Pocket that phone

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Someday soon, Angelique Tolmach’s wedding might be considered retro. When the Potomac native married Brandon Tolmach in Fort Lauderdale last January they followed standard Jewish protocol: Chuppah. Ketubah. Ring. Breaking the glass.

Where they parted with tradition was in asking their guests – very nicely – to not take pictures of the ceremony. “We’d go to these events and you’d see the great-aunt standing in front with an iPad, taking pictures,” Tolmach says. “I didn’t want to have to worry about that.” The answer was an “unplugged wedding.” It’s increasingly popular with couples who, after spending thousands of dollars on getting their wedding just right, want to have a say in how the memories of that day are captured.


It’s popular with professional photographers who are tired of taking that now-iconic photograph of other people taking photographs. Yet the trend isn’t old-fashioned as much as an attempt to grapple with how to use technology that plays an increasing large role in our lives.

“The unplugged wedding is every photographer’s dream,” says Michael Temchine, a Washington, D.C., photographer, who says that dream has never come true for him.

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Stephen Gosling, another D.C. photographer, says he has attempted numerous wedding shots where he was cut off from his subject by “people leaning into the aisle with a phone or iPad.”

Wedding photographers even have a nickname for this kind of guest – “Uncle Bob.” Gosling recalls one wedding where there was an “Uncle Bob” sitting front-row center, sticking his arm into the aisle as he tried to shoot a picture. Gosling alerted the wedding planner, who told the guest to keep his arm out of the photographer’s shot. In opting for an unplugged wedding, Angelique Tolmach avoided that sort of elbowing the photographer.


And it allowed her to decide which pictures the world would see of the most intimate public moment of her life – and when. “I wanted to manage what other people saw out there,” said Tolmach, a cousin of Washington Jewish Week Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey W. Melada.

Since wedding photos have spilled digitally out of printed photo albums and onto wedding websites and from there to Facebook and Instagram, the time it took to produce images of the wedding went from days or weeks to split seconds. And since anyone with a phone is now a potential wedding photographer, it’s possible for any snap-happy guest to get in front of the couple in publicizing the event.

“The most significant consequence of people using cell phones at weddings is that pictures of the bride and groom as well as the event end up on Facebook before the bride and groom have said their vows,” said Tracy Bloom Schwartz, of Creative Parties, Ltd., in Bethesda.

And it has the potential to cause the couple to inadvertently break Jewish tradition. It’s customary for the bride and groom to not see each other before the ceremony.

Temchine, who photographs many Orthodox weddings, imagines a bridesmaid snapping a picture of the bride when she is getting into her dress and uploading it to Facebook. Meanwhile the groom, using a free moment to check his Facebook account, comes across the photo of his fiancée.

“So he sees her – maybe in the dress, maybe in makeup.”

Either way, it breaks the spirit of the separation before the ceremony, as well as undercutting the drama of the bride’s entrance at the wedding. Asking nicely How do you ask guests nicely to pocket that phone?

“Our most popular way to manage the situation is to create beautiful signage to post where people enter the room for the wedding requesting that phones be silenced and cameras not be used,” Schwartz says. “I would like to think that it helps, but just like at the movies some people forget or think no one calls them.”

The Tolmachs put their request in their wedding program: “Lastly, we want to welcome friends and family to our Unplugged Wedding. Brandon and Angelique invite you to be truly present at this special time. Please, turn off your cell phones and put down your cameras. We would greatly appreciate it if no photos are posted publicly and allow the photographer to capture how this moment looks. We encourage you all to capture how it feels with your hearts, without the distraction of technology.Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

The request was largely, but not universally, heeded, Angelique Tolmach says. But with their invitation “to be truly present” the couple was recognizing that to take part, you can’t put a partition between you and the event. That’s what a camera is. Says Temchine, “As a photographer, you realize you’re not watching or participating in an event – you’re watching a screen.”

Gosling is philosophical. “It’s the world we live in,” he says. The wedding drone But if there are going to be hundreds – if not thousands – of photos of the wedding, the party, and any other celebrations, how is anyone to find them all on the Internet?

Gosling says that many couples pick a hashtag for their wedding – say #BigDay or #AtMekushetLi – and let guests know to tag their photos with it. So no matter where on the Internet the photos land, they can be found. Gosling knew a man who created his own wedding photo app.

He gave guests instructions to download it. “That way it was easier to catalog all the pictures.” If you don’t spend your spare time creating apps, you can take advantage of the ones that already exist, as well as other services available online. Here are five: Evernote – Software and services for note-taking and archiving. You and your intended can share the same list and check it off as you complete your pre-wedding tasks.

WeddingWire – A fleet of mobile apps for managing lists, finding vendors, choosing dresses and archiving photos. Appy Couple – Lets you create a customized wedding app and website to share all the information and content about your wedding with guests. Pinterest – Using the social bookmarking site is like “ripping the pages out of wedding magazines and taping them to your bulletin board,” according to Mashable. LiveLens – Its live-streaming capabilities let you include guests who can’t make it to the ceremony, but do have access to a computer.

By far the sexiest and most controversial tech innovation is the wedding drone, which flies above the ceremony and photographs the wedding from a bird’s-eye view.

The technology is not foolproof – a popular YouTube video shows the footage shot by a drone as it zooms toward a newly married couple and smashes unceremoniously into the groom’s face.

And it raises legal questions. In June, U.S. Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) hired a videographer to photograph his wedding using a drone. Critics pointed out that commercial drones violate Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Coincidentally, Maloney sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee — which oversees the FAA. Still, all signs point to more technology in weddings, rather than less. Even Tolmach, who wanted an unplugged wedding, wouldn’t rule out a drone if she had to do it all over again.

“I like the idea.”

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@DavidHolzel

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