wedding photos ruined by phones, unplugged weddings

Wedding Photos Ruined by Phones: My 2021 Thoughts on Unplugged Weddings

I’ve been talking about unplugged weddings for a decade now; the term has gained mainstream usage because couples are worried about having their wedding photos ruined by phones.  It’s kind of sad that in the 10+ years that ‘unplugged weddings’ have been a movement/trend, that it’s still a problem…

…but then again, are you surprised?

If you’re afraid of having your wedding photos ruined by phones and considering an unplugged wedding because of that – here’s what you need to know:

Uncle Chad + Aunt Karen already assume they’re exempt

It’s probably going to happen regardless of what ‘rules’ you put into place​ – there are always going to be some guests who just assume that the rules don’t apply to them.  If you’re wanting to have an unplugged wedding because you can think of some key individuals who may have issues with boundaries, it’s best to address them as individuals – because I can guarantee you once they hear the rule about ‘no cameras’ they’re going to think they’re special and exempt of it. Blanket rules or policies don’t work for people who already have the audacity to assume it won’t apply to them.

wedding photos ruined by phones, unplugged weddings

A good photographer will be able to mitigate + advocate

As I went from a newbie photographer to a well seasoned (ie: old) photographer with 650+ weddings and engagements under my belt, I can say for a fact that your photographer needs to be a part of mitigating risk and advocating for your wishes if you are wanting to have an unplugged wedding.

Any good photographer will be able to tell, before you even walk down the aisle, which guest or guests will likely pop-up and get in the way.  We see them – they’ve got their fancy cameras bags with them, their lens clothes ready for polishing and have already scoped out a prime aisle seat.  

Whether your ceremony is unplugged or not, a good photographer will be able to anticipate possible distractions, advocate for their working space and politely (yet very firmly) tell aunt Karen to step back.  A passive photographer is just as bad as a guest-ographer is.

wedding photos ruined by phones, unplugged weddings

People wrangling – errrr, creative decor

Whether you’re having an unplugged wedding or not, using decor strategically can help prevent guests from ‘popping’ up or out for photos is a must.  Guests popping out into the aisle while you’re walking down the aisle is probably the biggest risk when it comes to having your wedding photos ruined by phones, or cameras or freaking iPads. *Screams in iPad frustration* Having the aisle seats decorated in a way where guests cannot pass over the decor (and therefore must enter the row from the outer aisles) essentially ‘wrangles’ your guests and prevents them from leaping into the aisle.

Now, this won’t prevent some jerk with a selfie stick or a giant freaking ipad from leaning out, but if you have a good photographer – they’ll be able to help with that too.

Understanding your “why”

If you’re even considering having an unplugged wedding, you need to stop and reflect and ask yourself… why do you want an unplugged wedding?

Is it because you want people to truly be present​ on the wedding day?  That’s awesome – if that’s your wish you’re more than allowed to want that for your wedding day, but remember that your guests are (for the most part) grown adults who also have their own values and priorities and not all will value the experience of the day the way you do. Some of them may have values that make them feel like taking pictures is more important than just witnessing the ceremony. Projecting your values onto others will never be a perfect fit and you’ll have some laggards that just don’t see eye to eye with you and probably won’t listen.

If your ‘why’ is because you don’t want to risk guests getting in the way of your hired media vendors – photographers + videographers – then you can work with some mitigation strategies including:

  • ​Using decor wisely (as above)
  • Having ushers reiterate restriction to guests they seat (especially those with ipads or cameras)
  • Having your officiant reiterate restrictions and states that these are your wishes (not your photographers) as guests are much more likely to respect your wishes than your photographers
  • Having your wedding party help where necessary
  • Hiring vendors who aren’t afraid to advocate for your wishes
  • Taking photos in a private location, far away from any guests​
  • …and making sure that you prioritize time for guests to take and access photos (see below)
wedding photos ruined by phones, unplugged weddings

Make time for people to take their photos

If you’re having an unplugged wedding because you’re afraid of your wedding photos ruined by phones, you need to make sure you give the people what they want – a chance to take all the photos of you that they want so they can get it out of their systems.  Make time in your schedule to allow friends and family to take photos and make sure they know they’ll have this time, this will absolutely ensure more compliance with your wishes! Remember – these people are your friends and family and they’ll want at least a few photos to remember their experience from their perspective too.

Share your professional photos

Finally, you need to make sure that you’re sharing your professional photos with guests in a timely manner and making sure that guests know you’ll be sharing; guests are more apt to respect your wishes if they know that they will be able to access photos taken by your photographer. 

My suggestion is to ask your photographer about creating “Unplugged Ceremony + Image Sharing” that you can share with your guests.  These cards are double sided and have your requests for unplugged ceremonies on one side and a link where your guests can go to pre-register for your gallery of photos as well as an expected date for the photos to be uploaded.  Providing this at the time of the ceremony will also reinforce the unplugged wedding wishes and reassure your guests that they’ll have access to photos.

wedding photos ruined by phones, unplugged weddings

Unplugged Weddings Ruined by Phones: The Take Home Message

Whether you have an unplugged wedding or not doesn’t really matter – if Uncle Chad or Aunt Karen wants to take a certain picture, they’ll stand up and do it without any regard to what the ‘rules’ of your wedding day.  If you don’t want your wedding photos ruined by phones, you need to manage the problematic people on an individual level by either speaking to them beforehand or just not inviting them at all.’

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you can set all the rules you want – there will always be a certain percentage of folks who think the rules don’t apply to them. Setting realistic expectations about what your risks are and putting smart and specific plans in place to mitigate those risks is necessary if you want your unplugged wedding wishes to be respected by as many guests as possible.

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