Creative Styled Elopement | Charlottesville, Virginia Elopement Photographer | Glass House Winery Intimate Wedding

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In the last 10-15 years, Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley have become a kind of destination wedding/elopement location for the east coast. And with good reason. You have the Blue Ridge Mountains, vineyards, craft breweries, cute bed and breakfasts, tons of vacation rentals and lots of great local eateries to celebrate in afterwards.

I first visited Glass House Winery in December to shoot a surprise proposal, but fell in love with the space. Glass House Winery has both a bed and breakfast and a really unique conservatory connected to their tasting room in which they host intimate weddings, concerts, dinners and events like bridal showers. It’s not huge, but if you were having a small winter wedding — say 50 people or less — and wanted a gorgeous spot that doesn’t look quite as dead as the rest of Virginia does in winter/early spring — check them out.

In fact, this styled elopement was shot in early March — outside there was barely a green thing in sight. But inside, you have an almost a tropical paradise that’s warm and intimate. Because the conservatory is essentially a greenhouse — I’m not sure I’d recommend planning an entire wedding inside for the middle of summer. But outside the conservatory there’s a pond, lawn and vineyard itself.

For this creative shoot, I collaborated with The Faded Poppy — a florist based in Staunton, Virginia, who created a stunning bouquet that mimicked the vibe of the conservatory and Top Knot Studio — a hairstylist in Charlottesville who made all of my long-haired boho dreams come true. The models are a real couple — getting married in October — and her dress was from Lulus — yes Lulus!

So what if you want to plan your own elopement — how do you even do that?

Five Tips for Planning Your Elopement

  1. The first thing I recommend (and yes I realize I’m biased but hear me out) is pick the right photographer. A photographer who has experience with elopements is not only going to give you beautiful photographs, but help you plan. They’ll have tips for vendors, location ideas for your ceremony and getting ready spaces and be able to work intimately with you to craft the day you’ve dreamed of.

  2. Choose a getting ready location and place to land after your elopement. I generally recommend that couples book a cabin, cottage or hotel room for a long weekend. That way your space can double as a place to get ready for your adventure and a place to chill out and have a mini-moon after your elopement is done!

    There are TONS of amazing bed and breakfasts, inns, and boutique hotels in and around Charlottesville (and Shenandoah National Park if that’s where you want to do your elopement). Good old fashioned Google will get you started, but if you aren’t seeing what you want, check Airbnb and VRBO. As these platforms take off you’ll find some really incredible unique spaces that aren’t listed elsewhere.

    When choosing a getting ready space, look for rentals with A. Lots of natural light B. Neutral paint colors (cabins are lovely, but tend to cast a little bit of an orange glow on the skin if the whole inside is wood paneled) C. Is close to where you want to shoot your ceremony. While a cabin might be 20 miles from your ceremony, that drive could take 45 minutes on the windy mountain roads.

  3. Find your vendors — including officiant. I have a blog post coming soon that’ll go through step by step how to find an officiant for your Virginia or West Virginia wedding (or if you want a friend to officiate), but in the meantime, the easiest thing to do is call the local courthouse and ask for their lists of officiants. (Unless of course you have a pastor/judge in your family then you are good to go!) Most local courthouses keep a list of who is licensed to marry in the county you’re getting married in and you can call people on that list until you find one that you really mesh with. Other vendors to lock in include: hair and makeup, florist and (possibly) someone to make a fabulous dessert for you to cut and celebrate with).

  4. Pick out outfits, plan ceremony decor. Because you are eloping and are not paying for 200 plates, splurge and get that designer wedding dress or chic suit you’ve always dreamed of! Or, if you’d rather put that money toward an epic honeymoon or downpayment on a house, check out Lulus, Modcloth, BHDN sale and Etsy. Lulus and Modcloth both have excellent return policies so you can try out and return if need be. As far as I can tell, BHDN DOES allow you to return sale items, but shoot customer service an email to double check before hitting purchase. Etsy is going to be on a seller by seller basis. If your dress is custom made it’s likely you WON’T be able to return it. However, I bought my dress on Etsy and it was super forgiving and fit me perfectly. Check out these Etsy sellers for some amazing Boho dresses that fit a variety of body types.

    Ceremony Decor

    You might be thinking — “I’m eloping — why do I need ceremony decor??” and the short answer is — you don’t. But if you’d like to spice up your ceremony location a little more here are some really easy options. As always, if planning to elope in a national park or public space, make sure to practice Leave No Trace principals.

    • A Persian/oriental rug to stand on during your vows. The nice thing about this is you can bring it into the national park and pack it in, pack it out. The rug can also double as a picnic blanket for post-ceremony champagne celebrations!

    • Candles (for wild spaces consider LED candles. They can be beautiful and don’t carry fire risk). Or consider putting candles in enclosed lanterns.

    • If you are eloping on a private estate or bed and breakfast, consider setting up an archway decorated with flowers. You can’t build/bring in structures in Shenandoah National Park without a permit, but if that’s something you want to do let me know and we’ll look into it!

  5. Plan out your ceremony. This is also worth it's own blog post, but in a nutshell: write your vows, decide if you want to do a first look, decide if you want to include any traditions (hand fasting, love lock ceremony), choose passages you want read, music played and who you want to witness your ceremony (if anyone). In Virginia you have to go to the circuit court’s office to apply for a marriage license but there is no waiting period, blood test or witnesses required to get married.

Interested in your own elopement? I still have a handful of 2019 dates available! Email me at hello@karaleighcreative.com to book yours.