Recently at a close friends wedding, at that precise, magical moment when the ceremony is on the cusp of completion, the celebrant announcing ‘you may now kiss the bride’ I found myself poised, ready and waiting, phone in hand to snap this perfect blink and you miss it moment…before looking at the photo and realising every other guest had had the same idea. I had my photo, moment captured, the beautiful couple and the falling petals, but in that ‘moment’ there were two dozen other arms in the air, all similarly clutching their phones. And the sinking realisation I’d experienced that moment, not so much myself, but through my screen.
Welcome to the very modern issue and etiquette minefield of smart phones at weddings. Separate to peoples best intentions to document everything themselves, a key point of contention (depending on who you ask) begs questions around oversharing, the publishing of the entire day across social media before the bride and groom have even seen a single photo themselves as well as thoughts around attentiveness and being truly present. So what to do? Well as with most issues of etiquette, it’s entirely a matter of personal preference and the answer will be different for every wedding and every couple. We’ve picked the brains of some of our favourite celebrants who weigh in on this very modern topic (& clever advice on different ways to approach it) as well as shortlisting below our arguments both for and against phone-free weddings, and everything to consider in between.
Theres nothing ‘new age’ about this. It’s simply an extension of that old fashioned concept of giving something or someone your undivided attention, of being all there, in the moment, tuning-in all of your attentive energy on the scenes unfolding before you. For the ceremony in particular, the most intimate exchange of vows, words and future intentions, of readings and profound love proclaimed, being phone free effortlessly commands a higher level of collective attention, and energy. The more present you are in that moment, the longer and more vivid the memory of it will live, without the need for a photo to remember it by.
A rare moment to reflect
“As we all are too aware of the growing need to post something as it is happening I personally feel it is a breath of fresh air for people to watch and just be there present, without having to tell the world about it. I feel like everything, social media has its place. Very seldom in this fast pace world do people have a moment to reflect and take in what's going on around them, however I feel this time is a special time to do just that just stop and be in that moment and share it, not on facebook but with your friends and family seated around you”. Shane Vincent - Celebrant
Leave it to the professionals
The photographer has been expressly engaged to do this very job, on a much better quality camera, with an expert eye. Their role on the day is to capture the most incredible moments for the couple to keep forever, a task made that much trickier with guests arms holding camera phones, creeping into every frame, as the bride walks down the aisle or as the cake is being cut. Also, consider from the bride and grooms point of view, flicking through their wedding album in years to come, met with imagery of guests so busy and determined to each get their very own version of the exact same images throughout the day, rather than losing themselves in the day itself.
On the other hand…
The photographer cannot be everywhere all the time, and some of the most interesting and beautiful moments from weddings can be those that unfold randomly and unexpectedly…a reunion of friends in one corner of the dance floor or a quiet conversation taking place between a grandparent and child across cake plates picked clean. When captured discreetly, as fleetingly as the moments themselves, these kinds of photos offer beautiful reminders of a special celebration shared with favourite people.
Communicating your wishes to guests
“At the beginning of the ceremony, it's very easy for your celebrant to make a couple of housekeeping announcements, the most important one is for the guests to put their phones on silent, or even, turn them off. Here’s an example from ceremonies I've performed:
“Bride and Groom would love you all to take this opportunity to be fully present, to unplug from the world and fully enjoy the moment with them in this beautiful setting. If you could leave your phones in your pocket on silent, they promise they've got the photography covered. In fact, they've written a little poem to truly let you know how they feel. I'd like to invite their friend Kate up now to read it for you: As (Bride's name) walks down the aisle, she'd like to see your smiling faces, not the back of your sparkling iphone cases”
The poem paired with their friend reading it added something sweet and gentle, but really let everyone know the couple were serious about no devices. A good tip is to personalise the request, so it doesn't come off like an order, get the guests attention, but still come off relaxed and friendly about it.” Cara - Modern Love Ceremonies
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In an era where we sometimes feel the crazy need to validate each moment via its publishing, sharing and like-collecting, a sense of ‘did it really happen, if it wasn’t instagrammed…how will anyone know?!’ there is something to be said for treating a wedding day as a sacred space, free from uploads. Besides freeing up guests from those moments of picking filters and thinking up the perfect caption, giving them instead permission to lose themselves in the day (via politely denying them permission to upload your wedding), going phone free (or politely requesting a period of time, a week or even a single day before imagery is shared) creates a more intimate environment on the day amongst guests, a shortlist of people you love most, who were extended an invitation to physically join your celebrations (versus the colleagues, second cousins and neighbours, viewing it all via Facebook).
Sharing with those who can’t be
“Phones can be great if the couple have family living overseas that can't make the wedding. I've seen lots of family members in the front row with phones on Facetime, allowing loved ones who are far away to be a part of it all. However, you can still make the announcement explaining that the groom's sister who lives in the UK is on skype in the front row, and can everyone else still refrain from using their phones to take pictures or film the ceremony.” Cara - Modern Love Ceremonies
All for the sharing
“If you are social media loving people and you want to see all your friends and families photos from your big day, there's also nothing stopping you from letting your guests know what your hashtag is, either on a chalkboard or by announcing that: “Once the ceremony is finished, feel free to post pics from today. If you haven't already been tagging on social media, please use their hash tag: #thesmiths2015” “ Cara - Modern Love Ceremonies
Go your own way
“My best advice would be for couples to discuss how important this is to them personally and discuss this as a couple and with their celebrant / minister. Different approaches I’ve experienced have been couples have had signage at the start of the ceremony for their guests to (hopefully) respect. Others have asked that mobiles not be used during the bridal processional but they’re happy for them to be used during the ceremony and reception. Another alternative has been that they’re happy for photos to be taken but for them to not be uploaded onto social media until at least the next day, and no photos be taken of any children that are not their own. For others, I have requested that as the couple have a professional photographer in attendance and as a sign of respect, that no photos be taken during the ceremony. For several overseas couples where only a handful of family and friends can be there, as well as the professional photographer, the guests have been able to capture the essence of the wedding ceremony with their own interpretation and the couple have a wonderful memory of their special day to have forever seen through the eyes of those in attendance.” Liz - Yes I Will Marry You
Whatever you decide, be sure to communicate your expectations and wishes clearly to guests, either via the invitations, or an announcement from the celebrant, or both. “As with most wedding etiquette, it's a case of letting your guests know what you want, and hoping that they value you enough to respect your wishes.” Cara - Modern Love Ceremonies