When a couple books me for their wedding day, I like to send them a bunch of helpful tips distilled in a softcover magazine form, detailing things like when it’s best to schedule an engagement session and what sorts of family groupings I recommend for formal shots. Among my suggestions is also one of my favorites: consider an unplugged ceremony.
An unplugged ceremony is pretty much how it sounds: asking your guests just prior to the ceremony to unplug from social media, put their phones and cameras away, and actually be present in the moment while you and your beloved are pledging a lifetime of love and commitment. There are plenty of reasons why I think unplugged ceremonies are great, but the point of this post is not about why. It’s how.
See, a few weeks ago I was in Houston to see my sister dance at a student choreography showcase. Since it was a student performance, my sister told me that I might be able to take some photos (without flash), so I brought one camera and one lens just in case. Before the show even started, I was fiddling with my settings when someone stopped right next to me and said, “No pictures.”
“None?” I asked, thinking that I really wanted one juicy shot of my sister in the middle of a cool tumble or turn.
“Not allowed,” she said again, and I put the camera away. I’ve been in enough situations where, if the people running the show say no, I say, “Yes, ma’am.” And then I keep my word.
But the thing that ate away at me during the performance wasn’t that I was not getting the good shots, it was that I didn’t know if anyone else was. And that’s where the how comes in. How do you convince your guests that you really want them to put down their phones, cameras, and iPads, and just watch your ceremony?
1. Let your guests know that you trust your photographer.
You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it: someone had a friend whose cousin hired a professional photographer for her wedding and that photographer messed up royally. They missed the kiss, they lost the files, they disappeared with the couple’s money never to be seen again, and so on. And I truly believe that your guests are looking out for you because they don’t know who I am or what I can do, and they’re counting on their shot to be the backup, in case I am eaten by a kaiju on the way home from the wedding.
And if that is the case, I think the best way to comfort your guests is by letting them know ahead of time that you really do trust me — that we’ve met, that I’ve shot your engagement session, that we’re in touch on Twitter, that I’m a real person with real ties to Austin (so I won’t be leaving anytime soon) and with a firm determination to keep getting 5-star reviews from folks.
I’m being paid to photograph this; I know you’re putting this trust in my hands; I’m going to try my best to make the best photos I can. So please, let your guests know, and maybe they can relax and enjoy themselves!
2. Tell your guests that you’ll share your photo gallery with them.
After a moment or two of searching at the performance, I glimpsed a person with a camcorder on a tripod focus on the performing area. I dimly remembered that my sister told me there was someone hired to videotape the performers, so I enjoyed the show. But then I wondered who the videographer was, and if I’d ever see a recording of the performance, ever.
I bet that’s how some of your guests might feel. They don’t think they’ll ever see that great photo of you surrounded by family, smiling, all in a row. They believe that these photos will be given to you and only you, and they really want a copy of a photo with three generations of your family in it.
Most of the time I don’t mind family members shooting over my shoulder during the formal photos, but sometimes I’m just one in a swarm of photographers, and I end up with people glancing around all over the place in the picture. It really bothers me when everybody except one person is focused on me, and their gaze is off in the corner. I also try to make family formals as quick and painless as possible because everyone is usually a bit hungry or ready for refreshment, but if one person has to take their own version of the photo, multiply that by 10, and suddenly your formals are taking a lot longer than we budgeted. Assure your guests ahead of time that you will happily share your photos with them. They will be able to print their own versions via the gallery, or you can give them the high-resolution file.
3. Gently remind your wishes to your guests
People do need a bit of repetition for things to “stick.” If you are determined to have an unplugged wedding, set the expectations ahead of time. Perhaps make a note on your wedding website that you will have a wedding hashtag, but that you’re excited to see only dancing photos? A blurb in your programs or a sign near the entrance of the ceremony site could be useful. And of course, having your officiant say a few words before the ceremony as a final reminder to guests will drastically cut the number of cameras down.
I do not want to be a photography bully! But I am trying to do the best job that I can, and that means sometimes circumventing folks who are taking up too much time, space, energy, focus from the rest of the group.
Have questions? Suggestions? Please leave a comment!