Unplugged Weddings: Is There a Good Way to Enforce No Cell Phones at Your Wedding Ceremony?

A wedding photographer weighs in

Updated 10/30/18

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In today's technology-obsessed culture, stealing several hours of gadget-free time for an unplugged wedding ceremony should be a gift to your guests. But, prying Instagram-obsessed friends away from their devices may pose a #problem for some. The gadget-free wedding trend certainly isn't for everyone, but for couples wishing to take the plunge, how exactly do you go about enforcing a no cell phone policy without taking the fun out of the affair?

We spoke with Toronto-based photographer Jennifer van Son, who actually promotes unplugged weddings to her couples. "It's something important to me as a person—being present and focused," she says, adding that, of the 60 or so unplugged weddings under her belt, none of her clients have regretted the decision. Read on for answers to all your burning phone-free ceremony questions and to determine whether you want to take modern technology out of the picture at your own wedding.

Why Go Unplugged?

When guests aren't fixated on texting or capturing the money shot of the bride walking down the aisle, the event immediately grows in intimacy. "For the couple, it focuses the entire energy of the whole ceremony onto what's actually happening and that sacred moment of the actual wedding," says van Son, which is, you know, the reason your nearest and dearest have gathered together in the first place.

Plus, with wedding attendees fully present instead of nose-deep in their Instagram feeds, the to-be-weds get a greater sense of emotion (All. The. Feels.) from the crowd. "The couple can look out at their guests and see smiling faces and their grandmother tearing up and their parents holding hands," she explains.

Eliminating phones and cameras is also a blessing from a photographer's perspective. "It gives us clear shots, which is awesome," adds van Son. "We don't have to struggle to find an angle and it's a more visually appealing look than phones in the air." Because no couple should have extended limbs obstructing their professional pics. And, let's be honest—of the snippets from each guests' unwarranted photo shoots, one or two might make it to Facebook or Instagram, while the rest will merely live on their phones, out of sight, for all eternity.

Know that, with this fad, you're not obligated to restrict technology for the entire celebration (unless you're so inclined). As long as guests remain respectful of the photographer at the reception (van Son cites horror stories of iPad-armed relatives blocking her first dance shots), there's no reason why everyone can't resume their normal phone activities after the ceremony. After all, that wedding hashtag content won't create itself.

How to Go Unplugged

First things first—send out a heads-up before the wedding...and then a few more. "If you're going to do it, make it clear in advance, and also repeat it," advises van Son. "Saying it another couple of times somehow helps." Spread the word through your save the dates, wedding website, and/or day-of ceremony program for one final reminder. Simply leave a quick message (be it funny or formal, depending on your style) to reiterate the fact that you want guests to remain present in the moment and that you've hired a professional to document the big day (read: amateurs, step down).

However, van Son warns that some guests may think that they're exempt from the no-phone rule (i.e. the groom's aunt who simply MUST get a photo from the aisle). Signs spaced throughout the venue can easily help the spread the word, but they have become a bit commonplace, meaning attendees may not acknowledge them. For a more effective method, have your wedding officiant gently mention it during his/her welcome speech. "They're an authority figure, so people tend to listen to that," she says.

If you prefer a more hands-on method of separating your guests from their phones, try providing a cell phone storage station or baskets where attendees can individually tag and stow their devices safely, labeling the space with a quirky sign stating, "Hold the Phone!" or "Call It a Day!". Above all, make sure your guests don't feel compelled to fork over their phones if the device is truly necessary (say, for urgent business matters or a family emergency), and refrain from jumping into punishment mode if a guest sneaks a selfie or two.

Ultimately, banning phone and camera use at wedding ceremonies fosters a stronger bond between newlyweds and their guests. "I think our culture has gone to a place where everything is so instant and connected, to a point where we're not connected," says van Son. "It's nice to slow down." Two thumbs up for this refreshing movement.

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