What is an unplugged ceremony?

Why you should have an unplugged ceremony….

As told by a frustrated photographer


You spend countless hours planning the perfect day, picking the perfect dress, and drafting the perfect guest list for you and your future husband. Whether you are on a budget or not, you paid a good chunk of change for a photographer to capture all the critical moments. How frustrating would it be to have someone standing between you and the photographer right as you are taking your first kiss as a married couple at the altar!

There would be nothing more frustrating both for the photographer and for the bride and groom to not get the results you were expecting, not because of the photographer, but because Aunt Jamima wanted a photo of her own on her disposable camera.

If you have never heard of an “unplugged” wedding, I am here to help. This is not for everyone, but those who choose to do it, are never disappointed.

What is unplugged?

An “unplugged wedding” is when the couple getting married have made a decision that they would prefer if their wedding guests didn’t take photos and/or upload them to social media.

There are many variations on this, from having an unplugged ceremony only, when guests are encouraged to put their phones and cameras away until after the marriage certificate has been signed, to a strict ‘no photo policy’ for the entire wedding celebration, to a complete ‘social media blackout’ until the following day or when the bride or groom have a chance to announce their marriage themselves.

Regardless of the parameters, either just for the ceremony or the duration of the entire wedding, the concept is to ask all guests to refrain from using cell phones or cameras to take photos in risk of it compromising the photographer’s professional photos.


The ceremony is the reason you have gathered your closest family and friends and is arguably the most important 15 minutes of the day. The concept of unplugged is much larger than just “getting in the way of photos.”

Flash photography can impede on photos and make them impossible to edit. It washes out white dresses and can also cast unwarranted shadows in the background that your photographer is now capturing in every photo.

Don’t get me wrong, iPhones and Androids these days are very capable of taking excellent photos, but would you rather have a few perfect photos, or a dozen “decent” photos.


“There’s something so special about seeing your wedding day unfold from your guests’ perspectives, but photographers have noted that “guest photographers” often compromise your professional pictures.”

How to go about having an unplugged ceremony…

The more announcements and reminders, the better.

It starts with your invitations. Do not write this on the invitations themselves, but a nice simple insert inside the invitation is perfect. It allows guests to know right away that this is THEIR will and not just the photographers. They will be more likely to participate if they know it is a direct wish of the bride and groom.

Have the DJ announce it a few times as guests are arriving and being seated. Right before the ceremony, make one more announcement so it’s fresh in their minds!

Prior to the ceremony, the officiant can incorporate it to the beginning of the ceremony. The best I ever heard was: “Welcome, friends and family! Good evening, everyone. Please be seated. Dan and Jennifer invite you to be truly present at this special time. Please, turn off your cell phones and put down your cameras. The photographer will capture how this moment looks — I encourage you all to capture how it feels with your hearts, without the distraction of technology.”

The guests all obeyed, and even after the ceremony, many decided to keep their arms down and their hearts open and enjoyed the day, instead of being an observer from behind their cameras.

Why wouldn’t we want more people capturing images for our clients?

Great question! The problem is not the idea of people taking photos. I love that guests want to capture the moment. It shows how much they love the bride and groom. I also encourage photo sharing because they may be able to capture different angles that I can’t reach or moments that happen that I don’t see.

The problem is, however, is people tend to forget or have a lack of awareness of their body positioning or how they are getting in the way of a shot. I am flexible and can work with multitudes of variables, however, there are many circumstances where I am completely helpless with fixing a shot. Everyone’s photo is important, but the bride and groom are paying me money to perfectly capture these moments.

One thing there is absolutely nothing I can do to combat is a flash from a guest photographer’s camera. So many you aren’t standing directly in the aisle, or your face is not in the shot, but the repercussions of your photo affected mine. There is rarely anything that will save the image, and no repositioning will change the outcome.

I know times have changed in the technology world, but back when people had Nintendo DS and other large gadgets, they made the loudest noises when it took pictures. It was such a distraction. Since then, the DSes have been replaced with iPads, which are worse because it is a bigger eyesore AND makes noise!

“During a destination wedding in Cozumel, this kid’s dad yelled at my second shooter and shoved his kid up in front to make sure he got an image with his iPhone. Note: He wasn’t even a guest of the wedding, just a guest of the resort.”

Many times, the aisle is the only place for a photographer to capture the ceremony. The aisle is on average 4-5 feet wide which does not give us much room to work with. So if you casually lean over into the aisle and stick your phone out to take a photo, you are absolutely in my photo!

Not only are you physically in the photo, sometimes so badly it is beyond cropping, the camera many times will autofocus and change to your arm or the phone in the aisle. So if it is in a critical moment, like their FIRST KISS, I am in perfect placement and someone sticks their hand out, and my camera automatically shifts to that. I snap the photo and have milliseconds to do so, and realize I wasn’t able to capture it because someone wanted to Snapchat it. Nothing more frustrating!

Not to mention, the focus of all the guests goes to the back of all the phones and cameras and no longer is anyone focused intently on the bride and groom.

There’s more…

Not only am I generally under a time crunch, but the flashes ruin at least one or two shots from each batch I take. In addition, eyes also tend to wander, and rarely do I get everyone looking at me at the same time when there are multiple cameras present.

This is the only time that I will sometimes step in and tell guests myself that they have to stop taking pictures. They get upset, but my priority the day of the wedding is on my clients. I care about the quality of the portraits.

The reception generally is a time when other guest’s photos, don’t impact me as much. I can improvise with dance moves and go with the flow. However, I can’t move around the cake cutting or special dances.

Not only are flashes hard to work with, but that red or green glare that comes from camera’s focusing, right before the photo is taken! It leaves a green or red shadow that is very hard to erase with editing. I end up turning these photos into black and white because it is the least obvious in these types of pictures.

How do I make it pleasurable for everyone?

Your ceremony is the perfect time to ask guests to put their phones away and enjoy the moment. You can then make it clear, by arranging for your priest/celebrant/officiant/MC to make an announcement at the beginning and end of the ceremony.

Let your guests know ahead of time via your invitations. My advice would be to create an insert so you don’t have to write it directly on the invitation and compromise the beauty of it. Use an insert in the envelope or add the notification to your wedding website if applicable. It helps to let guests know ahead of time so that way they know it is a personal request from you rather than a photographer pet peeve. They will be much more inclined to listen!

The insert can read something simple like: “We invite you to be truly present at our ceremony, and respectfully request that all cameras and phones be turned off. We look forward to sharing our professional photos with you after the big day.”

Have a sharing plan in place and let your guests know about it. Talk with your photographer about sharing a ‘sneak peak’ of a handful of photos a few days after the wedding on social media so they can relive the day with you.


Give guests alternative photos to take home instead. A photo booth is a great option because it gives guests a tangible photo to have from the event that captured some of their most fun memories. Create a small “photo” station with polaroid cameras where guests can take photos of their own, within the confinements of an area where they will not distract from the festivities going on.


If you are more comfortable, you can always limit the ‘unplugged part’ of your wedding. You don’t have to have an entirely unplugged wedding from start to finish. When the dance floor opens, you can welcome everyone to capture their own moments.


You can always nominate a diplomatic friend or your coordinator to encourage other guests to put their phone/camera away and have signage or a program to back them up. There are many options on Pintrest and Etsy for signage for things like this!

No matter your efforts, there is still a small chance that people will still try and take their own photos. However, with the right measures and precautionary measures they will do their best to hide it if they choose to sneak a photo or two, and that helps!


Encourage everyone to be present!

It’s sad to watch the progression from seeing smiling, encouraging and happy faces as the bride is escorted down the aisle to faces hidden behind the backs of cameras and cell phones that line the aisle. Without the distraction of their phone and/or camera, your guests will be free to immerse themselves in the experience that you’ve spent months planning. They will be more likely to listen to and remember the details of your ceremony later, engage and react to your heart-felt speeches and cheer you on for your first dance rather than experience it through a viewfinder or small screen.

And, without constantly checking their phone, your family and friends will be much more open to interacting with other guests that they may not have met before.

Social media

**If you are a guest at the wedding, please make sure to withhold posting pictures of the bride and groom online until after the ceremony out of respect for them! First looks get interrupted and ruined before the wedding because a bridesmaid or groomsman uploaded pictures to social media before the wedding and a bride or groom, killing time by browsing Facebook, saw their future intended before the ceremony. Even though you are just as excited to share this day, please don’t do it!!!!! Also, make sure with the couple that it is OK to share the images on social media even after the day because sometimes people prefer to keep things quiet due to varying factors, and you don’t want to cause undue stress.

At the end of the day, the bride and groom have paid the photographer their hard earned money to document their wedding in ways that your guests can’t, or else they wouldn’t have hired a photographer at all. It is very frustrating when guests take personal priority and have no respect for the couple and the photographer. Even though it is with good intentions, guests can inadvertently become a distraction with their phones and cameras and while they may not physically be in the shot, the repercussions of their photos can still affect the photographers photo.

If you are contemplating having an unplugged wedding, I would highly encourage you. I know your photographer will thank you and I know that you will not regret it when you get your photos back after your big day! At the very least, I would encourage you to have an unplugged ceremony.


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