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How (and Why) to Have an Unplugged Ceremony

what is an ‘unplugged’ ceremony?

An unplugged ceremony is when a couple decides that they would prefer to have guests put away their devices and refrain from taking photos and video during the ceremony.

One of my absolute favorite moments from my own wedding day was looking out during the ceremony and seeing the faces of all our most cherished people. I was able to fully appreciate this scene because my wife and I asked our guests to leave their camera phones in their pocket.

iPhone-wielding guests don’t mean to be rude, they’re just trying to remember a special day. And as a documentary photographer, nobody understands the impulse to reach for a camera during important moments more than me.

But we’ve had guests jump into the aisle as brides walk down the aisle or stand up in front of us during the kiss. While we’re usually able to react, we’ve had enough photos killed by overzealous guests to ask that couples consider an “unplugged” ceremony.

what are the benefits of ‘unplugged’ ceremonies?

I suppose I’m a bit bias, but when guests aren’t all competing to make their pic of you walking in, it’s a lot easier for me to make a beautiful picture without distracting elements. When guests are holding phones in front of their faces, it means you can’t look out and see the faces of all your friends and family. It’s also sad when I make a beautiful photo of your parents watching the ceremony but dad’s face is completely behind an iPad (yes, I’ve seen this more than you’d think).

It’s also a benefit for your guests. Being able to actually enjoy an event without needing to put it on social media is a rare treat these days. Besides, what do people really do with that shaky vertical video after they put it on their Instagram story for 24 hours.

Okay, how do it make that happen?

I’ve found that most guests are very respectful of ‘unplugged’ ceremonies, as long as they know the guidelines. The key is making sure that they get the message. Most people need to be reminded a few times, so I suggest doing all three of the following:

1) Put a note in the programs

This can be a couple of lines that asks guests to silence their devices and put away their phones and encouraging them to be fully present in the moment. It’s also a good place to remind them that they’ll be able to view and download all the photos after the ceremony.

2) Post a sign in a prominent location

There’s no shortage of great examples on Etsy. I recommend placing this somewhere that all guests will see as they arrive. For example, near the beginning of the aisle or near the guestbook.

3) Have your officiant make an announcement before the processional begins

This is probably the most important of the three. They should make the announcement after all the guests are seated and quiet, but before the music and processional start. There’s some sample phrasing for the language below.

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SAMPLE UNPLUGGED CEREMONY LANGUAGE

“Welcome, friends and family! We invite you to be truly present during this special moment. Please, turn off your cell phones and put down your cameras. The photographer will capture how this moment looks — We encourage you all to capture how it feels in your heart and without the distraction of technology.”
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