It seems like every wedding photographer has an opinion on the topic of unplugged weddings and I'm no different in that regard - but my thoughts about them may not be what you'd assume. I'm going through the process of planning with a few brides and grooms right now and this is an issue that often pops up, so I figured it might be useful to share some of my thoughts. There are a plethora of articles written about the perils of not having an unplugged wedding, just do a quick Google search and you'll see what I mean. Some are hugely click-baity, some are bordering on a tone of panic. I'd like to offer a different perspective. Grab a cuppa and a biscuit and settle in for a bit of a read (have you got any Tim Tams?)
Do what you want.
I know, right. Sounds so simple and crazy it just might work! Some couples may not be able to hire a photographer to cover the entire day - a good compromise is to book a professional photographer for a set number of hours who would be responsible for (probably at a minimum) the ceremony and portraits (talk to your photographer about the possibility of them offering partial coverage for you as opposed to full-day coverage but be aware that not all photographers do this.) You can then have guests (using either smart phones or DSLRs if they have them) look after pre-ceremony, reception and general candids during the rest of the day. It's the modern version of leaving disposable cameras on the tables at your reception (just as an aside, I think you could legit call that old-school retro now and it could be a great addition to your decor and reception in general if that's the theme of your wedding!) It really depends on what you want - if you have your heart set on professional pre-ceremony shots, then make sure you're covered for that with the wedding photographer you hire, if not, then they don't need to be there for that part of your day.
With a "plugged" wedding, lots of couples set up a social media hashtag for guests to contribute to and this is a lovely way of sharing lots of different perspectives from the same day. However, if you do go down this route, you'll need to make it clear to guests when you do and don't want them to get snap-happy. If you want them to be taking photos for the whole shindig, then you don't really have much else to do but talk to your celebrant and photographer to make sure they know about your wishes and are comfortable in managing that. My thoughts though? I believe your best bet is to give them free reign apart from the ceremony and portraits. I also suggest two more things: make this known from the outset in your invitations and have someone quickly mention it before the ceremony in person to your guests. You can put up a sign (these are very popular on Pinterest) but I wouldn't rely on a sign alone. And in fact, the someone you ask to talk about it before the ceremony? I suggest it should be the bride and/or groom themselves - yes you can have the celebrant take care of this, but it's likely to mean more to your family and friends if it comes from you.
And if you'd prefer to have your guests experience this event with you and not from behind a camera or phone at all then definitely try out the suggestions above. I'm not sure it's hugely practical to aim for a completely unplugged wedding, but you can always try if that's what you want to do. BUT! Here's the thing. Don't get so caught up in the idea of having an unplugged wedding that you get extra stressed about it. Do what you can with what you have, that's my mantra. Chat with the celebrant beforehand and ask them to politely manage the situation if it arises during the ceremony and your photographer ought to be able to manage it during the portraits (we have lots of tricks up our sleeves!)
The thing is, we're all so used to grabbing our phone and taking a photo, that people really do just get caught up in it. Because they're looking from behind a camera or phone screen, they literally don't see the bigger picture and have no idea of the impact they might be having on their own and other people's ability to be present in the moment. I will say, one of the negative things about the plugged/unplugged wedding issue that's been communicated to me by brides and grooms, is that the they have less control over what gets shared from their day and when. Some couples prefer a bit more control over their social media and that can definitely go by the wayside nowadays. Some couples ask guests to not share anything until they have themselves first, which again, can be a good compromise (and should again be communicated early to guests.) Just try not to be too upset if you discover that people have already shared images before you have - again, it's that getting caught up in the moment thing. None of your friends and family would deliberately ignore your wishes, they're just excited about sharing the experience they had. Also: ask your photographer if they do a sneak peek on social media, and if so, when you can expect it to appear. (Photographers will vary widely with how they manage this; not everyone does them and those who do have different systems in place. Get in touch to ask me what I do!)
I really think the most important thing is to decide how you want to go about it and do your best to make that happen, but if it doesn't go quite to plan don't let that be the main memory from the day (I guess that can be said for anything that doesn't happen as planned on your wedding day!) Photographers and videographers and celebrants are all very used to dealing with this situation - believe me - and we all have different ways of managing it. For me, personally, I consider it part of my job and I do my best to work around it. I also try to keep in mind that guests with a camera, phone or iPad in their hands may well be documenting the day for a loved one who can't be there (this happens a lot for couples with elderly family members and your wedding photographer should be able to manage, within reason, and work around this.)
If you have thoughts and experiences about the old chestnut of unplugged weddings, feel free to share them in the comments below, I'd love to hear what you think about it!
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