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.

  • Fullstop

    lol she was such a simple, simple girl.
    Obviously the photos that are blown out are done with. What I meant was that perhaps if one is skilled enough one can still deliver a quality product even with these issues.
    If one cannot deliver under these circumstances then one should probably consider getting out of the biz because you will never be able to control your surroundings enough to make things “perfect”.

    and I would happily remind you to not hire me as your wedding photographer but judging by your demeanor I don’t think you’ll be needing one anytime soon. ;)

  • Fullstop

    and I’m sure professional videographers would rather deal with guests than your continuous spray and pray flash bursts

  • Art

    I’m a pro photog but shoot travel not weddings. But your post is right on the mark. My wife and I married before cellphone cameras etc but many of our guests were also photographers They were magazine photographers and high caliber news journalists. We hired a wedding pro to shoot our wedding so our friends wouldn’t have to work but could enjoy the day with us.. Didn’t matter. It ended up looking like a press conference. Admittedly it ended up fun and funny and with wildly wonderful images from everyone including our ‘hired gun’. But her day was spoiled when a friend, one of the top food photographers in the country elbowed her out of the way of ‘his’ shot.
    In todays digitally challenging world I think I’d have to ask brides to give the unplugged wedding a shot.

  • imsomeone

    How about a soup kitchen somewhere in the couples home state. Or, at very least a soup kitchen in the United States. Plenty of people in this country are very much in need. Does it always have to go to another country?

  • Sara Boobie-Beanies Hanson

    Great post! These are all things I probably would have never thought about otherwise. I’m saving this and will definitely put it to good use when it’s time!

  • slapshot_oi

    One solution is to keep the wedding “plugged” and forego the professional photographer altogether. Tell the guests that they are the photographers so they will try to take decent shots. Sync each smartphone to a DropBox account so every time a photo is taken it is uploaded.

    Use the money you would have spent on a photog toward an open bar or a live band. You can also save money by skipping the cake too, the guests never eat it anyway.

    Instead of fighting the tendencies of a crowd, flow with it. People will be much more inclined to listen if you encourage them to do something rather than forbid it.

    I do apologize to the photog who wrote this article because I am advocating against you. But, as I see it, the fact you had to write an article about prevalence of amateur photographers is a sign that the market for professional photography—and I only mean the physical activity of snapping a picture—is shrinking.

  • Thomas J. Webb

    So you steal guest’s possessions? What do you do when they call the cops on you?

  • CPD_1

    I don’t know many photographers that use flash during a ceremony/candid shots. The only time I use mine is for posed portraits or out of absolute necessity in extremely low-light situations. I’d also have to say that I’ve worked alongside videographers who have been absolutely wonderful and helpful, and I’ve worked alongside videographers that have been unbearable jack-asses. The second don’t seem to get much work.

  • Rabi Abonour

    It’s funny. Documentary photographers get accused of living life behind a lens, but I find that normal people are much worse. When I’m not working I will bring out a camera (iPhone included) if I think I can make a good picture, but if I know I can’t make a good picture then I’ll just enjoy the event.

    I was out to dinner with three other people the other week. I was the only professional photographer, and also the only person who *didn’t* take pictures of the meal.

  • Neil van Niekerk

    Unless they are shooting with Daylight balanced LED lights in an Incandescent environment. This makes for a really ugly mix of colors. It happens often enough.

  • Thomas J. Webb

    This was actually my first thought. When you’re trying to fight people doing something that might be helpful, you know you’re doing something wrong. When guests take bad pictures, that’s merely useless. But when they take good pictures, score! And if every 3rd person has an SLR with them, the sheer quantity of shots increases the likelihood you’ll have all the good pictures you need. Of course, they probably won’t be as good as professional shots unless one of your guests happen to be a professional or serious amateur. But then again, so many professional photographers just aren’t that good in the first place…

  • Zack

    Good point. Most of the videographers I’ve worked with have been pretty on top of their game with regards to having properly white-balanced lights. I can definitely see how the mixed lighting would be a problem though.

  • Jennifer Hudson

    you kind of sound like a jerk for taking the job and then not just giving up, but destroying the pictures all together.

  • Bethany McGregor

    I’ve had couples have it in the program, and a sign at the back of the church, and the pastor say something…and STILL had to ask someone to move so I could take a shot… People don’t care, THEY want to get that shot…doesn’t matter that their loved one has paid money so that *I* can.

  • Chris Millsap

    “Look, smile, wait for flash…”

  • Mers Pro

    My sypmpathi… but it happens alot in here too… I guess there is nothing we can do about it…

  • Jennifer Hudson

    So, I’m confused…does this happen often or not? I don’t understand how you can say that only a few shots have truly been ruined but still find it necessary to have couples ask their guests not to take their own pictures.

    I find it unlikely that the majority of the weddings have such rude guests that they don’t move if you ask them to. Most of the time, I have found that it is just innocent that they get in the way, like the man in the aisle. But, of course you do have the occasional inconsiderate person that does get in the way. I think it’s easier and kinder just to work with people and have the ushers handle the guests and keep them out of the aisles and off the stage, but still allow guests to have the option of taking flash-less photography. You write about how images were ruined in your eyes, but did you actually have complaints from the bride and groom?

    No profession ever works in an ideal environment, but that’s never going to happen. There is always something that could make any job easier. But if you can take great pictures in a not so ideal environment, then you are an even better photographer because of it, and that’s the kind of photographer I would want.

  • Jake

    I don’t think you know what Hitler, Autism, or jokes are.

  • Jean

    Sorry but what is unplugged wedding?

  • fl

    hahaha just wait for google glass..

  • Anne

    I don’t see a way to “pin” this to my Pinterest page, but I would like to so I can give you credit for it & keep it for reference since I was just asked to photograph a wedding next spring.

  • Mike Shaw (UK)

    Quite simple really ! if you have an Assistant (2nd Camera) then use them as a Guard especially on the Aisle trot as picking the ideal spot to stand on the side of the congregation, is quite easy… They should be in a physical position where they can attract any perpetrators attention and then, with sign language, hand waving, evil eye, finger click, looks etc , advise them they are in the damned way….then afterwards tell them to get the hell out of the way for future shots. If they want to act as assholes then you should take the same tac. depending on the importance of the shot you have just missed because of them..Perhaps most of this could be avoided by asking the couple to have words with most of their Guests a few days prior to their wedding and ask them to be aware of your presence and respect the professional…it’s only for a second..

  • Future Bride

    I am planning to have an unplugged ceremony. I don’t want to look at my loved ones and see a bunch of cameras and cell phones instead of their faces. I have also been to several weddings where the ceremony was ruined for me (as a guest) because of other people holding up phones or Ipads in front of me trying to record the entire ceremony.

  • D.T. Pennington

    If I’m shelling out $2K for a wedding photographer, I’d rather have their photos over the crap my friends are going to put on their Instagram. I’m the one getting married, this is my memory I’d like to be preserved in my fashion.

  • CL

    I seem to recall a rather lengthy reliance upon the defence forces of this same land of the free for the maintenance of a particular scandinavian flavor of freedom in Iceland. Unless I misinterpret the eth of your last name and you are in fact Faroese, in which case I will humbly ask your pardon.

  • AmazonMama

    That was on my mind while read- sympathy for the professional trying their best for a client, mixed with frustration for the times I stayed unplugged as a guest or member of the wedding party- only to be charged up to $15 for a 3×5 print, or just the right to print from the digital image, from the photographer who had already been paid for their work. All I wanted was a few shots for my scrapbook. :/

  • Spike O’Shea

    Exactly Bob. Don’t be bothered by those pesky guests that ruin everything. Just the bride, the groom and the most important person after that, the photographer.

  • ant

    still dont know what unplugged means though! am I being thick.

  • malaviKat

    Unplugged wedding = guests don’t take photos during the wedding (particularly the ceremony).

  • Thewirehead

    This is how photographers make money. While $15 for a 3×5 seems a little steep to me, the fact is that there are two ways that photographers earn their living. There are the service costs, photographers time and expertise, travel to the wedding, equipment, insurance, assistants, food, etc. Then there are product costs; prints, albums, CDs, etc. I could keep going but most people don’t understand this concept. I don’t mind people taking photos at receptions or whatever, but do you really think your iPhone photo is going to stand up next to my photo taking with $10000 camera/lens combo? Or the fact I am an experienced professional photographer? If you’re really serious about having a good memory to print out and keep to show your family in the future, maybe leave it to the pros and pay a few bucks to show them you appreciate their work. Most likely those phone photos get posted to Facebook or Instagram and are quickly forgotten since they’re out of focus, poor resolution, have lame effects, or were taken from the side or with half the group looking.

    Photographers are paid by their clients to capture the wedding day, not necessarily your kids, so step up and pay for a couple photos if the photographer took them and you want them.

  • Thewirehead

    A bunch of pictures of people’s backs and asses? Those go in the trash.

  • Thewirehead

    Stop arguing you shithead.

  • Kristen Renee

    This is a really great post. I understand the guests’ point of view when they want to get photos, but as a professional photographer, it is more important to recognize that the couple has paid a professional photographer to document their day. What a shame when the guests ruin it without considering what they are doing first.

  • CantStandEm

    As a small time amateur photographer (I’ve shot 1 wedding, it better than I was expecting…) I pay more attention to stuff like this than most (except all of you dear readers who I’m sure sympathize as well). One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is when guests try to “steal” the hired professional’s shot.

    What I mean is, the photographer has selected a location for portraits, the lighting is perfect, the background just right. She sets everyone in the right pose, and when she steps back to take the photo, there’s uncle bill with his Digital Rebel (with pop-up flash since he only uses the “green square” and the sun is setting) right over the photographer’s shoulder attempting to take the very same photo (and drawing eyes from the pro).

  • Suz

    With fancy dancy digital cameras now-a-days it should be easy for the pro photog to take 100s of pics so that ONE pic shouldn’t be the only ONE you have of that moment. My wedding photog told guests during formal photos that they are welcome to take pics but only asked that they wait until after her each time. It worked out well and people who love to take pics (as I do) felt welcome to take pics and enjoyed the moment. Working with, and around, the guests is a much friendlier approach than hoping they don’t take pictures. Everyone LOVED my photog and no one was upset when she kindly asked them to step aside at certain points. Letting them grab a shot here or there made them feel better about the few times she had to ask them to move over a bit.

    BTW – of all the weddings I’ve been a guest of, the ONLY ones where I ever was offered prints were my sisters and my best friends. Most people do not share their pro pics with everyone that was there except maybe on facebook which is not high enough quality for a good print.

    Let them take pics…

  • Suz

    So agree with this. One wedding I was at, the photog / video guy both set up on the actual altar which is usually not even allowed in most churches. SOOOO any shot anyone took has them in it :/ Great pic. I’ve also had them getting in my way when the bride and groom are coming down so you can’t even see them. Wedding photogs have good cameras, they don’t need to be 2 feet away from their subjects.

  • Richard

    Agreed. However, the couple getting married no doubt agrees to the kind of intrusion you’re talking about so it’s probably their own fault for putting too much priority on images, less on the event itself.

  • Wes Stewart

    I don’t know many photographers that DON’T use flash during ceremony/candid shots. But ymmv…

  • Wes Stewart

    I am getting married in the Fall. I intend to make this announcement myself at the beginning of the ceremony. During the reception I don’t really care, but the ceremony will be guest-camera free…

  • Jen G

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Corey Ann! I have one more classic guest move to add: When taking group photos with my professional camera for my clients, I have frequently had “guest photographers” step directly in front of me to get the shot with “their camera,” and have even had people in the group line up their various phones and powershots expecting me to take the same photo 10 times so each person has one on their device of choice, ostensibly too impatient to wait until the bride and groom shared their photos after the event in the manner that they choose.

    I will share this with future clients (and friends who are getting married) to encourage them to make an informed choice and to go Unplugged.

  • Mike Milne

    Ruined images happen. When something detrimental is occurring, you do what you think is in your client’s best interest–which requires one to trust themselves to respond appropriately in a sensitive way. Being a wedding photographer is an exercise in adaptation and problem solving….

    I have had lots of awesome images created by side or rim lighting from a guests flash. You can anticipate some of the effects.

    And I have found that 100% of my clients want their guests to be able to take photos.

  • m4dm4n

    Surely it’s only a matter of time before a pro wedding photog sues a wedding guest for this sort of ignorance. I’ve heard of brides suing the hired photographer for missing key shots, but never heard of the ‘tog counter-suing, or otherwise seeking financial compensation from guests for ruining said pro’s chance at catching the winning frames.

  • Mary Piero Carey

    Most of the weddings I’ve been to in the last 10 years, I haven’t been able to hear the vows because the folks around me were taking pictures with noisy cameras.

  • Michelle Brodie

    i’ve been educated and hope i have never done any of those things during professional shots and will certainly be promoting an unplugged wedding x

  • Alex Chapman

    You guys, in my opinion, are the most important players in a wedding. You should probably be charging more than the flowers or the cost of the cheese and veggie trays…just sayin- you could probably charge double and then maybe these arguments wouldn’t matter.

  • Blair Aithne

    I recently attended my cousin’s wedding, and I asked them if they minded me taking photos. They’d hired a photographer (who unfortunately wasn’t very good) who covered most of the ceremony, and being that I was essentially ‘working’ at the wedding, I was very cautious to stay out of the eyeline of the guests and the photographer’s lens, as well as avoiding using flash during the ceremony. The photographer didn’t extend me the same courtesy, mind. He frequently (deliberately) stepped into shot, or blocked my lens, which was fairly frustrating. As it happens, the family thanked me for taking the photos, because some of them are preferable to the ones they ‘professional’ took.

  • What an idiot..

    Did you forget that this is how some of us make a living? Not all of those things get paid for every month but just like you we have an automobile, house note or rent, gas, food, insurance for all of the above and also for all that equipment, insurance for everything that could go wrong when shooting a wedding, electricity bills, phone bills, updating software for our computer regularly, and any decent photographer also has membership dues to professional organizatins and continuing education to stay on top of their craft. You try doing all that and doing something impressive like saving for retirement or raising a child. Suddenly your big profit starts looking like a big fat loss.

  • R.S.

    Great post! This is becoming ridiculous :-(

  • R.S.

    I had to put this here.

  • Katja Yount

    I just tried looking for it and alas could not locate the entry. It wasn’t an article so much as a bride on Off Beat Bride venting about an awful guest and seeing advice so even if I did find and post the link you probably couldn’t access it anyway unless you’re a member.