Unplugged Ceremonies Keep Your Guests Plugged In

If you haven’t heard of an “unplugged” ceremony, you’re not alone.  When I suggest an unplugged wedding ceremony to my couples, I often get the question “what’s that?” with a raised brow.  An unplugged ceremony is when you kindly ask your guests to turn off their mobile devices for the sake of your ceremony not turning into a paparazzi fiasco.

The great thing about unplugged ceremonies to us photographers is that we don’t have to shimmy our way past Uncle Bob when he leaps up in front of us to take his own epic “first kiss” shot which ultimately leaves us taking a photo of Uncle Bob’s ass.  It also keeps your guests plugged in (see what I did there?  LOL) to the vows, the beauty of the ceremony, the way you look at each other up there at the altar.  It keeps your friends and family connected to the moment they are witnessing.  It also means that your photographer will be able to take some killer sweet shots of the entire scene.  Who wants a wide angle of the entire congregation if five people are leaning into the aisles with their phones in the air, and one person is standing with their ginormous tablet held high blocking the view of the 10 other guests behind them?  Nobody!  That’s who.

So, yeah, there are advantages to allowing people to get camera happy at the ceremony.  You’ll have every second of the ceremony covered from 20 different angles, that’s for sure.  But how many of them will you actually see?  Aunt Linda doesn’t take photos of your ceremony to give to you.  She takes them assuming she won’t have anything else to commemorate the union, and she keeps them on her laptop at home.  After all, you had a photographer, right?  So why would you need her images, too?  Even if she does share them with you, will any of them be any good?  Or will they be mostly a glimpse of the two of you between the backs of other peoples’ heads?

Of course we don’t want to go pissing off our friends and relatives by telling them that they can’t have any record of your ceremony, but really, all they have to do is ask you after the wedding to see the super duper awesome images your photographer got of them actually paying attention to your vows.  Most photographers will also display your images on an online gallery, so you can send a mass email to all your guests and tell them where they can find the images to view at their own leisure!

So you’re probably wondering how to tell your guests that they really need to put away the electronics during such a romantic (and sometimes quite religious and solemn) moment of the day.  There are a few ways I’ve seen work very well.  First, if you have a wedding website, post it there in nice big letters.  Of course Grammy won’t see it if she’s not tech savvy, so there are other ways to accomplish your unplugged ceremony.  Assign someone from each side of the family who knows everyone (usually a parent) and have them help spread the word.  Add something to your ceremony program (which almost every guest will glance through).  Put up a friendly little sign in a conspicuous place that reads something like “Welcome to our Unplugged Wedding.  We invite you to be fully present with us during our ceremony and ask that you turn off all cell phones and cameras”.  Another option is to have the officiant make an announcement before the processional begins.  Heck they often make announcements after the recessional ends that leads guests to the cocktail hour, so why not use them while they have a captive audience?!

I have even photographed one wedding where the couple chose to allow photography until she made it down the aisle.  Then the officiant announced that everyone could take a moment and photograph the couple at the altar before turning off their cell phones and cameras for the remainder of the ceremony.  It made people happy they had that moment, but there was still the issue where, as I stood near the front of the aisle near the anxious groom, I heard him say to the priest “I can’t see her!”, which was immediately followed by the priest grabbing the groom by the shoulders and heaving him into the center of the aisle so he could see his blushing bride.  From where he had been standing, every single guest had stood, moved halfway into the aisle, and was snapping away to get their own photographs, with disregard to the idea that the groom may actually want a peek at the bride too, and he couldn’t see her at all.

This groom was fixated on his beautiful bride, until his guest jumped right out into the aisle.
This groom was fixated on his beautiful bride, until his guest jumped right out into the aisle.

I photograph weddings where I may be restricted (as is often the case in religious church ceremonies) to going no further toward the altar than the last row of guests, and no flash photography was allowed.  Of course, I am prepared for this sort of thing and have gear that can take a photo from quite a distance without a flash, but I was very surprised and a little upset about the handful of guests who didn’t follow the rules of the church.  They stood occasionally throughout the ceremony, snapped away (with a flash, mind you), and I honestly felt embarrassed for them, and sad that society had come to the point where respect had been lost for the wishes of the church in which the ceremony was held.  All for the sake of a “meh” photograph.

IMHO, today’s society has become so obsessed with posting and blogging and tweeting every little thing about themselves, that they fail to remember what a wedding ceremony is supposed to be: a celebration of the love that two people share, not a contest to see who can post the first images on social media to tell everyone they’ve ever met whose wedding their are in the middle of attending.  I’d like to see this trend of unplugged weddings continue, not only so your photographer can take some amazing unobstructed photographs, but so the couple marrying feels their friends and family are present, and participating in the union, not just in the picture taking.

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