The unplugged wedding: couples tell guests to put down their devices

Photo by Nora & Troy at Aurora-Photography.com, used by permission

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.

When your photos come back from your wedding photographer, all your guest shots include your favorite people staring at their favorite devices. People are smiling, but they're all staring at little screens.

Welcome to the era of the over-documented wedding, where, even if you've hired someone to take photos, every guest has a camera and an iPhone and is tweeting the whole event. They're there with you, but are they really present?

Be nice, turn off your device

As a web nerd who spends the majority of my life plugged into my laptop and smartphone, even I think it's critical to take a few moments to be truly present. Smell the air, look around, feel the texture of the world around us. A wedding ceremony is exactly the kind of fleeting, important moment when it's especially valuable to really be present, rather than relating to the world through a small LCD screen. When you discourage devices at your wedding, you encourage your guests to look up and drink in the world. Let's call it "in-the-moment matrimony."

As a web nerd who spends the majority of my life plugged in, even I think it's critical to take a few moments to be truly present.

While many churches have no camera policies, I'm hearing more and more from nontraditional secular couples that they're considering an unplugged wedding — at the very least, asking guests to turn off their devices during the ceremony.

Now, let's acknowledge that a fully plugged-in, hyper-documented wedding makes perfect sense for some couples. Micro-budget brides sometimes skip professional photography, opting to rely on guest photographs — so of course guest cameras make perfect sense in that context. If you're a digerati who announced your engagement via Facebook, had an iPad-wielding officiant, read your vows off an iPhone, and live-streamed your ceremony, then there's no reason you should unplug your wedding. I'm certainly not here to dictate that anyone needs to have less tech at their wedding.

If, however, you and your partner are looking for a few less beeps and a bit more face-to-face connection with your guests, an unplugged wedding could be a good fit for you.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Seltzer Photography, used by permission.

Don't experience our wedding through a viewfinder: the bride perspective

Philadelphia resident Kathleen Harbin, 27, is considering going unplugged for her June 2012 wedding in Antalya, Turkey. "My ceremony will be very short (perhaps 15 minutes)… it could fly by while someone tries to figure out whether their memory card is full. How can I connect with my guests when I can't even see them through the cameras they're holding up?"

How can I connect with my guests when I can't even see them through the cameras they're holding up?

Carrie Kilman, a 35-year-old planning her August 2011 wedding in Madison, WI, has personal experience with the distraction factor. "As a photographer myself, I know how the act of being behind the lens can distance me from the energy of the moment — I become an observer and interpreter, and no longer a true participant. We want our guests to experience our ceremony in a way you typically can't do when you're staring through a viewfinder or fiddling with your iPhone."

She goes on, "Philosophically, I don't like the way digital cameras and camera phones have encouraged the sense that we need to 'capture' everything in order for it feel complete. I'd rather people simply watched and clapped and smiled and cried — and really listened and remembered, not from the photos they downloaded onto their computers, but from their own memories."

Photo by Benj Haisch, used with permission

Dealing with Uncle Bob: the wedding professional perspective

Wedding officiants are starting to get more requests for unplugged ceremonies, as well. Celebrant Jessie Blum, of New Jersey's Eclectic UnionsThey ♥ OBB; we ♥ them said, "I've had a few couples who have requested that NO photos be taken at the ceremony. Often times, when the request comes from the officiant, guests will take note and respect the couple's wishes. Guests get so bogged down in taking photos sometimes — it's nice to be able to step back, and just enjoy the moment!"

Wedding industry insiders even have a name for the aggressive amateur photographer at weddings: Uncle Bob.

Perhaps the strongest proponents of unplugged weddings are professional wedding photographers, who sometimes experience significant challenges working around guests trying to capture the event for themselves. Seattle wedding photographer Jenny JimenezThey ♥ OBB; we ♥ them observed, "Too many wedding crowd shots these days include distracted people checking cell phones and camera LCDs… especially during the processional and recessional."

Wedding industry insiders even have a name for the aggressive amateur photographer getting in the way at weddings: Uncle Bob. You don't have to look very hard to find a million rants about how Uncle Bob has ruined professional wedding photos with the flash from his camera, photobombing gorgeous poses, kneeling in the aisle blocking the view of the vows, and even standing on pews.

Some wedding photographers will even show their couples photos of an Uncle Bob ruining a wedding photo, as a way to encourage their clients to ask guests to put down their cameras.

Apparently, shortly after this photo was taken, the officiant turned around and firmly told this guest to go sit down. Photo by Joe Sanfilippo Photography, used with permission.

Is unplugging right for your wedding?

I want to clarify again: I'm certainly not saying that all weddings should be unplugged, or that guests are doing anything wrong when they have their cameras and phones out. If it doesn't bother the couple, then it's not a problem. As with all things Offbeat Bride, ultimately this wedding decision comes down to what feels right to each couple.

That said, I do think that in this era of 24-hour connectivity, where there's an iPhone in every pocket, a Facebook status update in every encounter, and a digital hobbyist photographer in every family, it's important to carefully consider the issue. Digital devices are ever-present in our daily lives; what role do you want these devices to play at your wedding?

  1. YES YES YES! When I have the couple who elects to do this.. I am SO HAPPY. I don't understand how someone can even enjoy the event with a camera glued to their face. It's really out of control with today's wedding guests. That is why there is a professional photographer.. So you can capture the day. I am not against bringing your camera to get fun shots of you with your friends but geez, don't keep it up the whole day.

    107 agree
    • Fighting against social media is like trying to stop a freight train. Try using something like a photofiesta kiosk. That way guests can upload a professional image or two to social media without disrupting the event, and hopefully they can keep their cellphone in their pocket – where it belongs.

      6 agree
  2. AMEN! I've been concerned about this very issue for our upcoming wedding, and the info here is just the inspiration I needed to be firm with the guests on this issue. TOO MANY photos now show the majority of folks making double-chins staring intently at their device missing everything, and essentially techno-photo-bombing the shots.

    Thank you!!!

    26 agree
  3. Yes, I absolutely agree! Thank you for pointing this out. I had the same experience at our Stag & Doe on the weekend and as much as I would appreciate some photos and videos of the event, I don't need 80 people doing it! I really wanted to party it up with my friends and have fun but they all had their cameras out getting in the way! I'm definitely considering an unplugged wedding and will suggest this to my guests. I want them to experience it first hand, not through their viewfinders!

    12 agree
  4. I AM SO DOING THIS. Am completely going to steal the "official wording" as soon as you post it. Photos during reception, yes preeez, but doing the ceremony por favor no :D

    23 agree
    • Yeah I am eagerly awaiting a look at the wording tomorrow. I am actually putting off printing our programs for one more day so I can steal this idea.

      12 agree
  5. I'm thinking of a hybrid idea. I probably won't be able to provide a professional photographer, and will probably have a number of broke friends who take decent pictures (much like myself). So I'm thinking of letting a few people take pictures as a gift to us, and telling everyone else to turn everything off.

    11 agree
  6. I wanted to put a line in our programs requesting guests keep their cameras, phones and camcorders off during the ceremony. My husband thought this was bossy and uncalled for… but I had been to so many weddings where everyone was experiencing the wedding via their screens and viewfinders. Ultimately we didn't put the note in our programs and I felt a little bugged when I walked into the wedding to find a bunch of lenses pointed at me. But the nice thing about our looooong Catholic wedding was that by the time we got to the important parts, people had clicked away to their heart's content and were more or less paying real-life attention.

    4 agree
    • Yeah, my hope is that with the wording offered tomorrow, we can find a way to make the request without coming off as TOO bossy.

      8 agree
      • I am a big fan of: "I want the only stars I see to be caused by the sight of my beloved. Please don't bring your cameras, cell phones, or boxing gloves to the ceremony… Or at least leave them off until we're done"

        42 agree
    • This is what I put on my wedding programs:

      We are so honored you want to capture our special moment, but we would much rather see your smiling faces, so please refrain from taking photos during the ceremony. Don't worry, we have full rights to our professional photographer's photos and we will share them with you

      9 agree
      • I think the "we have full rights to our professional photographer's photos…" bit will be essential when it comes to avoiding an outcry from guests.

        I take a lot of photos at weddings (and, well, everywhere else), but that's largely because I genuinely want photos of the happy event. Since no bride or groom has ever offered to share their professional wedding pictures with me, I have to rely on my own shots. Without the pictures I take, I have no photos of the event. I'd be more than happy to put down my camera if I knew that the bride and groom would give me (and all guests) access to the professional wedding photos!

        5 agree
  7. This is something I wouldn't have considered, until a wedding I recently photographed. Now, I'm not a professional photographer, so I haven't experienced a ton of weddings… but I've been to quite a few. At this wedding that I was the photographer of, it was a complete nightmare for me… and I blame the guests, a dozen Uncle Bobs.

    I was tripping over people standing in the aisle to get good photos of the wedding party and the bride walking down. A woman rudely asked me to move out of her way.

    During the ceremony, people were leaving their seats and surrounding the couple as they said their vows, just to take pictures. I had NEVER seen this before at a wedding, in my life. This seems so incredibly rude to me… not only that, it was distracting for the couple and the officiant. And of course, they got in the way of many photo opportunities. Groomsmen were taking pictures with their phones, wtf!?

    After that, the formal shots. Once again I was asked to please get out of the way, without a ceremony happening I was finally able to explain (okay, and I probably got pretty snippy) that I was the photographer. Still, people were like, "Okay then, we'll let you take the pictures… after we take just a few more." The groom had to keep telling the groomsmen to LOOK AT ME instead of the million other people taking pictures.

    I managed to get some beautiful photos, but I think I could have done 10 times better if the other guests would have just put their cameras away for a bit and enjoyed the ceremony and the party.

    48 agree
    • I had the same experience at a wedding I photographed in the fall! There are always those people at weddings who own a fancy dslr, but have no idea how to use it. I actually had a guest of that wedding come up to me and start asking me a million and ten questions about giving him tips and how to use certain settings on his camera. And this was while I was trying to pose the bride, groom, and about 20 of their family members!

      4 agree
    • This is why I like weddings with two locations and a cocktail hour-I do the formals at the ceremony location while all the guests get out of the way and enjoy the cocktail hour at the reception site. If that isn't possible, I usually have my assistant shuffle people away during the formal photos. I will quite literally tell the wedding party to look at me and ignore everyone else, but in a joking tone of voice so I don't come across as a jerk.

      8 agree
      • Man, it's amazing the chutpah and total self-absorption of some people. They have absolutely no clue. Leave the official documentation to the pros! I would imagine this couple is fuming over having their wedding photos ruined like this. I know I would be!

        5 agree
    • I took the pics for a family member..I'm not a professional either and had several uncle bobs that were there. Very similar to this story. I had pics messed up due to flashes, ppl in the way, etc. I can see both sides of the fence. Its up to the bride and groom to let ppl know what they want…and its up to the guest to respect those wishes.

      3 agree
    • I think i will consider this on my wedding day. Trust me i looove to take pictures, but you have to know when is it appropriate to do it and when not… at least for the ceremony.. and our photographer will give us all the photos they take anyways…

    • I was a professional videographer for 20 years and can' even guess how much time and material was wasted due to this problem. Taping of the ceremony required little movement so my assistant and I were very seldom seen. But several times, the guest attending, went into the altar area and took flash pictures over the minister's shoulder while he did his thing. I have also seen picture takers asked to leave the church.
      The easiest way is to get the officiant to announce, before the ceremony, that no pictures be taken during the service. This gets you off the hook.
      Since most photographers stage so many shots afterwards anyway, it won't be much of a problem for them.

      1 agrees
  8. Amen! I'm so glad you are putting up copy paste stuff tomorrow coz this is exactly what I need! I don't want to hear 40 photo clicks a second during the ceremony, put them away! Everyone will have access to the pro photos, why do you need your own one from a bad angle?!

    3 agree
    • Exactly! My photographer will have an online viewing album about a week after so no need for bad pictures. If its not included in the copy/paste I may add this fact so people aren't "worried" they will miss something LOL

      1 agrees
  9. While it made for some interesting logistical issues, I was super glad that our wedding ceremony and reception were in a dead zone for cell phone service because I didn't have to worry about people's phones ringing during the ceremony. Of course, this was in 2008 so before many people had smartphones. Remote locations FTW!

    3 agree
      • Well presumably there was a landline avaliable, unless it was a REALLY remote location.

        7 agree
      • Then you step out of the room quietly if you have an emergency. You don't stay and make it there.

        12 agree
  10. We have even started a photo wesbite for all of our guest to upload their pics! We definitely want to see their pics! LOL!!

    8 agree
  11. Great article! I am considering sharing this with my clients. As someone who experiences a good deal of his life through the lens of a camera, it is very refreshing to put down the camera and just observe what is going on. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of psychological need for people to document every event they go to.

    Adding insult to injury, the majority of the guest photos will range in quality from poor to awful, especially during the ceremony. And these mediocre photographs are then usually dumped on to Facebook, leaving the poor bride and groom tagged in 40 different albums with 300 blurry, unflattering photos each.

    Just so I don't sound like a bitter wedding photographer, I think that it's great if guests take their cameras out during the reception-there are usually lots of great things going on, and I can't be everywhere at once. But leave them alone during the ceremony, the pro has that part under control.

    34 agree
  12. My hunny and I have talked about this, too. I am a photographer of sorts (serious amateur), but I really hate looking at professional pictures and seeing a sea of screens. The only wedding I was asked to photograph, I was also the matron of honor, so the family didn't take my role as camera-wielder seriously. I eventually gave up, and let them have their Uncle Bob way. Maybe I will have my officiant tell the crowd that they have 30 seconds to take their pictures, then put the cameras away.

    4 agree
    • I like the idea of having a specific time for an "everybody photos" free for all. It seems like a nice compromise – sort of the "please hold your questions till the end of the lecture" statement. Some sort of statement like: "Please let the professional photographer be the only photographer during the ceremony. We'll have a few minutes at the end of the ceremony for everyone else to take photos with their own cameras or phones."

      12 agree
      • Yep, one of the officiant wording suggestions tomorrow basically says "Take your pictures now, and then please put your cameras away." :)

        10 agree
  13. I had a no-camera ceremony and I can totally get a photographer wanting no uncle bobs in the way. however when it came to my formal shots, i didn't have an uncle bob and my incompetent photographer didn't transfer the pictures correctly and no i don't have a shot of me and my parents at my wedding. i wouldn't wish this on a soul of course. to ease the bride/grooms anxiety to get some pics, i would want an uncle bob to take SOME shots during an allotted time but then make damn sure your photographer knows what he/she/they're doing

    3 agree
    • There are always going to be nightmare stories of the wedding photographer who missed a shot — I'm just not sure having 50 guests with point-and-shoot cameras is the best way to compensate for a potential photographer fail.

      25 agree
      • oh of course. unfortunately i took the no camera thing a little too literally and put too much faith in one person. so the goal is a happy medium ;-)

        2 agree
      • I use a snapshooter and can see them also capturing alongside me for the formals in the event something technical should happen. I am a photographer and also don't think it's wise to have just one capturing but I also wouldn't want 50 capturing.

        2 agree
    • I definitely would make sure you get a photographer you're comfortable with but I really feel that having an 'uncle bob' take photos during formals is the absolute worst time. When other people are firing off shots during formals, it makes it that much harder for your professional photographer to get their shots, because everybody else is looking at the family members and NOT the photographer. It makes the formals last longer too and everybody hates that. Just get a great pro and then don't worry about it! :)

      12 agree
    • This is a perfect example of hiring a professional, not someone from Craigs list or someone who always wanted to "Try it". I can't tell you the number of times I've been called to see if I could "Fix" the photos their friends had taken.

      3 agree
      • Not every "professional" wedding photographer is a GOOD photographer — and this is no secret in the larger photo industry. Not every person on Craig's list is a lousy photographer. Brides need to make smart choices, shopping for a photographer based on the quality of their work.

        2 agree
    • All professional photographers have a second shooter. A second Photographer who also photographs the wedding. This is for two reasons, one to get the shots the main photographer can't get (due to not being able to be in two places at once. And two, to make sure that, even if there is a technical problem, the married couple still gets a nice variety of photos From their big day. If you are thinking of hiring a "professional" photographer, make sure to hire one who works with a second shooter!

      9 agree
      • This is rubbish!

        Not all professional photographers need a second shooter. Most of us are trained well enough and competent enough to know how to capture a wedding well enough without resorting to a second shooter.

        There are exceptions of course; if i am having a 250 plus people wedding (like in Ireland or in Italy) then yes, I will bring a second shooter as I want as many moments captured as possible and as the professional that is my call as I ultimately will answer to the brides. But it is disingenious to suggest that 'If you are thinking of hiring a "professional" photographer, make sure to hire one who works with a second shooter!'

        Education goes a long way with brides and having a discussion on this issue is truly wonderful, but to slam professionals who do not work with a second shooter is simply rubbish and you should not be making such foolish statements… It's not about the quantity – it is about the quality!

        32 agree
    • So sorry to hear that you didn't hire a professional photographer. We see this on a daily basis in our studio, folks hiring a fly by night company or an Uncle Bob with a nice camera and they end up disappointed in their photos or with no photos at all. There are places in your wedding budget to cut costs, photography is NOT one of them. Read reviews, see their work, talk to previous clients….do your homework folks. When the day is over the photos are what remains, your choice of photographer is crucial.
      As for Nicole's comment. This is just another generalized statement from someone who hasn't done her homework. Not every wedding requires a second shooter. Yes, most pros have someone who does second shooting with them but to try to tell folks that ALL "real" professionals ALWAYS have a second shooter is ridiculous. A true professional can handle any situation independently. We have the training and understanding of a wedding and how it plays out and are competent in our ability to cover it independently or with another photographer as each individual case requires. Again, do you homework folks, it is one of the most important decisions you will make that day.
      An unplugged wedding is a beautiful sight to all pros…we love it!@

      2 agree
  14. I think if people want this at their wedding, they need to turn around and offer some generosity in return: Make sure their photographers and catching all of the guests at the wedding and reception, and then make photos available to the guests. People take pictures because they want memories. And most couples are pretty stingy with their photos, even when they are getting the rights to print them as they will.

    16 agree
    • Yep, all the copy 'n' paste wording that I'm offering tomorrow includes mentions that the couple will share photos with guests after the wedding. I think most couples WANT to share their photos with guests — the issue is more often just the delay in getting the photos back from photographers.

      1 agrees
      • I'd be careful stating this. Most photographers don't allow their clients to "share" the files. That is considered copying. Just sayin.

        1 agrees
        • I think this is becoming less and less true, to be honest. Photographers now are very aware that people want to share photos online and so on, and are finding ways to do it. For example, many photogs have a blog where they post a small gallery of photos for everyone to access, or have an arrangement like my cousin's where she paid a little extra to have low-res, watermarked copies of all the images to put up on facebook.

          8 agree
        • Most professional photographers post all the wedding images in an online gallery. You are then welcome to see them all, and even purchase files or prints. If the couple has purchased the high res files, you could track her down for any particular images you would like… tho it may be easier and quicker to buy the prints on line from the photographer.

          5 agree
      • Hi. I am dying to know what the official word is on sharing with guests the unplugged preference. I'm getting married in 2 weeks on Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica. Need to be prepared for the big event.

        Love your site!

    • Agreed.

      The problem with no guest photos for me is that as a wedding guest I have never been offered a copy, digital or otherwise, of the professional photos and the best I've gotten by asking for them was a suprised, slightly confused reply and 3 tiny pictures of the bride via email.

      So my experience is that if I want pictures of a friend or family members wedding I have to take them myself or go without. I don't really enjoy taking photos so I don't go over-board but if that's my options I'm going to take photos.

      11 agree
      • The question, Danikat, is it your wedding or theirs? It should be their choice whether they want you to have photos or not. Most do not care about the reception but the ceremony and the formals are for the bride and groom. They invite you to share it, not own a part of it. Why do people so desperately need to document everything under the sun, even when it's someone's else's sun? Why not live in the moment, appreciate being invited, remember the good times with your brain and if you desperately must have an image to hold onto ask the bride and groom for one and let them decide whether they wish to share or not.

        14 agree
    • I agree, my cousin had all hers up on Facebook eventually, which was lovely.

      1 agrees
    • Bingo! You get it. Off all the comments on here, this is the only one that get's to heart of the matter. All those guests with their point-n-shoot and the Uncle Bob's are just trying to make sure THEY get a photo of the wedding. They mean no real harm. One of the most brilliant things my sister-in-law did for her wedding we providing sitting time for close family and friends with the photographer. A few months after the wedding we each received a CD containing shots from both the wedding and the reception. He even provided a framed print for close family. No one interfered with his wedding photographer.

      3 agree
    • Sorry, but many people will not pay extra for a second shooter. Also the bride and groom need to encourage people to be respectful of the pro. Many churches are starting to ban all photography during the ceremony, with the exception of a pro either in the very back or up in the balcony, again in the back.
      Having an Uncle Bob shoot formals along side the pro is often a violation of the pros contract. It's hard enough to get people to relax for formal shots without having to get them to look first towards the pro(you) then toward Uncle Bob.
      I don't expect people not to take pictures at a wedding, but I do expect them not to get in my way. I have (nicely) stepped in front of an Uncle Bob to get an important shot. Its my name on the line if I don't get the shot, not Uncle Bobs.

      6 agree
  15. Wow, I had no idea people found guest photography to be so offensive. Makes me wonder how many people i have inadvertetly upset without even knowing it. I can definitely see couples asking that their guests turn off or silence their cell phones during the ceremony, but I always like seeing other people's views of the wedding. This is especially true when the couple are friends who couldn't afford to invite everyone they know to the wedding and aren't going to publish their professional online gallery to the masses. Also, those Facebook photos are great to relive the event and see other perspectives right away, as opposed to months later when the professional pics are complete and the couple chooses to share three of them with their friends.

    I of course understand "Uncle Bob" and how inappropriate these people can be, but isn't a professional supposed to be able to deal with these people? There is no shortage of cameras at Fashion Week and those pros still manage to get great shots. Getting in the way of the camera is unacceptable but just taking pictures? These people are your guests and asking for no photos, especially if you don't make a gallery readily available to them, seems a little selfish.

    I look forward to seeing both the pros and my friends' photos of our wedding. The pros are the ones I will save forever – the non-pros are the ones I will giggle or groan at because they were taken through the eyes of people who care about us.

    13 agree
    • I don't think there is a problem if you take SOME photos at a wedding but I have seen so many people who are getting in the way of the professional in their eagerness to take a photo. I have almost tripped over people who are hanging over my back trying to get the same shot I am getting. Yes, every professional does their best to deal with obnoxious guests, but why would someone want it to be okay for their guests to possibly ruin a shot from the person they paid good money to capture their wedding. I am really not against all cameras, but it's just the obsessive nature people tend to have nowadays that's the problem. I think it's easier to say 'no cameras at all' versus saying.. no cameras for specific people! :)

      8 agree
      • I'm a professional videographer and we have been pretty lucky with the guests getting in our way. You always have to try and stay proactive. The worst we find is for the cake cutting, so what we do is allow all of the guest 2-4 minutes for a mocked cake cutting, just so that every guest can get a shot. From there we step in and do the actual cake cutting, this way no one is in anyones way.

        4 agree
    • K, as I said in my post, I'm NOT asserting that every wedding should be unplugged or that there's anything inherently wrong with guest documentation. If the couple getting married isn't bothered, then it's not a problem. I'm not accusing an etiquette breach or bad manners — it's just an issue of personal taste.

      11 agree
    • We had a good mix – no one got in the way of our one pro photographer, and we got great pictures. We also had three guests who took their own pictures, but not during formal shots (which we staged in a room where people couldn't find us!), and not very many during the ceremony. The benefit to allowing that was that my parents' oldest friend developed the photos overnight, and left them a photo album of the entire wedding on their doorstep at 8am the next day, in time to bring it to the post-wedding brunch. It was an incredibly thoughtful gesture, since we didn't get professional photos for another month. We really enjoyed those photos! And she was able to accomplish it WITHOUT getting in anyone's way.

      So, it's possible to get photos from friends without having it be a disaster. It's hard to communicate that succinctly, however, and we got lucky because we didn't instruct anyone.

      4 agree
    • As a professional wedding photographer I do my best to work around guests and Uncle Bobs but sometimes it is impossible. Some of these people come to the wedding with the mindset that they can do a better job than me and wish to prove it. I had one man actually shove me out of the aisle at a wedding.I had to put a clause in my contract regarding aggressive guest interference! It can get bad!

      14 agree
      • As wedding professionals, we definitely have experience and know (hopefully) the right way to deal with other photo-takers… But if I'm politely asking uncle bob to not be in the background of every single photo of the first dance, guess what I spend less time doing… taking photos of the first dance!

        Educating your guests about your photo desires (no matter what they are) will only help things in the end.

        4 agree
    • To the fashion week comparison….just remember the models are professionals too. But a bridal party is not. They are easily confused at who to be looking at. Plus music and energy is playing a factor on the runway. Plus most pro photogs at fashion week are not using flash but rather te complex lighting provided by the designer of the show. Uncle bobs pop their flashes off when it suits them not the bride and groom. Believe me if they pulled that at fashion week they would be shown the door.

      21 agree
    • I agree 100% with the comment by "K." People are naturally going to want to take their own photos, so long as they aren't interfering with the pro and stay out of the way (which I am VERY BIG on making sure of myself when I attend a wedding), big deal. People are WAY too schizophrenic about photography these days sometimes. I once was photographing the ducks at a lake near where I live & a woman screamed "don't take my child's photo, you pervert!," when I wasn't even doing that to start with (and even though it's actually LEGAL to do so anyway if I were).

      Besides not getting in the pro's way, I understand also about not having the phone beep & buzz every 5 seconds too. I also understand couples renting out a nursery room & having guests drop off their kids in there because kids can be noisy; I have kids & that doesn't offend me any at all.

      But in terms of "stare at me not at the LCD screen," why should that matter so much? If I'm just sitting in the pew & not taking any shots, maybe I'm staring at my phone because the wedding song playing is familiar & I'm curious to look it up & see who the singer is. Maybe I bid on something on eBay before I left the house and need to check on it real quick. Regardless, so long as my phone isn't going off and making a FUSS during the ceremony, what business is that of anybody's? Since when did a LITTLE BIT of phone interaction in public, especially if it's discrete, become equivalent to blowing cigar smoke in people's faces?

      The bride & groom have EVERY RIGHT to ask ANYTHING THEY WANT of the guests, sure. The bride & groom can even make ridiculous requests such as "only fans of the New York Yankees are allowed to attend our wedding," but it doesn't mean it's not RIDICULOUS.

      2 agree
      • I *hate* photos of myself, and I think I have a right to ask people not to take them.

        And as far as staying out of the way of the pro goes, I think the photos above and elsewhere online demonstrate quite clearly that many amateur photogs do not.

        Phone interaction in public is one thing, phone interaction during an intimate and touching moment is quite another. I for one would be very upset if instead of watching the ceremony one of our friends/family spent the time playing with their phone. And personally, I don't think it's ridiculous at all to ask that people put their phone away for twenty minutes. Some things are, or should be, more important. These people have gone to a lot of trouble to craft a ceremony which is funny/warm/touching/whatever and if you don't care enough to pay attention for twenty minutes, I think that's a bit sad.

        42 agree
      • No. Absolutely not. If you're with people– even if you're with close friends– you should excuse yourself to talk on the phone. Whether you say, 'This is probably my fiancee- mind if I text him I'll call later?' or physically excuse yourself to a quiet, discreet place to talk, it's always rude to interact with your cell phone instead of the people you're with, because it sends the message that your cell phone (and the artist of the song whose name you can't remember and that thing you bid on through eBay) are more important than the people you're with. And that is never, ever polite. Ever. Just so we're clear.

        In a perfectly polite world, emergencies would never come up in the middle of conversations or dinners or weddings, but since they do, we understand that people need to have their cell phones. That isn't a license to prioritize auctions and pop culture trivia over your relationships with people. It is a license to leave your Aunt Muffy's no-children vow renewal if the baby-sitter texts you your two year old is asphyxiating and turning blue.

        *NB- I do relax this guideline (hypocritically) and will text when I'm eating dinner with someone I live with without excusing myself first. This is rude, and completely my fault. I'm not expecting that everybody put down their cell phones whenever in public, but a little more technology etiquette or discretion would go a long way.

        27 agree
        • Emma and M, you absolutely hit the nail on the head.

          Emergencies and excused calls/texts are one thing. However, it is completely inappropriate to be checking the status of an eBay bid, or looking up a song, or anything else of that nature during ANY special event. Especially a wedding. Really, a wedding usually only lasts 15 to 20 minutes. Can you seriously not wait until after the ceremony to do any of those things? I could care less if you utilize reception time to do these things… but during the ceremony? That's beyond disrespectful. It honestly looks like you'd rather be somewhere else than to be at the couple's wedding. Something that many couples work very hard on, might I add.

          The last wedding I went to, I watched my aunt, uncle, and their two children stay on Facebook during the entire ceremony. All I could think was "REALLY?! You can't stay off Facebook for fifteen minutes?". I was beyond furious to see this.

          While I am on the fence about wedding guests taking photos, and ultimately think it should be the couple's choice, phone interaction should NOT occur during a wedding. With the exception of emergencies, of course.

          1 agrees
      • A & I are particularly annoyed by the use of cell phones during social events. Hells, we have a basket that cell phones go in whenever we have guests over – because we want to actually focus on the people we are spending time with.

        Beyond that, we feel that it is rude to pull out your phone in a place of worship. We observe the traditions and courtesies of our friends' faiths, when we participate in one of their functions, so it doesn't feel "ridiculous" to ask the the same of them.

        I plan on stating in the invites that cellphones and cameras are welcome at the reception, but not during the ceremony. We are also going to have our ushers reiterate it as they greet guests and hand out programs.

        1 agrees
    • Just remember, a bride is PAYING the pro photographer for every minute they are there and they only have the photographer for so long. Every minute a photographer spends dealing with or obliging everyone that can't lower their Iphones or cameras is a minute the bride loses that she paid for. So essentially, being a guest that has to get all of "the shots" for their personal pleasure are basically stealing from the bride and groom. Js.

      11 agree
  16. YES. Amazing article. We asked our guests not to take photographs during our ceremony by putting a note in the program, and everyone was very respectful. I wanted my guests there and in the moment, especially since our ceremony was so short.

    As a wedding photographer myself, I didn't want any of MY uncle bob relatives getting in the way of the people we paid lots of money to officially document our wedding. I guess I was hyper aware of how annoying it is to the professional, and I wanted to keep our photographers happy. And our ceremony was very personal, so I didn't want to see any photos of it popping up on Facebook later.

    10 agree
  17. I have photographed one (intimate) wedding where the officiant asked that none of the guests take photos. It meant that everyone had to pay attention to what was happening, and honestly, the vibe in the room was palpable. Everyone was so taken in by the ceremony – it was amazing. I do think that having a camera up to my face puts a layer of distance between me and what I'm photographing. I certainly understand why guests want to photograph weddings and I respect the choice to have an unplugged wedding, both as a photographer and as a guest. In the end, it's up to the bride & groom to decide!

    8 agree
  18. My ceremony was going great, then it happened, one person just had to have their phone on and it rang! Didn't let it bother me but looking back boy was that rude!

    5 agree
    • I remember the red flush of embarrassment I'd get when mine went off during class. I can't even imagine how mortified I would be if my phone went off during a friend's wedding.

      7 agree
  19. THANK YOU for posting this. It's something that has bothered me tons going to concert and events but I hadn't even thought of this happening at our wedding until you posted this..we are going unplugged baby

    5 agree
  20. May I suggest, if one decides no photography during the event, that one therefore compensate by providing the guests with a free pic, either make it the favor or tuck it in the thank you note.

    11 agree
  21. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy this year and I can't handle tons of flashes. I have been really struggling with the weddings I've attended since my diagnoses. Most of my guests don't know that I have Epilepsy. Has anyone gone unplugged for the reception? It will be much darker than our ceremony and I'm more concerned about flashes then, although I'd rather not have them at all outside our photographer. If you've gone reception-unplugged: how did you do it?

    Thank you! I am excited to hear the wording ideas. Also so glad I am not the only one.

    1 agrees
    • Unfortunately I haven't decided or had my wedding yet, but I'm also considering going unplugged at the reception as well.

      Are you comfortable sharing with many of your guests that you have epilepsy? It's a pretty solid reason to ask people to leave their flashes off, at the very least. You could maybe use another excuse for going unplugged on any written mediums, but assign parents or your wedding parties (anyone else your guests might talk to about the wedding) to discretely explain in more detail before the wedding to anyone insistent. If you're comfortable with discretely disclosing, anyone who argues might not be worth having there at all.

      • I took your advice on this one: most of my friends and some of my family know I have epilepsy, but I'm not sure all of them will think through what a lot of flashes could do to me.

        I asked my mother and future mother-in-law to spread the word. Nobody (this request got to my dad and grandma in about 20 minutes) liked the idea of just asking people not to take pictures without mentioning "a medical condition," which I thought was very telling regarding why this was even a blog entry in the first place. It's surprising that people won't just do what you ask of them at your wedding without questioning it.

        I have a vision of "Now, Kathleen, I know I'm not supposed to take any pictures, and I'm sorry to hear about your epilepsy, etc" from the concerned elders at the wedding. I'm used to that reaction but don't feel like hearing it on my wedding day. Hopefully people will use their manners and think about "time and place" of their comments. We'll see.

        1 agrees
        • Do the guests need to know that it's you who has the epilepsy? Your family could just pass the word that one of the guests or one of the wedding party members or something has it (technically true) and to not use a flash, and then you'll avoid uncomfortable commentary.

          13 agree
    • Have you spoken to you wedding photographer about not using a flash? He/she may need to do something different with lighting to get quality photographs.

      3 agree
    • I do not have epilepsy, but my one working eye is very light sensitive. We're definitely talking to our photographer about not using a flash, and there will need to be a note in the program.

      Your health concerns (and my inability to walk post being hit with a flash) need to be respected and left alone. If anyone approaches you and discounts your request, you are entirely within your rights to shut them down.

      1 agrees
  22. I'm terrorifed of the Uncle Bob photos. FH has a Uncle who thinks nothing of getting in peoples faces to take awful photos and ignore all requests to go unplugged.

    Really looking forward to stealing tomorrow's wording and translating it into Dutch so he has zero excuses.

    2 agree
  23. Holla! I want people to be present at my wedding. Like, fully. Plus I'm paying an obscene amount of money on someone I researched completely and whose work I believe in.

    The only person I want to have a camera at the wedding is my future father in law; He's legally blind (but can still see shapes and colors) but has been taking photos since high school (he says he got into it because he could FINALLY see things in detail when he blew up photos in the dark room). I just wonder if there's a polite way of telling him that I want him to bring just one of his smaller cameras for some snapshots and nothing else (I've seen him go to the zoo with a camera bag the size of a small duffel bag with three different lenses!). Also, I wonder if other guests will be offended… I want him to be able to see the details that he wants to see, and not letting him bring a camera would hinder that. But I don't want anyone else to be hiding behind a screen or lens!

    2 agree
    • You could just explain "We've hired a photographer, and FH's father will also be taking some pictures on the side. Anyone who wants a copy of these photos will be more than welcome."

      3 agree
    • AWESOME. Another legally blind photographer! I'm sure if you tell him that you just want him to bring one camera, he'll oblige.

  24. Brilliant. I actually shared this through the *ahem* Facebook group I have set up for our guests. Irony? Maybe.

    3 agree
    • Two things: Read Andrew Keen's books on the invasion of personal space by the digital self-promoting social networks. And… check out this new wedding mobile and web app called Capsule! My WP turned it on to me. It's private, photo-sharing for the bride and guests. The inevitable picture-taking is given a home for all my guests to contribute to. It's free too! http://www.capsuleweddings.com

  25. Excellent! Pretty sure I'm going to lay down a strict no-cameras and phones policy for my ceremony. I've seen bands throw down one song long no screens policies just to get the crowd to be there fully for at least one song, so damn it, I think I will too. Blanket no electronic devices for guests (other than pacemakers, insulin pumps, hearing aids etc.) starting…now!

    1 agrees
    • Really off-topic but I hate when bands do that.

      I don't like looking at the screens anyway, I'd much prefer to see the stage but since I'm short and often towards the back at most gigs I don't have a choice. When they turn them off I feel like what they're really saying is "Only the 50 or so people close enough to see the stage clearly get to enjoy this song. The rest of you are being left out for not making more of an effort."

      It's the complete opposite of making people pay attention, it makes me feel like I may as well be at home listening to the CD because I'm not really part of the gig anymore, I'm just hearing it from outside but still with some guys sweaty armpit in my face.

      3 agree
  26. I think I'm just going to say something along the lines of "turn off your damn camera or I will stab you in your face!" Haha. Just kidding, but I am really looking forward to your post tomorrow!!

    1 agrees
  27. So what about when 'uncle bob' is a real life professional wedding photographer?
    You would think that a pro wedding photographer would know better as a guest to not be the uncle bob that all of us professionals complain about.
    But, I've seen it happen.
    They should know better!

  28. I have actually stopped really caring about taking tons of photos at weddings — I don't really need to relive the event myself as a guest, and the few photos I take at the reception will capture what needs to be captured. I think in general, I've gotten a little oversatured by everyone documenting everything ever and putting every event on Facebook…putting the camera away is nice sometimes because you focus yourself instead of fumbling for the focus button. I have to ask myself, why would I want this photo later, given that there are sure to be 800 other versions of it later on facebook?

    3 agree
  29. If I don't care enough about you to pay attention at your wedding, I just won't go. (I will send a nice gift). Baring folks that are in the medical or public safety sector, everyone who is at your wedding, should have their phones turned off, and their minds turned on to the friends and family at hand. An "unplugged" wedding should be the standard- afterwords, if there are going to be pictures of the bride/groom and family, letting them join in then seems the best solution.

    1 agrees
  30. I really hadn't given it much thought, but after reading this article I'm all for requesting my guests turn off their devices in order to take in our ceremony! We're putting a lot of ourselves into it and would hate for someone to miss something important because they were stuffing around with their camera. We've also hired an exceptionally expensive photographer to do that work for us, so guests shouldn't feel the need.

    1 agrees
    • Oh, there's no shortage of posts about this topic from frustrated wedding photographers. My goal with this post was to present the issue less as "UNCLE BOBS MAKE PHOTOGRAPHERS' LIVES HARD" and more of "an unplugged wedding can benefit couples, guests, AND photographers." There's no shortage of (justified) photographer frustration about this issue, but not a lot of positive, constructive guidance about why unplugging can be valuable for brides and grooms.

      9 agree
      • Yes, yes yes. My fiancé and I are planning a Wiccan ceremony with a whole lot of "audience participation", if you will. Guests aren't just there to witness passively, they're *participants* in the ritual. Hard to raise energy when you're fiddling with a device.

        Thank you for posting this, Ariel!!

        1 agrees
        • I'm considering having no photography at all during the ceremony, professional or amateur, but not sure if it would be weird to have just one camera clicking and moving about. We'll be sitting in a circle, and there will be participation, as well. And NO cell phones!

  31. This is really well written. I've been trying to find a way to discuss this with my brides. If you don't mind I'd like to put an intro to this blog on my website and link to your article. Just fantastic.

  32. One of our groomsmen is a talented photographer, and he left his camera at home for this very reason. He said that when he brings his camera along to events, he often misses the day because he's so busy thinking about shots. He said he wanted to be present for the wedding, and so contented himself with taking the odd candid dance floor shot on his cellphone.

    3 agree
  33. I Thank the people/person who put this together.
    As a Professional Photographer, this is a very big issue for me in my line of work, as I am often confronted by rude guests who get in the way, or make the people who I am photographing look away from my camera to get their own under/over exposed out of focus shot. As cool and easy as technology is these days, it has also created new breeds of rudeness and brings a whole new kind of coldness to such a big part of a couples life together.
    And the biggest culprits are phones! If it isn't some one literally taking a minute just to get one photo cause their phone simply cant do the job, it'll be some one else's phone ringing at the most inappropriate time, and loudly.
    I have my wedding coming up, and this is something that has concerned me a lot. it really does detach guests from the emotion and intimacy of the wedding ceremony, and considering the day IS all about the couple getting married, why not just let them have that?

    2 agree
  34. This is an excellent article & I thank you Ariel for blogging about it! Being a professional photographer, I know how enjoyable it is to take pics of special events of family & friends, especially at weddings. Over the last year, the amount of guests taking photos, cutting in front of me & ruining shots with their flashes is increasing. I can't tell you how many times I have to stand my ground around the cake table & be elbow to elbow with no room to move & snap photos of the bride & groom cutting into the cake & feeding each other. Or the first dance, a guest will interrupt their dance & get within 5 feet of them to have them look at their camera to take a photo. It happens, believe it or not! I make sure that even during the family formal shots after the ceremony, family members hold off on taking photos until I get mine. I'll press down on my shutter & have flashes go off the same time as I take mine. It only wastes more of the couples & my time b/c I have to redo my shot b/c mine is blown out by a bright flash. It's my responsibility to communicate with my brides & grooms about photography at the ceremony & reception. Even DJ's & wedding coordinators will announce for the guests to stay out of the pro's way at times. Like I said, I love it when I see people doing something they love & taking photographs of special moments, but when the happy couple pays a good amount of money for professional shots, they want their guests to enjoy celebrating their special day.

  35. As a small town photographer, many of my guests for my ceremony on may 15th were professional or aspiring photographers, having shot numerous weddings in the last few years I had requested that my officiant ask the guests to not take pictures during the ceremony to respect the photographer I had chosen to hire, it had skipped his mind initially (even though I had posted it on my wedding wire, knot, event and in the invitations) so during the procession all I saw were DSLRs uncle "bobbing" my photographer. When I got to the front I reminded him.. There was a collective ahhhh! But my pro photos are natural and beautiful and I felt like my day was truly mine!

  36. This so much! We are totally going to have at least an Unplugged Ceremony! We also have an "Uncle Bob" in our family, rather a "Father Bob". My FFIL takes pictures, and it has been hard enough to tell him we want him /in/ the wedding not taking pictures /of/ the wedding. He needs to be there to walk FW down the aisle and other FotB duties. I just hope he leaves his camera equipment at home.

    • hehe, The biggest problem I have is that, when I go to weddings where cameras are allowed,they are almost if not more distracting then cameras. Brides pay a lot of money to get everything right, she pays a lot of attention to detail, why shouldn't she ask, for just one moment, the guests to take in all the hard work she has done? The other option is to nominate 1 single none pro to shoot from an unobtrusive angle, so there can still be facebook images! I know a lot of brides may worry about not having enough pictures, but we have an abundance! And the all the fun moments after the ceremony were captured!

  37. I'm very excited to say that my partner and I have added a note in our invites, asking guests not to take photos during the ceremony, or upload photos of our wedding to Facebook or Twitter. We have an awesome photographer and we just want our guests to enjoy the ceremony and most of all be present. Our photographer is over the moon about this and so are we.

    5 agree
    • Can you share how you phrased the don't put It on Facebook part? Coz I need that!

      4 agree
      • Hi Sarah,

        Yes we just wrote: "we kindly request that you refrain from uploading wedding photos of us to Facebook. Thank you."
        We are hopeful that our friends and family will understand.

        1 agrees
  38. Am I the only one who perceives this as a matter of manners? I mean not so much bringing your camera/cell phone to the wedding and taking pics (Ariel stated she thinks is it's a matter of taste), but I mean the being obnoxious and in the photographers way.
    We asked several guests to bring their cameras and take pictures, in addition to our photographer (mainly because she wasn't going to be there all day). It was great, because we got those extra pics when our professional wasn't present. But our friends and family made sure they stayed in the background and did not interrupt important moments. For example, when we took the formal shots, the people with the cameras stood behind our photographer. I do think this a matter of good manners; knowing your place in a wedding (i.e. not being the professional photographer, but a guest) and enjoying the wedding (and take some pics when not bothering anyone).

    2 agree
    • I think it doesn't only boil down to manners (though in some cases, this is certainly true!) but it also lends to the atmosphere,I've seen a beautiful bride spend 3k on her gown and as she walks down the isle, no one sees it because they are staring at the LCD on their camera, the brides images from the pro, look more like a funeral then a wedding because everyone appears to be staring at the floor. Or when the rings are being exchanged you don't hear anything but the sound of shutters clicking. being on both sides of the lens I can tell you I find that incredibly annoying, it's a golden moment ruined by whhhhhiiiiirrrrrrr, click, snap and an occasional flash. (which by the way will wash the bride out in her pro photos, the pro may not mean much to everyone else, but in the end, it is the bride and groom who will look back 20 years and see the images, I believe it's a very personal choice. :)

      3 agree
  39. I have been to a wedding where we were all asked to not take photos, and leave that to the professional photographer. It was quite an intimate wedding and I think we were all so much more involved without our devices being inbetween us and the wedding. The photos of the guests at the wedding are also more beautiful and really caught some of the emotion. Afterwards the couple shared the digital copies of the photos with the guests so we didn't feel we missed out on any of those important family photos. It made the wedding that much more special for all of us.

    3 agree
  40. Just like 'please turn your mobile phone off' became popular at the beginning of weddings about 10 years ago, 'put down your cameras' is the new trend!

    5 agree
  41. Great article! I am a wedding video professional and I am running into more and more of this and I have started educating my couples. Guests think they are doing the couple a favor but it's just the opposite.

  42. This article came at the perfect time for me! (And I found it via a link from my photog on Facebook!) I'm getting married this Saturday, and I recently attended two weddings where I found the barrage of photographs completely distasteful and distracting at the ceremony. One or two, ok, but there were people who didn't stop at all! And the cameras made noise every time a pic was taken.

    When the wording posts, I'm bringing it to my priest at the rehearsal, so he makes the announcement prior to the ceremony! Thank you!

    As a side note – I'm fine with guest photos at the reception, but I feel like it's disrespectful at the ceremony.

  43. I guess I'm the only one who has never encountered this problem, even at my own wedding this past weekend.

    Sometimes the officiant will make an announcement, and sometimes they won't…but everyone always puts away their devices during the ceremony. I distinctly remember walking down the aisle, and no one had a camera or a cell phone out. Perhaps where I'm from it's just common courtesy and sense that you just don't do that.

    I honestly thought this was standard practice, whether or not guests are told.

    2 agree
  44. Oh, I wish all of my couples would do this! And I wish more of my friends would hire good photographers like I recommend them to do, so I could feel free to put my camera down…

    • One of my best friends wanted me to be in her wedding so she just hired the package photographer at the chapel. He was terrible and made me cringed with his ever so present flash even though the room was brightly lit since it was during the afternoon. I snapped a photo here and there but sadly my 30 photos from the wedding were far more superior to the chapel's photographers. I don't mean to toot my own horn at all. I agree wholeheartedly with hiring a good photographer and not letting guest take photos during the ceremony.

  45. Thank you for this, Ariel. I love how you wrote this to raise questions and make people think. As a wedding photographer, I try to be as flexible as possible on a couple's day.: as they may want people tweeting under their hash tag during the reception. But for the bride that would rather have full attention of others on their day, not to mention photographs that show them enjoying the moment, this shows them that they can have a say! Also – from the perspective of a wedding photographer- this helps me communicate kindly the benefits of reducing the madness. Nothing is worse than 20 papa razzi guests behind you while you are trying to steal the bride and groom away for a quiet moment or the iphone that gets shoved in front your lens during the ceremony. thank you, thank you!

  46. I am so glad to see this post, and thank you for doing so! We will be going unplugged for our wedding in October. I hate the idea that ppl will be posting pictures of us saying our vows on Facebook before our vows are even over!

    2 agree
  47. I have a question for the pro photographers who have posted – if you were at a wedding where the bride and groom have asked for no photos, how comfortable would you be with asking guests to put their cameras away, for example during the formal shots?

    • If this is something you're worried about, I'd suggest appointing wedding party member or other family/friend to be the enforcer. When the request comes from a fellow guest, it's less likely to be seen as a grumpy encounter.

      1 agrees
      • Do you think so? I figured that coming from a photog or someone "official" would make it less inflammatory rather than coming from another member of the family who has no status. My family can be quite touchy, particularly the older ones, and I really don't know who I could ask to do it.

        • Yep, I think it's best for a wedding party member to say that the bride and groom has specifically asked them to make the request of guests. I have suggestions for what to say on the follow up post that just went live.

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