Every couple wants the spontaneous joy of their wedding day captured in photographs, but taking staged, formal photos between the ceremony and reception is time-consuming and can easily be hampered by weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

In many Asian countries, however, it’s a tradition for the bride and groom to plan a prewedding photo shoot, which provides more flexibility in terms of where, when and how to create lasting keepsakes of the most romantic time of your life. 

“For the photographer it is an ideal situation,” says wedding photographer Cristiano Ostinelli, who recently took a weeklong trip to Morocco with Melissa Yasin and Christianus Adhitya for a pre-wedding shoot. “We have the most beautiful locations in the world, and I have a long time to express my creativity without the stress and the limited time of a real wedding day.”

Ostinelli has taken pre-wedding photos in settings as diverse as Lake Como (where he is based), Santorini, Venice, Paris and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Traditionally, Asian couples display the photos on their wedding day. 

“I’ve seen marriages in Cambodia and Vietnam where pre-wedding photos are printed [or] sometimes projected in a slide show with music that precedes the entrance of the couple in the reception room,” said Ostinelli.

For Christianus and Melissa, residents of Indonesia who plan to wed in 2018, the prewedding shoot was a familiar component of a marriage celebration. “Wedding receptions in Indonesia tend to be lavish events, with so many people invited, many performers hired for the party, and complicated traditional [ceremonies],” said Melissa. 

“Sometimes it makes me feel that weddings here are more for the parents or the couple’s business partners and relatives. So, with a pre wedding photo shoot, we hope to have a more intimate feeling captured, while also having a once-in-a-lifetime  experience for us.”

The couple wanted a truly exotic destination to serve as background for their photographs; Melissa loves Middle Eastern architecture, and the pair wanted to do something other than the typical photo shoot in Paris or Venice. 

“It was the couple who chose Morocco; it is a country rich in very interesting locations,” said Ostinelli, such as Marrakech, the Dades Valley, the Atlas Mountains, the Merzouga desert camp, the casbah of the fortified city of Aït Benhaddou, and the “blue town” of Chefchaouen.

“We had shoots in traditional markets, old cities, the pool, the Sahara Desert, and even a snow field. We didn’t know that it could even snow in Morocco,” said Melissa.

Melissa met with designer Anaz Khairunnas in Jakarta for fashions suitable to wear in Morocco, and integrated their own culture in the form of Chinese inspired outfits by Pricillia Salim, as well as Indonesian songket and batik patterns. Christianus wore custom suits from Luwes Tailor.

“Melissa and Christianus left me completely free to choose the location, the clothes, the poses, everything,” said Ostinelli. For example, for a memorable shot taken in the snows of the Atlas Mountains, Ostinelli asked Melissa to pose in flip-flops in freezing weather. “Melissa immediately said yes, and this is one of the most memorable photos of the pre-wedding shoot,” he said.

Pre-wedding shoots have not caught on in America or Europe the way that engagement photos or post-wedding “trash the dress” shoots have, but Ostinelli says it’s an Eastern tradition that Western couples should consider. 

“The beauty of a pre-wedding shoot is you can use different clothes, not just wedding garments,” he said. Formal posed photography can eat up as much as two precious hours on your wedding day, Ostinelli notes, while a prior post-nuptial shoot “lets the couple have more time for the party, friends and family.”

“It is a wonderful experience: we travel together, we eat together, we become friends,” said Ostinelli. Agreed Melissa: “We got amazing photos from it, but we also made new friends and memories.”

> Written by Bob Curley

Photography: Cristiano Ostinelli Studio Wedding Photographers, Lake Como, Italy