Guest Photographers or: Why You Should Have an Unplugged Wedding

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Last year one of my friends got married and I was so thrilled to be her photographer that day. What was even more amazing was that she had an “Unplugged Wedding” after seeing pictures and hearing my rants over the years about well-meaning guests whom have inadvertently (or heck, even completely on purpose) ruined images.

Prior to the ceremony, the officiant read this, “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. If Dan can do it, then so can you.”

I can’t tell you how many happy leaps of joy my heart did when reading this! 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.

Recently “Guest Photographers” came up in one of the photography groups I am apart of online and someone asked what the big deal is — why wouldn’t we want more people capturing images for our clients? I thought this was a great question!

I don’t have a single problem with guests taking images and sharing them later on with the couple. It makes me happy to know there will be other pictures and photos of moments I may have missed or alternate angles that I couldn’t cover.

I also completely understand that some have a love for capturing images and enjoy taking pictures at weddings they are guests at.

However, my heart breaks when a guest ruins an otherwise lovely image or jumps in front of me when I’m capturing a key moment from the day. It completely slays me when this happens because while I am not remotely egotistical at all, I am fairly confident that my image would have been better than the one they captured.

In the past 6 years of being a professional wedding photographer, it’s also been sad to watch the progression from seeing smiling, encouraging and happy faces as the bride is escorted up the aisle to faces hidden behind the backs of cameras and cell phones that line the aisle.

These are all reasons why I am elated when I hear of couples opting for an Unplugged Wedding – or at the very least an Unplugged Ceremony.

I also want to add this: if you are a guest at the wedding, please make sure to withhold posting pictures of the Bride & Groom online until AFTER the ceremony.

I can’t tell you how many “first looks” have inadvertently happened online before the wedding because a bridesmaid or groomsman have uploaded pictures to social media before the wedding and a Bride and/or Groom who were killing time by browsing Facebook saw their future intended before the ceremony. Don’t do it!

Also make sure with the couple that it is OK to share the images on social media, sometimes people prefer to keep things quiet due to varying factors and you don’t want to cause undue stress.

One thing there is absolutely NOTHING I can do to combat is a flash from a guest photographer’s camera. There is rarely anything that will save the image and no repositioning will change the outcome.

This is just one of the hundreds of images of the wedding processional that I’ve had ruined from a camera flash (I also rarely, if ever, use flash for the ceremony so the light you see here is ALL from the one camera’s flash):

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This girl’s father literally shoved me aside and gave me grief because I was blocking his daughter from standing in the aisle to get an image:

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This sanctuary only had one aisle and very little room to move due to a small space being full with guests. I took this image to protect myself later in case the clients were upset that I had to stand slightly off center for a portion of their day. Also? The Nintendo DS made the LOUDEST noises when it took pictures. It was crazy.

Since this image was taken 4 years ago the DS’s have been replaced with iPad, which are a million times worse when it comes to eyesores.

This kid’s Dad yelled at my second shooter during a wedding and shoved his kid up in front to make sure he got an image with his iPhone during a destination wedding in Cozumel (Note, he wasn’t a guest of the wedding, just a guest of the resort):

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This whole situation broke my heart. In many churches, photographers are HEAVILY restricted as to where they can go for images and the Heinz Chapel is perhaps one of the strictest I’ve ever worked at:

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We are only allowed to be outside of the sanctuary in the door opening where the center aisle is and in the balcony. We are not permitted to move during the service.

My second shooter thankfully was in the balcony but it didn’t make these guests go away but luckily he was able to get images of the service where you could SEE the bride and groom.

I argued, begged and pleaded for the church lady guarding me to at least allow me to go into the side aisle so I could get a clear shot of my clients when these guests jumped into the aisle but I was not allowed. Instead I just had to take what I could get and cry a bit on the inside.

Another image of a guest who jumped in front of me during a ceremony where I could not move to get around him:

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The flashes don’t quit for the service either and with the white dress there isn’t a lot I can do to save these images:

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This almost made me cry. Not kidding:

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I had my eye on that gentleman since he was standing up on the altar with the bride and groom during the service but I was able to zoom and crop around the couple so that he wasn’t in too many of the images. Then after the pronouncement of the couple and he swiftly moved and stood RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME during the first kiss.

I jumped quickly to the side but I missed the quick kiss and luckily still was able to capture the hug after but I still am SO SAD that I missed their first kiss. I sure hope he got it…

I also felt doubly awful because I had to jump in front of guests view of the couple and during a ceremony my goal is to never block a guests view. I apologized profusely after the wedding and thankfully they all were very sweet and understanding.

While this image wasn’t completely blown out, the shadows are bothersome from a guest’s flash:

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Back to the Heinz Chapel and as you can see, the guest did not move for the majority of the ceremony. I’m still sad when I look at this image:

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It doesn’t matter what kind of camera – how big or how small – the flash is almost always too bright to work with once it is fired:

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Standing in the aisle always makes me sad because your attention immediately will go to that person and not on the subject of the image:

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I really cringe when guests try to take pictures during formals because not only am I generally under a time crunch but the flashes ruin at least one or two shots for each batch I take:

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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 tell guests that they have to stop taking pictures and I have been told off more times than not when I’ve had to do this.

However, my priority the day of the wedding is on my clients. I don’t care about the sale of the portraits but I do care about the quality of the portraits and if there is a circus going on behind me it rarely ends well for everyone involved. So, trust me when I beg and plead for you to tell people to put their cameras down and go enjoy the cocktail hour while we take some portraits with the special people in your life.

The reception generally is a time when I can quickly move if a guest decides to take pictures, but when can I not move around it? The special dances:

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Although I have to say, this little old guy does warm my heart a bit. He was pretty cute with his disposable camera even if it was a bit distracting with the winding.

Another guest deciding the first dance is a great time for that portrait of the bride and groom:

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This is another one that makes me a sad panda when I look at it. This guest came up at the last bit of the Father/Daughter dance and there was no where I could go to get her out of the picture:

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Luckily I have numerous beautiful images from the dance but the last hug is always my favorite.

Another pet peeve of guest cameras during the wedding? THE RED (OR GREEN) DOT OF DOOM! These focusing beams are quite irritating because again, there’s not a lot that I can do to get rid of it outside of turning the image black and white (which still will leave a light circle). There’s quite a few images that I’ve had to toss due to these beams, this is just one of the many:

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Bottom line: my priority the day of the wedding is on my clients. They have paid me their hard-earned money to make sure I document their wedding and when an overzealous guest gets in the way, it makes me sad.

I think often people don’t realize what they are doing and my writing this post was in hoping to educate even a few people that will take this advice and either have an unplugged wedding or think of the professional before jumping in the aisle for that shot.

About the author: Corey Ann is a wedding photographer based in North Canton, Ohio. Visit her website here. This article originally appeared here.

  • James


  • James

    I mean maybe they’ll stay in their seats then.

  • Joseph Powell

    lol. I’m sorry man! I try so hard to work with the video crew as best I can. And I usually do a good job of being where they aren’t.

  • Michaela Taylor

    Oh, you poor thing! As I read your article, I just felt so bad for you. I would love to know, did you show these ruined images to the bride and groom, and what was their response?

    I’m sure if you showed any future clients these photos, and had a stock paragraph written out that was read just before the wedding, they would be fine with that! How thoughtless. It’s not really, rude, is it (I’m sure they think they’re doing the bride and groom a favour). It’s mostly ignorance because they’ve never had the responsibility of capturing these once-I-lifetime shots and so just don’t realise how they are ruining it all.

  • Michaela Taylor

    And give a grand total of 1 guest willing to attend…

  • Vihanga Kariyawasam

    Very well put into words by the writer. This is very true and especially the guests with DSLRs try to capture the scenes of the couple hoping to get better images than the photographer highered is very sad.

  • Chive Awesomeness

    At my sister’s wedding, I was swarmed by semi-amateur photographers (everyone and their uncle… literally) was shooting with various cellphones and P&S cams.

    I got the mother of the groom to shoo everyone away so we could do some cute post-wedding shots.

    Once the swarm got happy eating food, they let me be to do my work.

  • Janna Venard Pyle

    At my wedding, during the formal shots we asked people to let the photographer get their shots first and then once they had theirs, the photographer would signal it was ok for others to take shots until the next shot was set up and then they signaled for it to stop again. It worked out pretty well. I think people just need to be polite and understand that people PAY for a photographer because they want professional shots and any snap shots are just fluff. We also asked people to not use the flash on their cameras so as not to mess up the photographer’s shots.

  • Jason Schultz

    Good points! Many churches have the “no photography” policy for this reason (and more). However, if you shoot RAW you might be able to recover the highlights when you catch someone else’s flash

  • Samantha

    I appreciate this – I’ve been educated. I know flashes are annoying, but the people standing in the aisles taking pictures would never have occurred to me, and you’re right that it’s sad how much we experience through a camera (or phone) these days. In the future I’ll either leave the camera/phone down entirely, or make sure to keep the flash off and stay out of the aisle! Thanks!

  • Leslie

    This needs to be featured in “The Knot” and other wedding magazines. I had no idea when I had my wedding that this was even an issue. I even encouraged guests to take photos and put them on a flicker page. Thanks for the insight.

  • gommer strike

    I know it looks silly, and I know it’s constantly the subject of ridicule, but you know something?

    It’s happening more and more. And invariably, the people who are using iPads to take pictures, are the people who find the iPhone screen too small or other vision-challenged reasons. Now before you say “well then go get your eyes checked and get glasses” – I’m not disagreeing in the slightest.

    I’m just saying, that what I originally saw as an embarrassing sign of the times…now elder members of my family are doing it too…sigh. Where there’s a will there’s a way(not the right phrase, but I can’t find a better one at the moment).

    Sure that picture above isn’t even that great, but it’s not the absolute worst either.

  • Ben Aubrey

    Well said. I hate foreign charity when so many people near you are in need. Half the money going overseas gets wasted due to running costs whereas local charity a much higher percentage actually goes to those in need.

  • Paula Clarke

    To be honest these guests are just rude. I take my camera to weddings and take lots of pictures, but I make sure that I am standing out of the way of the official photographer (as in if he is trying to get a shot I move behind the photographer, and I certainly don’t get up close to the bride or groom during any key moments) and don’t use a flash. I almost never use my flash anyway. Also, taking pics DURING the ceremony is, IMHO, poor taste – the official guy will catch that moment! I want to catch the moments the photographer wont (other guests, kids running around etc) get because there is only one (max 2) of them, and I also know that there is NO WAY my amateur shots will be as good as theirs… Also, putting images on FB before the wedding is over? WTF? Just no. Please don’t flame me, but please don’t tar us all with the same brush – some of us do have some respect and manners, honest!

  • Della

    I can understand the frustration the professional photographer must feel when a great shot is ruined by an excited guest trying to capture the shot – especially in this digital age. However, I do think guests can get some great impromptu shots after the ceremony – especially of other guests having a good time. Years ago (in the day of film :-) ), my niece hired a very expensive photographer for her beautiful wedding. She ended up being very thankful guests had taken pictures, because the photographers’ camera malfunctioned some how (the photographer discovered this after the event was over), and not one professional shot turned out. I’m sure this couldn’t happen today.

  • Brian Dowling

    4 camera bodies, 30 flash cards, 10 lenses, and 4 flashes? You’re shooting a wedding, not the Olympics.

  • Tammy

    My son and daughter in law were married in July. The photographer was a family friend who did it for free. We are still waiting on his proofs, but to his credit his mother is extremely ill, and having been there we are all cutting him some slack. He was fantastic both during and after the wedding. I had asked if a relative of mine could take some candid shots during the reception, pictures of not just the bride and groom but of family members, my daughter in law said it would be ok, there was only one shot where she actually got the professional photographer in her picture. There rest were flawless, no flash blinding or whiting out anyone (bride) pictures of father daughter dance were wonderful, pictures of the younger crowd on the dance floor (under 15). All in all it was a great experience for all, and she respected the church and did not take one photo inside, we had decided to let the pro do those. While we are still waiting, it is not so bad, she captured the reception wonderfully. Please people, use your brains you have them for a reason. If you have been hired to do the whole wedding that’s great, but if you are going to just shoot some odd shots, please wait until the reception. I even had one of my good friends who is a photographer and she didn’t even bring a camera. Just my 2 cents worth.