Unplugged Wedding: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (30/03/2021) 
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony | Wedding Planning |
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Bride holding up smart phoneAn Unplugged Wedding  has three main characteristics

#1: None of the guests use smart phones or tablets or cameras or other devices to take photographs or video footage, leaving them free to be in the moment
#2: A professional photographer and/or videographer is solely responsible for capturing images of the wedding

No-one uploads photographs, videos, or comments about your wedding to social media without the couple's consent.

The pros - the benefits of going unplugged

Going unplugged has both practical and emotional benefits:
  • You won’t need to worry about whether your ceremony venue has Wi-Fi or mobile phone coverage.
  • You will be able to see one another’s faces during the walk down the aisle, without having to lean to one side to see around the guests in the aisle, and without being dazzled by multiple flashes.
  • Your friends and loved ones will be present in the moment and will therefore experience your wedding directly rather than having their photographs of the moment being the moment
  • Having your guests fully involved in the ceremony will be more fun and more emotional for you, and for them. They will see your emotions, and you will see theirs.
  • Guests won’t be blocking the view of everyone behind them with either their screens or their bodies as they move to get the best shot
  • Guests will remember your wedding better. Yes, it's true. We remember the things we pay attention to, the things we imprint on our minds and memories. A quick click from behind a screen doesn't make memories, least of all, long-lasting ones.
  • You will be better able to control what, if anything, is published, and where and when it is published
  • Because you have hired your professional photographer to take photographs of a private occasion for domestic purposes, you own the copyright to all your photos (unless you have assigned copyright to your professional photographer as part of the contract you signed)
  • Your professional photographs will not be compromised by multiple flashes from guest cell-phones, tablets, and cameras, nor by your photographer’s line of sight being blocked by guests taking photos of the iconic moments in your ceremony.
  • The quality of your wedding photographs will be so much better. You will be able to have prints and an album as a permanent record of your wedding in a form that is not dependent on technology for access being available at the time you want to look at the photos.
  • When you walk down the aisle, or back up it at the end of the ceremony, you will see happy faces offering you congratulations rather than a sea of screens.
  • It is highly unlikely that an unflattering photo will see the light of day

The cons

Going unplugged also has its down side
  • You’ll miss out on having lots of images, taken from many different angles, of every part of your wedding as seen from multiple different perspectives
  • You will miss out on the informal photos, the moments that only your guests can capture because your photographer’s attention is on you
  • You are totally dependent on your professional photographer
  • You may need to pay for more than one photographer in order to ensure that all the iconic moments of the ceremony are covered
  • Whoever takes the photo owns the copyright, so multiple people will own their own images of your wedding and you may not even know that those photos exist
  • Unless there is a 'reasonable expectation of privacy' there is no 'right' to privacy in Australian law. A wedding where people are actively (and obviously) taking pictures eliminates any 'reasonable expectation of privacy' - unless the photograph is taken in the bathroom or similar location – and therefore you have no control over where photographs or comments may be shared. Unflattering photos, or photos of moments that you, or the guest or member of the bridal party who is the subject, would prefer that the world not see (including employers and potential employers), may be posted on social media. While professional photographers are usually careful to go through the images and cut out any image that shows someone present in a bad light so that nobody, not even the couple, will ever see it, guests may not be so careful. 
  • Public posting of photographs of your wedding provides the opportunity for images to be stolen and used by unrelated persons or businesses for unrelated purposes.
  • The fact that your image is being used by others could be assumed to be an endorsement by you of that person, their services, or their products

What are the alternatives to an unplugged wedding?

There are two alternatives to going unplugged
  • You could have a (fully) Plugged-In (Social Media Optimised) wedding
  • You could opt for a Semi-Unplugged wedding

A Plugged-in (Social Media Optimised) Wedding

If everyone present at your wedding is
  • free to take photos or video footage at will
  • free to share these via social media and you facilitate this by supplying a hashtag to make their images more easily accessible, you are having a Social Media Optimised wedding
There are definite benefits to going fully plugged-in, particularly if the numbers of people allowed to be present under COVID retrictions are limited which in the current situation is more than just a possibility, as restrictions tighten and loosen in response to numbers of infections.
  • You will have multiple photographs from a variety of perspectives – not just from different angles but also images that represent the interests of individual guests.
  • You will experience the additional sense of community that online interactions can create, and so will you guests
  • You will minimise the risk of being totally dependent on your professional photographer to capture images of the day. If your photographer lets you down, doesn’t turn up on the day, arrives late, or delivers poor quality photographs (all thankfully not common occurrences), you will still have lots of images to choose from.
  • You can save money by only paying for one professional photographer and/or by hiring a professional to cover only part of the day (for example, the ceremony) because you are able to rely on your guests to capture images of the less formal parts of the day.
  • You will have photographs of informal moments that happen out of the sight of your professional photographer
  • You will have photographs of guests’ interactions with one another.
But there will be a downside
  • Your choice of ceremony venue may be limited, particularly if you want to be married outdoors, as not all outdoor ceremony spaces have the Wi-Fi that many of your guests will need in order to be able to post photos to social media.
  • Instead of seeing the happy, welcoming faces of your guests you may see only a field of screens. Speaking as someone who has had this view many, many time, it is very disconcerting.
  • The quality of photographs taken on phones or tablets is nowhere near as good as those taken on a professional camera. 
  • Lacking the coherent perspective of a professional photographer may mean that iconic moments are missed, and loved ones who are important to you are absent from your photos
  • Your wedding photos will largely be hosted on free platforms such as Facebook and Instagram with no guarantee that they will remain available. You will need to use one of the services available to help turn all those selfies and guest photographer photos into something more permanent.
  • Guests wielding smart phones, cameras, or tablets could compromise your professional photos by getting the in way of iconic moments of your ceremony, including the processional, the exchange of vows and rings, the kiss, and the walk back down the aisle, by fully or partially blocking the photographer’s line of sight or by intruding into the frame.
  • Multiple guests simultaneously taking flash photos could compromise the quality of the professional photographs.
  • Guests may be more focused on taking selfies than on photographing all aspects of your wedding.
  • Whoever takes the photo owns the copyright and therefore has the right to do with it whatever they wish, including sharing on social media, or giving or selling it to a third party.
  • Unflattering photos, or photos of moments that you, or a guest or member of the bridal party who is the subject, would prefer that the world (including employers and potential employers) does not see, may be posted on social media.
  • The Real-Life-Weddings sections of bridal blogs and of bridal magazines, both online and in print, and are unlikely to accept a submission where photographs have already been published on social media. Nor are they likely to accept submissions with amateur photography

A Semi-Unplugged wedding

The compromise solution, and in many ways the best solution, seems to be a semi-unplugged wedding where you control some aspects of photography and sharing, and endorse or facilitate others. Commonly, this involves asking your guests to put away their devices during the ceremony, while encouraging them to use them before and after i, allowing you to minimise the risks of a and enjoy the benefits of both an unplugged wedding and a social media optimised one.

On the other hand, you might wish to just say yeh to some aspects of an unplugged wedding and nope to others. You choose which elements of plugged-in wedding you will facilitate and which elements of an unplugged wedding you will ask guests, vendors, and others to observe

For example you might do one or more of the following:
  • Give your guests permission to take photos, but ask them not to twee about the ceremony or share photos on social media until it is over.
  • Ask your guests not to take photographs during the ceremony with one or two controlled opportunities, managed by your celebrant, for example
    • You could ask your celebrant to pause after you and your wedding party are in place up te front and your professional photographer has captured picture-perfect shots of the walk down the aisle and invite your guests to take photos of you but then remind them to turn off their phones for the rest of the ceremony.
    • You could ask your celebrant to announce that you will kiss a second time after you are pronounced married (and your professional photographer has got the iconic shot) and invite your guests to take photographs of that second kiss.
  • Ask your guests not to upload photographs to social media and instead use a photo-sharing app to create a private, invitation-only virtual album of guest photos.
  • Establish a curfew, after which you ask guests not to take photos or upload anything to social media to avoid drunk-sharing or drunk-tweeting. Guests and others may expect to be photographed at a wedding, but if the context in which the photographs are shared or the way in which the image is used constitutes defamation of character or some other personally offensive context, you could find yourselves involved in some sort of legal action.
  • Appoint someone you trust and can rely on to manage your social media presence on the day, both updating your social media accounts and posting photographs in accordance with your instructions.

Whatever you decide, create a written policy statement

It is worth taking the time to create a social media policy because a succinct statement will help you identify any gaps, highlight any contradictions, and give you a handy summary of what the two of you have agreed. Add a list of
  • who needs to be made aware of your wishes (don't forget your vendors!)
  • when you will communicate with them
  • what methods of communication you will use

More information

This blog post draws on my book The Wedding Etiquette Guide for Social Media Savvy Couples
Thanks for reading!
Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you can
                      have the best ceremony ever
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