Wedding photos: When snap-happy guests go too far

Story highlights

Wedding photography is an extension of a couple's collective personality

Some couples are crowdsourcing guests' images with hashtags or apps

Others couples want guests to "unplug" and put away cameras and phones

CNN  — 

The best weddings are often the ones that celebrate the couples’ personalities. It shows in the details – from Broadway show tune processionals and choreographed dances to “Star Wars”-inspired cake toppers and “The Lord of the Rings” costumes.

More and more, how a couple chooses to document their wedding is yet another extension of their collective identity. Just as technology and smartphones are changing the way we interact with each other, they’re also shaping decisions around wedding-day pictures.

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    Some couples are crowdsourcing images from guests to complement or even replace professional photography. At the same time, some couples are asking guests to “unplug” and put away their cameras and phones altogether.

    The varying approaches are just the latest example of how people are responding differently to technology’s increasing grip on our everyday lives.

    “Everyone’s a photographer now. It used to be that six megapixels was a pro camera. Now you have that on your phone,” said Rocky Bowles, education producer of SmugMug, a file-sharing website that allows wedding photographers to host virtual storefronts. “For clients and couples, it’s great because they have so many options. For photographers, it makes the competition serious.”

    Most Americans are bombarded with images and media all day, sharing everything on social media platforms, said Chicago-based photographer Angela Garbot. The need to share is heightened at a momentous event like a wedding.

    “Regardless of what kind of photographer you are, we all know that the best camera to take a picture with is the one you have in your hand,” she said.

    "I try to have fun with the camera phones everywhere," wedding photographer Angela Garbot said.

    Garbot doesn’t see crowdsourced wedding photography as a threat to the professional craft. In fact, she teaches classes in iPhone photography.

    “I see it as another tool in your tool kit. It’s not going anywhere, so we might as well embrace it,” she said. “But just because you’re taking pictures with a phone doesn’t give you license to take bad pictures.”

    For couples who love the limelight, the more pictures the better, regardless of quality, said Ohio-based wedding photographer Corey Ann Balazowich, who recently extolled the virtues of the “unplugged” wedding ceremony in a Huffington Post column.

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    Others prefer to keep their weddings more low-key. “I understand both sides completely, but after seeing the results from a few weddings that used wedding app image collectors and hashtags, there’s not a whole lot in there that is worth keeping,” Balazowich said, acknowledging she’s “a bit pickier than most” when it comes to judging the quality of images.

    Elizabeth and Scott Taylor are the kind of folks who don’t enjoy the limelight.

    The thought of exchanging vows in front of a crowd was daunting enough; the last thing they needed were camera flashes illuminating the altar throughout the ceremony.

    Elizabeth Taylor saw a friend’s Facebook post about “unplugged” weddings in which couples ask guests to refrain from taking pictures. That could help, she thought: People might actually pay attention. It would minimize the chances of snap-happy relatives standing in the aisle, obstructing views of the ring exchange.

    “It was already an anxious day for us, so we figured it might help ease everything,” she said. “I just didn’t want flashes going off every two seconds or people standing in the aisle.”

    The couple decided to enforce the rule only during the ceremony, the most solemn portion of the celebration, when there’s no opportunity for do-overs. Before the procession, the officiant read a note asking guests to refrain from taking pictures.

    Much to the couple’s delight, it produced the desired results. People laughed at inside jokes written into the ceremony and the images came out without a single photo-bombing relative.

    It also made shooting the ceremony easier on their photographer, who didn’t have to worry about stepping around guests in the aisle or standing in front of the altar.

    It’s not a big deal during the reception, where there are several chances to get great shots. But the ceremony is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime deal, said Balazowich, who has shot several unplugged weddings.

    “It’s not me that you’re hurting, it’s the bride and groom and those who have been invited,” she said. “You don’t want to be the person who blocks the first kiss not just from me, but from other guests, or whose flash ruins the shot when the bride’s father is crying as he walks down the aisle.”

    Taylor said a few guests expressed disappointment over not being able to take pictures. But overall, the benefits outweighed the drawbacks.

    “People weren’t happy with it, but it’s our decision. I really think it was right for us,” she said.

    “We’re spending all this money on a photographer. I didn’t want screwed-up pictures.”

    Her only regret is that she and her new husband didn’t make it clear guests were welcome to take pictures of the rest of the celebration. It’s a shame, really, because there are now more ways than ever to share images with the couple, other guests and well-wishers who couldn’t make it.

    Many couples still want pictures from guests’ perspective to complement professional images, but the disposable cameras of yesterday are slowly giving way to wired solutions.

    Some newlyweds ask guests to share photos on social media sites using a hashtag.

    Some couples ask guests to upload images to photo-sharing websites or smartphone apps that collect them in one place. Others ask guests to attach a unique hashtag to photos on Instagram or Twitter so they can scroll through them at their convenience.

    The latest apps do more than simply aggregate images. WedSocial, one of the top-rated wedding apps in the iTunes store, offers couples the chance to create their own website, complete with the couple’s story, wedding party bios and addresses to ceremony and reception locations.

    WedSocial founders Jake Moltzahn and Ashley While developed the app, which launched in January, because they could not find a mobile solution to support their wedding plans. Since its launch, traffic on the site has more than doubled every month since launch and paid app downloads are increasing by more than 50% each month, according to chief operating officer Chris Rentner. WedSocial also just took a round of funding in June creating a seven-figure valuation.

    Regardless of the method, crowdsourced wedding photography serves multiple purposes, said Garbot, the photographer who also teaches classes on iPhone photography.

    It lets smartphone addicts indulge their need to document everything, get the shots they want (of themselves, for example), post, tag and share them as they wish, with the added benefit that others can follow along from afar.

    Most importantly, these crowdsourced pictures allow the couple to see the day through guests’ eyes.

    “It provides another connection between the couple and their guests, the people they celebrated their wedding with. It gives them another way to communicate,” Garbot said. “Everybody likes to see nice pictures of themselves posted and tagged.”

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    What’s the right amount of documentation for a wedding, and should it be left to the pros? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.