How smartphones and cameras are changing weddings

Guests who tweet, Facebook and Instagram their way through weddings are becoming more and more common. Is technology changing the way we get married?

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
6 min read

As the old saying goes, getting married is one of the most important days of your life. Walking down the aisle or waiting at the altar is meant to be a time to connect with family and friends to share the joy.

Imagine, then, being confronted by a sea of smartphones and cameras held in front of the faces of those you hold most dear. The aisle littered with all manner of tech gadgets recording your every move, while Aunt Ruth stands reticent in the corner with her SLR and telephoto lens.

(Wedding-6 image by Bodey Marcoccia, CC2.0)

Our desire to document everyday life increases with each passing moment, so it's no surprise that it is becoming ever more difficult to separate our online existence from the real world.

We have always wanted to participate in a wedding by taking a photograph of the happy couple, but an increasing number of guests are using their own equipment — whether that's a smartphone or an actual camera — to document the day in a more extreme manner. Does this scene look familiar to you?

Geoff Schatzel, director of Motion Art Cinematography, said that he has noticed a trend in over-zealous guests going overboard with taking photos at weddings over the past 18 months. Thanks to the lower barriers to entry for owning an SLR, everyone has the potential to see themselves as a professional photographer.

"I am actually more aware of these guests, as they tend to interfere without realising it, as they have never shot a wedding before or worked alongside other professionals," he said.

"When there are already two cinematographers and two photographers at a wedding, adding a fifth person trying to get an angle can make things difficult for those hired to document the event."

Apart from getting in the way of the professionals who are hired to document the day, do potential brides and grooms want their guests to spend the whole day glued to a smartphone or camera screen rather than experiencing it first-hand?

Unplugged weddings

Over the past few years, a new trend has started to emerge in wedding etiquette. Couples who are frustrated with their guests devoting more time to their smartphone screens rather than the day itself are now asking for "unplugged weddings".

It's a phenomenon where the bride and groom request that their guests leave their smartphones in their pockets or at home, holding back the temptation to share proceedings on social media as they happen.

Arguably, the trend has been pushed by professional photographers, who see an increasing number of guests interfering with how they work, but some couples specifically ask for guests to avoid tweeting, Facebooking or Instagramming their wedding altogether, so that they can share their special moment with the rest of the world at a time of their choosing.

(Wedding rings image by Con Mani, royalty free)

"The worst I ever saw it was one guest who had come in late to the ceremony and promptly kneeled at the front of the couple in the aisle and just off to the side. She stayed there for over five minutes with her iPhone taking video, and I could see the stressed looks on the bride and groom's faces. I have also had guests literally shoot over my shoulder, and another who moved an unmanned camera on a tripod to get his shot," Schatzel said.

Certainly, there are benefits of going "unplugged", which include your guests experiencing the event with their own senses rather than mediated through technology. But it's also to help control what the outside world sees. Managing social-media profiles is becoming increasingly important for anyone with an online presence. A blurry, unflattering shot uploaded to Facebook and tagged within seconds by a well-meaning friend can ruin the controlled illusion that many seek to propagate.

The social-media wedding

Going unplugged is a relatively extreme measure to stop guests from taking measures into their own hands. There are, however, plenty of couples who choose to embrace technology in interesting ways to help document their big day.

Earlier this year, the so-called "Instagram wedding" made waves around the world. Rather than the guests snapping away on their phones, the professional photographer swapped her gear for a smartphone.

Kim Thomas was asked by a couple to capture their wedding exclusively on an iPhone, using Instagram filters to process each and every shot. You can see the resulting images here, although admittedly Thomas did use an SLR lens mount as a more traditional lens for some photos.

(Wooded Wedding image by Ann Larie Valentine, CC2.0)

Luke and Jacqui Humble, from Queensland, recently said "I do". They enlisted the services of both a professional photographer and a film-maker to document their day, but didn't discourage guests from sharing events as they happened.

"Jacqui and I did post to Facebook that morning about our feelings for the day and event ahead, but then we only updated in the evening after we left our reception," said Luke.

"Many of our friends and family at the event, and those that were not able to make it, were posting on Facebook with a couple on Twitter, if I remember correctly."

Even though the couple themselves only checked in on social media before and after the event, other couples are taking this connection one step farther. It's now a not uncommon practice to see someone at the ceremony live streaming a wedding.

There are professional services that cater for an entire industry that revolves around broadcasting a wedding to a global audience, complete with personalised invitations and a chat room to interact with proceedings.

In this instance, a guest can easily act as the video director, camera operator and director all in one. Even though your guests might be multi-skilled and do a good enough job of documenting the big day, is it enough to rely on your friends and family to get the best shots?

For the newlywed Humbles, leaving the photography to guests alone never crossed their minds. "You just cannot match the experience, training and quality of a professional. For a special day to the statue of a wedding, it is important you have someone that knows what they are doing, as you only have one shot at it and you need to make it count," said Luke.

The addiction to social media

At any gathering, it's inevitable that the camera makes an appearance. Capturing a meal or self-portrait, activities that once seemed narcissistic and unnecessary, are now part and parcel of how we expect events to be documented.

In many ways, weddings amplify this desire to capture every single moment. It's difficult to wade through Facebook and Twitter streams without running into enough visual stimulation to keep us constantly coming back for more. Schatzel thinks that our desire to constantly document events like weddings is nothing to do with capturing photos for the bride and groom, but instead for ourselves. Accruing likes or retweets on images is more a mark of personal pride than wanting to share moments for the couple.

(Bride on phone image by Ruth Elkin, royalty free)

"Social media has created an addiction for many people to constantly be connected to their friends and family through the events they attend and the things they see," he said.

Schatzel has also prepared a slideshow of photos to show potential clients how keen photographer guests can ruin certain shots.

"So many people take photos just so they can post to Facebook, and not necessarily to have a captured memory. I think this is highlighted even more at a wedding, because the bride and groom may not consent to their guests posting photos online before they have had a chance to do so themselves. I have talked to many couples about this, and for many of them, it's something they never even considered. Usually when I first mention this, many brides' eyes go wide with surprise."

If the couple requests an unplugged wedding, Schatzel will help organise it, though he was keen to point out that they don't discourage phone or camera use by guests — just try to help couples to make informed decisions.

"Couples book us because of the high-quality wedding films we produce, so it's always a concern when someone not hired to document the event takes matters into their own hands ... one way for them to reach their guests about not bringing cameras or completely switching them off during the ceremony is to mention it on their invitations. If it's too late for that, then the perfect way is to have the celebrant or priest make an announcement before the bride arrives."

Inevitably, it's up to the couple to decide just how they want their ceremony to pan out, with or without the aid of guests as photographers and video makers. But it's definitely safe to say that today's weddings look totally different from ceremonies held only 10 years ago, as we tweet, Facebook and Instagram our way through living memories.