Guests take photos using mobile phones and tablets as bride walks down the aisle with her father in this not unplugged wedding.

Pulling The Plug on Unplugged Weddings

Unplugged Weddings: Like Beating a Dead Horse

Unplugged weddings have been written about by wedding bloggers and photographers alike to the point of nausea. In fact, the idea predates my work as a wedding photographer by a couple of years. So at this point, little of anything new remains to be contributed. This article won’t be about offering a new spin on the idea or rehashing old threads; instead, I would like to make a plea to abandon the concept altogether: the unplugged wedding is a fad that has lived well past its prime, and it’s time for retirement. Furthermore, I’ll use the topic as a springboard to stir the pot about the problem of disconnected wedding guests. I’d like to raise the point because it’s a topic seldom acknowledged. But first, let’s have a primer on unplugged weddings for the uninitiated. (Feel free to skip this section if you’re caught up.)

An Introduction to Unplugged Weddings

What Is an Unplugged Wedding?

During an unplugged wedding, guests are asked to turn off all electronic devices (phones, tablets, cameras, etc.) to prevent them from taking photos, shooting videos, or being distracted from the proceedings. Most unplugged weddings are limited to the wedding ceremony, although some may extend this rule to the entire day.

Why Do Couples Have Unplugged Weddings?

There are two primary reasons couples have unplugged weddings:

  1. To help the professional wedding photographers (and videographers)
  2. To reduce guest disengagement

Unplugged Weddings Help Wedding Photographers

Wedding photographers are the driving force behind the push for unplugged weddings. With the proliferation of increasingly capable camera phones and the popularity of sharing everything as it happens, guests frequently behave obliviously.

Obstructions. The most common manifestation is the guest who leans (or walks!) out into the aisle to capture photos of the bride or groom. Such intrepid attempts can interfere with and compromise the professional wedding photographer’s work by obscuring their view of the couple. Frequently, this happens at the most inopportune times. Furthermore, it can spur other guests to act in a similar fashion because the social pressure against being the first to misbehave no longer constrains them.

Camera flash. Most amateur photographers have a total inability to manipulate their camera’s flash. Specifically, they seem particularly ignorant of its potential to be turned off. An unfortunately timed flash by a guest can overexpose and ruin what would otherwise have been a beautiful wedding photo by your professional wedding photographer. Fortunately, given the brevity of both a guest’s flash discharge and your wedding photographer’s exposure time for each frame, the likelihood of them coinciding and ruining a crucial moment is relatively small. I find that the LED lights found on camera phones are a bigger nuisance. While they don’t have the light output to ruin a photo completely, their extended duration means that they are more likely to show up in your wedding photographer’s work where they’ll disrupt colour balance and cast faint shadows.

Unplugged Weddings Help Reduce Guest Disengagement

Couples want all of their guests to be present and engaged with the ceremony of their union. They may feel that guests who experience their wedding ceremony through a viewfinder or cellphone’s screen aren’t fully sharing in the experience. Moreover, mobile phones are a particularly potent source of distraction. A vibration or the steady pulse of a notification light arouses a strong urge to see what’s new, and it can cascade into unhindered browsing, messaging, and Instagramming from there. Removing such distractions increases their focus on the moment.

How Do You Tell Guests About Your Unplugged Wedding? When Should They Be Informed? Should It Be in the Invitation?

While doing research for this article, I discovered that many people are really anxious about the prospect of informing their guests about the unplugged nature of their wedding. They worry that it will be misinterpreted or step on people’s toes, so they want to know the politest, gentlest, and most positive way of stating it.

It’s all much ado about nothing. There is no reason to warn guests about your unplugged wedding intentions in the invitations because nobody will remember the request when it matters. Instead, have the person officiating the wedding advise guests of your desires right before the commencement of the ceremony.

But wait! Before you make such a request, allow me to persuade you that unplugged weddings are unnecessary overreactions to a problem with a simpler solution.

Unplugged Weddings Are Disproportionate Reactions

Unplugged weddings are like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Just what it looks like.

Proponents of unplugged weddings will argue something like this: hiring good wedding photographers and videographers is not cheap, and therefore you should protect your investment by discouraging all guests from taking photos. Such an irrational approach pre-emptively punishes all of your guests for the lapses in judgement of strangers at other weddings. It seems incredibly unfair to stop a guest from the pleasure of snapping a few photos because you saw a video on the internet of some person somewhere being inconsiderate while doing the same thing.

Unplugged weddings are a perfect example of the reputation of a few bad apples ruining a good experience for everyone. Please, don’t punish your guests for transgressions they haven’t committed (and likely won’t). This isn’t the Department of PreCrime; it’s a wedding. However, if you are legitimately worried about your investment in wedding photography being ruined or devalued by stray flashes and wandering guests, simple have the wedding officiant make an announcement similar to the one described in the previous section, except hold back the language a bit. Have them advise your guests that you’ve hired a professional wedding photographer and that you’ll be sharing those images with everyone in a timely manner. Then, let them know that they’re welcome to take personal photos as long as they don’t interfere or block your wedding photographer by stepping or leaning into the aisle or by using their camera flash (which should be off).

Guest Engagement vs. Disengagement

The standard advice for couples is that unplugged weddings mean that guests will stop taking photos, put down their phones, and become fully absorbed in the ceremony. This idea is outwardly effective—you’ll have guests that aren’t visibly distracted and may appear attentive—but it’s a superficial solution at best. Removing their most obvious distraction will shift their attention but won’t address the root of the problem. The cause of disengaged guests is that they’re not really interested—you may have invited the wrong people.

Story time

Several years ago, I was a guest at my childhood friend’s wedding. We’ve been friends since the age of eight and know each other quite well. The guest list was on the larger side when compared to other weddings I’ve attended; and based on the average age of the celebrants, I would guess most of them were friends of the parents. After the dinner had concluded, the couple stood up for the final speech of the evening. My friend briefly thanked several people and surrendered the floor to his wife for the remainder of the speech because she has much finer elocution. Unfortunately, I missed a significant portion of what she said because there was a large group of guests talking behind me. They were so loud that it felt like they were competing with the bride for volume. It became both obvious and rude to such an extent that the mother of the bride, who was visibly livid, turned around and curtly told them to shut up. Thankfully, they did.

Guests take photos of the bride and groom walking down the aisle in this not unplugged wedding.
A lovely photo of the bride and groom walking down the aisle. Guests politely take photos without interfering with my work. Everyone is happy.

Unplugged Weddings Don’t Solve The Problem of Disengaged Guests.

The rowdy guests at my friend’s wedding and guests who are easily distracted by technology during ceremonies are both presentations of the same thing, disengaged guests. Guests may be detached for a variety of reasons, but a very common link is that they don’t know the couple well or have lost close touch long ago. Common culprits of the former are business associates, coworkers, and friends of the parents. Typical examples of the latter are old classmates, former colleagues, and even some acquaintances. The common link is that the couple doesn’t know them that well, and if they ever did, that relationship has since significantly waned. In either case, it’s fair to ask: should any of these people attend your wedding?

The Solution: Plugged-In Weddings

Forget about unplugged weddings and have a plugged-in wedding instead. A plugged-in wedding is one where the guest list is limited to people who have a stake in your life and relationship and are up to date with you. These are individuals who want to attend because they care about you, not because it’s another party at which they can make an appearance, raid the open bar, and schmooze. Guests at plugged-in weddings won’t require a special announcement to put away their electronics because they’re innately interested in experiencing the moment. And they won’t talk over you because they’ll be interested in what you have to say.


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