Nothing dates your professional wedding photography more than the latest iPhones lining the aisle at your ceremony. And my heart kind of breaks when I have to compromise an epic angle to document the moment because someone steps into my frame. Or worse, miss it all together because someone blocks me at the last minute or it just never actually happens. The number of times I’ve seen parents or grandparents mentally absent behind their phones throughout an entire ceremony, is a tragedy in itself.

But saying that, I’m actually all for guests taking pictures at weddings – when it’s done respectfully. There are countless blog posts, articles and videos all showing the extremes guests go to on a wedding day, and how that can negatively impact your professional photographs. So, how do you achieve the perfect balance? One that lets guests take their own little souvenir and memory to share in celebration of your special day, but without ruining the emotion and photographs of your wedding?

The key is to encourage your guests to unplug during key moments.

What does an unplugged wedding mean?

An unplugged wedding means that guests are requested to unplug from technology.

Not many people think about this, but the thing about a camera is that it sucks you out of the moment. So while you’d love a photograph of your mum wiping a tear as she watches you come down the aisle, she might be too distracted taking a picture on her phone – and in some cases she might even block your groom’s view as you come down the aisle!

So an unplugged wedding is about being mentally and emotionally present, and being respectful of everyone’s view.

Having an unplugged wedding can be really strict in which all devices are physically confiscated or it can be as simple as a sign or the officiant making an announcement. What you decide is completely up to you. This is your wedding after all. This post is simply to help you make an informed decision about what you want to do – even if that’s to encourage guests to take loads of pictures, you’ll do so knowing the trade-offs and cons in advance. Because at the end of the day, your wedding is just one day. I don’t want you to have regrets, or think to yourself: I’d wished I’d known then what I know now.

When don’t you want guests taking pictures during your wedding?

As a photographer, I’ve noticed a stark difference between weddings where lots of guests were on their phones and those in which they were used more sparingly.

If you want timeless pictures and photographs filled with a whole lot of laughter and joy, it’s best to encourage people to put down their phones during these key moments: the ceremony, confetti toss, group and couple portraits, and the first dance.

While there are loads of sign ideas out there on how to do this tastefully, my advice is to have your officiant make an announcement and to show your family and close friends your photographer’s portfolio prior to the wedding. Explain you’ll share the link to the gallery (where guests can even pre-register if you want and upload the pictures they took). By letting them know about your photographer and the online gallery, your nearest and dearest will trust the photographer to get the shots they’ll want. Explain that you want them to be fully present on the day and want pictures of them celebrating the moments with you. Because at the end of the day, a couple of people using their cameras during the ceremony isn’t the end of the world, but if that device is being held by your dad, it’s kind of a different story.

Having an unplugged ceremony

Ceremony at St Luke's Church | wedding photographer in Guildford

During the ceremony, a photographer has the most limitations and cannot ask for the bride to walk back down the aisle or redo the first kiss. It’s also the most emotional if guests and family don’t use their phones. Have a sign like this couple did and have your officiant say that photographs can only be taken in that moment immediately after the marriage certificate is signed and encourage them to be present during important moments throughout the day. Guests almost always take the officiant seriously, especially if the officiant highlights this is important to the couple.

While a guest taking a picture from their seat isn’t really an issue, hanging their cameras out into the aisle or high above their heads can often block the professional photographer and also other guests. Encourage people to be extremely mindful, and to avoid taking pictures during key moments like the processional, kiss and recessional.

Having guests put away phones for the confetti toss

Confetti tosses sans technology is ideal for two reasons. Firstly, guests with their phones in hand don’t throw anything so the amount of confetti is underwhelming, and honestly, everyone just looks so serious behind their phones. The pictures can also look pretty awkward if there are loads of people on their phones.

Secondly, guests are taken out of the moment and some even step out in front of or behind the couple – so same risks as with the ceremony processional, kiss, and recessional. I once had a guest follow behind a couple with their camera above their head. I’m not sure what the guest got, but most of mine never got delivered to the couple. Below are the two shots I kept, when I usually have well over a dozen. I had to shift perspective so that bride was blocking him as best I could.

Baddow Park glitter confetti tunnel | Essex wedding photographer

An unplugged ceremony usually sets the tone for guests to keep their phones out of sight during the confetti toss. So don’t worry too much about this, especially if you’ve told your bridal party and family you want people present as they can help “police” the situation so to speak if they see loads of phones at the ready. I also try and group family and the bridal party near each other so that we can hopefully get a lovely photo with those most important to you smiling in the background.

Having privacy during portraits

While I encourage couples do what they want in regards to guest photography on the day, there is one time I will tell guests to put their cameras away and go enjoy a drink if it gets out of hand. That’s during the group and couple photographs. I do this because it drags things out and effects the quality of what I deliver because the people in the picture are looking all over the place. My approach to group and couple portraits also has me invoking candid moments and reactions, and that just doesn’t happen with a bunch of people taken pictures. So I work with my couples beforehand to make a group shot list and once guests are no longer needed, they are encouraged to go enjoy themselves.

Encouraging important guests to unplug for the first dance

Lastly, the first dance is a good one to encourage your parents and immediate family and friends to stay off their phones so I can capture their emotions.

Occasionally I get guests that encroach on to the dance floor and become a distraction, but most are mindful and respectful. So don’t worry too much about this.

First dance at Pelham House near Lewes Castle | Brighton Photographer

How to have an unplugged wedding

So in summary, if you want your nearest and dearest to be present on your wedding day, there are 4 things you should do:

  1. Let people know you want them to be present. Tell your bridal party and immediate family that you don’t want them taking pictures of you during key moments. Show them your photographer’s portfolio and tell them you will share the gallery after the wedding and that they will have access to the images. My galleries have the option for couples to hide pictures they might not want to share for one reason or other, as well as the option for guests to pre-register and add their own pictures to the gallery. Get in touch if you’re interested in the latter as I can get this set up for a small additional fee.
  2. Secondly, inform your guests. Have a sign at your wedding and maybe include something on your invites and/or wedding website.
  3. Before the ceremony, have your officiant make an announcement. People respect and will listen to this person. Grant guests permission to take photographs right after you sign your wedding certificate, but have the officiant say that they should keep their phones out of sight and enjoy not only the ceremony, but the rest of the wedding day.
  4. Create a wedding day hashtag so that guests are encouraged to share their pictures with each other. As mentioned earlier, my online galleries also lets people upload pictures so you have an effective place to share your guests’ pictures with everyone. Having this, or another solution in place, will help encourage the people closest to stay off their phones during things like the first dance.