When you see a “No Photos Allowed” sign at a museum, monument, or concert, do you laugh? Do you shake your head? Do you even notice these signs anymore?
These warnings used to make sense when photos were less a part of our lives: when cameras weren’t always at our fingertips; when they were larger and unconnected; when pictures were less embedded in our culture and conversation. In other words, “Photography Prohibited” was effective before smartphones became ubiquitous in our lives. In the past five years, I have seen these outdated signs replaced by “Photography Encouraged” signs by venues that finally “get it.”
As a matter of fact, it will probably take you a minute to realize the real reason why the signs went up in the first place. Hint: it probably has a lot more to do with trying, albeit in vain, to protect a copyright than it has to do concern for preserving other peoples’ experience. It’s true . . . cameras on phones can absolutely ruin some experiences, but most of the time they can prove to be invaluable.
As a large chunk of marketing campaigns absolutely depends on people snapping and sharing photos, the rules and the signs have completely changed. Companies put a lot of time, energy, and money into creating and building communities who share photos, videos, and comments about their businesses. People love to be involved by creating, sharing, and commenting. Like it or not, we have all become content creators and for the most part, everyone has benefitted. Smart companies have realized that the marketing benefits and the customer experience outweigh the inconvenience and possible copyright infringements (that were probably an artificial concern in the first place).
The same can be said for weddings. Photos are incredibly important, even necessary, for everyone involved: the couple, the venue, the planner, the designer, the florist, the cake company, the band, the videographer, the lighting company, the photographer, and the wedding guests. Wedding photos aren't just pretty pictures for the couple anymore, they are a marketing tool for wedding vendors and they are now an integral part of the guests’ experience.
As wedding photographers, we have always had challenges that interfere with our job: drunk wedding guests, videographers who set up shop in the middle of the aisle, and my personal (least) favorite: laser lights from the DJ. The one challenge that has risen to the top of every professional wedding photographer’s list is guests using their smartphones and tablets at weddings. I get it . . . they’re not just using their smart devices, they are creeping into the aisles and onto the dance floor, stepping in front of photographers and all of the other guests. They are obliviously blocking pivotal shots, like a well-dressed horde of phone-wielding zombies. Earlier this year, I had a guest tap me on the shoulder during my clients’ first dance to ask me to step aside so that he could get a better shot. I just said no and then I laughed and cried at the same time.
But guess what, folks? This isn’t going away. People can’t help themselves and we are all guilty of behavior like this. Not only is the technology so accessible, it is completely embedded into our culture. The fact is that people are going to take their own photos with their phones at other people’s weddings. They are going to view, comment on, care about, and share their photos more than they will your photos. They are going to get in our way. They are going to change the experience. And it’s only going to become more prevalent.
So what’s the answer? Unplugged weddings sound great in theory, but they aren’t 100% effective. In the not-so-distant future, those “No Photos Allowed” signs at weddings will probably be laughed at, and then eventually ignored. Let’s figure out a friendly way to work with the guests. We may need to work with our clients to set up boundaries for their guests in order to enhance their wedding, their experience, and the quality of their photos. But we also need to keep doing what we do best and try to capture every shot that we can no matter what gets between us and the couple.
There is some good news: we can actually use those smart device-wielding wedding guests to our advantage. I have been working with a service called Snapshots that allows my photos to be inserted alongside the wedding guests’ photos into a gallery that I control. Aside from making my clients happy, it is a built-in marketing tool that I have never had in my 14-year pro career. Now, I enjoy when every wedding guest picks up their phone, takes a picture, and then sees it in the Snapshots gallery right next to my photos, my name, my logo, and my contact information. They have already seen me work at the wedding, and now they can automatically see my photos, know my name, and know how to contact me for their wedding . . . on the same day they met me!
I’ve really come to embrace this collaborative approach. It benefits pro photographers, it benefits the wedding guests, and best of all: It benefits my clients! Everyone ends up working with each other for the couple’s sake, instead of against each other. We finally have a way to help them help us. When it comes to wedding guests using their phones and tablets at weddings, I not only have the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” attitude, but I enjoy encouraging everyone to get involved. What’s your take?
Full disclosure: I am on Snapshots’ advisory panel and I have known their hard working team for years. This is a good thing: the behind-the-scenes peek I have gotten of their cutting-edge development continues to impress me and they have always taken my constructive criticism to heart in order to improve everyone’s experience.