Small Wedding Ideas: Why Small Weddings Make for Big Memories

As a seasoned photographer specializing in small weddings & elopements, I’ve come to appreciate the unique benefits these intimate celebrations bring. In today’s world, many couples are choosing to step away from larger, more traditional weddings & instead embrace a day that truly reflects their personal story & style. If you’re contemplating a smaller wedding or an elopement, these reasons might just why a small wedding would be the perfect choice for the two of you, use these small wedding ideas for inspiration for your own day.

The Benefits of Small Weddings & Elopements

Small, intimate weddings allow you the chance to celebrate your love in an even more meanigful way than a very large wedding. You may just not be excited about saying your very personal vows in front of a large crowd. More couples are opting out of the stresses & expenses. Instead they are looking to celebrate their marriage in a more low-key, intimate way. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start with small wedding ideas. But knowing some benefits could help you make a decision!

Personalized Experience

Smaller weddings mean I can spend more time with each couple, ensuring that every photo and moment captured reflects their unique bond & the essence of their day. This personalized approach allows us to focus on genuine emotions & candid moments rather than staged poses. It also means we can choose locations that are meaningful to you, whether it’s a sunrise shoot on a secluded beach or a quiet moment in the place you first met.

Bride and groom walk together after their small wedding ceremony.

Privacy & Intimacy of a Smaller Wedding Day

Intimate weddings allow you to share your vows in a private setting, surrounded by those who matter most. This can alleviate the pressure of performing for a large audience & help you focus on the heartfelt exchange of your promises to each other. Whether it’s just the two of you or your closest loved ones, the day remains centered on your love & commitment.

Saving on Costs of a Bigger Wedding

The cost savings of an intimate wedding are considerable. By reducing the guest list, you can save on everything from the venue to catering, decorations, & more. Choosing a small wedding offers the financial flexibility to enhance your celebration with touches that make the day uniquely spectacular—such as a breathtaking venue, your dream dress, or even a more indulgent honeymoon. Just because you have fewer guests doesn’t diminish the importance of your day. Your day is your BIG day, no matter how small the guest count.

Just because you have fewer guests doesn’t diminish the importance of your day. Your day is your BIG day, no matter how small the guest count.

You Still Have the Flexibility to Celebrate Later

If you choose to elope, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate with friends & family. Many couples opt for a casual post elopement party after their intimate ceremony. This can be anything from a simple backyard BBQ to a formal gathering with all the bells, whistles, & decor of a larger celebration. These small wedding celebration ideas are a wonderful way to share your union with a broader circle without the complexities of a traditional wedding day.

7 Tips for a Less Stressful Wedding Experience

I know you are dreaming of that perfect wedding day filled with joy. It definitely is possible! I know that planning your big day comes with its share of excitement & anxiety, but with the right strategies & tools, you can sidestep common pitfalls & focus on what truly matters—celebrating your love. Whether you’re orchestrating a quaint elopement or an intimate wedding with guests, follow these tips to ensure your celebration is as stress-free & magical as you envision it.

1. Hire a Wedding Planner

Choose the Right Type of Planner: Decide between a full-service wedding planner & a day-of coordinator based on your needs. A full-service planner is ideal for handling all aspects of wedding planning from start to finish, while a day-of coordinator focuses on ensuring everything goes smoothly on the wedding day itself. Who you hire is going to depend on your needs, but it will also depend on your budget.

Hiring a planner for your wedding day can result in a stress free wedding experience for you and your guests.

Leverage the Planner’s Expertise: Planners have the experience to handle unforeseen situations, keep things on schedule, & negotiate with vendors. Their expertise can be invaluable in creating a seamless experience for you & for your guests. If you need something, have an idea, etc– take it to your planner! They’re going to be invaluable in helping you.

2. Delegate Wedding Responsibilities

Rely on Your Wedding Party: If you have a wedding party, clearly define roles for your wedding party members. Assign someone to be in charge of keeping the vendors informed of the day’s schedule, another to manage the transportation logistics, & someone else to help wrangle family members for photos. Even if you don’t have an official wedding party, there are going to be close friends you can rely on, use them to help with your day. Even if you are having a small wedding, delegating tasks is going to help you enjoy your day even more.

Use Technology: Implement tools like shared online spreadsheets, wedding planning apps, or group chats to keep everyone on the same page. Apps like Trello or Asana can help manage tasks & deadlines, while a shared Google Drive folder can store important documents & contracts. For planning our own wedding day, I created my own massive spreadsheet for budgeting, keeping track of payments, & even for contacting & comparing vendors.

Bride having a bridesmaid and her mother help her during the getting ready portion of her intimate wedding day.

3. Keep a Detailed Wedding Schedule & Timeline

Plan Your Timeline with Padding: Be sure to build extra time into your schedule for unexpected delays or moments when you might need a breather. Having a buffer can reduce stress significantly, especially during transitions from one part of the celebration to another. I always recommend blocking off the 30 minutes before your ceremony time– no one in your immediate circle or wedding party should be scheduled to be doing anything during that time. If something comes up, that’s ok because you have buffer time, but you shouldn’t be running around doing last minute things.

Example of a detailed timeline for a less stressful wedding day.
Example of part of a detailed timeline from a small outdoor wedding

Communicate Your Wedding or Elopement Schedule & Timeline: Make sure everyone involved in the wedding, from vendors to family members, knows the timeline. Provide printouts or digital copies before the wedding day to avoid confusion. Be sure that all vendors work together on the timeline. Your planner or photographer should be the main point of contact who is in charge of the timeline. Your makeup artist should know when everyone has to be done by, your DJ should know when to start the ceremony music, your photographer should know when photos need to happen, etc.

4. Prioritize Comfort & Prepare Backups

Dress Comfortably: Choose wedding attire that allows you to move freely & feel comfortable throughout the day. Consider the weather & the environment of your venue when selecting your outfit. Be sure to look up the actual historical weather of your location. Even though May is technically spring, in the mountains, May could actually still be a bit chilly with some snow still on the ground!

When you are planning your elopement or small wedding, be sure to pick out attire that you can really move in! This couple feels so free in their attire that they're even jumping.

Pro tip: Use this historical weather tool from Weather Underground to look up past dates & see what the weather was actually like on your date & at your location where you’re getting married at.

Prepare for All Scenarios: Have a “wedding emergency kit” that includes items like safety pins, band-aids, a sewing kit, snacks, water, & maybe even a change of shoes. This kit can be a lifesaver on your wedding day. Looking at hiring me? I have a complete wedding emergency kit I always keep with me!

5. Simplify Wedding Guest Management

RSVP Management: Use an online system for tracking RSVPs to simplify your wedding planning process & to have a less stressful planning experience. My favorite platform (and one that I’ve tested extensively) is Zola. Tools like this can help manage your guest list & dietary preferences in real-time. I also used a spreadsheet during wedding planning in addition to the tools from Zola. You may also want to check out this wedding planning checklist & this elopement planning checklist.

Guests having fun at a small wedding in Colorado.

Seat Strategically: Spend time thinking about your seating chart to ensure that guests are seated in a way that will foster a good atmosphere & minimize potential conflicts. Sometimes open seating can work, but most of the time I don’t recommend that. Having assigned seating or at least assigned tables is going to help ensure a good guest experience & you’ll have less to be concerned about in terms of guest conflicts during your wedding day.

6. Consider an Elopement or a Hybrid Wedding/Elopement Day

Personalize Your Day: Think about what truly matters to you & your partner. An elopement or a hybrid wedding/elopement allows you to incorporate elements that might not fit into a traditional wedding setting—like hiking up a mountain to say your vows or getting married in a hot air balloon. You don’t have to elope totally alone & you can still celebrate with the people you love.

Pro Tip: Having a hybrid wedding & elopement all in one is the best way to get the best of both worlds in my opinion! Need ideas? Go hiking at sunrise & say private vows to each other on top of a mountain & then later that evening join your guests for a more traditional ceremony & reception. Or you could have an all day elopement with just the two of you & go back to friends & family to have a post elopement party. You can also say private vows or read letters to each other before the ceremony on your wedding day.

Hire a Specialized Photographer: Elopements often offer unique photo opportunities. Make sure your photographer is an experienced elopement photographer & that they can capture dynamic, candid shots in varied environments. (Like me! 😉) There is a difference in hiring a specialized elopement photographer verses just hiring a photographer for your elopement.

7. Maintain Perspective

Focus on What Matters: Keep in mind that the wedding is just the beginning of your marriage. What truly counts is the commitment you are making to each other, not the minor details of the day. Not everything will go perfectly according to plan throughout your wedding planning journey, but focus on having fun doing it together & focus on the commitments you’re making to each other.

Be Present: Try to stay in the moment throughout your wedding day. It will pass quickly, so soak up every minute, even if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned. Every once in awhile, stop & breath, take a look around you, reflect on your wedding day. Let loose a little, have fun, & know that your photographer is there to document all of those amazing wedding day memories!

Small Wedding Ideas for Your Intimate Day

Imagine your small wedding day where every detail reflects your personal journey & love story. An intimate wedding isn’t just about smaller guest lists—it’s about creating moments filled with meaning & joy, shared with those who matter most & you’ll have more time to spend with each guest. Whether it’s exchanging vows against the breathtaking backdrop of the mountains, or feeling the sand between your toes on a secluded beach, each setting offers you a place to make your own wedding day memories. These small wedding ideas promise not just a celebration, but an unforgettable experience tailored just for you.

Backyard Wedding

Transform a family home’s backyard or a vacation home rental into a romantic venue with string lights, elegant table settings, & a cozy dance floor. This setting provides a personal touch & the comfort of home. Many times you can have more flexibility with less regulations that bigger venues have.

Bride and groom walk down the aisle at their small wedding in Telluride, Colorado.

Coastal or Beachfront Ceremony

Exchange vows on a secluded beach at sunset. Decorate with a simple floral arch & chairs draped in soft fabrics. (Be sure to check if that is allowed & if a permit is needed first though!) A beachfront setting offers a naturally stunning backdrop & the soothing sounds of waves, ideal for couples who love the sea & sand.

Mountain Top Wedding

For adventure loving couples, a small mountaintop wedding provides breathtaking views & a sense of adventure. Hike up with your closest friends & family or transport everyone via Jeeps deeper into the mountains. Capture your vows with the panoramic vistas as your witness.

A couple having a small wedding in the mountains of Colorado.

Luxurious Venues for Distinguished Weddings

For couples seeking a blend of luxury, tranquility, & awe-inspiring landscapes, Amangiri in Utah & Amangani in Wyoming offer unparalleled wedding experiences. Both Amangiri & Amangani specialize in creating bespoke weddings that offer not just a venue, but a series of unforgettable experiences that reflect the essence of luxury and natural beauty.

Vows in a Vineyard

A small wedding in a vineyard is a fantastic option for wine lovers & those who appreciate scenic landscapes. Utilize the vineyard’s natural beauty for a rustic-chic wedding, complete with a wine tasting reception & locally sourced food options.

Historic Mansion Rental

Rent a small historic mansion or larger estate for a touch of elegance & a beautiful historic building. These venues often have beautiful gardens & refined interiors, perfect for an intimate ceremony & reception with a bit more of a luxurious feel.

Garden Party Wedding

Host a garden party wedding at a local botanical garden or a rented private garden. Use floral arrangements to complement the natural surroundings & consider a sunset or midday wedding to take advantage of the natural light & vibrant settings.

Have a small wedding in a garden party fashion in a botanical garden, complete with floral inspired drinks.

Art Gallery Affair

If you are art enthusiasts, an intimate wedding in an art gallery is both unique & inspiring. Surrounded by artwork, the space needs little decoration & offers guests a visually engaging experience as they celebrate the two of you.

Countryside Retreat

A countryside setting offers charm & a peaceful retreat from city life. Opt for a quaint bed & breakfast or a farmhouse, or even a camp, where you can have a weekend-long celebration with your guests, filled with outdoor activities & family-style meals.

Romantic Rooftop Wedding

A rooftop wedding in an urban setting provides city views & a modern vibe. Decorate with lights & greenery for a fun filled evening under the stars, perfect for couples who love the energy of the city.

Boat Wedding on the Water

Charter a boat & have your wedding on the water. Whether it’s a sailboat, yacht, or a vintage steamboat, this idea offers a unique experience with stunning water & skyline views. It’s ideal for a sunset ceremony followed by a starlit reception.

Each of these ideas can be tailored to reflect your personal style & preferences, ensuring your wedding day is not only intimate but also uniquely yours. Whether you desire natural beauty, rustic charm, or artistic flair, there’s a unique venue that will make your special day unforgettable.

Begin Planning Your Day

As you dream of your perfect intimate wedding day, remember that your location sets the stage for one of the best experiences of your life. Whether you’re drawn to the serene whispers of Amangiri’s desert landscapes or the majestic peaks of the mountains of Washington or Colorado, these locations promise not just a location, but a setting for wonderful wedding day memories. I am here to help capture every moment with the artistry & attention to detail that your special day deserves. My wedding & elopement packages are designed to complement the landscapes & intimacy of your chosen wedding location.

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @shellcreekphoto for more inspiration & a behind-the-scenes look at some of the weddings & elopements I’ve had the honor to photograph & get in touch to talk about your day!


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