Plugged vs. Unplugged Weddings (and How Photographers Manage Both)

by Lindsay Comstock and Libby Peterson

October 09, 2013

Considering how many people have smartphones, tablets and other devices these days, the tendency for wedding guests to take and share photos on social media platforms is almost inevitable. But where do professional wedding photographers, as well as the clients who hire them, stand on this growing trend?


Photo © Corey Ann Photography

Power Down
Some clients are choosing to unplug their weddings. This year, weddings have featured notes in invitations, signs at the door and reminders in programs instructing guests to put down their phones, tablets and cameras so as to simply be present at the wedding—and let the photographers do the work.

Abby Liga, a Florida-based photographer who has been shooting weddings for eight years as Liga Photography, recently photographed a wedding in Bermuda with a savvy bride who wanted everyone to be shut off during the ceremony. “I thought it was really cool,” says Liga. “You want to make it about the experience.” The bride didn’t, however, discourage her guests from photographing throughout the four-day event when it didn’t involve the ceremony; instead, she designated a hashtag for anyone snapping images throughout the festivities to be posted to Instagram as “latergrams.”

“There is a certain something unexplainable that occurs when everyone present is powered down and tuned in to the couple’s big day,” says Mary Marantz of Justin and Mary Photography. At a recent unplugged wedding, Marantz was shooting the couple’s first dance when she suddenly got “this feeling that something was different.” “When I looked around, I saw that no one had their phones or cameras out and there was this electricity in the air,” she says. “People were crying and able to just be there. I read something once that people go to weddings to pour out their hope into the couple, and I think we’ve kind of lost a bit of that. Unplugged is starting to bring that back.”


Photo © Tiffany Tcheng

Snap at Your Own Risk
But what about those who don’t specify to unplug? Many photographers agree that guests’ desire to capture the big day for themselves is warranted. Marantz says that you can’t dissuade a grandmother from taking photos at her grandchild’s wedding. “We fell in love with photography, so we can’t say that other people don’t have that right, too,” she says.

However, plugged-in weddings mean guests will have devices out, which also affect what kind of photos the photographer can get. “If I see people with DSLR cameras, I keep my eye on them,” says Corey Balazowich of Corey Ann Photography. “So far people are usually well-behaved, but there’s always that one person who stands in the middle of the aisle.” The wedding photographer horror stories are ever-present. Shooting a dimly-lit wedding in a little church in Buffalo, Tiffany Tcheng of Tiff Photography turned around one moment only to be confronted by a guest’s enormous DSLR lens and flash mount.

But Marantz, who’s been shooting weddings since 2006, says in the past couple of years, the tablet craze is especially problematic. “People have become more aggressive,” Marantz says. “Everybody wants to put something up on Facebook. We live in an ‘I was here’ culture.”

The Perils of Sharing
Liga says that people are so wrapped up in the act of recording, “they are becoming desensitized to a sacred thing happening right in front of them.” “[Couples] don’t want it to feel like [their guests] are one big group of paparazzi,” she says. “At the same time the bride is walking down the aisle, Facebook is blowing up with an unflattering angle of her. It’s almost too instant.”

Plus, guests may not realize that when they share their photos with the bride, for example, that she may not have seen the professional’s photos yet—or worse, that the groom hasn’t seen the bride yet. After six years in the industry, Balazowich learned to tell bridesmaids not to post photos until the bride has walked down the aisle. She says one groom saw photos of his bride on his smartphone while waiting before the ceremony started.

On her end, Balazowich battles the preemptive sharing game by editing her photos as quickly as possible and putting up a preview photo on Facebook on the night of the wedding. Liga says she thinks this trend is going to be a constant challenge for photographers to navigate. “I like to surprise my clients by uploading five sneak peaks [to Facebook],” says Liga, “but when it’s muddled with a lot of iPhone photos, I think the impact and excitement is not as intense.” She says the element of anticipation that came with the unveiling of professional images no longer exists in the same way.

Marantz says that amateur photo sharing before her images are revealed isn’t always a bad deal for a photo studio. “We don’t worry about it because everybody can see what the wedding actually looked like from the guest perspective and then people can see what we as professionals did with it,” she says.


An aggregation of photos created by a single designated hashtag at a wedding photographed by Abby Liga.

What’s the Solution?
If couples don’t have a plan for potential photo interference, there are fixes. Tcheng, for instance, says if a guest’s flash gets in the way of her shot, she’ll convert the image to black and white. Otherwise, she says, it’s better to work with guests, instead of against: “I usually give people time to take pictures and then say, “Okay, now it’s my turn,’ because this is what I was hired to do,” Tcheng says. “But I try to embrace when people are taking pictures because that’s part of the day, too.”

Liga says she thinks there can be a happy medium at weddings, by couples designating appropriate times for their guests to record the event. One creative alternative for accommodating guests is for couples to have a cell phone and iPad “coat check.”

For those clients interested in having all their guests’ images in one aggregated area online, Liga says she touches base with the couple ahead of time to make sure they have made an official wedding hashtag. Liga also hashtags her own snaps, contributing to the couple’s instant diary of the day on her social media accounts.

A wedding’s magical moments can be nice when captured from multiple perspectives. “It can be cool to see how the whole day unfolds,” Tcheng adds. People who can’t make it to the big day can then join in on the fun, too.

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