Going Unplugged or Going All In – What’s Right for Your Wedding?

Important details to consider when making the decision – unplugged or all in?

In many ways, we are in the golden age of photography. Thanks to smartphones, everyone is essentially carrying a high-quality digital camera in their pocket, able to snap pristine pictures at the touch of a button. And the massive storage size of these phones means an almost unlimited number of photos can be taken without worrying about how much it will cost to “develop” (remember that word?) them.

Weddings have certainly benefited from the surge in digital photography. Now all weddings guests can snap photos of the happy bride and groom and then share them with each other. The photos can be gathered together and compiled into a gorgeous album, which can then either be printed or shared on social media.

But are there any downsides to every wedding being filled with amateur photographers? Have we lost anything from the days when photos could only be taken with clunky analog cameras? Is there any reason to (gasp!) ask guests not to take any photos at your wedding?

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In this post, we’re going to discuss three possible options for your wedding:

  • Allowing all guests to take any photos and share them on social media.
  • Encouraging all guests to take photos and use a particular hashtag when sharing on social media.
  • Asking all guests to refrain from taking photos and as you rely on a professional photographer to capture your best wedding moments.

OPTION #1 – Allow all guests to photograph and share

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This is the standard practice at most weddings. No restriction is placed on the photography and all guests are allowed to take as many photos as they wish and then share them on social media. A professional photographer will be present but will work alongside and among the wedding guests.


Everyone feels like a participant.

When all the guests are allowed to take photos, they have more of a sense of participation in your wedding. They snap photos of the bridesmaids in their elegant gowns and then share them on social media. They post selfies in front of the wedding cake. They snap photos of the first kiss between bride and groom. When everyone is allowed to take photos, they can share in the ceremony and share in your joy.

An abundance of photos.

We’ve all heard horror stories of professional photographers missing key moments in the wedding, such as the first kiss. We’ve also heard stories of wedding photographers who are simply terrible. One photographer’s wedding photos were so bad that they went completely viral, eventually forcing the photographer to issue a complete refund.

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One advantage of allowing all guests to take photos is that there will be an abundance of photos. Even if the wedding photographer makes a mistake, they will be backed up by all the guests taking photos. If the photographer misses the first kiss, there’s a good chance someone else managed to snap it.

The bride and groom feel special.

Many people truly enjoying being the center of attention. When a large group of guests are all snapping photos of the bride and groom, they feel special. They feel loved. They feel the excitement of their guests.


Guests can ruin professional photos

One of the largest downsides to allowing everyone to take photos is that it’s not uncommon to have guests unintentionally ruin the photos taken by the professional photographer. As photographer Corey Ann says:

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:

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She also recounts:

At another wedding, a guest literally shoved me aside and gave me grief because I was blocking his daughter from standing in the aisle to get an image with her Nintendo DS. This sanctuary only had one aisle and very little room to move, due to a small space being full with guests.

Guests are usually well-meaning, but in their enthusiasm, they can actually ruin the photos that matter the most to you.

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Photos can be “leaked” too soon on social media.

Many brides and grooms want to be the first to show off their weddings on social media. They want to have a “reveal”, where they give everyone the first glimpse of their magical, fairytale wedding. When all guests are allowed to take and share photos, the photos can often appear on social media during the actual wedding. This ends up stealing the thunder from the bride and groom.

Discussing this problem, Kat Williams says:

They [the bride and groom] want to keep the event more private. In this crazy social-media age, things end up on Facebook and Instagram almost before they’ve happened.

Many low-quality images of your wedding will be shared.

Unfortunately, most guests are not particularly skilled at photography, meaning numerous low-quality photos of your wedding will be posted online. The robes de demoiselle d'honneur will look discolored, the light will be problematic, and the bride herself may be blurry.

This may not matter to you, but if this will bother you, you may want to restrict photography.

Guest photography can be annoying for everyone.

For starters, having guests playing at photographer during the ceremony is distracting. In their frenzy to snap a halfway decent shot, they’re obstructing the view of other guests, making noise, and being a nuisance. More traditional wedding-goers—those who came simply to enjoy your ceremony the old-fashioned way—are often put-off by this behavior.

For couples, this can also be seen as a sign of disrespect. Many believe that the wedding ceremony is a time to be present, in the moment, bearing witness to the special union between two individuals who love one another. How much witnessing can guests truly be doing when they are on their phones the whole time trying to do the photographer’s job for him?

OPTION #2 – Ask all guests to use a #Hashtag when sharing photos

This is also a common choice many brides and grooms make. They allow photography by guests but ask them to use a particular hashtag when sharing these photos on social media. For example, if Elizabeth and Corey were getting married, they may ask guests to use the hashtag #ElizabethAndCorey on all photos posted online.

This is a way to control the practice of guest photography at the wedding, by building it in as a regulated feature rather than outright banning it. The happy couple can designate particularly scenic spots “photo zones” for guests to whip out their devices and snap away. They can even set up a photo-booth area guests to set up and take shots of one another, a sort of group participation, if you will.

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In addition to all the advantages mentioned above (abundance of photos, participation, etc.), using a hashtag has several additional advantages.

Photos can be easily found on social media.

By asking guests to use a particular hashtag when posting photos to social media, you can easily find those photos after the wedding. A simple search on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram of that hashtag will show all the photos.

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Hashtag photos can automatically be saved to Dropbox

By using a service like If This Then That  (IFTT), you can automatically have all photos with a particular hashtag saved to a Dropbox folder. This allows you to sort through the photos after the fact and select the best ones for printing and sharing.

It turns the wedding into an online event

A full-scale social media bonanza, to be precise. Use of the hashtag needn’t be limited to finding pictures online once the wedding is over. Everything leading up to the wedding, “live coverage” of the wedding, and post wedding chatter can all be tagged online and turn it into a rather momentous extravaganza, forever immortalized in the annals of the Internet.


The cons for using a hashtag on photos are the same as allowing all guests to take photos. Photos will certainly be posted quickly on social media, professional photos may be ruined, and many low quality images will be shared. It’s a tradeoff to be carefully considered.

There’s also the fact that planning designated wedding photo zones, promoting use of a hashtag, and regulating online buzz can be an additional burden for a couple if they’re doing most of the wedding coordination themselves. For some it’s a bit much, for others, they’re right in their element conducting a coordinated social media campaign for their own wedding.

OPTION #3 – The Unplugged Wedding

The unplugged wedding is the least common, most controversial of the three options, but gaining in popularity. At the beginning of the wedding, guests are asked to turn off all phones and refrain from taking photos. You’ll have to take some steps to pull it off right, and most of them revolve around properly communicating to guests what your wishes are.

To start, you’ll have to make sure that it is clear on the invitations that you send out that guest photography is restricted. When the wedding day arrives, make sure that easy to read messages about the wedding photo policy are in plain view. You can have a big sign at the door. You can place tent card reminders in guests seats. You can even hire a skywriter to spell it out for your guests overhead. Most people are fine with following the wishes of the bride and groom, as long as they know what those wishes are.

It doesn’t all have to be unplugged, either. Many couples are fine with hybrid-unplugged weddings, where all the special moments leading up to (and including) the vows are dutifully shot by the professional photographer, and guests are allowed to go wild during the reception and after-party.

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Via instagram.com/belovely_design


An unplugged wedding has several very significant advantages.

Guests are able to enjoy the moment

Rather than experiencing your wedding through a phone screen, your wedding guests are able to fully embrace the moment. They can enjoy the full splendor of the wedding dress, the wedding cake, the lighting, the bridesmaid dresses, the groomsmen, and all the other accoutrements of your wedding.

Prior to Dan and Jennifer’s wedding, the officiant read this to the crowd:

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.

By doing an unplugged wedding, your guests can enjoy your wedding rather than feeling they need to photograph your wedding.

The only photos of the wedding are professionally done.

Pictures like this show why this can be so valuable:

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Your wedding photos are going to be some of the most valuable pictures you own. Having them ruined by over eager guests is tremendously disappointing. By asking your guests to refrain from taking photos, you ensure that the only photos of your wedding are the ones you paid for.

As professional photographer Patrick Hall says:

After shooting about 200 weddings myself, I personally feel like guests with cameras pose mostly as a nuisance more than anything else. Have I missed a few important shots here and there because of an overly ambitious guest? Sure. But with the help of my second shooter, it’s pretty rare that some key moment isn’t documented at all. I’ve also never had any problems with the flash from a guest’s camera during posed photos or key moments.

Your wedding it totally private.

By restricting all photos, the wedding is only experienced by you and the guests. Your wedding is your special day, and restricting photos highlights this reality even more. The experience only belongs to you and those who attended.

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Via instagram.com/garrettnudd


There are some obvious cons to doing an unplugged wedding.

Guests may be offended.

There is the real possibility that some guests may be offended by your request to not take photos. Some people feel that taking photos is part and parcel with attending a wedding. Asking them to refrain may feel like an affront to them. A helpful explanation like the one given by Dan and Jennifer may alleviate some of this tension, but there will still be some who are upset.

There will be fewer photos.

The consequence of restricting photos at your wedding is that fewer photos will exist. The deluge of photos normally taken by guests simply won’t be there. If you like having your wedding snapped from every conceivable angle, this may be a serious downside.

Guests may flat out ignore you.

Unfortunately, some guests may simply ignore your request and take photos anyway. Anytime you gather large groups of people together, there will be some who will do what they want, regardless of what you say. This may cause tension between you and particular guests. If you took the time to properly inform them, or are having a hybrid wedding where only specific portions are unplugged, though, this might not be as much of an issue.


There are advantages to all three photography options. Ultimately, your wedding day is for you. It’s wonderful to include your guests in as many parts of the service as possible, but they are not what is most important in your wedding. Choose the photography option which suits you best and then enjoy the outcome, whatever it may be.


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