In our professional opinion, one of the best modern wedding traditions to photograph is the exchange of letters and gifts between future spouses prior to the marriage ceremony. We have noticed that most brides and grooms in the Washington, DC area choose to take a few minutes as they are getting ready to write a little love note for their beloved to read before the nuptial ceremonies. It is a very simple tradition — just writing down a few words to tell the person you’re going to marry how much you love them — but one packed with emotion and tenderness. As wedding photographers, we have found that the moments when the partners write their letters and when the recipients read them are frequently among the sweetest and most touching parts of the day. The images we capture of those scenes often end up being our and our wedding clients’ favorites from the marriage celebrations.
Because we have photographed these scenes so many times, we’ve often thought about what makes them so special. One reason is that the exchange of letters is an opportunity for the couple to express their feelings to one another one last time in private before the ceremony and the reception. A public exchange of vows is an important part of most weddings and the uniting of two people and their families. Many marriage ceremonies, however, do not allow brides and grooms to express their personal feelings for one another. Even in more flexible ceremonies, the spouses-to-be usually filter their thoughts a little bit. But in a private note from one to the other? There they can say anything and everything they feel about their partner.
Another reason we like the letter exchange so much is how delightfully old-fashioned the ritual feels. These days, most couples about to get married have known and/or dated each other for years. Many have even lived together for a while. So the tradition of not seeing one another on the day of the wedding is definitely reminiscent of a different age. We both come from families with Old World manners and sensibilities (and it shows in the very classic feel of our wedding photography), so we love that most future spouses still observe this custom and use the passing of love notes to maintain some “secret” contact.
The last reason why we love when brides and grooms exchange love letters is that, as we mentioned before, the photos of the writing and the reading are so beautiful. Our images of a bride or groom drafting a personal note to their intended usually show deep thought and concentration, as the writer tries to find the perfect words to convey everything they feel about the person with whom they will spend the rest of their life. The emotions in these moments tend to be understated. We photograph a single tear here and there, but that is rare. When the reader opens the note, on the other hand, the feelings are usually there for the world to see. There are almost always smiles and frequently laughter, as there was when we took this photo at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles hotel. Our favorite moments, of course, are when the words on the page have touched the reader’s heart enough to bring out tears of joy.