Elopement vs Intimate Wedding: What is the difference?

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"Intimate weddings" seem to be a buzz word in today's culture.  The idea of casting aside the large, expensive wedding hoopla for an intimate, backyard wedding, or small wedding with just close family and friends seems very appealing to many modern couples.  Modern wedding culture places so much emphasis on the dress and the venue and the florals and the cake and the pomp and circumstance -- many millennial couples are opting to go for a lower key and more thoughtful wedding celebration versus the big party.

So what is the difference between eloping and an intimate wedding?  (Yes, there actually is a difference or two!)

While they tend to be used interchangeably amidst wedding planning couples, we'll break down the differences between elopements and intimate weddings (and which one may be right for you!). 

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Guest Count:  Typically bride + groom + officiant, sometimes a few witnesses. No “wedding party”

Location:  Anywhere, but popular elopement locations include the courthouse or city hall, or vacation destinations.  Many couples opt for a picturesque location, like a tropical island or a mountain peak.

Planning:  Minimal.  Elopements are typically more spontaneous in nature and don't involve a lot of planning or details.  Typically, it involves a ceremony and portraits, but no reception of any kind.

Lead Time:  30 days or less, typically.  (Remember, semi-spontaneity is a big part of this!)


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(AKA - basically the same as a "regular" wedding, with a smaller guest list)

Guest Count:  75 or less, give or take.  30 or less seems to be comfortable for immediate family and just very best friends!  An average "regular" wedding guest count is usually around 150 guests.  An intimate wedding is generally a bit smaller and kept to just immediate family and very close friends.

Location:  Anywhere.  As long as there is a smaller guest count kept to just family and close friends, many venues are appropriate for an intimate wedding, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, backyard weddings, cabins, restaurants, breweries and more.

Planning:  More extensive and thoughtful than an elopement, as it is basically a regular wedding, simply on a smaller scale.  Many couples are choosing to forego the massive guest lists in order to have a more meaningful celebration and splurging on a much smaller (and more affordable) scale.  Oftentimes, the couple simply wishes to keep the guest count small for budget reasons, or to be able to splurge on their day and enjoy it in ways that they could not with a 250+ guest count.  Many of the planned details are more thoughtful and intricate, since the scale is much smaller than a regular wedding day.  A bride planning a wedding with 30 guests might splurge for a fancy invitation suite, since it is far more affordable to send just a few really great invites versus sending 100+ suites out to many family + friends.  Many couples also opt to enhance the menu and overall experience and treat their guests more indulgently than a larger wedding guest list.

Lead Time:  Varies... Intimate weddings generally are pre-planned 3-6 months + in advance, and the primarily difference between a standard wedding and an intimate wedding day is really truly just the guest count. 



Are you planning a smaller wedding with lots of thoughtful details and only close family + friends versus a big, fancy party?  That's an intimate wedding, but not an elopement.  If you're pre-planning a lot of details and inviting guests more than 1-2 months in advance, that is not an elopement.

Are you keeping your wedding a secret and running away to get married somewhere?  That's an elopement!  Many times, they are secret until after the wedding occurs.

Are you pre-planning your wedding day several months in advance and booking a venue and sending out invitations?  It's an intimate wedding.

Do you have a wedding party (bridesmaids, groomsmen, groomswomen, bridesmen, etc)? This is an intimate wedding!

Are you having a destination wedding and only inviting close family + friends?  Unless you're deciding to hop a plane with little forethought, this is an intimate wedding, not an elopement.

Are you deciding to get married rather spur of the moment and with little notice?  That's an elopement.

Are you planning a reception or cutting a cake on the day of your wedding?  It's an intimate wedding.

looking for the perfect elopement photographer?

We photograph destination weddings and elopements in Minnesota and all across the US and are passport-ready for destination weddings abroad as well.