It’s funny to think that when I got married, 15 years ago, “unplugged ceremonies” wasn’t even something I had to consider. I remember one random person taking a photo of us with their flip phone at the reception and I thought to myself, “well that’s not going to turn out”. Cameras in phones were not super sophisticated back then and the word “selfie” hadn’t been invented yet. But now, with the amazing technology they are putting into smartphones, suddenly cameras are everywhere. Because they are so compact and in everyone’s pocket, more and more people are documenting every moment of their lives, as well as the lives of those around them. Especially at weddings! Wedding guests will whip out their smartphones to take photos of brides and grooms without hesitation, which ends up causing a number of problems for photographers who are trying to capture great memories.
The first major problem: People who are trying to get the perfect shot with their phone often end up getting in the way of the professionals who the couple have paid to be there. There are plenty of stories out there of guests standing in front of the photographer, who in turn misses the shot of the first kiss. Or as the bride walks down the aisle with her father, someone’s arm is jutting out of their seat and into the shot—ruining a beautiful memory. And even if everyone stays in their seats, many shots can end up having several smartphones and tablets peeking out in every row.
Secondly, with easy access to WiFi everywhere you go, guests have started posting photos of weddings before the ceremony is even done. All in the name of gaining a few likes on their social media with no regard for the couple and their privacy. Some couples have no problem allowing guests to share photos on social media as they happen—especially these last few years when not all loved ones could be present to witness the special day—but most couples prefer if people wait until at least the ceremony is over. Always ask permission before posting a couples wedding photos. This is their day, respect their privacy.
Lastly, usually at every wedding, there is a guest who self-appoints themselves as the designated photographer and sets up camp in prime locations for the important shots. When this happens, the photographer either has to ask them to move (while trying not to make a scene), or try and shoot around the guest. As you can imagine, this is a very frustrating situation to be in. As a rule, aside from the photographer, and/or videographer, nobody should be allowed to stand in the centre aisle. This is the prime location for ring shots, vows, and the first kiss.
Because of these main issues, there has been a growing trend of couples asking guests to keep their phones tucked away for the ceremony. Most photographers I know prefer this style of unplugged weddings. In fact, I know of some photographers that insist in only covering unplugged weddings to avoid the scenarios above. Some even have it as a condition in their contracts.
However, some couples prefer to keep phones around for a few different reasons.
First, they see it as a sign of the times. Phones are part of our lives now, and many feel that as long as guests stay seated, they can take photos with cameras and phones to their hearts content. Second, some have heard horror stories from couples they know who had an unplugged wedding, but had problems with their photographer after the wedding, and ended up with zero photos from their big day. I personally do not know of anyone this has happened to, but can imagine how devastating it would be. And third, because photographers can only be in one place at a time, some couples prefer to have others take photos as well to capture candid moments that the photographer simply can’t be around to capture.
Personally, I prefer unplugged weddings. As a photographer, I have had one or two shots ruined because of guests who got in my way. Luckily for me, the officiant realized what had happened and said, “I think the photographer wants one more kiss” which saved the day. Although I encourage my couples to go unplugged, I do understand why some prefer not to go that route. For those couples, I strongly recommend that an announcement be made that everyone stay seated while taking photos, as to not get in my way. This seems to be a good compromise for many. As an extra precaution, I also recommend including any rules you set in place on the RSVP or invitations, displayed on signage at the wedding, and even spread the word before your big day. Chat with your family and friends beforehand so they understand your reasoning behind having “photo rules” in place. Some guests may be upset that they won’t get any shots of the ceremony, but let them know that they are free to take as many photos as they want at the reception.
Consider for yourself what makes the most sense for your wedding and discuss it with your photographer, and videographer as well. The choice is up to you and what is based on your comfort level. But I’ll leave you with one final thought: After 12+ years of wedding photography under my belt, I can say that 90% of the time, there is at least one wedding guest who will disregard any rules that are put in place. So, If you have an unplugged wedding, there will likely still be at least one guest who will take photos but chances are they will stay seated. If you have a stay seated while taking photos rule, most likely someone will stand up and/or, walk around to take photos. And 100% of the time in this scenario, you will have smartphones in any shots taken of the ceremony. If there are no rules regarding smartphones and/or cameras, the chances of your photographer missing an important shot, because someone with a smart phone gets in their way, will be far higher than you would like.
The fewer rules you have regarding guests taking photos during your ceremony, the higher the risk that some “must have” photos will be obstructed or get missed all together.