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The Unplugged Wedding

Every year, there is a set of conversations that pop up in the wedding photographer and wedding community in general about the concept of the Unplugged Wedding. That is to put a title to a wedding where the guests are banned from using their cameras and are to give the photographer have space to do their thing. Since this is such a hopping topic and is the beginning of the wedding season, here are my thoughts on it.

Before I begin, I have to share that Erika and I actually did have a wedding like this. At the bottom of our programs, we had a note that said “We’ve hired a talented photographer…” I hope the sentiment of this comes across. It was not that we didn’t want people taking pictures, it is that both of us are firm believers that when you have a camera or phone in your hand, you’re not as present in the moment as we’d like you to be. Erika gets after me when we’re walking along and I get caught up instagramming something because I’m not focused on the moment as I should. In the same vein, we invited people to come and celebrate for a reason, we really wanted their joy and spirit of support to be fully there as well.  Specifically, we had a time in our ceremony where we were blessed by the attendants and we really wanted that to be a sacred time to share with all who were there.  That being said, I hate the term unplugged wedding.  It just sounds pretentious.  Can we call it something positive, like the “here and now wedding?” (I’m open for suggestions)

That all being said, I really disagree with a lot of the thoughts I’m reading from other photographers. The thought is that it really makes our jobs easier when everyone else doesn’t have cameras. That is true. I will agree that there have been moments when someone stepped out in the aisle and blocked a photograph I was making. There are times a photo was made too bright because someone else’s flash fired at the same time as my shutter. I have rolled my eyes at the iPad photographer who is at every wedding too.

But, I am a professional photographer and so is anyone else who you may be hiring for your wedding day. We have seen all of those things and we know how to deal with it. We’ve had people shooting over our shoulders while taking bride and groom portraits. I know how to ham it up with “Uncle Bob” (the term that the community has dubbed to the family member who has photographic leanings) so that he has a blast. And realistically, I’m going to mess up, overexpose, underexpose, mis-fire or something else way more than anyone else will. I take 3,000 photos on a wedding day, but will deliver a few hundred of them. I guarantee that few of those are because someone’s camera was in the way.

So, don’t let the needs or desires of the photographer get in the way of the vibe that you want to create. This is your wedding. This is your day to be with your friends in your own way.  If you and your friends love sharing instagrams of your food and shoes, make sure that they all not only take those photos, but come up with an awesome hashtag beforehand so that you can all compare.  There are some really cool apps out there that collate the photos from one date together so that you can easily get the different angles.  Maybe you could even get the wedding party to pull out their phones to video the first kiss and make a Matrix style bullet-time kiss (seriously, someone do this!).  If you are getting married in the a cathedral, maybe it would be best to let people know that your pro has it covered.  But, no matter what you choose, make that decision because it’s what you want to do.  Then, you’ll have happy guests and I guarantee a photographer who is going to capture your day in your own style.

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  1. I actually don’t totally follow what your point is. Yes, as professionals, we anticipate people jumping in the aisles and blowing out our images with their on-camera flashes. However, things like first kisses, and a father giving his daughter away are once in a life time moments. I wouldn’t encourage a client to have their guests stand up, block my view and whip out their iphones at that particular moment and prevent me from shooting it because they want to make a collage on instagram.

    Part of our job as professionals is to help guide and protect our client’s quality of imagery. While 50 years ago a guest wouldn’t have dreamed of leaping out of their seat and into the aisle- this is a real hazard now- and that’s what it is- a hazard. I had a bride trip over a guest squatting in an aisle and rip her veil. That’s not even safe.

    If guests want to take pictures- great! But we want to educate our clients so these things are happening within a context which protects the large investment they are making in their photography. Just like we don’t advise clients to get married at noon- or midnight- we don’t advise and encourage their guests to do things which make those once in a lifetime shots- possibly non existent.

    I think an unplugged wedding would be great. You’re here to be fully present in the day, to enjoy the sacred experience and joining of two lives. ENJOY THAT. That would be awesome. Barring that, I always politely remind guests shortly before the ceremony to take their seats- if some people stand at the back I remind them again to take their seats. If they turn and put their legs/arms/equipment/drinks in the aisle, I remind them that the couple will be coming through and I will be squatting in the aisle and we want the bridal party to be safe and we also don’t want the baby’s bottle showing up in all the pictures- oops!

    Guests should not be shooting over the professional’s shoulder during formals, and they should not be in the aisle during the ceremony, period. Take pictures from your seat and do it without a flash. This is a sacred ceremony, treat it as such. They are saying their vows. Listen to them. This is not about being keyed into your social network and who can upload it fast enough. This is about being respectful, and kind and showing your love for that couple. I strive to get my pictures done as fast as possible during the ceremony so I am not disruptive. I strive to be quick, and quiet and discrete. I want to listen and hear my couple’s words. I only shoot during the ceremony when no one is speaking (in between breaths) so my shutter does not interfere with the guest’s ability to hear the vows.

    Instagraming your dinner? Go for it! That’s not what that post on Huffington was about. It was about losing precious moments. You are not losing the integrity of who you are as a person by having an unplugged ceremony or reminding your guests about being respectful of your special moment up there. We are the experts at our job, and it is part of our job to educate our client about these things so they can have the best experience possible.

    Is it the best experience possible if Cousin Drew runs up to the front of the aisle and shoves an ipad in their face mid first-kiss?

    I don’t think so.

    What’s the harm in cameras, iphones, ipads, and other electronics? Lots…

    1. First, Emily, I want to thank you for taking the time to write that really great comment. I really can see your devotion to your clients and our craft. You bring up some really great thoughts and really are making me figure out how to best give my stance.

      I totally agree with you that it is our job to educate clients on the photography process. I also agree that people standing to take photos with iPads is a real nuisance but even more baffled that someone could be so obtuse as to actually physically impede a bride in the aisle.

      My issue is the place that photographers are coming from. I just feel like this is our moment to share our horror stories. I do not want to scare anyone into acting any way or another, but rather want to help them celebrate in their own way. Though turning off devices and living into the moment is the way that my own community decided to celebrate, I want to emphasize what a practiced professional can offer. Couples have too much on their plate as it is and have hired us to eliminate the worry about photography. I know that the obvious response to that is that there won’t be any worry if no one else is taking photos. That is definitely true, but I don’t believe it’s our place to make those sort of cultural statements on a wedding. My point is not that people should not have an unplugged wedding, but rather that couples should create the vibe they really want for their day and that your professional photographer is going to make beautiful photographs. Rather than focusing on how guests can ruin a day, we should focus on how we will make the day better and more memorable. Your mention of shooting between breaths is a sign of someone who really knows not only how to make images, but how to live into the ceremony and find the balance between being in charge and a fly on the wall. Rather than sharing what could happen because there are a few people who get snap happy, let’s stand up for what we know and be proud to be good at our passions.

      If that doesn’t resonate with you, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  2. When we got married 30 years ago, the fad was to actually place disposable cameras on the tables so guests could take their own shots. While I love my professional ones, the ones the guests took are my favorites be because they really captured the heart of the day. That said, we did a lot of research and purposefully chose a photographer that would not be “in your face” about it. We paid for a certain number of pictures, and chose our poses. Our church sis not allow flash photography, which i LOVED. They took an awesome shot from the balcony, and we posed the “important moments” afterwards. Since we had chosen the shots in advance, this took very little time. Being “present in the moment” goes BOTH ways and we wanted to be having fun celebrating with our guests, not posing for pictures all day.

    Because we chose in advance, it was so much more pleasant for everyone. The photography team stood out of the way until it was time to cut the cake, for instance, while I have been at weddings where you can’t approach the bride for a hug because the camera is always there. I love the way we did it and would never do it any other way. Of course that was pre-digital and that makes a huge difference in the number of photos taken, one would take a picture and put the camera down for awhile!

    1. Hey Kari!

      Thank you so much for your thoughts. Thank you for that great reminder that the day is about our awesome couples and their community. I definitely just want to help make sure that their party and memories are saved forever, but we have to make sure they get made in order to be remembered. It is so important to make sure that everyone is on the same page before the big day. Communication really is everyone’s best friend!