I get it, you like to take pictures. As a wedding photographer and someone who makes a living taking photographs, I can totally relate to wanting to take photos all. the. time! In the digital age we live in, having the ability to take photos of our daily lives is easier and more accessible than ever before. Smart phones have (sadly) replaced polaroid cameras and they've even replaced small digital cameras that were used exclusively ten years ago. I remember my parents buying me a small digital camera at the start of my senior year of high school so I could document all my experiences and friendships. The 2007 me was crazy excited. (Was that really ten years ago?!)
"I get it, you like to take pictures."
The thing we need to ask ourselves more often, however, is that even though I can to take a photo, should I take a photo? The subject of unplugged weddings is a little bit controversial, but I feel strongly enough about it that, today, I thought I'd share my perspective on the use of smart phones at weddings. I will share my experiences with attending an unplugged wedding as a guest and as a photographer!
"The thing we need to ask ourselves more often, however, is that even though I can to take a photo, should I take a photo?"
This blog should be taken as a little friendly advice to any couples out there considering an unplugged wedding as well as any person who may attend a wedding at any point in the near future! I also wanted to give wedding guests my advice on the number one best and WORST times to take a candid photo with your cell phone at a wedding! You can take this advice however you like, but please remember that this is just my humble little opinion, and that your wedding day can be celebrated however YOU envision it! You do you boo!
Oh How Far We've Come . . .
It literally blows my mind to think about how I documented my life back in my senior year of high school. It was a time before you could instantly take a photo and post it straight to Instagram and back when I was excited to get my college email so I could get a Facebook account (because back then, you needed a legit college email to have a Facebook account!). Technology is such an amazing thing and, yet, there are times when I think smart phones and being so connected to everything all. the. time. is a little sad. I am totally guilty of being plugged in and not being fully present, but I think I can do better!
"And how great would it be to actually see a moment happen with your own two eyes without a screen in front of your face? . . . "
A lot of the time, we miss experiencing a real moment and having an actual memory because we're worried about taking 200 photos of ourselves at our 21st birthday or we're styling a picture-perfect dinner plate to represent our 2nd wedding anniversary or we're capturing a photo at our sister's wedding as she walks down the aisle . . . But do you know what? Your sister probably hired a wedding photographer who's sole job it is to capture that moment. And how great would it be to actually see her with your own two eyes as she walks down the aisle to commit herself to another person for the rest of her life without a screen in front of your face? (cue the tears!) . . .
Be Our Guest: My Experience Attending an Unplugged Wedding as a Guest
I should start by saying that the unplugged weddings I've had the opportunity to attend as a guest and not as a photographer weren't all day, start-to-finish unplugged weddings. There are varying degrees in which a couple can have an unplugged wedding day, the 1st) being the whole day where guests are asked to be fully present and keep their phones and cameras put away for the entire wedding. The 2nd) option is that only the wedding ceremony is unplugged and guests are asked to enjoy the service and vows without the distraction of their phones and cameras, but as soon as the reception starts it's ok to take some selfies and use the couples wedding hashtag!
"There are varying degrees in which a couple can have an unplugged wedding day."
Which ever choice you as a couple decide to go with is totally up to you but, in my opinion, short of having a phone check (similar to a coat check) when guests arrive, it's almost impossible to make a wedding completely and entirely unplugged and phone free. We live in a world where using our phones is second nature and I think there are times when guests should be able to capture personal memories for themselves using their phone or camera as long as it isn't disruptive to the professional photographer!
1. It was soooo wonderful to be present at my sweet friend's wedding ceremony and not have to worry about taking a photo!
2. I wasn't putting myself into awkward positions or angles trying to take a photo, and I wasn't leaning into the aisle to capture a moment (where the professional photographer was taking an image). In short, I was allowed to just be a witness to their love story.
3. At one of these weddings, my boyfriend Scott was actually the officiant and I was able to really listen to his words during the service. I can remember the emotion on the bride and groom's faces as they repeated his words during the vow section of the ceremony and it still gives me all the feels!
4. Even though these weddings were only partially unplugged (as in only the ceremony), in a way I felt empowered and relieved to be unplugged. So for the rest of the wedding, I think I maybe took one photo of Scott and I at the reception and the rest of the night, my phone was put away and I was out dancing and talking with old friends! I felt free to immerse myself in the atmosphere and conversation and didn't retreat into scrolling on my phone.
. . . So yeah, you might feel a temporary withdraw from your device and you may feel itchy and twitchy because you want to check your phone, but for me that wasn't the case and there really aren't any cons to attending an unplugged wedding as a guest!
I know at these weddings there were professional wedding photographers and videographers who were hired to capture the couple's day and who could perform their job and creative ideas without interruption! So there was no need to feel like I needed to take a photo unless it was just for me and my own personal photo album.
** Tips for Couples **
1. If you're planning an unplugged wedding, make sure to have a plan to share the final professional photographs with all of your guests! They want to see your beautiful photos too, especially if they respected your wishes and didn't take any (or very many) at the wedding!
2. You can always decide to for-go traditional wedding favors and give your guests photos to take home with them instead! Hiring a photo booth company for the reception is a fun way to keep the reception unplugged and it allows your guests to have photos of the night.
My Experience Photographing Unplugged Weddings
If I haven't said it enough, I'm going to say it again; I'm blessed to work with some of the BEST couples ever! As I looked back on this last wedding season, I realized that a little over half of the weddings I photographed were unplugged! My couples cared a LOT about their guests and their experience at the wedding and wanted them to be present as they tied the knot! My couples also valued their photography investment and knew that they wanted their wedding photographs to be timeless and screen free! (Nothing kills an emotional walk down the aisle like a huge iPad in someone's hands.)
1. Uninterrupted photos and No Photo Bombers! At these unplugged weddings, no one steps into the aisle to block the groom's view of the bride as she walks down the aisle. You don't see a line of screens as the bride holds onto her dad's arm and no one jumps into the aisle (blocking me the photographer) as the bride and groom share their first kiss as Mr. and Mrs.
2. I am Free to be Creative and Get the Shots You Want! As a guest, you're there to enjoy the moment. I'm there to move around and get alternative perspectives, creative angles, close-ups, and wide shots! I sometimes even have a secondary professional photographer shooting alongside me and we need to have the ability to discretely go where we need to go throughout the ceremony without having to squeeze around guests trying to take a photo.
When a wedding is unplugged, I don't have to worry about stepping around guests and the extra benefit of not having a camera in everyone’s hands means that I won’t need to jostle for prime position with Aunty Betty, be blocked down the aisle, or have blinding flashes over expose the photos that I do take.
3. You're Guests will Interact More! As a professional photographer, I understand that these moments are important to not only the families and the bride and groom, but also to you as a friend of the bride. I know that the wedding images become a part of their family history. But you were personally invited by the bride and groom to be a witness to their marriage commitment, and I was hired to photograph it.
Without the distraction of their phones, guests are free to interact more with each other and they'll be more likely to remember the day's events which you as the bride have been planning for over a year!
4. Your Privacy is Protected! With social media being an everyday part of most people's lives, it can be a hard obstacle to overcome if your wedding isn't unplugged. I would personally hate to see a photo shared of one of my brides early in the morning only to have the groom and everyone else see her before she can make a grand entrance in person at either the first look or down the aisle! Having an unplugged wedding will also mean that you have the ability to choose how your wedding day is shared publicly.
Don't want hundreds of photos shared to your Facebook page? Having an unplugged wedding can help you control how your wedding day is presented online as well as to family and friends who weren't able to make it in person.
. . . There really are no cons for me as the photographer when I'm photographing an unplugged wedding!
** Tips for Couples **
1. Let your guests know ahead of time that you are planning an unplugged wedding! Creating an additional insert that goes along with your wedding invitation suite is the perfect place to let guests know up front about what to expect when it comes to unplugged wedding etiquette. This is the same courtesy that you'd extend to guests if it was a cash only bar at the reception.
Simply stating something like: “We invite you to be fully present at our wedding ceremony, and respectfully request that all cameras and phones be turned off. We look forward to sharing our professional photos with you after the big day!”
2. Use a sign at the entrance to your ceremony reminding guests to put away phones and cameras. I've seen so many cute and classy ways for this to be done in such a way that it won't distract from the romantic feeling of your wedding!
3. Have your officiant or wedding planner make an announcement right before the ceremony begins, reminding them to silence and put away all phones and cameras. It may seem like overkill to tell people in three different ways to put away their phones, but people may have seen it on your invitation 6 months ago, but missed the sign upon entering the ceremony site. It's always better to give one last gentle reminder!
The Number One Absolutely Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, and WORST Time to Take Candid Cell Phone Photos at a Wedding:
During the wedding ceremony. . .
(Please note: I use the below photos as examples only and not to call out or judge anyone! I want to say these are my behind the scenes images and for educational purposes only!)
The Very Best Time to Take Candid Cell Phone Photos at a Wedding:
At the reception!
I am a photojournalist by nature so I always capture what my client's guests are doing at the reception and a lot of the time that's dancing. On occasion, however, that means they are a respectful distance back and allowing me to do my job, but are also taking their own photos!
This is how you earn brownie points from wedding photographers!
It's Important to Remember:
I have, unfortunately, seen many guests ignore the unplugged request(s) of the bride and groom outright and who will pull out their phones as soon as they can. Even though this can seem frustrating as a bride, I want to remind you that it will be ok. I want to remind you that your guests are trying to capture a photo from a place of love and not a place of disrespect.
As a professional photographer, I pride myself on capturing real, authentic moments and no matter if the ceremony is officially unplugged or not, I do my very best to maneuver around plugged-in guests and to crop out screens if I can help it! So try not to stress too much if this does, in fact, happen at your wedding!
What's important is that all of your family, friends, and loved ones are gathered in one place, at one time in celebration of you and your love! Unplugged or not, these are memories you will cherish and they will be preserved (by me as the wedding photographer and as candids from your guests) for your future family history!
So what do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments below!
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