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Say Yes to an Unplugged Wedding Ceremony

This post has been long in the writing. So long. For those of you in the wedding industry, you are well aware of it. For those of you just starting to go to weddings, you need to hear this. For those of you who are ASIANS and go to weddings, you especially need to hear this: When you are part of the wedding, the couple wishes for you to be a part of the ceremony, not to have a camera in front of your face the entire time.

Look, I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to be mean. I love being around people and the last thing I want to do is to be hated. I do more of my fair share of ducking, hiding, changing angles, and using my different equipment to maneuver around people with cameras. But, when everyone has a camera, then I am out of luck and have no choice but take photos of seas of cameras.  And when guests do not follow the bride and groom’s wishes to put down the camera? SO RUDE. I’ll say it again – if the bride and groom specifically ask for people to put down the camera, please oblige, otherwise you are just being rude. This wedding is more about them, it is not about you. That is the culture here in the US, and as an American wedding photographer, that is a value that I believe in.

I completely understand that you want a piece of the wedding. Guess what? The bride and groom – more so than me – want you to be a part of the wedding. Every moment you keep a camera or phone in front of your face, is a moment where you will not show up in the wedding photos. It’s that simple. Be present. Put the camera down. Enjoy the wedding.

It used to be that when the bride and groom walk down the aisle, everyone else is smiling, cheering, a-hootin-and-a-hollerin’. Then in recent years, I came to see this:

My friend Krista from Krista Photography generously shared this example as well

Let me ask you a question: Are we at a wedding or are we at a fashion shoot? Whatever happened to respecting the solemnity and seriousness of a couple getting married? 

Of course, as a photographer, I am biased in saying that these situations make me cringe. Not only do I have to do my best to work my way around guest photographers – and boy do I! I actually had a little trouble finding good examples for this post because I had been so diligent in cropping out guests from ceremony photos. However, what makes me cringe isn’t the thought that “oh this is going to ruin my photos”. No, what makes me really, really mad is that all of you guys who show up in the processional in a camera in front of your face… you’re not really there for the bride and groom. You’re not experiencing their marriage first-hand in high-definition through your eyes and your perfectly fine ears. You are getting a watered-down, filtered, often muted, and pixelated version in low-definition through a phone LCD screen. Did you really just spend hundreds of dollars on airplane tickets and pretty dresses and hotel accommodations to experience your friend’s wedding through a blurry cellphone photo?

iPad? Seriously? Why?

“The flower girl and ring bearer are so cute! I’m going to remember this… through a shaky camera photo”

When the involvement of cell phones, smartphones, iPads got to be too much, I had to put my foot down. There’s a reason why about half my couples this year chose to have an unplugged wedding ceremony. It’s to bring the wedding back to what it is really about: The emotions and beauty of the marriage itself. And in that, electronics have no place.

Couples: When you hire me, you know that you’ve hired a seasoned professional with professional equipment who knows what she is doing. In addition, I’m sure that you want your guests to be there to WATCH you go down the aisle, to see you cry, to cry and laugh and cheer with you, so that when you turn to look at the audience, you don’t see a sea of LCD screens. Rather, you see the people who have been there with you through your lives supporting you with their faces, bodies, everything. As a secondary effect, having your guests unplug during your wedding ceremony makes my sneaky job of photographing a wedding even better, because I DO respect all aspects of the wedding. I move during prayers and lulls. I try my best not to block other guests’ view. And my photos turn out sharp, colorful, just the way you like them.

A whole family breaks down watching the groom cry

Wedding guests, especially Asian wedding guests: Gaw, I hate picking on people. I hate picking on people especially with a racial marker attached, I know that I’m being harsh and blunt. However, I have observed, over and over and over and over, that particularly Asians, we love our cameras, and will spend a lot of money on giant ones. I mean, hey, if I didn’t love photography, I wouldn’t be a photographer. I get it. You want a piece of that beautiful moment for yourself. You want to show that you were THERE too and how awesome it is. However, think about this: Your friends who are getting married invited you to be THERE at the ceremony, to respect the customs and traditions they’ve come to honor. They invited you there so you can cheer and clap. So you can smile and be in the photos when they walk down the aisle. You know how many times I’ve had to crop a father walking his daughter down the aisle to THIS because there are too many hands stretched out with cameras? And then you complain that you don’t show up in the professional photographer’s wedding photos… well, I couldn’t include you because I literally couldn’t see your head.

You were invited to be that smiling woman looking at the running ringbearer

You were invited to look at the bride as she struggles not to cry. Note the guest with the turned head – she had just taken a photo and was trying to get back to her seat

You were invited to be the parents who rarely cry but can’t help but wipe a tear

Well, this aunt was blind to begin with, but if you were next to her, you’d have seen this happen

These images came from unplugged wedding ceremonies I had this year

See how everyone… and I really mean, EVERYONE is looking at the bride? Everyone is standing and orderly… truly showing how special a wedding ceremony should be

I can scan the room during a happy moment and find guests like these

And all of you, ALL of you will be able to experience this first hand

So, how do you make an unplugged wedding ceremony happen?

1) First, make it clear to the guests that you want them to be present. Like any message, it has to be hit home several times. First, my couples use a sign or a printed message in the wedding ceremony program

2) Reiterate it with your officiant / pastor / priest. Have them announce BEFORE the wedding processional begins: “Our bride & groom are happy to have you fully present and experience the beauty of their marriage ceremony. They have hired very capable wedding photographers to capture all the important moments and will share the photos with you afterwards. Please turn off all cell phones and cameras, thank you.”

The above is actually pretty important because not everyone is going to read the program or pass by the sign.

3) Give your guests other ways to get photos with you. The photobooth is actually one of my FAVORITE suggestions because it’s a fun and unhinged time during the wedding for the guests to go wild with themselves and with the bride and groom. When I think about the reason why a guest would want a picture from the wedding, it is because they want to have a “piece” of the wedding. So why not make it easier for them by giving them something they can hold and take home?

4) Another fun idea is to have your guests do something fun for the exit, such as bubbles or wave exit wands or throw petals – always a classic exit option and makes for awesome photos!

Photographers, once you have a couple who agrees to an unplugged wedding ceremony, you better do your job! Get all the photos that the guests and bride and groom would be looking for. Capture guests. And deliver the photos in a timely manner and let them be shared!

I really want to hear from all of you – what do you think of unplugged wedding ceremonies?

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Shang Chen Photography has rebranded to Saavedra Photography
she takes photographs of celebrations of love and life
Based in NYC | Open for select photography commissions on Sundays only

October 2, 2012 - 4:50 pm

Marlana Love the post!I agree and am going to have an unplugged wedding ceremony. I just hope that people will follow it. And when you marked ATTN to Asians- I actually laughed because I was thinking it before you said it. It’s so true! I’ve actually had a few headbutts when I told my guests that they weren’t allowed to take photos during the ceremony.

October 5, 2012 - 5:54 pm

Nikki Thank you for this post! I completely agree with you and am going to try to get my wedding clients to do the same!

October 19, 2012 - 6:46 pm

Kristin Chalmers Brava! Thank you so much. I have been meaning to write about this one but never seem to find the time these days. But you nailed it all on the head. Thanks Shang!

December 19, 2012 - 11:59 am

Nattapong Prompunya Thank you so much to sharing. I’m Photographer in THailand.

I wanna share your post on my facebook to my customer seeing it. THank you

January 31, 2013 - 2:47 am

Am Hansen Great post! I loved that you suggested this at my wedding!! Malik and I had our Officiant reiterate the message, and we ended up with gorgeous photos without guest’s cameras ruining things.

August 13, 2013 - 4:56 pm

Brittany Greene Hi Shang, I was in complete agreement with your unplugged post, so I’m wondering if you have thoughts on http://jezebel.com/ill-instagram-your-wedding-these-shoes-hurt-and-i-des-1118064122.

June 26, 2014 - 12:51 pm

Ruth Stenson I have to thank you Shang for this exceptional blog post. Your prose was professional and “spot on”. I have shared this several times now and the response from my Brides has been remarkable. You have chosen to write about the Bride and Groom’s standpoint and the emotional response for their portfolio….totally agree as their wedding day is most importantly all about them! This is an educational process that needs to be thought about before their wedding day and we as photographs should help to educate so the B&G are happy about their plugged or unplugged decision. Thanks again!

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