Unplugged weddings: Stopping guests from taking photos could be good for you and them


If you’re attending a wedding soon and hoping to get a snap of the happy couple, you might be in for a surprise.

Many couples are asking their guests to switch their phones and cameras off for the duration of the ceremony and sometimes for the whole event.

The wedding industry refers to these events as “unplugged weddings”, where guests are offline and asked not to take photos.

The couples, celebrants and wedding photographers we spoke to say it’s about being present — and a little bit about what the special day will look like online.

If you’re a guest, there could be something in it for you too, with research suggesting capturing nothing can improve your memory of the day.

An invitation to be in the moment

A sign requesting guests to turn off mobile phones and cameras during an unplugged wedding.
Image Some couples use a sign to let guests know that they wouldn’t like the event to be photographed. Other times, it’s announced before the ceremony begins.(ABC Life: Luke Wong)

Bathurst-based celebrant Kiralee Burke says the majority of couples she’s married in the past three years have requested unplugged ceremonies.

“I think it’s a really great thing to actually have designated times and be conscious of the fact that there are certain situations in life which can be enjoyed without the use of technology,” Kiralee says.

Knowing it can be a big ask for some, she’ll often use humour to make the request, depending on the location and type of ceremony.

Otherwise, she’ll keep it simple.

“X and Y have a professional photographer that they’ve paid to be here today. Please keep your phones away as we would really love everyone to be present throughout the ceremony,” she says as an example.

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Letting hired photographers do their thing

Perth-based photographer Natalija Brunovs tells her clients that an unplugged ceremony can greatly improve opportunities for her to capture the emotion of the day.

“When a bride is walking down the aisle typically people would lean in and take photos, which means that you’re not able to get the groom’s reaction. Often the groom can’t even see the bride because he’s obstructed by all his guests,” she says.

Giving couples control of photos on social media

A man and woman, holding hands and smiling at with gum trees behind them. The couple wants an unplugged wedding.
Image Scott Rucker and Emily Staniforth are opting for an unplugged ceremony after seeing its benefits at their friends’ weddings.(Supplied: Kristen Cunningham Photography)

It can make sense for couples too.

Emily Staniforth and Scott Rucker from Orange, NSW, attended several unplugged weddings before adopting the idea for their own upcoming nuptials.

“One [event had] a complete blanket ban on photos being posted on social media and the other one just a request for people not to use devices during the ceremony,” Emily says.

They have sat through ceremonies where cameras and phones have blocked the view of the couple, as well as other guests.

For newlyweds Nadia and Jason Clark from the north coast of NSW, having a choice of the images that made their way online was appealing.

“We didn’t want people to start posting photographs on social media shortly after the wedding or even during,” Nadia says.

“We wanted to be able to reserve that opportunity to ourselves to be able to do that first.”

Natalija says it’s now common for photographers to provide a selection of photos soon after the event, so guests can easily like and share on social media to their heart’s content.

Being respectful of the wedding location

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When Monica Defendi and Ken Woo married in a Catholic church in Perth, etiquette played into their decision to make an announcement about photography.

Many of their guests were unfamiliar with a church setting, and had travelled from overseas, making them extra keen to capture photos to show relatives back home.

“If we didn’t say anything they would take all those liberties and go nuts — they’re very enthusiastic photographers,” Monica says.

You can always ask, but not everybody is going to respect your wishes, says Canberra-based wedding photographer Jenny Wu.

Of the ceremonies Jenny has covered over the last two years, half of them have been unplugged. But she’s seen guests outright ignore the request to put their cameras away.

“So you know, aunties and uncles; often the parents are doing it too.”

What’s in it for guests? Better real life memories, says research

A wedding guest using a smartphone to capture a video of the bride and groom.
Image Putting your phone down at a wedding can give guests sitting behind you a better view of the ceremony.(Pexels: Nicolas Postiglioni)

As a guest, putting your phone or camera away may improve your recollection of the event.

A 2013 US study looked at two experiments where participants visited a museum and were asked to observe the objects, either by looking at them or by taking photos.

Photography was found to have had a detrimental impact on one group’s ability to remember the objects they viewed — it’s described as a photo-taking-impairment effect.

Paying close attention to what’s in front of us, and removing distractions like devices, can enhance our ability to remember. That’s what Muireann Irish, an associate professor of psychology from the University of Sydney, says.

“If we think about these ‘unplugged’ weddings, putting that distraction… to one side could only, in my mind, benefit the subsequent retrieval of that experience,” Dr Irish says.

However, the museum study found there was no impairment to memory when participants zoomed in to take a photo.

“So that could be something to do with an intentional mechanism where you’re actually constraining and focusing your attention on details of the event and that in turn ensured its successful [memory] retrieval,” Dr Irish says.

While mindlessly snapping photos might reduce your memories of the events, curating photos afterwards might help strengthen them.

Clinical neuropsychologist Fiona Kumfor, also from the University of Sydney, says reviewing of your photographs will help you hang onto memories in the years to come.

“Doing things like printing them, storing them or putting them in photo albums, even just taking the time to go back and look at them with family and friends and reminisce — it’s going to boost our memory for those really important events in our lives.”



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