Unplugged Weddings :: Should we ask our guests not to take photographs during our wedding ceremony?

Disclaimer: In today's post I'll be talking about guest photography during your wedding ceremony. The decision on whether to encourage or request no guest photography is completely up to you! I'm 100% fine with lots of guest photographers or no guest photographers - I just want you to be fully informed on everything wedding photography related :)

 Perhaps you're in a rush in which case I shall summarize your two choices in this matter. Again - it doesn't matter to me personally :) I capture what's happening regardless.

1. You can encourage your guests to take pictures during your wedding
- Your guests will be happy they can snap away
- Your guests will remember your wedding ceremony by the pictures they took
- Guest flashes/pre-flashes or red focusing beams or guests blocking the aisle to get a picture may compromise the pictures you have hired me to take.
- As you walk up the aisle you will be by a sea of arms holding out iphones and cameras and more recently ipads and other tablets vs. a sea of smiling happy faces
- It is quite likely that the only guest pics you will see will be the blurry/underexposed ones tagging you and posted to your wall on facebook ;)

2. You can request that your guests are really present at your ceremony by putting away cell phones and cameras and tell them that you'll share your professional pictures with them
 - When you look at your guests they will be smiling and looking back at you, not at the backs of their cameras and phones
- Your guests will remember your wedding ceremony by how you looked and how they felt
- There is minimal risk to the images you have hired me to take (although obviously I still have to work with the restrictions of the church if applicable)

And that's really all there is to the topic but it's Friday afternoon, it's nearly the weekend so why not get a large coffee and settle in for a while while I expound on this subject....

Two things happened recently that got me thinking about how you experience things in real life vs. behind a camera. The first was my Goddaughter's ballet recital. Chloe was incredibly excited to be making her ballet debut at 4 years old in the nurse chorus of Mary Poppins. We had front row tickets and I truly enjoyed all of the performances. Chloe was on stage for maybe 3 minutes and obviously I had my camera with me to make sure I captured EVERYTHING. Looking at the pictures afterwards it occurred to me that I hadn't really watched her performance. I was thinking about my settings, the composition, making sure I had her in focus as she moved around the stage. 

Last weekend I went to Memphis with Paul and on my to-do list was watching the Peabody Duck parade. In the morning 5 little ducks come out of the elevator and march across the hotel lobby to jump into their little pool. In the afternoon they jump out, march back to the elevator and go home. It was fairly crowded in the lobby and those ducks move quickly!

Paul asked me what I thought and I had to look on the back of my camera to see it all happening. It was like I was there but I wasn't really. So I went back for the next parade without my camera and it was a completely different experience.

When you're focused on taking a picture of something or someone, you're not actually in the moment. You're disconnected from what's happening in front of you and you don't feel present. 

So how does this all come back to guest photography during your wedding.  I think it's awesome when friends and family are so excited for you/wanting to capture moments in a picture. I love seeing the wall of guest paparazzi at cake cutting :)

However let's focus specifically on your wedding ceremony. It's such a short part of the wedding day but if you think about it, it's the whole reason that everyone's present. To support you both and celebrate with you. I often see guests with their heads down looking at the backs of their camera, trying to change settings, trying to figure out why the video on their iphone is all blurry. And when they're looking down, they're missing what's happening right in front of them.

I photograph many weddings in fairly dark churches. The rules vary from church to church and officiant to officiant. I'm sometimes banished to the back of the church and forbidden to use flash. Yet guests will be standing up/moving around/using flash like crazy.

Ultimately it doesn't actually matter to me whether your guests take pictures during your wedding ceremony but it's likely to affect their experience of the event and there's always the chance that they could adversely affect the images you're investing a lot of money in...

If you think of "the kiss" at the end of the ceremony it can be as short as 2 or 3 seconds. Now imagine your guests all have the pre-flash/red focusing beam on their cameras. I can't use flash thanks to the church rules so I've carefully chosen my settings to compensate for the low light in the church. Add 10-20 pre-flashes/focusing beams and flashes and your picture of your first kiss as newlyweds could be lost. I firmly believe that wedding guests have the very best intentions when they're shooting away during your ceremony - in fact they're probably uploading the pictures to your facebook page as you walk back down the aisle ;)

Here are just a few "lost images" due to guest flash/guest blocking:

I have a TON of other pictures I could post but in order to spare embarrassment I won't ;) And yes - lady in the short orange dress who walked around the back of an outdoor ceremony and crouched to take a picture revealing FAR too much I'm talking about you....

At Helen and Matt's wedding just a few weeks ago, I saw this notice:

It was the first time I've seen a request for guests to hold back from posting pictures all over facebook and I think it's quite a thoughtful request. I had one terrible experience last year when a groom logged onto facebook to update his status to "about to marry the woman of my dreams" only to see a bunch of pictures that her bridesmaids had posted and tagged her in. I'm guessing most couples don't imagine their first look would take place on facebook.

And at Jessica and Jeremiah's wedding there was an announcement at the beginning of the ceremony that asked everyone to turn off and put down all phones and cameras. I love how everyone is looking at Jessica at this moment instead of at their camera phones:

There are some awesome articles here on having an unplugged wedding:
Unplugged Wedding Article by Offbeat Bride 
Wording and Templates for an Unplugged Wedding by Offbeat Bride
More on Offbeat Bride

If you decide you might want to do this you can find all sorts of ways of communicating this. Check out the second link above for actual wording and templates you can use. I'd suggest having a small note in your program and/or asking your officiant to make an announcement. I always have a couple of images ready for sharing within 24 hours of your wedding so your guests will have something to satisfy their picture cravings!

So that's it for today. What do you think? Did your guests take pictures at your wedding? Did they share them with you ? Were they awesome? Would you be worried about offending your guests by asking them not to take pictures? If you're at a wedding as a guest would you be annoyed if you couldn't take pictures of the ceremony? Let's have a Friday afternoon discussion in the comments :)


  1. By far the best decision I made when planning my wedding!!

  2. love the concept of an unplugged wedding!

  3. Great idea! Awesome way to execute the idea as well. I have actually had the Mother of the bride bring a friend, that was just starting out in photography, to shoot photos for her portfolio! The bride was actually upset over it but didnt say anything to keep the peace. I was having to work around this lady because she kept getting in my way! Hope to never encounter that again! Was a little part of my decision to stick veer away from wedding photography!

  4. I love this! The last image is PRICELESS. I also hate when everyone is looking at their cameras and phone. You can't see the guests face!