Happy Wedding Planning Wednesday, friends! Today’s blog post was inspired by a few images that I’ve been seeing circulating through social media, and I felt like it would be a really great time to address the nitty-gritty of something that can be a little bit controversial in the wedding world: The Unplugged Ceremony. To-do or not-to-do?? Today, we’re diving into the what, the why, and the HOW of unplugged ceremonies. I’ll be doing a little bit of myth-busting & am also telling you exactly what I think of unplugged ceremonies as a wedding photographer (and why I recommend them… the answer may surprise you!!).
This post is not meant to shame anyone and should instead be used as a resource to empower you to make your own wedding day decisions as both a guest AND as a couple getting married! (which is why I have decided to exclude any photos of unplugged weddings vs weddings that are not unplugged in today’s post… the photos below are simply a mix of my sweet couples tying the knot!)
Before we totally dive in though, an unplugged wedding is simply when a couple asks their guests to place their technology aside during certain events on their wedding day. The most common times that couples ask for guests to put aside their technology is during their ceremony, but I have also seen unplugged dances, toasts and cake cuttings— the ceremonial & traditional moments, so to say. This allows guests to experience the event in real-time, instead of worrying about getting “the shot” for their Instagram story. Not only does it allow for a more intimate and emotional experience for their guests, but it also allows the faces of their guests to be present in the moment and in the couple’s professional images (rather than the back of their phone!).
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the photos or videos on social media with guests in the aisle of wedding ceremonies with a phone in hand, of phones blocking the view of the person on the altar as their partner walks down the aisle, of iPads photobombing the first kiss… I see it happen at weddings all the time, and truthfully as a wedding photographer, it is a bit frustrating. However… it is frustrating for a reason that may surprise you!
It’s not frustrating because I have a few phones in my images or because I occasionally have to dodge guests to get the shot that I know the couple will love, though it does break my heart a little bit when I’m editing after a wedding. In the moment, I know how to work around guests and always work to prioritze client and guest experience. If a client doesn’t wish to have an unplugged ceremony and there are phones that are out during the ceremony, there is nothing that I can do to change that… it is their day! I know and understand that many guests do prefer to enjoy and experience a wedding day by snapping a few of their own memories, and as long as I am able to serve my clients in a way that they expect and am able to get the photos that I need, I really have no right to tell someone to put their phone or camera down unless they are directly impacting my ability to serve my couple. (I mean HELLO… I’m a lady with 50 pounds of camera gear strapped to me)
Phones and cameras during a wedding ceremony are especially frustrating because phones and technology have the ability to influence a couple’s experience, and it is even more disheartening when guests decide to take out their phones and cameras, despite the fact that the couple requested an unplugged ceremony. Think about it… you’re walking down the aisle to the love of your life with butterflies in your stomach… you can’t wait to see your partner standing at the end of the aisle. You turn the corner, step into the aisle, and instead of seeing your partner and the faces of your loved ones waiting for you, you see the backs of phones and a family member with their iPad standing in the middle of the aisle, trying to grab a shot of you walking down the aisle… that’s a little jarring, right?!
Here’s the thing: every couple has different priorities and deserves to decide how they would like their guests to experience their wedding day. Unplugged ceremony or not, I leave that up to the discretion of each of my couples. With that being said, do I cringe every time I see a guest with their nose in their phone as the ceremony progresses? Yes. Do I wish I could let guests know just how amazing it is to unplug during a ceremony? Double yes! Do I wish that all of my couples would be able to see the faces of their friends and family members as they walk down the aisle?! Yes, yes, YES!!!
If I am ever asked, I highly encourage couples to have an unplugged wedding. I believe that couples deserve to see the faces of their friends and guests in the moment and years from now as they flip through their wedding album. I believe that their guests deserve to experience their emotions in an authentic way and not through the back of a phone screen. And selfishly? Unplugged weddings DO make my job as a wedding photographer a tiny bit easier because I don’t have to worry about anyone blocking the sweet couple as they say their I Do’s.
If you ARE a couple that is interested in having an unplugged ceremony or wedding, I recommend doing the following things to communicate your wishes to your guests:
1. Include a blurb about your unplugged wishes on your wedding website:
If your guests are not immersed in the wedding world, chances are, they may not understand what an unplugged ceremony is, and as someone getting married (who has probably read blog post after article about unplugged weddings!), you can’t expect the message to click. Explaining what an unplugged ceremony is & that your ceremony will be unplugged before your wedding day is absolutely key for that reason! Unplugged ceremonies are a newer thing thanks to newer technology, so because of that, many guests may not even know what an unplugged ceremony is! Before your wedding day is even here, include a blurb about your unplugged ceremony (and what that means!!) on your wedding website. Educating your guests and setting expectations in advance is so incredibly vital to ensuring that your unplugged wedding wishes are respected.
2. Post a sign outside of your ceremony & include your unplugged wishes in your programs:
I’ve seen so many beautiful unplugged ceremony signs at weddings and also highly recommend reiterating your unplugged wishes in your ceremony program— this can be the same language that you wrote to communicate your wishes on your wedding website! Place your unplugged sign in a place where guests will see it as they enter your ceremony… perhaps at the end of the aisle or just off to the side of the path that guests will use to get to your ceremony. Visibility is key though… make sure it is in a spot that will receive foot traffic! The message in your program should be a simple blurb, reminding your guests that your ceremony is unplugged and what that means from them. If you are working with me, you can also reassure your guests that they WILL have access to your professional photos after your wedding day if you choose to send the gallery out to your guests!
3. Include an announcement in your celebrant’s script:
Posting unplugged signs and including messages to your guests about your unplugged wishes at various points is super helpful, but I’ve found that the most effective way to enforce your unplugged wishes is by including an unplugged announcement in your celebrant’s script. Simply include one or two short lines about your unplugged ceremony and what that means for your guests goes a long way in ensuring that no one has their phone or camera out. DO ensure that this happens in an announcement before anyone walks down the aisle though… your celebrant should make this announcement before your ceremony begins to give your guests a moment or two to power their technology down. Because all of your guests are sitting there, listening to the message, no one wants to be the one person to disrespect their friend or family member’s wishes in front of an entire crowd of people.
I know this may sound a little extra, but I recommend doing ALL of these things if you are serious about having an unplugged ceremony! There is an old marketing principle that claims most people need to hear a message SEVEN times before they take action. Though this doesn’t give you seven points, this strategy gives you FOUR touchpoints for your message to your guests… you can always make up the other three as you chat your friends and family through your wedding planning process 😉Grabbing a phone or a camera these days is instinctual for most people… you want your guests to listen to you, you DO have to communicate your wishes often!
Now… if you are a guest at an unplugged ceremony and are wondering what that looks like, simply keep your phone and personal camera in your bag and enjoy the moment! I’ve been a guest at an unplugged wedding, and it felt a little weird at first (mostly because as a wedding photographer, I’m used to capturing these moments!), but I am SO glad to have the memories of seeing a few of my best friends walk down the aisle to the love of their lives without having a camera in hand.
If you are a guest at a ceremony that is NOT unplugged, I encourage you to do the same… I highly encourage unplugging during all ceremonies! However, if you absolutely must snap a photo on your phone, all I ask is that you stay in your seat and avoid sticking your arm or body out into the aisle. After all, you never want to be the one that blocked the view of a couple for a blurry cell phone photo!
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