Unplugged weddings and the professional wedding photographer

Thomas Stewart, an Australian wedding photographer, caused a stir in the wedding industry and beyond when his rant about guests at weddings and their cameras, phones and iPads went viral.

It is an issue all modern wedding photographers have to face. Here is a recent photograph from one of my weddings.

Wedding guests taking photographs at a recent wedding

If you haven’t already read it, here is Thomas’ full rant.

Right, I’ve had enough. I want to talk to you all about guests using mobile phones / cameras at weddings. I want to plead with you, and I’m going to make this very simple: brides and grooms, please have a completely unplugged wedding ceremony.

Look at this photo. This groom had to lean out past the aisle just to see his bride approaching. Why? Because guests with their phones were in the aisle and in his way.

This sucks. And i’m not blaming these guests in particular; I actually take a large amount of responsibility for this occurring. In the past I should have been more specific with my clients in explaining to them why guests should be told no photos. Well, from now on, I’m going to make a pretty big deal about it.

If you’re planning a wedding, please consider these points:

1. Guests with phones, iPads and cameras get right in your photographer’s way. They have no idea how to stay out of our way. They often ruin many of our shots. They will make our photos worse. You’re paying a photographer quite a bit of money; that means you want great photos. We cannot do our best work with people getting in our way.

2. These same guests will get in YOUR way. You will miss moments of your own wedding day because there’ll be an iPad in the way. You will miss seeing your partner’s face in the aisle.

3. The guests’ photos are usually crap. I’m sorry, but it is true. You can’t take great photos with your camera phone by leaning into the aisle of a dark church to photograph a moving subject. Hell, even lots of professionals have trouble with this.

And finally, the most important point:

4. Imagine you’re in the middle of your wedding ceremony. You’re elated. You decide to take a quick glance towards your guests as you’re sure they’re sharing these happy moments with you, possibly even shedding a tear of their own. What do you see? NO FACES AT ALL AS THEY ARE ALL HIDDEN BEHIND PHONES AND CAMERAS! I highly doubt this is the way you want to remember your wedding ceremony.

In your invites, tell everyone you’re having an unplugged ceremony: no technology, please, Write it on a chalkboard which guests can see as they arrive on the day. Tell your celebrant / minister / priest to tell the guests at the start of the ceremony. HIRE A PLANE TO WRITE IT IN THE SKY!

And guests, you’ve been invited to this wedding to share and celebrate the love that two people feel for each other. They didn’t invite you along to take photographs that they probably won’t really look at anyway. They want you there with them in heart and soul, and they want to see your tear-filled eyes as you form part of their wedding ceremony. You are witnesses to their marriage, so for goodness sake, watch them with your eyes and your minds, not your phones.

So guests please, for my sake, and for sake of the two people getting married, leave your cameras at home and put your phones / iPads away.
— Thomas Stewart, Australian Wedding Photographer

You can see the photo he mentions on his Facebook page here.

Unplugged weddings

While I don’t agree with everything Thomas writes about, I do think it does raise some points which are worth discussing.

My own opinion is that the requirements of the couple are paramount and everyone else should respect that; the guests and the wedding photographer.

If you are planning your own wedding, think about what YOU want and let everyone know. If you are happy with your family and friends to take photos and share them on social media, and you are happy to have some of your photos include them taking the photographs, by all means go for it! Your wedding photographer should be professional enough to work around it.

It is NOT up to the wedding photographer to dictate the day.

There are a number of ways to ensure you get good photographs as the wedding photographer despite the guests trying to take their own photographs.

  • Put a wide-ish angle prime on your camera and get in close to the couple, in front of all the guests.
  • Don’t go for the obvious, cliched shot. Move to a different part of the room and get something unique and more creative.
  • Build up a relationship with the guests and ask them to move out of the way if you really need the shot.
  • Understand that the day is not all about you - it is the couples’ big day. If they are happy not have an unplugged wedding, don’t worry about it at all. You are capturing the day as it happened.
  • Don’t be threatened by the iPhone photos going up on Facebook. Most of them will be rubbish anyway. Your photos should be much better.

However, if you as a couple don’t want guests in shot with their iPads, then tell everyone that you want an unplugged wedding ceremony. Tell them to leave their phones in their pocket and experience the day as it unfolds. Trust that the professional wedding photographer will get the important moments that you will treasure for years to come.

At the end of the day the best advice I can give to couples is think about what YOU want from the day in advance, what sort of photographs you want, and then let your guests and photographer know accordingly.

I’d love to hear some other opinions on this. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.