'Unplugged weddings' a growing trend in Houston

- It's the most important day of many people's lives -- the day they say, "I do." The wedding photos will be cherished forever, except for the ones blotted with outstretched arms, cell phones, iPads and people's heads.

"The vows are just about to happen, and right then...an uncle jumps up right in front of the bride and groom with his cell phone, recording," said Houston photographer Joey Thomas, explaining a key moment at a wedding that he says was sabotaged by a person with a cell phone.

Stories like this are all too common.

"I feel like it's becoming an epidemic," said Houston photographer Zia Ahmed, owner of Aventography Studios. "Every child, every parent, every bridesmaid, every groomsman has a cell phone."

"As you're walking down the aisle, you see cell phones held up high on either side of the aisle," said wedding planner Piper Hatfield, owner of Piper & Muse Events.

Hatfield says the so-called cell phone epidemic has popularized the idea of the "unplugged ceremony."

"We've seen people kind of come back and say, we would really prefer that you keep your cameras and iPads and what-not away during ceremonies, so the guests can be fully engaged, and of course so the photographers can get great pictures."

She says the phones are not just distracting--they can be a safety hazard.

"People are stepping into the aisles, essentially," said Hatfield. "People trip, and photographers fall, videographers fall, and so it's just been kind of a headache across the board, I think."

"I've gotten bumped on the head a few times, because they are shuffling for a position," said Ahmed of the cell phone-bearing wedding guests.

This week Ahmed offered brides a $1,000 discount on his photography if they choose to do a cell phone-free wedding.

"We do high-end photography, and if there are cell phones in the middle, it kind of ruins it for the bride especially," said Ahmed. "The attention from the bride is taken away, and you see all these cell phones instead."

For those wanting to do an "unplugged wedding," Hatfield is offering this advice:

"Signage is a great way to do it, but a better way is really having the officiant make that announcement at the beginning of the ceremony--having that voice of authority step in and say, 'we would really prefer you to not use cell phones and to stay unplugged during our ceremony,'" said Hatfield.

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