Thai weddings are wonderful events full of traditional dress, customs and great food. The people are great, the mood elevated, and the entire neighborhood invariably gets in on the act. Everyone should get the chance to experience a Thai wedding.
Thai weddings are also the single most difficult event I’ve ever photographed. Because most of them start in the darkness before sunrise, and from there the sun rises rapidly with totally unpredictable lighting changes, you need to be prepared with many lenses and even more lighting styles. It doesn’t matter if it’s dark or if the sun is bearing down directly, the wedding couple expects good quality images of their wedding. You need to be prepared for all the different lighting conditions, weather conditions, and environments you’ll encounter. Also, be sure to drink lots and lots of water to avoid heatstroke.
I’m going to show some images and briefly talk about the challenges of each.
This is a bride and her immediate family. The wedding took place in a rural home in a very dry drab environment void of color, with the sun beating down on us. I chose to light them with a off-camera strobe for fill and then tone the image to look like an old-fashioned image and hide the drab environment.
Same drab environment, same techniques plus one. By putting the couple at ease you can shift the focus of the image from the environment to the couple where it really should be. Their playfulness and affection make this image!
It must have been over 40c and they were under a green plastic cover. Everyone was green! By directing in a full amount of off-camera strobe I lighted them with a quality external light source and didn’t need to accept the green cast. You must be prepared for this sort of thing.
This portrait of a lovely Thai bride was taken during the very early morning hours before the sun had come up. By lighting her with a quality off-camera strobe I was able to draw attention to her glowing skin tones and pretty smile.
Within a few short minutes the sun was up, the ceremonies inside the house over, and now we could shoot without external light.
Look for moments of playfulness and affection between shots. This wasn’t posed, I have many of those. This was a break in emotional protocol that in my eyes, really revealed the love and spirit of the wedding couple. Again, by now the sun was up and no external light source was needed.
Look for unusual perspectives. I climbed up to the second flow and selected this perspective showing the groom paying his way through the gold chains to gain access to his bride.
This was taken earlier inside. Usually these homes, no matter how large, are totally filled with people and there’s no room to move around. Lighting the interiors of such homes is like trying to evenly light the inner tube of a paper towel roll. Using a telephoto and a shaped light I was able to capture this from the doorway and avoid the guests inside.
This couple had just been delivered to the wedding house during darkness. You can tell where I used a quality off-camera strobe to evenly light them as they exited the car and headed towards their guests.
The sun had just started to rise, but it was still mostly dark requiring the use of the off-camera strobe. I loved this capture of the bride and her mother in law, same expressions on both.
Don’t forget to get the traditional shots. The grooms father (his hands) are shown pouring the water over his daughter in-laws hands.
This traditional high-key portrait was taken outside during the worst natural lighting possible. The sun was very bright making any sort of quality shot next to impossible. I stopped down my lens, decreased my ISO to 50, and directed in some off-camera light for the sake of modeling.. and then processed the image in high-key. I like the results.
Oh, for the relative ease of a western wedding in a typical western setting, held at a time of the day where the light would hardly change during the entire event.
Always keep a watchful eye out for opportunities. You never know when the bride and groom are going to sneak off for a bit of quiet time and you’ll be able to capture a tender moment using a very long telephoto lens!
Thai weddings are very hard. This is why most Thai photographers take the wedding pictures days or even weeks before the actual wedding! They get you to come in and pose in the studio, then take you during the prime times of the day to certain locations for “outside” captures, and it’s why they all end up looking the same. And, you also need to dress up twice. I understand why they do it, but I’d much rather capture the wedding in real time even if it requires much more work.