Unplugged Wedding Ceremony: Why you should.

It goes without saying; digital photography has changed the game.  Gone are the days when you received 90 photos in a cloth wedding album from your wedding photographer.

Now, not only do you get a disc with hundreds of images, you also get hundreds of photos posted on Instagram and Facebook with your personal #ourkillersuperawesomewedding hashtag.  But not from your wedding photographer.

These all come from your quasi-professional wedding photographer guests.  And while their photos may be fun to look at, sometimes they come at a heavy price.

It almost never fails; there is always at least one guest at every wedding that brings more gear than I would on my biggest assignment.  Long lenses, multiple camera bodies, hip holsters, and attitude.  The difference between them and us paid professionals?  The church clergy doesn’t scold them for making noise, moving around, standing in the isle as the bride makes her grand entrance…  The problem is, most of the time they aren’t as good as us.  Crooked, grainy, high ISO images… They may have nice gear, but that doesn’t mean squat.  What it does mean, is they are going to do whatever it takes to get their “shot”.  What will they do with those images when it is all said and done?  No clue.  Maybe their own professional portfolio? (Breech of most contracts brides sign from their hired photographer).

Very fancy gear for a guest.

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And while all these shenanigans are taking place, they aren’t paying one iota of attention to what is taking place; the most sacred, personal, emotional ceremony a couple will experience in their lifetimes.  Sure, it doesn’t sound like that big a deal.  “Don’t worry, my uncle will stay in the back”.  Famous last words.  We have a nickname for said uncle.  “Uncle Bob.”  All of us wedding photographers get together in the winter months and share our war stories of the craziest “Uncle Bob” moments.  While a bride may think their semi-professional family members will keep it together, a lot of times they don’t.  Often to the point of major distraction and/or embarrassment for the couple.  I once witnessed a wedding officiant chew out an iPhone-slingin guest MID-CEREMONY for being a distraction.

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There are 2 ultimate tragedies than come from disruptive guest photography.  FIRST: they simply aren’t paying attention to your ceremony.  They are staring at their screen, hoping to get some killer shot to share with their 137 Instagram followers.  No harm, no foul, right?  The SECOND tragedy is the guest often will ruin a photo opportunity for your hired photographer.  And when you pay a good chunk of change, you expect results.  You want every moment captured perfectly.  I hate to say it, but sometimes we miss moments because “Uncle Bob” Uncle Bob’d it.  Stepped right out into the aisle with their iPad to snap a photo of the bride and her father, entirely blocking our strategic line of site.  Yup, I have had to tell one bride that I didn’t get their first-kiss photo because auntie and grandma blocked out the view.

We do the best we can to anticipate moments and avoid getting blocked out by a guest, but we also are trying our best not to disrupt the ceremony and its sacred moments.

Both sides of the aisle were taken over by guests, so I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the bride and her father until the very end.

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We are professionals.  We get paid to do a job and do it well.  No guest will ever capture a moment better than us unless we are sleeping on the job.  There is usually two of us, to cover many angles, so nothing is missed.  EVEN then, we aren’t able to anticipate the many shenanigans we have witnessed by camera-wielding amateurs.  I could care less if they carry a camera around during the reception, dancing, down-times during portraits…  But if you want your guests engaged, focused, and emotionally involved, PLEASE ask them to leave the cameras in their purses and pockets.

A simple handout before the ceremony is a great way to communicate your wishes.  Often times the officiant will make a brief announcement as well.

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I typically remember a ceremony for 3 things:  the interaction of the bride and groom at the altar, the guests with cameras, and the ceremonies that didn’t have guests with cameras.  The few unplugged ceremonies I have been a part of are the most intimate, emotional ceremonies I’ve witnessed. When there are no Instagrams and Facebooks and iPhones and Uncle Bobs present, that means your guests are present.  And at the end of the day, that is really what you want.


If you ask a guest or family member to record the entire ceremony, we strongly suggest having them put the camera on a tripod so they can relax and enjoy the ceremony.

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Such a great moment to be missed while trying to snap a photo.

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Often times, the hardest photo to get is a clean, super-wide photo of the entire ceremony.  There almost always is a person walking around taking iPhone photos, or an arm stretched out into the aisle.

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Ok, she is adorable, so we won’t ask her to move along!

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I count 8 cameras.

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Another creative way to display your wishes for an “unplugged” wedding ceremony.

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I didn’t have a problem with this lady, as she was the only one capturing video footage for the couple.  And she stayed in place.  Unfortunately she filmed the entire wedding vertically, so the TV will have to be turned on it’s side to watch it…   

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Often times, guests are so focused on photo-ing that we spend half the ceremony trying to take photos without them in the image.

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Can you spot the iPad?

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We were filming this wedding ceremony, but a guest with a handy-cam on a tripod lifted overhead was there in case our footage wasn’t up to par.

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Hey, at least he is filming horizontally.  But we still encourage a tripod off to the side so the guest can enjoy the ceremony.

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My trusty second shooter as well as the mother of the bride.

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Almost completely blocked out by 3 guests with cameras that stepped in front of me.  Made for a good photo, but we can make good photos without the help of guests.

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Only one of these two kneelers is my second shooter.  The gentleman on the right was glared at by the officiant.

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Either look at the bride, or take a photo, but don’t stare at my gear…

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The one “guest” who we think is allowed to take one photo, because it is a great vantage point and was all fun and games.

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  1. Stephanie wrote:

    I’m so glad we went with an unplugged ceremony. I much prefer looking at photos and seeing our loved ones’ FACES rather than all their cameras & phones.

  2. […] Image via Jeff Marsh Studios (read Jeff’s feature on the ‘Unplugged Ceremony’) […]