There has been a lot of talk recently about the unplugged wedding. For the longest time I chose not to comment simply because I was unsure where I stood on the whole debate and situation. I took it, on the one hand, from a wedding photographer’s point of view. The sometimes angry, sometimes bitter, sometimes boo-hoo, sometimes I’m-bigger-than-you stance. Wouldn’t it be nice to focus in on the bride and groom as they lean in for their first kiss as husband and wife and not have to worry about guests photobombing the once-in-a-lifetime moment? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a shot of the vows without guests blocking the view with their cameras, bodies, and iPhones? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about another guest’s flash impacting your shot of the bride and groom sharing their first dance? It would be nice. Wouldn’t it?
I recently read an article by Justin & Mary that completely tipped my scales in favor of the unplugged wedding as it is becoming known and called. Mary talked first about guests and their longing to get that perfect shot. She understands that better than anyone, photography is her love and life after all. She talked about getting elbowed in the head at two separate weddings, once in the eye, and once in the ear. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that were to never happen again? :)
Then, she talked about another wedding. The bride (a photographer herself) decided she wanted something more for her wedding. She wanted her guests to really enjoy the day, to feel truly present and in the moment with them. She assured them in the formal wedding invitation as well as a sign at the wedding itself that they had hired amazing photographers and videographers and would be more than happy to share the photos and videos with everyone. She explained that she wanted her guests to sit back, relax, and truly enjoy how everything about the day felt, to leave capturing how the day looked to the professionals. And then she respectfully asked that everyone leave their phones and cameras off.
Mary then shared a special moment about that day. It was when the bride and groom were having their first dance and she was shooting away when she realized something felt different. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it at first but then it hit her. She looked up and saw guest after guest with tears streaming down their faces, almost as caught up in the moment as the bride and groom. “They weren’t focusing their iPhones or trying to figure out the settings on their DLSRs…they were just watching two people in love.” She said it was a beautiful thing. I can only imagine. And because I believe that the love story of the bride and groom is the most important detail of all, this really struck a chord with me. Because being unplugged had actually made them more connected. More connected with the day, the moment, the feeling, the emotion, the couple, the love story. Amazing.
Photo by Justin & Mary
Then, I read an article by Jasmine Star that tipped the scales right back. She was addressing a question from a photographer, the gist of which was this: what do you do when guests are taking photos over your shoulder and how do you make them stop? Jasmine had a truly amazing response. Aligning herself with the issue, she expressed that it’s happened to her. Then, she told it like it is and how she deals with it. One of which is that during portraits, where four or more cameras could be going off at any given time, she instructed that everyone should look at this person’s camera first, and then they were going to look at hers. By doing so, she circumvented those haphazard, awkward moments in which no one knows which camera to look at.
Then, she said this: “The important thing is to publicly grant permission, then take charge and take the photo you know will likely be better than everyone else’s. But that’s not the point. Sure, your photo may be technically better than Grandma Jo’s, but to Grandma Jo, her photo has more sentimental value because she saw the moment, and she captured it. If you tell Grandma Jo (or X or anyone else for that matter) not to take a photo (though your reasons may have the best intent), what you’re really telling her is that her photo doesn’t matter as much as yours. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Friends and family need to feel like the cherished guests they are, not like a hurdle to what you do.”
One of the best possible things she could have said. Truly. Photogs, go back and read it again, especially that last line in bold. You must remember that guests are in the moment. They’re practically giddy with happiness and excitement and they want to remember that moment, and because they want to remember that moment, they want to capture it, just as much as you want to capture it for your bride and groom. They’re not trying to purposely get in your way and ruin your shot. They’re certainly not trying to get a better shot than you. They just want the shot, and the memory.
There is also an article on Offbeat Bride about the unplugged wedding. It talks of this trend (that may very well take the wedding world by storm) and makes a cute statement: “be nice, turn off your device.” And in a world dominated by so much time plugged into this device or that one, it is a good thing (a nice thing) to unplug once in a while. The article makes a number of really great points including how someone’s wedding should be one of those good times to “unplug”.
But it was the beginning of the article that, I don’t know, bothered me a little. And I mean no offense when I say this. The article began like this: “So there you are at the altar, gazing into the eyes of your beloved, saying your vows. You turn to sneak a glance at your wedding guests, all your favorite beloved friends and family… and are greeted by a sea of down-turned faces staring at their LCD screens.” FREEZE FRAME.
In this day and age, I know many of us suffer from what-people-think-about-us syndrome, but this is one moment, one single solitary moment where that syndrome should be put to bed. It shouldn’t even cross your mind, nada, no, I don’t think so. You are gazing into the eyes of your beloved, saying your vows, and that’s where you should stay. WHY in the world are you looking out at everybody else? Why are you curious to know if all eyes are on you? Whether they’re on you directly or on you through an LCD screen, they’re still on you. Neither of which should really matter to you. Because you’re present, and in the moment, and saying your vows, right? When I get married, I know that I’m going to be looking at no one else but him. And I want him to do the same. I wouldn’t want either of us to give off the wrong impression that we weren’t present in that moment. (Bad Karma points, I think.) The first time I look at the “audience” will be when we’re announced as husband and wife. Not halfway through the vows. I hope to be so caught up in that moment with him that it’s like we are the only two people in the room. Maybe’s that’s idealistic, far too romantic and fairytale-like of me to think that way but it’s how I roll :)
Photo by White Rabbit Studios
I’ve explained the unplugged wedding phenomenon to a few family and friends and asked for their opinions. Many were actually a little affronted. “Why wouldn’t I be allowed to take photos?” “Who are you to tell me I can’t?” “Who’s going to stop me?” etc. As a bride, would I be disappointed to see a bunch of iPhone screens in the photo of me and my groom smooching for the first time as husband and wife? Yes. I would. But I would be just as disappointed if the Priest/Preacher/Justice of the Peace/Whomever hadn’t moved out of the way either. Nothing like a dip kiss with the Preacher Man standing smack in the middle just beyond it.
To be perfectly honest, after reading all of these articles, and as a someday-bride (no ring for me yet), I don’t think I would have the heart to tell my guests no. No, you can’t take pictures on my wedding day. Because I wouldn’t want to take away that moment, that feeling of giddy happiness, that joy in capturing a single moment of my day, and sharing it with me some day after the fact. No, I don’t think I could do that. This is just my newfound opinion. Every bride should of course make the decision for her day herself.
The last thing I’ll say on the issue is directed at photographers and comes again from Jasmine Star, and let’s face it, she’s had it going on for a while now. In her article, she said, “We know family, friends, and wedding guests will take photos, so I suggest instead of feeling at odds with it, the important thing is to stay in front of it.” If that means having to change the way you do things (your own positioning at the time of the ceremony, first dance, etc.), then do it. If it means having to think ahead, then do so. Be two steps ahead of guests instead of one step behind. When it comes to dealing with ambitious wedding guests looking for the perfect, swoon-worthy shot, there are ways of handling the situation properly, appropriately, professionally, and politely, while still getting the shot you ultimately want.
With technology changing and bettering it seems every time we turn around, the Digital Age is, in actuality, just getting going. You can either fight with it, or work with it.
Editor’s Note: The lovely Rebekah Hoyt wrote about the unplugged wedding today too. It’s one of the best posts I’ve seen from a photographer who is FOR the unplugged wedding.