What is the Difference Between an Intimate Wedding and Adventurous Elopement?

June 6, 2023

Intimate Wedding. Adventurous Elopement. Small Wedding. Micro Wedding. Where does one end and another begin? Are they different? Are they the same? Am I going mad?

If you have asked yourself any of these questions, I’m here to help ease your mind. And tell you that you’re not going mad. That’s right — It’s not you!

Although the internet may have flooded you with a doozy of terms, fortunately there is nobody waving a finger in your face telling you which words you absolutely can and cannot use for your nuptials. Along the line somewhere, things got a bit skewed, everything went through The Twilight Zone, and people just started using every and every word under the sun to either define or differentiate their wedding to the point that things, actually, became less definitive and more, well, confusing.

I’m here to put things in perspective from my point of view regarding the differences between an intimate wedding and adventurous elopement. Although I price my photography coverage the same, there are some things to be mindful of involving the differences when planning for your wedding day in collaboration with Monica Leavell Photo.

What is an Intimate Wedding?

In my view, an intimate wedding is a small, scaled-back wedding that still conforms to conventional norms and traditions, just with less emphasis on the production. It’s synonymous with the term “micro wedding” because the day still unfolds the same way a traditional wedding day occurs: You spend the early part of the day getting ready, you may or may not have a first look, followed by your ceremony, formal photos with your family, bridal party (if any), and couples photos, and finish the day off with some sort of dinner, reception, and/or party.

The differences between an intimate wedding and conventional, large-scale wedding range from very few to very many, depending on your style!

Guest List and Bridal Parties

Typically, intimate wedding guest lists don’t include all those folks your parents know but you don’t or barely know, as intimate weddings are meant to be more intentional about the true purpose of the day: celebrating your love and marriage with your closest loved ones.

Having a bridal party is completely up to you! Some couples opt to include a few closest loved ones as their bridal party, and others decide on no bridal party at all. Some even consider their guests and their bridal party as one!

Intimate Wedding Venues

With dreams of a smaller, more intimate wedding, you’ll find yourself with a ton of options on where to host your nuptials. Deciding on a smaller wedding is great because you won’t have to limit yourself to typical wedding venues. Depending on your guest list, you may even find yourself saying your vows at one location and celebrating at another. Scenic spots are great for a simple ceremony followed by a reception or dinner at a brewery, winery, or restaurant of your choosing. If you care for a little bit more of an intimate setting, perhaps consider hiring a private chef to serve you a wonderful meal at your accommodations.

Intimate Wedding Costs

Thankfully, more and more people are coming to realize the amount of waste that is generated by large-scale, conventional wedding day festivities. With a smaller, more intimate and intentional wedding, you can really focus on the things that matter to you the most, and cast aside the things that don’t. Environmentally-friendly alternatives to your day — such as compostable plates and cutlery for your food — can suddenly become a practical alternative with room in your budget that cuts out the waste (no pun intended, hehehe).

Additionally, when you hire me for your intimate wedding, it’s highly likely that you will not need any planning assistance from me beyond the photography timeline of the day, marking a key difference for me between intimate weddings and adventure elopements. Of course, if you ever need a second opinion about something, or even just want to share in the amazing details of your wedding, my inbox is always open for gushing over all the things with you!

What is an Adventurous Elopement?

As of the publication of this blog post IN 2023, Merriam-Webster STILL defines the word “elope” as A) “to run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent,” AND B) “to run away from one’s spouse with a lover.” Like, wow. It’s 2023 y’all, and I’ll tell you what: Out of all the elopements I have photographed, not one of them have fit into either of these definitions.

Thankfully, elopements are taking a new form in the 21st century, whether Merriam-Webster has caught up with the times or not. Perhaps I should have looked up the word “elope” in the Urban Dictionary, instead? Certainly that outlet is more for the modern times anyway. Am I right?

As much as I love styled weddings, there are tons of couples who decide that a big wedding isn’t for them and prefer the closeness and simplicity that elopements offer instead. But if you’re seriously considering an elopement, there are likely a ton of questions you have as to what that really means.

How Adventurous Elopements Stand Out

To put it simply, an adventurous elopement is deciding to forego the traditional wedding day in favor of an epic experience in the great outdoors. When I help you plan your adventure elopement, I take into consideration the type of scenery you’re envisioning, how much hiking you’re looking to do, potential guests, activity ideas, and many other factors so that I can recommend the best possible locations and timeline for your unique day. And although I’m your elopement photographer there to capture epic photos, I want your elopement to be about more than just the photos. Your elopement day is so much more than just exchanging your vows and a few portraits thereafter. I love to help craft an absolutely unforgettable experience that will fill you with wonder and awe throughout the entire day, and leave you with amazing memories to hold onto for life.

The Possibilities Are Endless

Adventure elopements are truly filled with “go big or go home” type of vibes. Perhaps you incorporate places or activities you have visited or experienced before, and perhaps you decide to try something new for your wedding day. As a dedicated full-time adventurer, I know exactly what goes into crafting and capturing a perfect elopement experience, no matter how it unfolds. I love being a tour guide, and I love taking pictures, but the best part about being an elopement photographer, hands down, are the fun times spent romping around epic landscapes with new friends.

My favorite thing to tell inquiring couples is to consider their elopement in the same perspective as planning a fun vacation — you just happen to be marrying your best friend as well!

How to Plan an Adventurous Elopement

Unlike conventional wedding day planning, I know there aren’t a ton of resources out there to help you when it comes to taking the elopement route. Fortunately, I wrote a blog on tips to help you get started with planning your elopement! You can check it out here!

“Can I incorporate a little bit of both?”

Of course you can! There are no solid, defining lines between an intimate wedding and adventurous elopement, honestly. As you can see, both intimate weddings and adventurous elopements really bring the focus back to where it belongs, and that’s right on you two and this amazing celebration of your love. Nothing is more incredible (and important) than that.

The key difference to consider is how much planning I might help you with! If you happen to book a traditional venue, will host everything there, and have a wedding day timeline similar to the framework of a conventional wedding day, then you likely will not need any help from me beyond a photography timeline that utilizes the best lighting throughout the day and considers everything you are dreaming up. If you are going the more adventurous route, however, then I’ll likely help you with other things such as location suggestions and local vendor recommendations. I basically become a photographer and travel agent in one at that point!

No two weddings or elopements that I have photographed have been exactly the same, and that’s because at the end of the day, a perfect day isn’t made by what you saw off of Instagram or Pinterest, but instead it ends up being a reflection of you. However you end up choosing to celebrate your wedding day, I hope you are joyful and fulfilled and have absolutely no regrets in any of your decisions.

Whether you are looking to experience an intimate wedding or an adventurous elopement, my mission is to help couples get married in the great outdoors in an ethical and sustainable way. My goal is to protect and preserve our public lands for anniversaries and generations to come by educating and advocating conservation in the adventure process.

What questions do you have about the difference between an intimate wedding and adventurous elopement? Comment your questions below and let’s continue the discussion on this important topic!

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Need some help planning your own nuptials, regardless of what they may look like?

I’d love to help! Contact me today and let’s get things started.


I’m a firm believer that you deserve the best, most unforgettable wedding that focuses on your love and this amazing commitment that you two are about to make to one another.

I’m not only your photographer, but I’m also your guide to your wildly different photography experience that’s adventurous, intimate, and completely yours.

You deserve unique and beautiful memories to carry with you forever. And I’d love to help bring your dreams to reality.