What is the difference between a small wedding, elopement & “normal” wedding?

Small weddings- also called micro weddings and intimate weddings- have been on the rise over the last few years and especially now with the economy, COVID-19 etc. A lot of people are faced with the decision- do we want to buy a house, or have a wedding? This is especially true if the wedding couple is financing the wedding themselves and parents are not able to contribute. The definition of “small” is slippery and hard to define since there are no hard and fast rules with weddings. Personally, I consider a “small wedding” (or intimate wedding, micro wedding) to be less than 40-50 people (Martha Stewart Weddings agrees) but typically has a reception of some sort. An elopement, in my opinion, is less than 20 people, often without a reception but doesn’t have to be a secret like a lot of people in the past have defined it as! Most “regular weddings” I photograph are between 50-125 people, and large weddings are 150+. All of this is just from my experience and opinions though- planners may have different ideas, and I also think that different regions of the US and world will have different opinions as well.


What are the benefits of a small wedding?

  1. Save money

The biggest driver of costs for weddings are the number of guests for the most part. More people means needing a bigger venue, more food and drink, more rentals, etc. Downsizing your guest list will save you a ton of money!


  1. Less stress

With less people, means less stress FOR THE MOST PART. Of course, it vastly depends on your situation. If you are trying to plan a backyard wedding, or a wedding in the middle of a regional or state park where nothing is provided, even a small wedding may be just as much work as a larger wedding at a venue that provides a lot of things already and has a system. Less people usually means less drama too, but you can get some added stress from the people you didn’t invite.


  1. More time with guests

Less people and a small or nonexistent wedding party and a shorter family formals list means more time and higher quality time with your guests. You can have actual conversations with people instead of just waving. This also means better candid photos!


  1. Put money into things that matter to you

A 10k budget goes much further among 25 people vs 50. You can choose to splurge on local craft cider, or a custom suit, or maybe a great Phoenix wedding photographer. With a small wedding, you have so many more options where your money can go.


  1. Smaller environmental impact

Weddings can be pretty wasteful from an environmental impact perspective. Downsizing can mitigate that somewhat. My friend, Phoenix planner Sierra of Blackfern Events, has a degree in sustainability and can help you lessen your environmental impact if that’s of particular concern to you!


  1. Good for introverts scared of being in the spotlight/anxiety

As a fellow introvert, the idea of everyone watching us get married was a little bit daunting. I knew that my husband might shut down a little bit during our ceremony (spoiler, I was gladly wrong!), so we opted for a first look. But for those who are particularly worried about being in the spotlight and have anxiety around lots of people, a smaller wedding may allow you to feel more at ease and also be more expressive with your emotions.


  1. More options for venue/location

Smaller guest numbers means you have more options for venues and locations. Want to have your wedding at your favorite local brewery? That’s much more feasible with 25 guests versus 125. Maybe you want to have your wedding overlooking the Mogollon Rim? That’s not really even possible if you have more than 50 people due to space concerns.


SPECIAL NOTE: Wedding venues will NOT generally rent out prime dates (Fri-Sun) to smaller weddings that won’t meet their minimums. Prime wedding season in Arizona is Sept-May in the Phoenix area. I would NOT generally recommend an outdoor venue in summer no matter how good of a deal it is, unless you like getting heat stroke.

What about hurt feelings?

This is a huge concern for anyone, but especially for those opting for a smaller wedding. First, I’ll say this- ultimately it’s your wedding. It’s hard to not take into account loved ones’ opinions and feelings, but sometimes you have to do what is right for you & your partner. Family and friends might be hurt if they aren’t invited, of course. But “it’s a REALLY small wedding” and “we are on a SUPER tight budget” works pretty well in most cases. And if they don’t understand? Maybe the relationship isn’t as good as you think it is.


How do I incorporate people who can’t make it to the wedding and make them feel included?


Live-streaming: This is a great option for anyone who is invited and can’t make it (grandparents, etc) or to share your wedding without having people physically be there. Many videographers can set this up for you! Or you can also always have a friend do it on their phone.

A good videographer is a great splurge item. I personally wish I had splurged a little bit more for our videographer. Ours was fine, but I wish I had spent a little more and had multiple shooters there. Having a video of  the event can help people feel like they didn’t totally miss out on an important life event, and also record it for you to look back on for anniversaries. No matter how small your wedding is, it’s still your wedding!

Bigger reception later: Another option for your small wedding is having a bigger reception or multiple receptions at restaurants, parties in your home, or even having multiple ceremonies/receptions across the country with friends and family.

Do you need a planner? Probably.

I’m of the opinion that a planner will help in 90% of cases. If you are busy, easily stressed out, having a wedding in a backyard (in some cases), having a destination wedding, or at a venue that doesn’t provide much help.  It’s also probably less expensive than you think, and more often than not will save you money.

Venues For Small Weddings in Arizona

San Tan Brewery downtown Chandler wedding venue
  1. Wedding venues

    Most wedding venues are only available for small weddings on weekdays – check out my outdoor wedding venue guide for other ideas, but keep in mind many may have minimums that small weddings can’t meet

wedding ceremony at Modern Farm backyard wedding venue Gilbert with huge trees

Modern Farm wedding

outdoor desert wedding in Arizona with wood tables and string lightsCloth & Flame wedding


  1. Parks


Was that helpful? Stay tuned for more helpful articles coming soon on my blog!

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Alyssa Campbell Arizona wedding photographer

Welcome! I’m an Arizona-based wedding & portrait photographer specializing in natural and documentary photos. My blog is where you can see my latest work as well as check out tips & the latest news. Following me on social media is another way to check out my recent work!