As many of you know, a few months ago my team and I were in India shooting a 4 day event for two clients that we had not one single connection to. It’s pretty remarkable to say that, now that I feel like both our bride and groom (Praneetha and Nithin) as well as their family and friends feel more like long time friends than total strangers. One afternoon an email came in that in all reality I wasn’t even sure if it was REAL. This is just due to the fact that it was in India, that I did not actually know anyone or have any connection to the people inquiring and that the wedding was just 3 short months away. (Many of you know that weddings here book up about 9-18 months in advance. So, I was elated when I got to do a skype consult with our bride and her brother, Surya, who was the stand in wedding planner. Low and behold, just 3 months later my team and I (Myself, Eric and Alicia) were all standing just outside a set of small doors after having flown for over 39 hours in the Vijayawada airport wondering “Hmm, I wonder what this will all look like…” and “I cant remember the name of the hotel or who is picking us up, but hopefully this lost American look on our faces will help us find the right person…”
Finally we arrived at the GORGEOUS Novotel in Vijayawada and it is such a stand out GEM. A Beautiful place to get married. The first day and a half were a slight blur of napping, meeting Pranee and Nithin for the first time over drinks to actually sit down and finally discuss how the timeline of events was going to work out. So, in this blog post, I will do my best to bring you along for the ride.
I will admit that the time change and the more “obscure” hours that we shot made it difficult to keep track of everything! BUT I of course documented ALL of it in real time on my Instagram, and saved it all to my highlights, so feel free to start HERE if you want to see it that way (start with India 1 and then watch India 2)! Also, here are a fun few added things to watch for in this post:
- I purposefully included a few photos that show more of the “atmosphere” with 7 videographers there, and our team all shooting in VERY CLOSE quarters, I wanted to keep it real and also have a few shots of US in there as well. So keep your eyes peeled for myself, Eric and Alicia 😉 It will be a fun game of “wheres Waldo” Can you find all 11 sightings?!
- While our bride and grooms speak perfect english, and thankfully one of the video team guys did as well, keep in mind that NONE of the ceremonies and rituals are performed in English. SO, we had our cameras to our eyes ALL.THE.TIME as to not miss an important opportunity and we even had hand signals with our couple to make sure we knew which groupings they wanted.
- Traditionally, photographers at these types of events will always have one person stationed dead center to capture a photo of each and every guest or groupings of guests who pass through one of the “blessing” or “receiving” lines (that you will see happened about 5-7 times). I was so excited to hear that our bride and groom really fell in love with our more “western” take on REAL RAW MOMENTS and she gave us total freedom to move about and not be locked into any one photo. HOW COOL!!!! We still took MANY group photos but I decided to leave those out of the blog post just for the sake of time scrolling 😉
- ALL and I mean ALLLLLL of the decor and florals were sourced locally and our couple took special care in choosing things that they could obtain locally and that were eco friendly in order to support the local economy of Vijiyawada. The Minds Eye was responsible for all of the decor and I even left in some of the “preparation” photos with her team at work so that you can see that EVERY tiny flower bud or string that had beads or flowers was HAND STRUNG. (Please note all the different doorways and arches that were created and also the main stage at the ceremony!) It took over 100 people to assemble all of the decor that went up in the homes, and the three different venue sites over the course of 10 full days. SO.UNREAL.
- We shot over 24,000 images over the course of about 4 days. To narrow it down was NEARLY impossible and I am SURE that I am leaving out some insanely amazing images, but alas at some point I just have to be happy with what is here. 😉
- This experience would not have been what it was without both Eric and Alicia by my side, coaching me though my lack of sleep (which I am TERRIBLE at if you know me at all, then you know how AWFUL I am without sleep) my distaste for any and all spicy food…and cheering me on when I was jumping up and down excited about an image I had just captured. They managed to not only shoot some of the best photos of the trip, but also managed to help me keep pushing creatively and always were there to lend a hand when I needed something. Alicia and Eric, you are a DREAM TEAM and I can’t thank you both enough for being my partners and heros on this trip!
Alright…here we go….
The first party or celebration to take place was the Mehendi and Sangeet. These are back to back and the first is a more intimate event inviting mostly the ladies to come and have henna done, enjoy food and one anothers company. Side note: This also marked the first and only (minus 20 min of the last day we were there) that we shot photos in daylight. The rest of the images were either shot fully indoors with mostly no windows, or at night (I guess there was one other exception for Eric during the day 2 ceremonies when he was shooting Nithin’s portion at his home and they were primarily outside.) Needless to say, 85% of this wedding was shot in the DARK. It was such a cool experience to push ourselves with lighting, using artificial lighting and realizing we had certain times where there would be NO TIME at all to set up or use any flashes. I love what we created with these boundaries and am so proud of myself, Eric and Alicia for the art we produced. Later, after the Mehendi, the Sangeet takes place and this is the only portion that even remotely resembles anything like a Western wedding that we are used to. Although we don’t usually have stages and performances by family and friends, the Sangeet is the only time during the wedding celebration that guests will dance. Pranee and Nithin also performed on stage after most performances that were done by family, friends, a comedian and “bridesmaids” and “groomsmen”.
It quickly fell dark, only about 15 min after we arrived to the party and below you can see just how much smog there was while we were there. As evening turned to night, the colors and the city below the rooftop of the hotel just LIT up and you can just imagine all the horns and honking below and it just added so much to the already beautiful and colorful atmosphere.
After dark, we shot portraits of family and friends and then Pranee headed back into the hotel to get changed for the next phase of the night. It was so neat to watch Zeba Hassan work her magic on her makeup throughout the week.
During this dance party, (it was around midnight at this point), there is a huge buffet of food and full bar open for the night. It was so fun and I was already tired but was excited for what was next. The following day was an “off day” meaning we all had a day to recoup and relax. That night, Pranee gave Alicia and I a special invitation to her bridal henna night. We of course brought our cameras along and then we got to partake and have a bit of henna done on our own hands too!
Here you can see part of the preparation crew. This was around 11pm and they had already been there all day since 7am. And they were NO WHERE near being finished since the next morning the festivies started around 7am when guests would arrive at both the bride and grooms houses for the start of the ceremonies.
These beautiful awning structures are built and tents are put just outside of the house to welcome the family and friends that come to the home ceremonies. They were fully catered and had a full event staff at each house to keep everyone fed and taken care of. The hospitality we were shown was truly beautiful. These next ceremonies take place in the family homes of the bride and groom, and close family and friends come to bless and show their support. You will see a “first pass” of people blessing the couple with rice and other substances like turmeric, before the “water ceremony” takes place, which is an act of cleansing. The end of the water ceremonies gets pretty fun and chaotic with siblings and close friends just throwing water and of course it makes for SO MUCH FUN and such great photos! We loved it!
Then it is time to for them to shower and get ready all over again for another set of blessings and well wishes. This all started at about 7am on the day of the actual wedding. You will see both the brides house and the grooms celebrations taking place simultaneously, and a fun little note: the date and time you get married is chosen by your priest. It is selected as it is the “most auspicious” date and time so our groom actually didn’t get the “ok” to start his ceremonies until about an hour and a half after the bride. So our team divided and conquered.
Following the morning (almost all day) of festivities, our couple took a 3 hour break to nap quickly, then start all over again with yet another shower and full hair and make up in order to prepare for the full wedding ceremony that night. Things were a bit chaotic getting to the ceremony site and both Alicia and Eric arrived before me as I stayed with the bride until she departed for the venue after getting ready.
While the groom, Alicia and Eric headed to the wedding venue, the bride continued getting ready where I stayed until she was ready to leave. We knew we would arrive at the venue and then be tucked away in a room prior to heading out to the ceremony area.
As Alicia and Eric arrived the the venue, my phone began to blow up with texts and videos from them saying I wasn’t going to believe my eyes! I wasn’t sure what to expect as the photos and videos were not loading and I couldn’t actually SEE what they were describing. They shot as many detail photos as they could just moments before the groom arrived in his car and the ceremonies began with the family meeting him at the car and then escorting him to the seating area where families of the couple were to greet one another.
With putting finishing touches on, the bride and I were off to head to the venue where she would be tucked away until the priests gave them the go ahead to make their way onto the stage. You will see a “first glimpse” of when our groom came in the door and saw his bride quickly before the ceremony began. Then he would be separately escorted up to the main stage followed by the bride being escorted by her family. They are not to look at one another (Similar to the tradition of not seeing each other before the ceremony in Western weddings).
When the bride was brought out, there was about a 30 min break before they actually made their way onto the main stage (around 10:30pm) so that was when they told us to go enjoy some food in the main food tent area. So naturally we did! So I snuck those photos in here too.
Then it was time to get everyone on stage and get set for the midnight reveal. At midnight, the curtain, made entirely of flowers would be lifted and that is the main event of the actual wedding ceremony that most guests are seated and waiting to watch. First they will put their hands together under the curtain and then place them on one anothers heads as it lifts. It’s a HUGE moment of anticipation and excitement. Watch it all unfold here: from them being escorted onto the stage all the way through the veil lifting. The following photos span almost an hours worth of time.
Then a huge “receiving line” forms and almost each and every guest crosses the stage to present gifts, give well wishes and bless the couple! Keep in mind, each time there is a blessing line, almost every guest wants a photo with the couple, so Indian photographers will usually have one person solely dedicated to this exact thing.We had about a million photos of this, but I will keep that part short 😉
At around 1:30am, the bride headed back for her final Sarai change of the “day”. When she returned, the final ceremonies were taking place including rice throwing and flower petals (my favorite!) as well as a couple of fun traditional “games” that get played at most weddings too!
And did I mention that it’s A LOT of rice…. like A LOT! It’s seriously magical to witness all of this first hand!
Finally, the couple is announced as married and they leave the stage to go “pick out a star”. When one videographer felt like his shot was not quite right, he had them “pick a star again” and of course I shouted out to my bride “Praneetha! Pick a different star! You can’t have that one!” We both busted out laughing becuase at this point we are pretty much deliriously tired and just having a jolly good time! WHAT.A.24 hours that was!
On our last morning before we caught our flight, Praneetha and Nithin came to the hotel to say goodbye before they began their 7 hours drive to the temple. (Another traiditon they were partaking in) and we had the chance to shoot our FIRST and only “daylight” photos of the whole trip 😉 We ran up to the roof to capture a few shots of just the two of them without all the glitz and glam that came over the last few days.
Indian Wedding in Vijiyawada India // Praneetha+Nithin // Seattle Indian Wedding Photographer Tonie Christine Photography