Unplugged weddings: Brides ask guests to ditch digital devices

photo Could a collection basket for cellphones and cameras be the next big wedding trend?

How annoyed would you be if a guest seated in front of you at a wedding suddenly raised both arms into the air, holding up an iPad for a clear shot of "the kiss"?

He may have caught the moment, but you didn't.

It's happening -- many times -- say local wedding photographers, who are increasingly having to jockey for position with well-meaning friends and relatives in order to get the wedding photos for which they are paid.

"I actually had a minister a few years ago stop a wedding over a camera in the ceremony," says professional photographer Greg Forehand.

"I've seen people step out into the aisle or even stand up to get the kiss," says photographer Liz Power. "All they want is a picture to put on Facebook."

The ubiquitous smartphone, operated by social media-savvy guests who want to be the first to post online, is making a ringing endorsement for "unplugged weddings." They're a new phenomenon -- already popular in larger cities and gradually trickling into this area -- in which brides ask their wedding guests to turn off and put down their digital devices during a ceremony. Some weddings even collect cellphones from guests as they enter.

The purpose is to prevent cellphones from ringing during the "I do's," or stop well-meaning family photographers from blocking the paid professionals' shots. Brides want to ensure their guests aren't distracted by texting and photography and are "in the moment" witnessing the couple's vows.

Check any bridal message boards to read brides' horror stories of tech-happy guests intruding on their special day. Couples turning around to face the congregation as the minister pronounces them man and wife, only to see the tops of guests' heads because they are looking down at their LCD screens. Or the groom who logged onto Facebook while killing time before the ceremony, and saw his bride in her gown before the ceremony started because an overzealous bridesmaid had posted a shot from the dressing room.

Some brides ask their officiant to make the unplugged announcement at the beginning of the service. Others post a reminder in their wedding program. Check Pinterest under "unplugged ceremony" to find numerous wordings and sign ideas to ask guests to turn their cellphones off during a ceremony or reception.

"I have only said it infrequently, but I have been known to ask guests to please refrain from photography during a service," says the Rev. Bill Dudley, pastor of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church. "That's done not only for worship decorum, but because the bride's family has paid a photographer to make pictures."

Dudley says there are also signs posted in the entryway of the church, asking all guests to turn off their cellphones.

The Times Free Press polled a dozen area newlywed or engaged women; half were familiar with the unplugged wedding trend, half were not.

Jasmine Au, who married Tyler Hubbard this summer, says the trend was brought to her attention by her photographer. She posted what she terms "a passive-aggressive note" in her wedding program. It read: "Please be mindful of your phone and camera use, as you may be obstructing the photographers' angles or lighting."

"I didn't want people to be distracted because they care more about documenting the event for their own reasons than to honor the couple marrying. People didn't use to document every little thing like they are doing now," she explains.

When Sherelen Loveday and Caleb Hodges married in July, they not only asked guests to do no personal photography, they also requested children be taken out of the chapel if they became fussy so it wouldn't disrupt their video.

"It kind of shocked people at first," admits the bride, "but once they understood we paid a lot of money for the videographer and for our ceremony, and that this video and wedding photos were all we'd have afterward, they understood why we made the request."

To make sure their wishes are followed, some brides are even taking extreme measures and collecting cellphones from guests as they arrive. According to a New York Times report, it's not uncommon for guests to be greeted at the door by an attendant with a basket, who asks them to relinquish their digital devices as they arrive.

"If I saw someone answering their cellphone during my wedding, I'd be really mad!" says newlywed Anne-Marie Wheelock Jolley. "Yes, it's acceptable to ask them to silence their phones, but I wouldn't collect them. I'm in real estate and my husband is a doctor. We had a lot of professionals at our wedding who have to be reached. In real estate, you miss a call, you miss a sale. But that doesn't mean you have to answer your phone during a wedding; the message will be there later."

Bride-to-be Anna Connell says "collecting cellphones seems a little dicey to me, really controlling, like a bridezilla."

But not every bride is so adamant over prohibiting cellphones, in fact, they encourage them to see their ceremony from the guests' perspective.

"Looking back, the wedding went very quickly, so any pictures people got for me I'm happy to have," says Kristin Coffey Wilson.

"Before we left on our honeymoon, I looked at all the pictures on Facebook the next morning," says Emily Broyles Healey. "It was my first glimpse at what everything looked like, what people wore. It was fun to relive it the next day."

For brides who want to encourage snap-happy guests, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are offering clickable hashtags allowing users to search topics by keywords prefaced by a hashtag. All a couple has to do is decide upon a hashtag ahead of their ceremony, post it on their wedding website as well as in the wedding program or on signs at the reception, and encourage guests to upload all photos to that predetermined location.

"I always get pictures of people taking pictures," laughs photographer Power. "You'll see 75-year-old grandmothers to kids who've grabbed their mothers' phones standing up taking pictures. It's just comical more than anything."

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.