Natalie Thomas and Dylan Martinez
Under a rare blue summer sky on London’s Westminster Bridge, Jiachun Lin poses in a flowing white lace gown and windtossed veil with her fiance Da Song.
For Chinese couples, wedding photos are not simply about having a photographer show up on the big day.
They can be elaborate affairs involving costumes, make-up artists, camera assistants and trips overseas, sometimes even underwater, and take up as much as a quarter of the wedding budget.
“You can go to a studio to have pre-wedding pictures taken and you can pretend to be anywhere, they have so many backdrops,” said Song, 28, who will be tying the knot with his 24-year-old bride in China’s northeastern city of Harbin.
Of course, it’s better if you can actually go there, said Song, whose photoshoot with UK Wedding set him back 1,000 pounds ($1,303). UK Wedding is one of several London-based companies catering exclusively to clients from China.
“I went to university in Newcastle, so England has always been very important to me. I want to show my family and friends what it means to me,” Song said.
Living in a globally connected world and given rising incomes, young Chinese are increasingly looking to impress with lavish weddings that mix traditional elements and Western trends, complete with a walk down the aisle, bridesmaids, ushers and even a hired wedding planner.
Revenue for China’s wedding services industry was estimated to have reached $24.6 billion in 2016, data provider IBISWorld said in a report this year. That covered car rentals, restaurant decorations, photography and videography, among others.
The list of popular photoshoot destinations stretches from Indonesia’s resort island of Bali to London, Paris and picturesque blue-and-white Santorini in Greece.
“Some people just want to photo famous landmarks in London like Big Ben and the London Eye,” said UK Wedding founder Jeff Lu, adding that many couples now seek more authentic experiences.
“They might choose a really English-style small town, such as in the Cotswolds near Oxford,” he added.
For those who cannot travel, vast hangar-like Chinese studios bring the world to them, offering the chance to pose in front of a fake Greek village, a Chinese temple or the bedroom of French king Louis XIV – all in a single appointment.
Golden Ladies, one of Beijing’s 24×7 wedding photo studios, fills up with as many as 75 couples on a busy day.
At a recent shoot, Chen Xueling, dressed in a shimmering blue dress and surrounded by opulence befitting a princess, gazed into the eyes of fiance Wang Xinfeng.
The couple had to wait for three months for a slot.
“It’s worth it so that we can have these beautiful memories for the future,” Chen said. “During the wedding itself, we’ll put these photos on a screen.”