Charlottesville Virginia Elopement at Ravens Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway | Central Virginia Wedding Photographer
Choosing to elope used to be something a couple did when families didn’t approve of their choice, or when they wanted to run away from something or to quickly hide an unplanned pregnancy. Today, elopements have a different meaning.
They are a reflection of an intentional and personal decision by a couple to celebrate their union in an intimate, romantic or adventurous way that isn’t always possible with a big wedding.
Sometimes, that means hiking up into the mountains with just the couple, me the photographer, and an officiant. Sometimes it means a small ceremony with 10-12 guests. The way I define elopements is anything under 15 people is an elopement, while 16-50 is an intimate wedding.
A lot of that has to do with logistics. In Shenandoah National Park, where many of my couples choose to elope, any gathering with more than 15 people requires a permit. Additionally, once you get over 15 people, there are more logistics — where to have the ceremony, what kind of reception to provide, and how the day will be structured. (For instance, many ceremony spots in Shenandoah National Park have a limited number of parking spaces that cannot be reserved. Or if you plan to have a potluck reception afterward, finding the space for 20 people in the event of rain -- common in the Virginia mountains -- often means renting a tent or small venue rather than simply renting a large VRBO.)
Blue Ridge Parkway Elopement near Charlottesville
This Virginia elopement was shot at three locations -- we began at an airbnb/vacation rental called Bailey’s Retreat outside of Charlottesville where their ceremony also took place. Rainy and Joey have been legally married for about a year and were planning a big destination wedding in Mexico when they found out they were expecting a little one. So they opted to go for a smaller celebration closer to home and invite just immediate family.
After their ceremony, the family went to hang out in cabins while we drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for couples portraits, ending the night at Ravens Rock. Once the sun set, we drove into Charlottesville for some night portraits on the downtown mall. Afterward, the couple met their family for a late dinner celebration at a local restaurant.
I share this story of their day because many people think you “just” need an hour or two for elopement coverage and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. “Just” because you are eloping, does not mean your day doesn’t deserve to be covered as intentionally, artistically and completely as a traditional wedding. In fact, the vast majority of my couples choose to book me for 6 hours for their elopement. And, except for weekday courthouse elopements, I don’t take on elopements with less than four hours of coverage.
So what do you DO for six hours on an elopement day? We take detail and getting-ready photos. We do a first look. We hike to your ceremony spot and document your vows and first kiss and howl your joy at the mountains. We drive up and down Skyline Drive or back into the wilderness of Dolly Sods or hike up to a special overlook on the mountain, hopping in and out of the car for vistas or taking pictures as we walk. We pop champagne and eat cake or donuts or baklava or whatever it is that floats your boat. We take photos of any guests you might have or maybe just of your dogs (who may be your best witness), and we set up a picnic or meet for dinner at a restaurant or vacation rental. We dance under stars or make a campfire and roast s’mores and drink whisky.
In other words, we make the day totally and completely a reflection of you. You do what you want to do. And I, as your photographer and guide, will help you make that vision come to life.
Planning Your Elopement
You have a few things to consider logistically when planning your own elopement. Here are three.
To Guest or not to Guest
Many of my couples choose to include a handful of guests in their elopements. Often these are parents, siblings or one or two close friends. Depending on your choice of guests, your location options may be limited to places that are easily accessible by car or only include a short flat walk. If you want to hike Sharp Top or Old Rag or Mary’s Rock and use one of those locations for your elopement, you might be better off doing a ceremony for two and then meeting friends and family for dinner afterwards.
You’ll also need to consider: Does my chosen location require a permit? How many cars can fit in the parking area? If it rains, do I need to have a backup plan for grandma? Does my chosen location ever close due to weather? Do I need a place for guests to gather and hang out while we’re off taking photos? Do I need to provide food or entertainment for my guests?
Virginia is a really hard state in which to get registered as an officiant. So having a friend ordained online is usually out. But you have a couple of options.
Call the courthouse in the county your ceremony will take place and ask the receptionist for a list of local officiants. Reach out to a few until you find one you jive with.
Do the legal part separate from your ceremony. Many of my couples -- both having traditional weddings and eloping -- are legally married when their wedding day comes. That might be because one needed health insurance or because of military assignments or for tax purposes. In any case, going to a courthouse, and getting married by a judge either before or after is totally an option. Then a friend or family member can perform the ceremony without having to worry about the paperwork!
Of course, if you are religious and live in Virginia, you can always invite your religious leader along to officiate!
Whether or not you choose to include guests, I highly recommend planning some kind of post-ceremony celebration. That might look like grabbing ice cream in town, setting up a picnic on the mountain, meeting your family at an Airbnb for BBQ and games, taking a hot air balloon ride, having a bonfire or simply enjoying a romantic dinner for two at a fancy restaurant.