Simply put, an “unplugged” wedding ceremony is one that asks (or requires, depending on how fervently the bride and groom want to enforce) guests to refrain from using their smartphones and tablets to take photos, tweet, post on Facebook, etc. for the duration of the ceremony. Maybe even the entire wedding. Of course, my principal interest in this concept is about the photography component of “unplugging” during a wedding ceremony.
Please note that I’m basically addicted to Instagram (among other forms of social media). So this is really not a rant about smartphones.
It’s about how we use them.
And maybe this is a bit of a rant about everyday technology in general. As our gadgets improve, we tend to hide behind them. I’m certainly guilty of it myself — I am ALWAYS on my iPhone, sometimes instead of live interaction with other human beings. It’s nothing something I’m particularly proud of. I do sometimes make an effort to put my phone down and talk to the people right in front of me.
I think the epitomization of our addiction to smartphones is demonstrated at weddings. Specifically, wedding ceremonies.
I have had many, MANY moments during which I feel like I have to compete with wedding guests for getting a good shot of the bride and groom. These people are your guests and I don’t want to push them out of the way! But as your wedding photographer, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either I nudge friends and family out of the way, or I miss the shot. I’ve gotten more comfortable with asking guests to scoot over so I can do my thang. But it’s a bummer to have to ask for that permission in the first place.
Even if they’re not actually “in the way,” when guests use their own camera flash, we’re still in competition. Something like this, for example, is almost impossible for me to edit out in post-production:
I think what bums me out even more is that when guests are glued to their cameras or phones, they’re not really living in the moment and enjoying the wedding in “real time,” in real life! Last year, I attended a wedding as a guest (for the first time in awhile) and I went into the church without my camera AND without my phone. Yep, I left them both in the car. And you know what? It was wonderful.
There was, of course, the liberation at being “off the clock” so I could focus 100% on watching my friend tie the knot (and, as a result, I cried like a baby). Past my professional sense of relief, though, there was the simple, lovely freedom of watching the ceremony with my own two eyes.
My friend and wedding cinematographer Julie recently commented that, at one wedding she shot over the summer, “the bride’s mom AND dad filmed the entire thing with their cameras in front of their faces the whole ceremony in the front row. Mind you, J and I are standing right up there doing the same, as we were paid to do so! My ‘ceremony parents shot’ is of them staring at their screens, one of their faces completely covered by their camera.”
I mean, WHY?!
A very important question for you and your soon-to-be spouse to ask yourselves is this: will the family and friends in attendance at your wedding also be present at your wedding? Will they be in the moment and mindful of the substance and significance of your wedding day?
I think there is much value in encouraging wedding guests to get out from behind their viewfinders. Not only have you (likely) hired a wedding photographer to perform this exact task, but most people can agree that part of truly living and appreciating a profound event like the marriage ceremony of a friend or family member is the ability to truly live in the moment.
At this point I should note that encouraging friends and family to actually watch your ceremony instead of photograph or videotape it is NOT the same as asking them to refrain from photos during the reception. I do still encounter battles for a prime photography spot during reception events like the first dance and cake cutting, but I think the bride and groom can benefit from the candids their guests snap at their tables or on the dance floor. Mobile apps like Wedding Party are the modern-day incarnation of disposable cameras. I think that’s pretty cool. And, really, snapping one or two shots on your iPhone during the ceremony (as long as you stay seated, please!) is totally fine. What we’re really discussing here are guests who park their faces behind their phones for the full duration of the ceremony.
Now, how the heck to do it? Southern Weddings offers a couple of right-on tips for how to proceed:
Mention your plans for an unplugged wedding on your wedding website, something along the lines of, “we are honored to have you all as witnesses to our vows and the beginning of our marriage. We invite you to be truly present at our ceremony, and respectfully request that all cameras and phones be turned off. We look forward to sharing our professional photos after the big day!”
Include a note in the ceremony program. Something similar to the above wording is great! Also including a sign of some kind as guests enter the ceremony site is a good idea (like if you’re already using a lot of signage, this is easy to incorporate).
Ask your officiant to make a brief announcement at the beginning of the ceremony. When the request comes from the officiant, guests are actually more likely to respect the couple’s wishes. If you’re getting married in a house of worship that doesn’t allow photos, even better (except hopefully the venue DOES allow your professional photographer to take pictures)!
Consider a limited photo opportunity. This is not my personal favorite, but it’s certainly an option. The officiant gives one chance after the processional to take as many photos as they wanted — even encouraging them to get up and stand in the aisle to do so. Then, everyone has to sit down and turn their phones off for the rest of the ceremony. BAM!
What are your thoughts on the unplugged wedding? Would you do it or do you think that guests taking their own photos just helps to better document your big day? I’m really interested in what non-photographers and non-wedding professionals think of this concept!
References and further reading