If you’re not Chinese or acquainted with modern Chinese marriage customs, it can be rather puzzling to see a woman in a bridal gown and full makeup pounding pavements in her sneakers while being followed by a sweating man in a suit, an entourage of stylists, and a camera crew. No, this isn’t a magazine shoot or a film set - you’ve stumbled across a couple taking pre-wedding photographs.
Such scenes are commonplace in Hong Kong, where I’ve worked as a professional photographer for more than a decade. However, in recent years I've noticed more and more international couples getting in on the action.
It may surprise Chinese people to know that this is a concept largely unheard of outside of China. In fact, when couples go abroad for their pre-wedding photo shoots - as is becoming increasingly common with the growth of the affluent middle class - they are often congratulated by passersby who assume it’s their actual wedding day. Although now the norm across China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, pre-wedding shoots are a relatively new phenomenon. In decades past, a single photo, usually in black and white, would be taken at the wedding ceremony as proof of the marriage.
Nowadays, however, with the ever-hectic nature of modern Chinese weddings, there’s less time to take quality wedding photos on the day. Many couples therefore choose to have their photos taken beforehand, allowing them to display their hard-struck poses in fairytale locations to their friends and family at the reception. However, I find international couples who opt for pre-wedding shoots do so more for fun than practicality, as all will still insist on having a professional photographer at their actual nuptials.
Along with the photos, pre-wedding videos are becoming all the rage too, offering couples yet another way to wow guests on their big day. Coming up with creative pre-wedding photo and video shoot ideas and finding very exotic or unusual locations is all part of the fun.
Most couples will spend between four and ten hours on their shoots, while others will spend days on end touring the famous landmarks of their chosen overseas destinations. As prices can run into tens of thousands of dollars, with the organizing company providing all the outfits, styling, makeup and transport, the best pre-wedding photo companies are doing swift business.
Most Chinese brides-to-be will have at least three dress changes during their session, usually including a huge Western-style white gown, a classic Chinese-style red dress, and perhaps something a little more quirky or modern. It’s actually the perfect solution for the bride who just can’t pick between looks. Non-Chinese couples usually opt for less stress, and perhaps only have one outfit change each and a few fun props.
Themed pre-wedding shoots have also become increasingly popular, with couples getting a kick out of donning fancy dresses and kooky poses. Some top pre-wedding photography companies have even built sets to accommodate unusual photos. Such fun is fast becoming a new national ritual, one which paints China, a country deeply rooted in ancient traditions, in a fresh, more playful light.
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