This is one of my favorite wedding photos we’ve ever taken. It was taken in 2007 at the Chattanoogan Hotel.
Why is it a favorite? Because it’s real. This amazing couple just finished shoving cake and icing all over each others faces. Every one of their parents happened to be standing right there behind them. What do you see? You see real reactions, real laughter, real smiles. What do you not see? Any kind of electronic device. This couple and their parents lived that moment. I promise you they remember it, that it’s etched in their memories, and I bet it always will be. This is one of the last times I was able to capture a moment like this that was free of cameras, free of cell phones… real people enjoying a very real moment.
The original iPhone made it’s debut in 2007. Within months it was in the hands of millions. Sure, camera phones had been around and so had point and shoot cameras, but they weren’t so common. Facebook was becoming more and more popular, people sharing their lives on social media was beginning to become normal. That’s when I first started noticing that more people were coming to weddings with their cameras and camera phones in hand.
It wasn’t a big deal, really it wasn’t. One out of every 15-20 people snapped the occasional photo. Every now and then we’d have to gracefully ask someone to move a bit. No big deal.
Over the years it became more and more common to see people taking photos at weddings. While they occasionally found their way in to our images it wasn’t as if dozens of images were ruined – we were still able to capture what we needed, what we wanted, what our couples wanted, what would make our couples happy and help them remember their beautifully planned wedding day.
Fast forward to now. Now it’s more like 1 in 15-20 people who DON’T have a smart phone of some sort, a point and shoot camera, or even a DSLR taking photos nonstop at every wedding. On one hand I get it – society is so wrapped up in social networking that everybody wants a photo to post on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter or simply to have on their phone to show people later. It’s, “Hey, I was there, I’ll post it on social media so people can see it, so I can remember it, so I can look back on it later.” I get it, I do, I understand it. I feel the same way when I go somewhere amazing – I want to document it, keep it, store it away. But it’s getting out of hand. People now watch life through an LCD screen instead of living in the moment. Some people don’t think twice about getting up out of their seat during a wedding ceremony and standing in the aisle, walking up to the front, follow the bride down the aisle, even standing in their chairs to get a “good shot”. What happens to these photos? Many of my past brides have told me that they never see them at all, any of them. Many have complained that the first photo that uninvited guests or friends and family who couldn’t make it see of them and their wedding day is a blurry cell phone image that isn’t the least bit flattering. Some are hurt, some are angry, some are upset, others don’t care – or at least haven’t mentioned it to me.
Before 2012 I had never missed a first kiss – never, ever in hundreds of weddings had I ever missed a first kiss, even the ones that happen so quickly most people don’t notice them. I can’t say that any more. I missed the first one in 2012. I missed it because a cousin’s date, whom the bride did not know and had never seen before and hasn’t seen since stepped in the aisle to take a photo – right in front of me. There was absolutely nothing I could do. By the time I raced forward to get the shot over his shoulder – the moment was gone. Thankfully I had a second photographer stationed to the side and he was able to get a photo of the first kiss from that angle – but it’s not the same. You can’t see the looks on their faces, the happiness, the joy, you can only see that it happened.
So much has changed. The endearing moments where parents were watching their child’s first dance, cake cutting, first kiss… those moments we used to capture forever have been replaced by photos of parents, family, and friends holding cell phones in front of their faces. You can no longer see what they felt, how they reacted, instead we have forever documented which cell phone cover they were using at that moment in time. The emotion is gone as people live their lives staring at LCD screens. During ceremonies I see people taking photos, uploading them to Facebook or Instagram, taking more photos, uploading those too… On the single most important day of their friend/daughter/son/niece/nephew’s life to this point – the vast majority of people aren’t living it, enjoying it, or sharing it with them – they’re watching it through an LCD. Instead of that amazing moment when a father sees his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time many fathers are walking in with smartphone in hand ready to take a photo. Instead of guests with tears in their eyes I see a sea of people looking for the right angle, raising their phones above their heads, stretching their arms in to the aisles, whatever it takes to get that shot. People are even bringing their iPads to take photos.
Just stop. Please stop. I beg you to leave the phone, the camera, the iPad at home or safely tucked away in your pocket or handbag. Snap a couple of photos for yourself of you, your family, etc… before the ceremony starts, during cocktail hour, at the reception… but for the majority of the day – and especially during the ceremony – put it away.
Don’t stop for me. At the end of the day I still get paid. I still do the very best job I can possibly do at each and every wedding. While I am sad, heartbroken in many ways, that so much of the emotion is gone, replaced by the need to document the day, at the end of the day it’s not my choice, not my day, not my wedding. Do I want it to stop? Absolutely. But not for my sake. I want you to stop for YOU and for the couple. You aren’t living. You aren’t enjoying the moment. You aren’t allowing yourself to take in the beauty and love that’s standing right there before your eyes. You’re stealing that from yourself. You’re taking away from the couple the ability to see how other people – their dearest friends, family, and loved ones – felt on their wedding day. Did you silently wipe a tear away? Did you laugh when the officiant told a story about them from childhood? Did you smile from ear to ear? They’ll never know. They’ll never know because you covered your face with a picture-taking-device and you were too focused on that to actually feel anything at all, or at the very least to show it if you did feel it.
Live, please live. Wedding days are probably the most planned day of a persons life. People spend months planning every last detail, years dreaming about exactly how it will be – how people will enjoy it, wondering if people will cry or laugh or smile… Give that to them. Give them your attention, your emotions, your presence… it’s the most wonderful gift you can give them. Toasters will break, bath towels will wear out, all of that expensive china they registered for will eventually be tucked away in a cabinet as children are born… Give them the gift of being able to look back at their wedding album and see your smiling face, see your tears, feel your love and know that you were there, really there on that wonderful occasion. Please give that to them.
Does the sea of cameras affect the professional photography they’ve paid lots of hard earned money for? Sometimes. Sometimes, yes, yes it does. Most churches have rules for photographers. Rules on where we can and cannot stand, if we are allowed to move at all, if so where we can move and where we cannot. They have rules stating that we can’t use a flash – even if we are allowed to we typically don’t as it is a sacred ceremony that we don’t want to detract from in any way and the constant flashing of our high powered speedlights would certainly be a distraction to everyone. In some cases we literally are not allowed to move to ask someone to step out of the aisle or to get a different angle if someone has stepped in our way. In every case we don’t want to have to because, again, it’s a distraction, it takes away from their ceremony. When someone uses the flash on their point and shoot camera at the exact moment we do it does overexpose our image. The red light from the red-eye reduction feature will turn them red. In years past it wasn’t that big of a deal – a flash or two here & there… now we are missing some of the best moments and instead of choosing which image has the best expression we are simply looking for one where a guests flash didn’t fire. Thankfully there’s more than one of us and, so far, we’ve never both failed to get the important images because of someone being in our way. It could happen, if things keep going at the rate they’re going then it will happen. So, does it affect us as wedding photographers? Absolutely. I don’t think there are many wedding photographers out there who don’t love what they do and love capturing those incredible moments. I love what I do, my team loves it, capturing moments that make us cry over and over and over again is the reason we love it so much. Sure, it’s a job, we get paid, but we do it because we love it and it IS heartbreaking to have to throw away an incredible moment because of dozens of flashes were firing at a time when we were not allowed to use one at all or to not get the shot at all because someone stepped in front of us. Family photos have become an enormous challenge just to get people to look at us instead of the person off to the side yelling for people to look at them. Every single one of our couples gets an online gallery that they can share with friends and with family. If they purchase the digital package we can even set it where guests can download the photos for themselves.
But, again, don’t do it for me… do it for you so that you can actually live in the moment and for the people you’re there to celebrate so that they can look back and see how you enjoyed their day. The most amazing gift you can give them – is your presence.
While I could post 100 images of people doing the things I listed above – I won’t. This isn’t about embarrassment or shaming anyone. It does happen at every wedding with the exception of the few who have specifically asked guests not to bring or use their cameras or cell phones (which IS becoming more common). The few images I am posting are to illustrate a point and do not show peoples faces and have further been blurred to insure that people are not identifiable. If, for any reason, you are embarrassed or negatively affected by an image I have posted please, please email me and it will be removed.