Wedding photos are an important part of wedding ceremonies across the globe, but in China they’re a whole different ballgame; the perfect wedding shoot has become a top priority in the wedding arrangements. China’s pre-wedding photography industry is more booming than ever before.
A booming marriage market
Red Army uniforms and balloons dresses don’t appear to have all that much in common. But visit one of China’s scenic spots on a clear day, and you may discover that they are amongst the growing trends for China’s luxurious wedding photos, known in Mandarin as jiehun zhao (结婚照).
Chinese wedding photography is slowly becoming an art in itself. The Chinese marriage industry is soaring with an estimated worth of 800 billion RMB (130 US$) billion in 2015. Wedding shoots are one of its key sectors – some photography packages are sold at a staggering $80,000.
Profits stem from the expensive backdrops and costume rentals, along with more modern additions of presentation videos and interactive wedding invitations.
No time for photos
One noticeable characteristic of Chinese wedding shoots is that they largely take place before the wedding ceremony, sometimes months in advance. One explanation for this is that many wedding ceremonies in China follow a set structure involving cultural practices that leave little room for more spontaneous wedding photographs on the day of marriage.
Traditional weddings include lengthy processes such as toasting each guest table by table. Because Chinese wedding ceremonies often last shorter than wedding ceremonies in Europe and America, there is limited time to pose for wedding pictures. By planning pre-wedding photos, couples can pose for hours – taking pictures in numerous locations and outfits.
An additional advantage of planning the photos before the wedding: the photos are ready for everyone to see during the day of the ceremony. Some couples even turn their best photos into custom life-size cardboard cutouts – a photo opportunity for their weddings guests.
Recent shoots on social media
The reputation of China’s wedding photography industry is gradually becoming more prevalent worldwide as sessions increase in extravagance and expense.
Recent examples of lavish photo shoots have included both traditional and modern scenes, as well as artistic influences. Last year, a Tibetan couple’s pre-wedding photographs went viral on Chinese social media due to the contrast between depictions of modern city-life and traditional Tibetan landscapes. The photographs were reportedly seen by over 80 per cent of WeChat users in China (BBC 2015).
More recently, a man in Qingdao hand-crafted dresses from balloons for his fiancée to wear during their wedding photos, while another couple’s photographs wearing traditional ethnic minority dress attracted much online discussion.
The developing ‘trends’ of wedding photography
In today’s social media age, Chinese wedding photographs are routinely shared with a large audience. This has led to various trends in the industry.
One style mirrors the original ‘wedding photographs’ of China’s pre-reform era. Before the popularity of pre-wedding shoots, engaged couples would usually pose for one formal photograph when in the process of obtaining a marriage certificate. In more modern interpretations, couples can be seen to wear Mao-era military fatigues and hairstyles, even holding copies of Mao’s Little Red Book in keeping with photographs of the time, the main difference being that today couples are permitted to adopt whimsical poses and expressions.
Another recent trend is to stand out from the crowd by taking pre-wedding photos in another country, such as posing under the Big Ben in faraway London. This generally involves more Western-style photographs in suits and white bridal gowns. Transport and accommodation are often organised as part of one photography package.
The most famous example of wedding pictures taken abroad is arguably that of Chinese celebrity Angelababy, whose extravagant pre-wedding photographs in Paris with husband Huang Xiaoming made headlines in both Chinese and Western media (see featured image).
Other popular pre-wedding photo locations and styles include local parks, botanical gardens, amusement parks and indoor studio backdrops, with couples often wearing traditional Han qipao (旗袍) and hanfu (汉服) dress.
Regardless of scenery or price, most pre-wedding shoots have one thing in common: a production team. Besides a photographer, couples doing photo shoots are often accompanied by stylists and make-up assistants, as well as people taking care of the lighting and wardrobes. Then there are the people taking care of airbrushing and photoshopping the pictures before they are shown to friends and family.
The cost of pre-wedding shoots
As the production level of pre-wedding photography rises, couples in China have been spending increasing amounts on photography packages.
In order to get ahead in the market, there are now companies that have begun to offer additional services including electronic online invitations and wedding videos at comparatively affordable prices. Photo slideshows that can be played during the ceremony itself are available in a range of themes from cornfields to Disney, with some available to purchase for 68 RMB (roughly $10).
Pre-wedding shoots themselves can range from hundreds to (ten)thousands of dollars, depending on the number of locations and the price of the outfits.
Public opinion of pre-wedding photography
Online opinion of pre-wedding photography varies, with some Weibo users admiring viral wedding photos while others scorn the practice.
For wedding photography companies, Weibo is a lucrative platform to advertise their services. With many couples, including the rich & famous, sharing their own pre-wedding pics on the social network site, the business is also booming on Weibo.
Some netizens are critical at the costs involved in extravagant photo shoots. Commenting on the recent story of the couple who wore 56 ethnic minority outfits in their pre-wedding photographs, one Weibo user said: “All I can say is that they have too much money.”
On the other hand, unusual photo shoots can attract admiration, with one netizen commenting on the same story: “What a creative journey!”
The trend of wearing Communist-style uniforms still appears to be popular, with a user named Shufen commenting: “This kind of photo is so much better than the usual stereotypical wedding photos.”
However, many Weibo users express frustration at the constant circulation of wedding photographs- especially when they are single themselves. As one user says: “For the past few months in a row, my news feed has been full of all sorts of wedding photos. It’s crazy!”
With the growth of China’s emerging middle-class, the trend for pre-wedding photographs is likely to further flourish for the years to come; as couple’s strive to find new and innovative wedding photos, the industry is only set to become more competitive. The honeymoon is not over yet.
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