An "Unplugged Ceremony" - To have or not to have?


The term “unplugged ceremony" has become increasingly popular and is also an ongoing topic of debate. As the day in age where we are constantly on our phones, the theory of an “unplugged” wedding ceremony is to very directly say to guests “For the ceremony, put down your phones, ipads, and hobby cameras and be present and witness as we say our vows and become married. Leave the photos to the professional photographer that we hired to document these moments.”

When I got married (almost 4 years ago), an "unplugged ceremony" was not even a thing. However, I wrote our ceremony and within the first few minutes I included this for the officiant to read:

“They have invited you to this beautiful place, to the Enchanted Barn in peaceful Wisconsin.  Mallory and Matt were drawn to this location to celebrate an important piece of their love, the appreciation for the simplicity, honesty, and sincerity of marriage. They invite you to embrace this simplicity and escape from the technologies of the modern world we live in.  Take a break from your texts and emails and embrace the joy in celebrating with friends and family this great day.”

Of course, I don’t know if anyone in our audience heard this and literally put down their phones, but I can say that the framed photo sitting on our fireplace mantel of us celebrating down the aisle, guests are cheering and throwing confetti and are NOT on their phones (which makes me so darn happy I could throw confetti right here and now).

 

Now, I can see both sides of whether or not to go "unplugged" for your ceremony.

Heck yes, HAVE an “unplugged ceremony” 

  • Take away the distractions and phones that can get in the way of the photographer’s shots, and invite your guests to be truly present as they witness your ceremony.

  • Let the groom look down the aisle and see only his beautiful bride walking toward him, not see the back of a bunch of phones taking photos and/or video of her entrance

  • Look back on your celebratory recession down the aisle photos and see your loved ones clapping and cheering you on, not staring at their devices as they try to take their own photos

  • In this day in age, most wedding photography collections include digital files (all my collections do). That being said, you can literally with one click, ‘forward’ one email to family and friends and they can download as many professional photos from your wedding as they would like to (heck, they can print photos right from the online gallery!). It has become so easily accessible to share the professional wedding photos that nobody should feel the need to take additional photos.

or...

Heck no, do NOT have an “unplugged ceremony”

  • When you hire your photographer, part of their job really is to work with their environment, and if that means working around guests phones and cameras, then they can do it. I 100% agree.

  • Have you seen grandma and her iPad? They are pretty much inseparable. She loves taking photos of the whole family with her big ol’ iPad and I know she loves looking at them later on and showing all her friends. I don’t want to take that away from her. Hey I seriously GET that!

  • If you want to wake up the day after your wedding and see ceremony iphone photos and/or videos from guests on social media, then by all means, let your people snap away!

 

Each side has valid points, but truthfully, I think there is a middle ground between the extremes.

Dear wedding guests taking photos: 

  • Please don’t stick yourself or your device out into the aisle to get a “better” shot (where you are then impeding on the photographers shot). Let me say that again: Please don’t stick your phones out into the aisle for any reason. The bride and groom have invested a lot of money into their professional photographer, and their job is to get shots from the aisle. While we as photographers can move and maneuver around phones, we are documenting the moment as is and if we see a bunch of phone screens, that is what the bride and groom will have in their photos forever, too.
     
  • Please don’t stand up or reach your camera or phone up high to take a photo. If you have to raise your device above your eye level, that’s too high and could easily impede on a photographer’s shot.
     
  • Please remember, you are a GUEST. You have no obligation to capture any photo. Your only job is to enjoy the day, be present, and celebrate the happy couple. They will love their photos so much more if they see your smiling faces in the crowd rather than your phones or hobby cameras.


If you are a bride and groom going back and forth on the idea of an “Unplugged ceremony", here are some ideas:

  • Put a sign (similar to “RESERVED”) on each aisle seat that says “Unplugged Seat. What a great view! Please refrain from taking photos if you are seated here as we want you to be present in our ceremony and keep the aisles screen free.” This way, those guests who are literally inseparable from their devices can scoot one chair in and snap away without clogging the aisle.
  • Communicate to guests ahead of time that they will be able to have access to all the professional wedding photos and that you hired professional photographers to document the day so that guests could enjoy and be present in it.
     
  • Refer guests to the guidelines above so that they better understand how they can take photos without interfering with the ceremony or professional photographers, ensuring the bride and groom get amazing distraction-free photos.
     
  • Consider doing as I did and include something in your ceremony script for your priest or officiant to read that reminds guests that you have invited them to witness your ceremony and be present in your day. Lightly reminding them that it’s “ok” to put away their phones for 30 minutes could do the trick!

To be completely honest, as a photographer, if I arrive to a wedding ceremony and see that it is “Unplugged” I will do a little happy dance in my head because I know the photos will be more authentic with an engaged audience and I won’t have to worry about impeding devices or guests wanting to get “the shot”. I get excited that I have the opportunity to capture expressions on guests faces and that nobody has their face buried in a phone. I wave a sigh of relief that the bride and groom trust me to successfully capture photographs of their ceremony and that they truly wish for their audience to be present. However, I always have the expectation that wedding ceremonies will not be unplugged and I will work my ninja skills like no tomorrow to get the shots!

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