How to Plan A Ceremony

Planning Your Ceremony

We’re on a mountain ridge in Washington. It’s 6:32 am and you’re about to start your ceremony. But what the heck does that look like? If you’re hiring an officiant, they’ll lead you through the whole process. In the case that you’re sealing the deal back home, or you’re already legally married—we’re here to help you plan and structure your ceremony. 

By working with us, you probably already get the gist that you can plan or not plan whatever you want. Your ceremony can be religious/non-religious, quirky/sentimental, organized/spontaneous, or whatever speaks to you. We will outline the typical flow of ceremonies, and you can pick and choose from there. Remember everything is completely optional, and you can always add your own unique traditions.

Ceremony Introductions

Processional: Where the two of you make your way to the “alter” area where your friends and family are gathered. Optionally, you can play music over a Bluetooth speaker for this. Your parents or parent-like figures might walk you down the aisle. We can set up your guests around an “alter” area and get them prepped before you begin. During a processional, a parent figure can “give away” the bride/groom if you want to include something more traditional. 

Opening/Introduction: If you have guests you can have one of them make a prepared opening statement about the two of you and everyone coming together. You probably are familiar with the “we are gathered here today” speech. This is your variation of that from a close loved one. If you only have 2-5 guests, an opening speech might be overkill. But for those of you with 10 or more guests, this can help you with those pre-ceremony jitters since someone else will speak first. 

Readings: After an opening statement, you can begin your ceremony with poetry readings, letters from early on in your relationship, important passages from a favorite book, or hold a religious prayer. Want to include someone not in attendance? You can ask them to write a heartfelt letter to read out loud (or read to yourself) before you begin your ceremony too. Readings/prayers are a great way to calm down before exchanging vows.  You can even take a moment to sit on a rock or in the grass to read your letters before continuing the ceremony. You can also do this after the ceremony – there’ no right way in doing a ceremony.

Vows & Rings

Symbolic Exchange of Rings: I would write out all the ways that you can exchange rings, but this article is incredibly thorough in religious/non-religious ways of exchanging rings. A loved one could be responsible for saying out loud what the ring symbolizes. Or you could just exchange rings in silence. We haven’t had a lot of elopement ceremonies where a loved one was responsible for handing over the rings. It’s super traditional to do that—and not a lot of our couples have done it. But it’s your call!

Exchanging of Vows: Self-explanatory but be sure to check out our article on writing vows. It is very thorough and should be super helpful. 

Unity Rituals and Your First Kiss

Unity Ceremony: Beyond exchanging rings, we’ve seen couples perform other ceremony rituals to symbolize their unity: sage smudging, handfasting (cord ceremony), planting a tree together, sand-pouring, or even painting on a canvas together. 

First Kiss: Kiss time! As photographers/videographers, we like to recommend not being shy and giving a good, long smooch to help us get the shot. 

Other Things You Can Do During Your Ceremony:

  • Including kids in the marriage ceremony with one of the parents officially “marrying” both their partner and the child to unite them as a family. 
  • Incorporating their dog into the ceremony. 
  • Performing a song for their partner (or performing a duet together)

After Your Ceremony

Recessional: If you have 10+ guests, you can walk down a formed aisle of all your guests to leave your ceremony area, if you have just a few, hug everyone or even a group hug because you’re married! It’s probably more relevant to pop champagne, hoop and holler, or just stare out at the amazing landscape where you said your vows. **hugging everyone**

Witness Signatures: Some states have more relaxed guidelines regarding official ceremonies. If you’re DIY’ing the process and you need witness signatures for your marriage license—most officiants will have you do this immediately after the ceremony. If you don’t have an officiant—we can be your witnesses (we’ve done it before)!


Getting a Marriage License in a Different State

If you plan on getting a marriage license in the state where you are eloping—you’ll want to research (or ask us) about marriage laws. Some states like Oregon require an officiant, and it’s just easiest to hire an officiant and follow their guidance. Other Staes like Colorado are self-solemnizing: meaning you could literally determine to be married while watching Netflix (Jaclyn tried to marry me several times when we lived in Colorado while watching The Great British Baking Show 🙂).  

View Wedding Laws By State Here

Click on the state where you’re eloping, and you’ll see marriage license requirements. Also–you can use the drop down to select the county to even get the County Clerk Info!

What Do Most People Do? 

It all depends on your plans and preferences. If we’re doing an epic sunrise ceremony hike—you might find it more challenging to get an adventurous officiant. Places like Oregon, Washington, and Yosemite National Park have a lot more adventurous officiants to book, making the process a lot easier to include an officiant. While remote hikes in Iceland and Hawaii make it much more work to include one.


Either way, this is your ceremony and your elopement. You can make it as official or unofficial as you’d like. Exchanging vows and spending an epic, beautiful day on the trail is what matters most. It’s the meaningful experience and celebration of your lives together that we’re all here to celebrate. 

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