Backyard Elopement Guide

couple kisses in sunset during backyard elopement in seattle, washington

How to plan a backyard elopement?


I am going to start with just a personal disclaimer. I was married in a backyard. I’ve also housed weddings in my backyard. I’ve photographed numerous weddings at home. So, I am just a little bit biased to their awesomeness. Backyard elopements are amazing. Whether boho chic, rustic, or classically simple, you will get to celebrate in this place that has meaning and will only grow in meaning over the years. When you walk through that space, you’re going to think back to the joys of celebrating here. Backyard elopements are a great option, whether you’re starting planning or in need of a rescheduling option following the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re really trying to make this elopement day your own, there is little that more fits the dream than your own home.

Before we dive into the guide, photography for backyard weddings starts at $4500 for all-day coverage or $2000 for 3-hour coverage. You can see more about my elopement or wedding options. If you are considering other spots, do also think about North Cascades elopements or Olympic National Park elopements too.

couple celebrates at end of backyard elopement in oregon

Why have a backyard elopement?

The most special reason to have a backyard elopement is that it’s a place that is truly special to you. Our wedding was in my parent’s backyard, and I still get texts from my dad remembering the day.

Aside from that, most backyard weddings are going to save you money. Though you might end up spending some money sprucing up the yard, that investment usually will be less than a traditional venue rental, plus you get to enjoy those benefits for years to come.

You’re in control of the day. Because you are making it all happen, you get to only put into it the things that matter most.

When you have an intimate backyard wedding, it’s easier to keep tabs on the size of the wedding. That isn’t to say that it can only be a tiny celebration, but more to say that picking a space and decorations that fit your story will also enable you to have a setting that is available for only the number of guests you’re ready to party with.

You don’t want the only good photos of your house to be from a Zillow listing. Whether it’s your own home or at the home of someone else, a backyard elopement is a perfect opportunity to show off the beauty of this space.

Danny and Tina chose his parent’s home for their Seattle Backyard Wedding and it was perfect for these wonderfully happy people. It was such a relaxed and joyful afternoon with friends and family from across the country coming to their home in Redmond to celebrate the love of these two that has come from Hawaii over to the Evergreen State. I was so astounded by all the work people had done to make sure that the day went off without a hitch (which it certainly did). I love homes that are so well surrounded by the greens of the PNW.

Are backyard weddings COVID safe?

COVID safety is going to be something we will all need to be careful about for the foreseeable future. Even though vaccines are heading out, it will be necessary to protect yourself and your guests. Really small weddings are a safer option because the fresh air is proven to be a safe location. It’s also easier to keep intimate guest lists small and within safety bubbles.

To read more on my advice for COVID elopements, I wrote out some more ideas and had links to the current Washington State guidelines here.

wedding party wearing covid masks

How to choose a location for your backyard elopement?

You have the pick of backyards. I mean, if you’re reading this guide, you probably have a backyard picked out. But don’t decide too soon. People are usually pretty open to having weddings in their backyard. Again, I’m speaking as someone who has both been married in a backyard and had an elopement in a backyard. Where have you had your favorite party? Who has the one that best is laid out for your guests? Who has the best view of Puget Sound? Think big and ask.

Note, if you ask and they say no, you probably have to invite them to the wedding. So, do keep that in mind.

multiple exposure of couple in sunset on film during backyard elopement in oregon

What season should I have a backyard elopement in Washington State?

Most people who have a backyard elopement or wedding do it in the May-September window. And of those (especially if you’re in Western Washington), you’re thinking in the July-September timeframe because that’s the most reliable for good weather. It’s the time of the year that a cozy fire would be great, and you can easily enjoy the evening long after sunset (which is pretty late anyway).

There are a lot of folks who do opt for other seasons, but they just plan to have a tent. From my own experience, rent a good tent. Wherever you’re located, find a tent rental professional and rent from them. You’re going to be tempted to buy a cheap tent (basically car-port) off Amazon. It will seem like a good deal. It will seem like you’re going to be able to re-use it in the future. It’s going to be made of tinfoil and tears and will let you down. SPEND THE MONEY ON A GOOD TENT RENTAL.

couple laughs during first look at backyard elopement in oregon

Are there any rules to a backyard elopement?

Obviously, you’re getting married in a backyard, so the owner is usually the owner is the arbiter of you being allowed to do it. But, be aware of local guidelines. Some neighborhoods will have noise ordinances or parking rules. Though they can be a pain, it’s also way easier to follow these than to break the rules and then have to keep living there for years to come

Quiet hours

Many areas have quiet hour rules. Even the most rural of places have ordinances. So, definitely look into those. With that, if you’re hoping to have a ruckus dance party, you might also want to figure out how to bring that indoors.

With that, it is a good idea to connect with all of the neighbors of whichever backyard you’re getting married in. Everyone loves being on the inside or getting the scoop about the day. So leave notes, shake hands, give out a few bottles of wine and make friends. It goes a long way to helping them be outstanding with extra cars parked on the street for the evening.

Other things to keep in mind for your backyard elopement?

It should be said that it’s a double-edged sword to say you have complete control of the wedding. Though you get to do whatever you want, YOU get to do whatever you want. With that, it is essential to both be organized and delegate.

When couples dream about the day they want to have, I tell them to imagine what they’d do if their elopement weren’t being photographed. That is to say, dream big. Start with that overarching dream that sets the stage for everything. You’re creating from scratch, so go as big as you want.

Once you have that dream set, you can start planning. Things might change, fall to the side, or get removed, but knowing what that dream plan is will help guide you as you make decisions.

Then, as you dive into the details, DELEGATE. Especially if there are friends or family who want to be involved, the more you handoff, the more you can enjoy your process.

Will I save money by eloping at home?

I can’t say that you undoubtedly will save money with a backyard elopement, but it does lower the initial costs of having your wedding. Speaking from experience, both my sister and I have eloped on family property. My wedding cost under $10k, and she did it for under $3k. Keep in mind. The average wedding venue rental is $12,000 in Seattle (though there are some great venues). So, if you make strategic decisions, you can have a wonderful day at a lower cost. It is a way to be very practical in how you choose to celebrate

But I would say that a backyard elopement doesn’t just allow you to save money overall but allows you to splurge on the things you truly value. Whether that means ordering a wedding album upfront, getting high-quality steaks, or just having more for a honeymoon, it allows you more freedom to spend your wedding budget in ways that you want.

How to choose a photographer for your backyard elopement?


I love backyard weddings. I know that I say I love all sorts of weddings, but I have a special place in my heart for this. There is nothing like making creative portraits in an area that is yours. And I love the endeavor of finding ways to creatively document this normal space in its abnormal day.

But no matter what, find someone willing to tell your story. You are having your elopement in the backyard for a reason, so find someone who will tell your story well. Who has your aesthetic, but also can be a part of the day, share visual insights into the memories and just be fun.

What wedding and elopement packages do you offer?

You can see a little more about the elopement packages that I offer on this page, but in general, they start at $4500 for all-day coverage or $2000 for 3-hour coverage. If you’re looking for something else, just say hi, and we can figure out what’s right for you. I am also available to do more adventurous elopements, like in the North Cascades if that fits your goals for the day.

Do you offer video or live video options with your packages?

At this time, I do not offer either of those services. I want to keep my offerings simple so that I can be wholly focused on making the best still images to tell the story of your day possible. See below for videographer referrals. Some may also include live video options. If you want to provide a live stream for guests who couldn’t arrive, a good start on how to do it yourself would be to being with this medium article. It really does a great job of outlining the equipment, services, and options that are on the market right now.

Where do stay during your backyard elopement?

If you have guests coming into town, you probably don’t want them all crashing on your floor the day before you’re getting married. So, having a few good options around for lodging can be a great help for guests.

Obviously, I don’t know where you’re going to have your backyard elopement, so rather than give out links to specific spots, here are a few categories that you might want to consider narrowing down in your area.

Hotel

  • Boutique Hotel – It seems that almost every area has some sort of boutique hotel. Whether that be more of a B&B or something like the Hotel Ballard or the ACE Hotel, these options come with lots of history, class, and feeling like you’re a part of the history of the city with the stay.
  • Adventure Hotel – These can be really fun. It’s always awesome to help guests have other things to do outside of wedding times. Such hotels like these can really open doors to awesome stuff. One example is the Loge Camps. These roadside motels have been converted into cool spaces that are an excellent gateway to the outdoors.
  • Unique hotel – There are a lot of fun hotels or resort areas in the area. So, encouraging folks to stay in train cars or vintage trailers is a fun way to bring the story of the weekend together.
  • Generic hotel – It might not be so sexy to tell everyone to stay at the Marriot, but it’s an easy option. They’re also the easiest to block off a larger number of rooms, set up shuttles to/from the wedding, and guests who already travel a lot usually appreciate the ability to use or earn points. Plus, it seems that many of these companies are pushing out into the neighborhoods and smaller areas. So one might be closer than you think. Another chain to look into is the Silver Cloud chain. There are a number of these in the Puget Sound region, but many are in unique locations (including one on the Tacoma waterfront, like literally over the water).

Airbnb/Vacasa/etc.

These home away from home options are always great for events like weddings. They are usually the easiest way to find lodging that is close to the elopement venue. They come in all sizes and are reasonably affordable. Plus, when staying in a home, there are the benefits of a place being ready for chill time. A home is meant to have stayed in a while, so many hotels are primarily for sleeping.

Campgrounds

Whether they’re looking at staying in a State Park, National Forest, or camp somewhere else, letting your outdoorsy friends know what options around really go a long way. And if they’re coming from out of town, they might even want to rent something like a Peace Van to really make it an adventure.

Foot washing ceremony at backyard elopement in seattle washington

Suggested vendors for backyard elopement

I know I’ve kind of passed the buck on other specifics in this guide because backyard weddings are not in any particular location. That is true, but here are a few of my favorites from the Puget Sound area

Can I bring my dog to our backyard elopement?

Heck yea! You’re doing this at home so you can include everyone who is important. Whether that means bringing them down the aisle as the ring bearer or just letting them roam around for all the petting they can handle, it’s is fun to include fur-babies in the day.

That said, I would caution having dogs just around all evening. I’ve photographed a few backyard celebrations where the pups had free reign of the property and therefore ate a few too many snacks off discarded plates. So, their owners had to then spend the next few days taking care of their full bellies. It might be a good idea to have an alternate space for them to be for part of the night.

couple poses together in sunset on film with blanket in desert during backyard elopement

Guests

Celebrate with the people you want to celebrate most. Because you’re eloping at home, you will have more control but also more constraints on how many folks can be a part. So, fill your day with the people who will make it memorable and will celebrate with you your way. This is your day for everyone to join in.

Lastly, if there are going to be more than just a couple of people at the elopement, consider a portable bathroom. It’s just easier, and you’ll be glad everyone is outdoors doing their business.

Legal

If your wedding is held in Washington State, then there aren’t any specific rules about where the celebration can be held. That’s to say. You’re legally allowed to have a backyard wedding in any backyard. The only stipulations are that you need one officiant and two witnesses. Therefore, a total of 5 adults need to be at the elopement.

You also need to obtain a marriage license. In King County, those are $69 and are acquired from the county registrar. It’s usually easiest to get a license in the count you live, but you can actually be married anywhere within the state. So if the backyard wedding you’re planning is in Sequim, but you live in Ballard, get your marriage license before heading out to the Olympic Peninsula.

Parting thoughts

Backyard elopements are a fantastic way to make memories in essential places, keep those closest to you close, celebrate intimately, and probably save some money. With that, if you have any other questions or suggestions on how you made your at-home wedding even better, never hesitate to say hi.

Backyard Elopement guide by Joe Tobiason. A helpful tool for all you need to plan your wedding at home in Seattle, Tacoma or anywhere in Washington State.
Backyard Elopement guide by Joe Tobiason. A helpful tool for all you need to plan your wedding at home in Seattle, Tacoma or anywhere in Washington State.

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