Inside Job: wedding photographer assistant

Frank Hersey is trying every job in Beijing. This month: wedding photos

My first task is to carry the McDonald’s delivery to the wedding planner. I’ve just met my photography crew at the venue, Agrilandia Italiana, in Shunyi. There’s a complicated timeline for the day that had been agreed upon in advance with a contract. 'There aren’t usually any problems dealing with our clients as long as we both stick to the contract during the day,' says Yu Yu, the main photographer I’ll be assisting, as we carry our equipment into the hotel suite.

There are five dresses hanging up (four Western, one Chinese), another on a steaming machine, tables covered in Coca-Cola and litre cans of Paulaner beer, loads of people tapping on their phones, make-up artists dealing with their first customers, men asleep on beds and a little girl in a bridesmaid’s dress having the absolute time of her life.

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We’re the sub-team focusing on the bride. We find her in a room around the corner having her make-up done while also being directed by a videographer. 'One, two, three…Action! No! Go back!' says the cameraman in a form of directed spontaneity I’ll see more of throughout the day.

We go outside to find that another videographer has set up the 'main wedding dress' on a tailor’s dummy in the middle of a lawn along with his camera rig. Because he’s getting 'gliding' video shots of just the dress.

'In the West, don’t you just take photos of people at weddings?' asks Yu Yu as he prepares to photograph the videoing of the dress. ‘More so than this,’ I agree.

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One of my main tasks is to remove insects from the dress. We move it around the courtyard for more angles and each time I have to rearrange the train. Then the 'main wedding shoes' need to be photographed. In their box, on the grass, on a bench, with a backdrop of vines, individually, together. Then the Chinese dress. 'A wedding isn’t just about the people,' says Yu Yu, pouring with sweat as it reaches 39 degrees.

After a creative disagreement with another photographer over how to shoot the personalised phone cover gifts for guests I realise I’m not really qualified to be so opinionated and we head back to the suite where it’s busy but calm. There is snoring. A bridesmaid in a silk gown fans herself with a hongbao.

'Why am I doing this?' asks the bride. 'Just do more of it,' directs Yu Yu, 'You’re inspecting your dress.' The youngest bridesmaid comes over to help inspect the dress. 'Touch it!' says Yu Yu. 'This is all getting a bit silly, how about you and me just get married now instead?' the bride says to the little girl.

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The two male bridesmaids have their make-up done and things start to get silly. We move the furniture to make room for them to line up in matching robes for videos and photos. ‘One, two, three,’ calls the photographer… 'Beautiful!' shout the male and female bridesmaids in unison. Another bridesmaid arrives late, so we help find props for the video of the others hazing her, with multiple takes.

The groom and his groomsmen turn up outside the patio windows, dressed as 1930s gangsters and waving roses at the ladies (and two men) causing total photogenic mayhem. 'It’s a very fortunate job,' says Yu Yu, 'Seeing people taking the last steps into marriage is very moving.' The next day he tells me they took almost 5,000 photos of these steps, of which 50 will be chosen 'for enhancement'.

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