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Wedding at gazebo and Whitestone Country Inn

Intimate Wedding vs. Elopement: What’s The Difference?

There is a difference between an elopement and intimate weddings and understanding the difference makes the planning process easier for everyone. Both types of ceremonies are simplistic yet romantic in nature and involve few, or even no guests. While downsizing weddings are a growing trend that saves money, there are some services you just can’t skip, like hiring a professional wedding photographer for your ceremony. Capturing images from your special day is my honor and my specialty. As you consider the type of ceremony you want, understanding the difference between an elopement and an intimate wedding leads to a better understanding of the difference regarding pricing and availability.

 A Closer Look at Elopement

The mere definition of an elopement—an act of running off secretly, as to be married—evokes images of romance and adventure. Not only does eloping save money, but it also eliminates the pressures associated with planning a large wedding. Here are additional reasons an elopement is an attractive choice for many couples:

The guest list is small—usually under 10 people. In fact, some elopement ceremonies have no guests except for the officiant and witnesses.

The ceremony can take place anywhere—From your backyard or the county courthouse, where (and even when) you elope is somewhat flexible.

There is no reception—once the ceremony is over, it’s over. There’s no food served, first dances, or cutting of the cake. The lack of a reception is where the primary savings are found as catering, music, and a reception location often add up to a great expense.

Wedding versus Elopement - What's The Difference

What Defines an Intimate Wedding?

An intimate wedding differs from an elopement in many ways. For one, there is no secrecy like that of an elopement. Secondly, the key difference from a standard wedding is the size of the guest list. There is often some type of reception after the ceremony. However, it does not contain all the bells and whistles of a large reception. The focus is on keeping the reception simple yet enjoyable for your guests.

Speaking of guests, the challenge of who to invite and who not to invite is always an issue with weddings. An intimate wedding involves more guests than an elopement yet fewer guests than the standard wedding. Narrowing your guest list to specific people without causing hurt feelings is hard. Think about the reason you wanted an intimate wedding in the first place. Once you complete your list, do spend time going over the details. Smaller weddings still require planning and guests are more likely to notice mistakes. You can also create a larger guest list for the reception while keeping the ceremony limited to close friends and family.

Intimate weddings make for great destination weddings. When it comes to locations for a destination wedding in Eastern Tennessee, the options are endless. From the historic to new yet rustic, and the majestic beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re sure to find a romantic setting that provides the perfect ambiance for your intimate wedding. Consider renting cottages or an inn, such as Buckhorn Inn, and encourage guests to extend their stay to explore all the area has to offer.

The Importance of a Photographer

When couples elope, they choose to forego a lot of the traditional wedding features. Such as the aforementioned reception and a large guest list. What eloping couples mustn’t forego is the services of a professional wedding photographer. Your elopement is still one of the most special days of your life. An elopement usually involves more portrait-style photography that captures the memory of your spontaneous yet special day.

Think Outside the Courthouse

There’s nothing wrong with eloping at the local courthouse—just know that choosing a more romantic setting in the Eastern Tennessee area is an option. My experience photographing elopements includes many ceremonies that took place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) as required by the National Park Service to photograph weddings within the National Park. The natural beauty in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is no match for the sterile environment of a courthouse.

Other popular venues for elopements in the Knoxville area are the Whitestone Country Inn and Sampson’s Hollow.

Intimate Wedding versus Elopement Photography

The good news is that when it comes to celebrating your love, there are a variety of options. Once you choose either to elope or to have a smaller, intimate wedding, planning for your ceremony photography is important. As a wedding photographer based in Knoxville, Tennessee, I’m honored to capture your special day. Here are three key and helpful factors to keep in mind when it comes to my services and your ceremony:

Pricing $1800 — Elopements involve less time to photograph and due to the nature of the ceremony, result in more portrait-style photography.  Most of our elopements are based on 3 hours of photography for $1800.

Availability (Mon-Thurs) — My availability for elopements is limited to Monday-Thursday. If you decide that sealing your love just can’t wait, chances are the day of the week won’t matter. Just give me a heads-up as to your plans. I consider myself a spontaneous person! However, as much notice as possible helps me to pack my best equipment and to arrange my schedule.

Guest List (Under 10) — If there are more guests, the ceremony is usually longer, and there is often some type of reception. My pricing is based on these factors, all of which include the size, scope, and type of ceremony. Our elopements require a 10-person maximum guest limit. 

Your wedding day is a lifetime event. Whether you choose elopement in the courthouse or among the trees of the national park, or you plan a small, intimate wedding, capturing your day with professional photography is a must.

Smoky Mountain Guide

Looking to elope in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park? Make sure that you purchase my ultimate Smoky Mountain Wedding & Elopement Guide.

Erin Morrison Photography

It’s easy to get sidetracked when planning the type of wedding you want. Expectations and pressure from family can distract you from your dream of elopement or a small, intimate wedding. No matter who you invite or where your ceremony takes place, I’d love to capture your special day. To learn more about my services and availability, contact me. East Tennessee is a beautiful place to start your forever. From small, destination weddings to micro-weddings to an elopement in the Smokies, let’s chat soon because even the quickest ceremonies require a certain degree of planning.


Natural light + honest photographer for all humans.


Knoxville, Tennessee



Office Hours: M-F 8am-5pm | S-S 12pm-5pm

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