Wedding Traditions We Love (Photographing)

04 | 22 | 2009

I spent my weekend laughing and crying my way through my cousin’s wedding—and thinking a lot about why we do what we do at weddings (and why we should!) and some of the things I love photographing at weddings. Because weddings, even the so-called untraditional ones, are steeped in tradition. So I’d like to blog about traditions I love (as a photographer, of course!).    Some of my favorites are from Jewish and Chinese wedding traditions—creating a chuppah, visiting tables, and changing dresses.  But there are plenty of traditions I see at almost all weddings that I love just as much and hope don’t disappear in the push to cast off tradition.

Part I, Traditions I Sometimes See That Make For Great Photographs:

The huppah is lovely for a number of reasons.  Not only is it symbolically meaningful, signifying shelter for the couple and four open sides of their marriage, but it provides a beautiful backdrop for the ceremony.  Clearly this has been on my mind the last couple of weeks.  I have seen gorgeous huppahs made from the talis (prayer shawl) of a loved one who has passed away, ones decorated with flowers, photographs, branches, swaths of fabric, lace, and chandeliers.  I have also seen modern reinterpretations of the huppah with potted trees, but no covering, or with staging the ceremony under the canopy of Japanese maple trees or a large oak.

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Whatever your religious creed, and particularly if you plan to wed outdoors or in a venue that’s not traditionally used for weddings, creating a focal point for the ceremony can be helpful and add visual interest to your wedding.

Another tradition that I love, and see mostly at Chinese or Asian-American weddings is greeting the guests at the dinner tables by the bride, groom, and their families.  Everyone carries a glass of champagne.  Guests at each table often offer a toast.

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This affords the bride and groom and their families a chance to happily interact with their guests, if briefly— something that may not otherwise happen.  And unlike with a receiving line (or formal table shots, for that matter), the photographs are really fun—everyone smiling and laughing with the festive detail of clinking champagne glasses.  Even if you do not want to go around to tables, do make time for your guests.  Both your wedding album and memories will be much richer for it.

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Another favorite tradition that I’m starting to see cross-over cultural boundaries is the changing of the bride’s dress.  At Chinese and Chinese-American weddings, the bride will sometimes change her dress as many as four times at the reception, signifying the changing of the seasons. (A simpler incarnation of this tradition is that the bride will wear a white dress for the ceremony and a traditional red one for the reception).  Now that I think about it, there is a lot of costume changing in a lot of (usually Asian) wedding traditions. In the photograph below, Joy and Darrell were on outfit number two out of three.  Traditional Vietnamese, Filipino, and American costumes all made an appearance throughout the night!

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With western-style weddings, I’ve seen the bride change from her full-length wedding gown into a shorter, white cocktail gown for the reception.  Not only is it wonderful to satisfy our collective love of a little-white-dress (and what better than two of them?), but it helps change the tone of the party.  A ceremony can be formal and grand, but the reception could still take on a more flirty and playful tone.  At the very least, it’s fun to imagine the possibilities.  And as long as we’re imagining, it’s fun to imagine it on an unlimited budget!

Part II, Traditions I See Quite Often and Will Always Love:

1. The giving away of the bride.  I think the historical tradition behind this is kind of archaic, but I love it anyway.  The need to wed in the presence/support of family and friends is still a powerful cultural instinct (and the giving away of the bride does illustrate her family’s blessing of the marriage).  I love sometimes seeing both parents—and not just the father—give the bride away, too.  Photographically, that moment just before they walk down the aisle can be perfectly magical, emotional, and honest.  Logistically, it’s not always possible to be there.   But sometimes, I choose to be there, even if it means I photograph the bride and her father walking down the aisle from behind.  Those images can show the environment and sentiment of the moment so well.

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As an aside, I think I promote any interaction between the parents and the bride and groom.  I wish I had involved my parents more at my own wedding.  The father usually has his two (fleeting) moments of glory—walking the bride down the aisle, and dancing a first dance with her.  But what about the mother? And are two minutes with your father enough?  My suggestion is to look for meaningful moments.  Seek them out.  And make them happen.

2. The first kiss.  Seriously, truly, and always.  My heart melts when the couple hugs just after they kiss.

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3. The recessional!  It’s always so happy!

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4. Cutting the cake¹, by which I mean watching the couple figure out how to cut the cake, followed by that superbly sweet first bite, followed by the even sweeter kiss.  That’s really my favorite part.

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5. The first dance.  Why have people stopped doing this as a matter of course?

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6.  Also, I ♥ big group dances.  The hora, Persian dancing, Greek dancing, line dancing, whatever!

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Actually, if I could draw one conclusion now that I look at all these traditions I love is that all of them center around the bride and groom interacting with each other and their friends and family in wonderful, meaningful ways.

One of my clients’ priests told them to participate in (only) the traditions that mean something to them.  I agree.  Good advice. Really good advice. To that I would like to add … planning a moment doesn’t cheapen its meaning at all.  I think there’s a misguided hope that meaningful moments will just naturally happen on their own.  But your wedding day passes by at lightning speed—so why risk it?

There’s a feeling, or at least, I have a feeling that these are moments that we all (as humans) are supposed to have and to share and to enjoy, and that even the most unconventional among us looks forward to from childhood, and that as adults, we look forward to sharing with our children, nieces, and nephews.

photo credit: Gia Canali

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¹ Just to clarify, it doesn’t have to be cake.  Just something sweet.  That’s the point, anyway. So cupcakes, honey, a favorite family dessert, whatever satisfies your sweet tooth.

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3 Notes on “Wedding Traditions We Love (Photographing)

  1. Pingback: Taking Joy in Your Traditions « Pursuing the Picture Perfect Wedding :: a blog about weddings and getting great wedding photographs by Gia Canali

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