to allow your stylist enough time to create an “adventure-proof” look, you won’t regret it when your makeup last ALL day outside in the wild!
  • Work in extra travel time (e.g., driving, hiking, etc.) between locations to account for road conditions, spontaneous photo opportunities, “warm up” breaks during the winter, etc. Extra time is never NOT used 😉
  • Typically we suggest allowing about 20 minutes to exchange vows & sign the marriage license, 20 minutes for photos with any present friends or family and then 1-2 hours for the bride and groom photos! Our favorite days are when we have the time with our couples to slow down and savor their day together. It allows us to slow down and enjoy this amazing moment!

The best advice for us to give is to be flexible, and go with the flow!  {You may} change the ceremony spot day-of  just because you found something better or you may be forced to due to weather. Your hair might get messed up and your dress will probably get dirty. It’s all part of the adventure and always makes for some epic photos!


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