Why we took our pre-wedding photos in Shanghai (and maybe why you should too!)

In Fashion, Lifestyle, Thoughts, Travel by Sara Ann KLeave a Comment

** This article first appeared in Style X Style, with thanks to Allyson Klass.
The sunlight was blaring into my eyes, as my husband to be was on his side, propped on his elbow looking down at me with loving eyes. I tried to ignore the scratchiness of the carpet grass poking through my poufy grey gown, and a dog taking a dump barely 10 steps away from us, as I realized, that yes, I could well be lying in pee on the grass, while trying to smile beatifically back at my fiancé.

Yes. We did indeed lie in the grass a few steps away from a pooping pug. Yay us.

Yes, that definitely was one of the more memorable moments of my pre-wedding shoot in Shanghai. But considering I never wanted to do a pre-wedding shoot at all, how did I land up there? And why am I recommending that you check it out too?
Well, first of all, a couple I knew from church had done their wedding photos in Suzhou a couple of months before ours. “They are very fast, very professional and very efficient,” the two raved. “And they have so many outfits, you can really try on anything,” the bride went on, “just remember to tell them to go easy with the photoshop, and to take away all the chinglish in the albums.” The cincher, “we spent less than $1000 bucks for everything, and we even got a wedding dress for free!!!”
That is how we landed up shooting in Shanghai.
Because our entire shoot cost us a grand total of $800 – a deal I could not resist.

We coincided the shoot with a business trip that the fiancé needed to take, and downloaded the app “da zhong dian ping” – the equivalent of a lovechild of groupon and yelp – to scour for deals, and studios where we liked the shooting style.
Determined to not spend too much, I kept my search to everything below 4000RMB (SGD$845) , and decided on the “Korea Studio”. (It was a toss up between Korea, Paris and Milan, but, when I got to Shanghai, we realized that they were all branches of the same operation. ) Details of the photo studio are available in the video featured later in this post. 
 
When we first got to the wedding studio the day before the shoot, I was a little alarmed. It was in a building that reminded me a little of Lucky Plaza, and the studio set up itself was rather tacky. But, Vernon and I had low expectations, and, as with our entire wedding, we decided to embrace the experience, enjoy it for whatever it was, and roll with it.
*As we did not have a WePay or AliPay set up, we paid our deposit in cash. Another option would be to get someone you know who is working or living in China, to pay the deposit for you first.
On the day of the shoot, we left our hotel at 7am and travelled at least an hour out of Shanghai to a gigantic rather rundown looking warehouse in the middle of nowhere, that turned out to be a 26,000 ft space that housed tons of backdrops.
It was overwhelming. If you wanted to pose with a fake cathedral, you could.

Want to climb trees in an avatar-like alien landscape, you could.

You could also pose in a snowscape, or in an enchanted looking forest, dive into a pool for a mermaid shot, or a dramatic underwater gown shot, and there were even horses on site if you wanted to take riding photos as well – the sky was truly the limit!
We decided to top up our package with S$150, and do a night shot on the Shanghai bund. Since we were already there, we figured we might as well make some memories of the place that were distinctly Shanghai. Not much at all, considering you get a driver, your photographer and makeup artist for an additional 4 to 5 hours or so, and get really stunning photos. I highly recommend it!

Finding a gown suitable for shooting at night was the hardest. So if you have a BIG RED GOWN, or anything plain, but dramatic, I’d suggest you bring it!

But here is why if you are on a budget, shooting in China should be on your radar for your pre-wedding photos, and some tips to help you survive.
First and foremost, go in with an open mind, a positive attitude, and ready to enjoy yourself with the person you are about to marry. That honestly is the most important part. Because Vernon and I went in with ZERO expectations, we had a blast!
Vernon enjoyed feeling like a rockstar, especially while shooting at the bund, because gaggles of giggly schoolgirls thought he was some Korean star. I just relaxed and enjoyed myself because I had been worried that Vernon would hate the process. So him enjoying himself just made it tons easier and more fun.
1) Variety of options
There were more than 600 gowns available in the studio. While there were 11 other couples shooting that day, our photographer, Zhou, and our makeup artist, Xiao Jing, made really good recommendations that fit us and we looked good in. So trust their taste.
This was a huge relief because Vernon, is 1.85m tall, and close to 100kg, and we initially were worried that he won’t be able to find anything. We shouldn’t have worried at all. We could have rocked into the studio with nothing, and survived the day. Thankfully we did bring a few options though, as Vernon still is pretty picky about the cuts of his suits, so he used a couple of his own shirts and jackets in our photos.
SO, if you are fussy about designs, do bring your own options, and please do let the studio know your height and weight before you go – it will help them confirm whether or not they have clothes available for you.
Also, BRING YOUR OWN SHOES. Ladies, this means heels in a neutral shade, and/or blingy shiny options – also bring a pair of flats to change into after. Men – dress shoes, and comfy shoes as well.
They do have options, but honestly, bring your own. They will fit you better, and comfort is key on a whole day shoot.
We communicated with the studio via WeChat and ironed out small details like that before we made the trip.
Pro tip 1: Bring snacks and breakfast, in case your other half gets hangry! This applies to ANYONE taking pre-wedding photos.
Pro tip 2: We brought up some Merlion chocolates that we gifted our crew. I think they were a little surprised by the gesture, but it definitely helped us break the ice. Basically, BE NICE. The people helping you are service providers, yes. But, they are human. And they do this day in and day out, for hundreds of different couples. Chances are, if you are nice to them, they’ll treat you nicely as well, and bonus – you’d probably get even better photos as a result.
2) Hair and makeup changes were 15 mins flat!
We had six outfits altogether, with corresponding hair and makeup changes. The makeup artist was truly a seasoned professional and took all of 15 mins each time, to completely change my look. These people do at least one couple a day, every day, with only one day off in a month, 365 days a year, and most of them have been in the company for at least three to four years. Both our hair and makeup artist, as well as our photographer were really young, but you could tell by their speed and efficiency, that they are seasoned professionals. This helped make our entire experience painless as well.
I dread sitting in the hair and makeup chair for hours. Especially because thick makeup starts making my face itch. I did bring some of my own makeup options, because I have sensitive skin, and the makeup artist obliged – even conceding that my concealor was much better than the one she had. (Though honestly, they do a great job of photoshop after. So thankfully, her touch was light where it came to makeup!)
It definitely would help if you speak Mandarin as it would be easier to communicate with them and forge a friendship, and of course, it is easier to understand the photographers direction during photo taking as well. If you don’t, I’d highly recommend a friend to act as an interpreter along for the ride.
After all, you will be stuck travelling with them the whole day, and you’re a team. Because we landed up being friends with our crew, though we only paid for 3 outdoor and 3 indoor scenarios, our photographer whisked us through many different backdrops. And we had a blast with them!
3) Amazing locations and backdrops
China is incredibly photogenic. We shot at Thames Town, a cosy suburb in Shanghai that looks like a quaint, storybook version of London, complete with their own version of the Thames running through it.
If you are unsure, as you do your research, take photos and screenshots of the photos you would like to take, to show your photographer, and they will try to figure out where you can do your shoot. We didn’t realise, but there are also tons of really beautiful old towns in Shanghai, that we could have requested to shoot in, so you can make your own requests, just that you might have to top up your package a little.
One suggestion – Zhu Jia Jiao, an ancient water town in Shanghai, a 1700 year-old town from the Qing Dynasty. It is a beautiful location, but one that is taken for granted by the local Chinese who prefer more contemporary looks and locations.
4) MANY MORE PHOTOS ARE GIVEN AS PART OF THE PACKAGE
We were given slightly over 200 photos of raw files to keep, and we chose a 100 photos immediately the day after the shoot. The 100 chosen were touched up and photoshopped for us. All as part of the package. They even threw in a couple extra at no extra charge.
In Singapore, we noticed that most bridal packages throw in anything from 30 to 50 photos. And every extra photo comes at ludicrous extra fees. And they definitely will not hand over raw files to you.
So this was an extra perk we did not expect.
5) Albums, prints, frames and other freebies
Also part of the package – we were given a 100-inch poster of ourselves – huge banners that the locals use at their banquet halls, 7 other photosthat were printed out in a 60 inch canvas, 30 inch crystal print, 20 inch crystal print as well as 10 and 12 inch crystal prints for photo stands. Along with 5 printed albums in a 24 inch, a 16 inch, a 12 inch, 10 inch and a 3 inch minibook version.
The albums contained the 100 plus photos that we had chosen from the raw files. These took about two weeks to print and frame. If you are taking a long trip to China, I’d highly recommend that you buy an extra 50kg of baggage, and bring these back with you.
6) Perfect weather meant a happy hubby
We had perfect weather. In Singapore, where we would be sweltering, and the man would probably have gotten grumpy after sweating through his shirt, we went up in late April, where we had perfect blue skies at a nice 24 degree weather. I was comfortable in my gowns. He was comfortable in his suits. It definitely made the entire shoot less draining.
My makeup didn’t drip off my face. I didn’t start feeling conscious that my pits were going into overdrive and becoming a waterfall under my huge, rental dresses.
7) Even overtime is affordable
Each couple is given about 9 hours from 8am in the morning, (though, if you are staying in the main part of Shanghai, you will have to leave your accommodation at about 7am to head out to the suburbs where the studio is located.)
We paid an extra S$150 for the Shanghai Bund shoot, so we finished at about 10pm. We had a driver ferry us around the entire day, and the car became our makeshift changing room. Another good reason to shoot at The Bund – it will probably be a lot easier for you to get back to your hotel in town, than from the studio, which is pretty far out.
The photographer and makeup artist were with us at all times, and we paid for meals, which turned out to be really yummy local takeout! So even though we were the only foreign couple there, we felt like we were getting a very local experience and we enjoyed every minute of it.
I was actually pleasantly surprised after that, that Vernon enjoyed the shoot so much, he suggested going back to take more photos!
8) The variety of options lets you play around with different types of dresses, shapes and silhouettes
Because of the shoot, I actually got to try on a lot more outfits, with different shapes and silhouettes as they had SO MANY OPTIONS. The staff will try to rush you through the process, only because they know that timing is pretty tight throughout the day – but they genuinely try to help you find the best options for you.
I was surprised by some of the choices that the makeup-artist made for me, but they always looked good in the end, and it also helped me rethink some of my outfits for my own wedding. I always thought I would look ridiculous in huge gowns, but they photographed well on me. And I was always reluctant to try a trumpet style as I thought it would emphasize my already large posterior and hips, but instead, it gave my body more balance. I wish I had gone there before I had bought my wedding gown! Most of the gowns were purchased via taobao, and the quality was surprisingly good. I have spotted some studios in Singapore that carry the exact same designs, so I won’t be surprised if they are the same dresses after all, just with a heavier price tag!
9)  Getting your photos, prints and albums
Do realise that all the photos will be sent to you via CD and the China equivalent of dropbox within two weeks of your shoot. So you will get high res photos of all your “negatives”. But, printing of the albums with all the touched up photos takes 15 days from the time you give them the go ahead on the layout. Unless you are taking an extended trip in China, you probably won’t be able to bring all of them back yourselves. Our wedding albums weighed about 20kg, and the big canvases – that came complete with frames and all, were 25 kg.
UPS is the cheapest overnight shipping if you are in a rush to get the photos back to Singapore, but will cost you way over S$500. My suggestion is to enquire with ezBuy on their Ship For Me options. You get your wedding studio to ship it to one of the different warehouses in China, or to a unique forwarding address, and they take care of the rest. (You can call  +65 6567 8880 for more.) It cost our friend about S$300 to ship back his entire shipment of close to 60kg of albums and framed photos using this method.
We shipped the wedding albums back using UPS, in time for our wedding in Pekanbaru. And as we were in no rush, we had the studio send the framed photos to the airport, to our cousin, who kindly helped us lug back 25kg of HUGE photo frames.
*I’ll update this post for other options for shipping once I’ve done some research.
10) CHECK YOUR ALBUMS BEFORE THEY GO TO PRINT
Do look through the finished, touched up photos. Our friends warning was right, they do go overboard with the photoshop. We had beautiful clear blue skies on the day of our shoot, but for some reason, they photoshopped clouds all over into the sky.
In the first edit – they totally touched Vernon and my skin up, that Vernon looked like Edward Cullen’s cousin in some photos, and honestly, my salami arms looked anorexic in some. Once we told them to ease up a little with the airbrushing, and relayed that we wanted a more “natural” look, the photos turned out excellent.
Also be mindful that they tend to mix up all the photos in each album. In China, these huge photo albums are usually gifted to the parents and grandparents, so everyone gets a selection of the different photos, but that, along with the Chinglish poetry, we found messy and distracting. So, we told them to arrange the photos by backdrop and location, thematically, and to take out all the “pencil box poetry”.
Just to make sure nothing was lost in translation, we actually did a mockup of the albums page by page, to tell the team exactly how, and where we wanted the photos. So they knew which photos we wanted blown up. Which we still wanted inside, but with not as much emphasis etc. That way, we knew we were getting photo albums we would really like, and not get annoyed by. But that’s just us because we’re control freaks. (Just a little.)
It was hilarious reading through it the intial drafts with all the flowery dramatic “poetry” in the albums, because even the words in Mandarin didn’t make sense at all! Basically glorified Lorem Ipsum in Chinese. We did leave one easter egg in our albums though, so we could have a laugh when we looked back at the photos in time to come.
All in all, while I was definitely reluctant initially to take pre-wedding photos, thinking them to be a waste of time, I’m glad we did it. The hair and makeup process was so quick, the entire shoot was made a lot less painless for me. And the biggest surprise, my husband really enjoyed the process, and relished feeling like a star, especially while we were shooting at the Shanghai bund, and tons of tourists started snapping pics of us. He enjoyed it so much, he’s suggested going back to take more photos. Something we might definitely consider if we get additions to our family and want to do fancy family portraits.
Oh! Did I mention they threw in a rather tacky video of our wedding photos, for free? While I was horrified at first, the video definitely helped entertain our relatives at our Pekanbaru wedding. And best of all the price tag – FREE!
Ah the beauty of a country with an open market economy. All I can say is, #noregrets
ENJOY AFOREMENTIONED VIDEO HERE:

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