We can argue back and forth for days about if guests should have the right to take photos as they please at weddings, but when it comes down to it, if the happy couple can't experience their special day without a guest interfering, haven't we gone too far? Photographer Thomas Stewart thinks so.
Australian Wedding Photographer Thomas Stewart recently posted a rant that really hit home with a lot of people, both clients and photographers alike.
To me, the picture says more than I could ever say with words. Nonetheless, I'll express that I couldn't agree more with Thomas. The truth is, this is representative of so many issues in our culture. First of all, did you know that you won't remember an event as well if you're focused on taking pictures of it? So really, why do we feel this overwhelming need to capture mediocre photos of an event knowing full well that a hired professional is there to capture great photos of it? It's quite selfish, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong; I don't see anything wrong with snapping a quick shot as a memento from your seat and promptly putting your phone away; that's no more distracting than Great Aunt Edna's hell-raising sneezes two aisles over. But this culture of hanging in the aisle while the bride processes, of watching concerts through a tiny phone screen? What's up with that? Why do we insist on removing ourselves from the experience and interfering with the experience of others for some forgettable shots? As Stewart puts it:
The guests' photos are usually crap. I'm sorry, but it is true. You can't take great photos with your camera phone by leaning into the aisle of a dark church to photograph a moving subject. Hell, even lots of professionals have trouble with this.
This is why I have a clause in my contract that gives me permission to act on the bride and groom's behalf in telling people to put their phones away, a clause that I explain fully to the couple before the wedding and one that I've never had met with anything but enthusiastic agreement from the couple. This doesn't mean I play phone police with every guest, but it does give me leeway to address the most egregious offenders. After all, do you go to a fine dining restaurant just to have people throw fast food at you the entire time you're there? Forgive me if I'm being rude in such a characterization, but the fact of the matter is that the couple has hired me as a professional to create the best possible images for them. If you want to take photos for your memories, I have no problem with that, as long as you do it quickly and without exceeding the limits of basic etiquette, my job aside.
But here's the thing: not I, nor any wedding photographer, I imagine, likes being in the position of having to play photo bouncer with guests. I'm constantly toeing a fine line in these situations. My allegiance is to the couple and the couple only; frankly, I don't care if it upsets you when I politely ask you to stop standing in the middle of the aisle. When that couple looks back at the photos of one of the most important days of their lives, I don't want them to be disappointed because the person they trusted to capture that day, me, couldn't simply speak up when someone was interfering. On the other hand, I always run the risk of running into that person who just doesn't want to be told what to do and will cause a scene, no matter how polite I am. My job is to make great images and to be invisible; causing a scene really violates the second half of that.
But really, Stewart's post and more strikingly, his photo, highlight the real point here: it's not about the guests and it's not about the photographer. It's about the bride and groom. They have granted us an incredible privilege to witness a deeply intimate event and we should never forget that. We are there as witnesses, not actors. When you step into the aisle and block the groom's view of the bride, you become an actor. When I have to interrupt your experience of the event to tell you to sit back down, I become an actor. If someone chooses to share such an intimate and special occasion with us, I think we owe them the requisite respect to at least not interfere with it. Whenever I tie the knot, I don't want the memory of my bride walking down the aisle to also include ten people hanging in the aisle with their phones. I don't want to miss the looks of joy on my friends' faces because there are phones in front of them. I want my wedding to be a beautiful event shared with the people close to me, not some faux electronic extension of them. After all, that's why we have wedding photographers: they're people who are really good at making images and just as importantly, who we don't mind asking to forgo experiencing the event without distractions. Leave that job up to them.
Image used with permission of Thomas Stewart.