Digital Manners: Is It a Faux Pas to Snap Cell-Phone Pics at Weddings?

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
Feb. 21 2012 3:01 PM

Amateur Wedding Paparazzi (Transcript)

Should guests snap cell-phone photos at weddings and post them online?

Emily Yoffe:  I hereby pronounce you husband and wife. You may now take out your cell phones and photograph the bride.

 Farhad Manjoo:  I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.

Emily:  I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

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Today’s question is from a woman who wonders whether it’s rude to whip out a cell phone during a wedding ceremony to take snapshots of the happy couple. She writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, at the weddings I’ve been to recently, including my own, I’ve noticed a trend: cell phone photos. As soon as the attendants and the bride come walking down the aisle, guests pull out their phones and begin snapping photos. Am I being oversensitive to think that people’s eyes should be on the bride, not their phones? It’s not like there aren’t professional photos being taken, so I’m not sure I understand the point. After my own recent wedding, there were photos posted on Facebook that had been taken not only while I was walking down the aisle, but also during the ceremony. Is this as rude as I think it is or am I just behind the new trend of amateur cell phone wedding photography?” Signed, Don’t Say Cheese.

Okay, Farhad, you were married pretty recently. Were there amateur paparazzi there, and what did you think about it if there were?

Farhad:  There were amateur paparazzi. Actually, right after our ceremony, I took a picture of us and I posted it to my Twitter.

Emily:  Whoa, whoa, wait. This was in real time?

Farhad:  In real time, right from the wedding.

Emily:  And you’re still married?

Farhad:  It’s true. I think my wife was… She was amused. I don’t think she was angry, but I don’t think she loved it. But I post everything else on Twitter, so why not photos of this big event?

Emily:  Okay. So your reaction is…

Farhad:  I think this is fine. I think this woman is behind on the new trend, as she says. I actually should say that we also had professional photographers at our wedding who took amazing photos, but the amateur photos are really good and they capture a more intimate portrait of the wedding and special moments that I think the professional photographers didn’t capture, because the amateur ones are taken by friends and family who know the people and who know what’s going on. And there are just more of them. They can capture more stuff.

Emily:  This makes me think why actually should you have this whole ceremony? Just take pictures of each other. This is worse than the fight we had over the taking the photos at the kid’s birthday and posting them all on Facebook and parents saying, “I don’t want my kids’ photos being posted,” because this means that the people who are observing this event, which is often a religious ceremony, and now I hear from you, Farhad, the people actually participating in it are not really taking part in the moment. They’re turning it into a virtual event.

I think keep your phones in your pocket during the ceremony. As this bride said, you have hired someone to capture this for you. Of course that person is not going to capture all the images that hundreds of people snapping their cell phones could, but if you’re so busy with your cell phone trying to get the most clever shot, you’re not really paying attention. You have divided attention.

We’re all constantly told when you’re going into a lecture, a religious event, a movie, turn off your cell phones. I don’t even think you should think twice when you’re going in to observe a wedding ceremony. Your phone should be off in your pocket or your purse. We know, because you have a one-year-old, that your marriage did survive this. But I’m against it.

Farhad:  Are you reacting to the fact that they’re cell phones? Would you have said this ten years ago when we had disposable cameras?

Emily:  Yes. If 20, 50, or 100 people are going to pull out cameras and start snapping, you have an entirely different experience. They’re involved in their recording of it, their artistic statement. They’re capturing the moment. They’re not experiencing the moment. There’s sound distraction.

If you’re up there having one of the most important moments of your life and people are twisting and turning and jockeying and snapping, that would just put me off. Not everything needs to be recorded.

And then also these people are taking your wedding photos and putting them on their own page. It’s not a gift to you. I’m all in favor of handing out disposable cameras at the reception and saying, “Hey, people, go ahead,” and then you collect the photos and the photos are kind of a gift to you.

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