I Photographer: Bridal Traveler

Dina Douglass makes a living shooting indian and destination weddings



Dina Douglass, based in Los Angeles, travels the world for elaborate nuptials. See her work at andrenaphoto.comYoshi Morimoto

How did you come to specialize in Indian wedding ceremonies?
An Indian couple in Los Angeles contacted me to shoot their wedding in 2004. I had never shot one before, but I ended up getting the cover of Professional Photographer with an image from it, and that helped put me on the map. The word of mouth spread like wildfire—Indian brides really value quality photography and they didn't have a lot of options here.

There’s no such thing as an Indian wedding, really. A Sikh wedding isn’t the same as a South Indian wedding or a Bengali wedding. If you miss one little thing, you’ve ruined the wedding for the family. But when you know the culture and traditions, you earn the respect of the family.

How do these differ from Western weddings?
They are harder to shoot, because there are so many events. Even in a one-day shoot, I can be there for 17 to 18 hours instead of 8 to 10 for a white-dress wedding. The most time I've spent shooting in one day was 22 hours, the longest wedding I've done lasted six days, and the most people included at one was 1,200. I've shot weddings in India, Turkey, Morocco, Serbia, Tortola, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Ireland, and Mexico.

So how does one of those days go?
If the wedding is in L.A.—and if it's just a wedding and reception day, without additional events—it often requires us to get up at 4 a.m. and start shooting at 5:30 a.m., because an Indian bride takes over 3 hours to get ready. It takes about 20 minutes to shoot all the details, the clothing, and the jewelry. Next we shoot portraits for a half-hour.

Next comes the baraat, or traditional entrance of the groom and his family. This might include a horse or elephant, and dancing that lasts for an hour. The wedding ceremony itself lasts from 1 to 2 hours, then there are endless group shots—we sometimes do 70 to 100. After that, I try to take the portraits of the couple, but I’m pressed for time because the bride does a full hair, makeup, and clothing change for 2 hours.

Then we move all the lighting inside, set up for the reception, and shoot the décor, which takes about 40 minutes to photograph. The reception can go on for 7 hours, but we usually leave around midnight.

What's different about shooting a destination wedding?
When I'm in a big city like L.A., Chicago, or New York, most of the venues are big hotels and it's easy to scout.

But the venues overseas are very different—many are palaces. I get there a day early so I can scout the location, which can mean hiring a guide and a car, or just walking around in the village, spending a few hours going through the palace—a lot of times even before I’ve met the client.

I always do a day-after session when I work overseas, because there’s no time on the wedding day to capture the charm of the surroundings. I love to shoot in the village or the palace grounds with the couple. Shooting the day after for 3 to 5 hours gives me time to create the images I want.

How do you make sure you don't miss anything?
A general rule: If it's happening—shoot it, no matter how small. If there's more than one event going on at a time, I always have a second shooter.

You must get a lot of shots! From an overseas wedding I might come home with 10,000 photos, but from a one-day wedding, it is 5,000 to 6,000. I give clients about 2,000 images from a one-day Indian wedding, with a turnaround of 6 weeks.

How many weddings do you shoot a year?
Fewer than a white-dress wedding photographer. One year I was behind the camera 86 days, so even though I accept 25 to 28 weddings a year, that can represent more than 80 days of shooting.

What gear do you use?
I use Canon EOS 5D and 5D Mark II bodies; 70–200mm f/2.8 IS (old and new versions), 24–70mm f/2.8, 16–35mm f/2.8, 100mm f/2.8 macro (old and new), 14mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/1.4 lenses; Speedlite 580EX II flash units; PocketWizards galore; and AlienBees strobes with umbrellas and softboxes for portraits, plus I set up a few lights in the back of the room for the reception. I use a lot of lighting, and I think that sets my work apart—many photographers are scared of lighting. My second shooter uses more ambient lighting and flash for rim light than I do, so the client gets a lot of variety.

Any lighting tips?
With darker hair and skin, using a lot of lighting is important: Use the sun as a rim light outside, with a reflector or flash for fill. A lot of Indian weddings take place at midday in the bright sun, when the light is horrible, so I have to jack up the flash to fill in the shadows.

What postproduction do you do?
I work with every skin tone in the world, so I've had to become a color expert and solve many color correction problems, and I do a lot of retouching. I don't just run a plug-in and move on—this client base wants to look perfect.

What is most challenging about your work?
There's never enough time to get all the shots I want. Also, 80 percent of guests bring cameras, so I have to fight to do my job around them.

What do you like most about it?
If I shot a white-dress wedding every weekend, I'd get bored. I get to shoot so many different cultures and religions, and I've learned about all of them. I have something different to shoot every time.

How did you get started as a photographer?
I've been shooting since I was 12. I shot punk-rock shows in high school and studied photojournalism in college. I took a break from photography and worked in corporate America, but when I lost my job after the Silicon Valley implosion in 2001, I decided to launch a photography business, and it's gone up ever since.

This photo was taken at Samode Palace, India (about an hour from Jaipur). As the bride walked down to see the entrance of the groom, I asked her if she’d be willing to get on the ground to lie in the flowers. She said yes, so I got on the ground, showed her what I was envisioning, and then she just did exactly what I had shown her. This is my favorite kind of bride – the one that trusts me when I ask them to do random stuff.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
Dateline Quito, Ecuador, just after events that were alternately reported as a military coup, presidential kidnapping and/or police uprising. The streets were under military rule, so there were tons of army personnel walking around with machine guns. My co-shooter and I both thought it would be great to shoot our happy couple with a machine-gun-toting military guy, so we asked permission, and he let us pop off maybe four shots before nodding us away. Heavy post-processing makes this look almost like a composite, but it’s presented as shot.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
Another image taken in India, this time at the fabled Lake Palace in Udaipur. The hotel is accessible only by boat, and you can only visit the hotel if you are a guest or have advance permission. This image was taken while the bride was getting ready.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
It’s rare to find a South Asian bride with bright blue eyes, but this bride’s father and sister also have blue eyes. This image has been published numerous times.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
I try to make friends wherever I go, and the owner of this carpet store in Istanbul, Turkey, was particularly hospitable, inviting us up for tea and hours of conversation. I asked if I could bring my couple by the next day to take a few shots on his seventh-floor balcony, but kept thinking that I’d like to make my bride and groom into mannequins in his store window. So that’s what we did. We worked out the mannequin poses for 10 minutes before putting them into the window display.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
A quick shot in the souks in Marrakech, Morocco. The bride and groom were running late, so we had only a few minutes. I brought the masks from home, and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to use them. The souks provided a perfect backdrop, and the fact that the bride wore a red dress added a bit of drama.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
I met this girl when she was a charming hostess at a local restaurant near my house. A few months later, she called and asked me to shoot her wedding. She wore Hello Kitty jewelry and had goth bridesmaids; this photo of her crying is one of my favorites from her wedding.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
Yet another shot from Istanbul, Turkey. As a crowd gathered, these three guys just kept sitting and smoking. I asked the bride to go sit close to them to see what they would do, and they didn’t move one bit. I asked her to vamp it up, and got a great range of shots.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
My tattooed bride loves photography, and she and I have made great friends. Her rocker/tattoo artist husband and his band played at the reception, which took place at the California Institute of Abnormal Arts.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
George Pajon is the guitarist for the Black Eyed Peas. His wedding to the stunning Naomi Medina took place in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and was featured on WETV’s Platinum Weddings. If you look just over his shoulder, you can see Fergie and Josh Duhamel.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
It’s always fun when 50 goats walk into the middle of your day-after shoot in India. I still recall the sounds their little clacking hooves made on the street.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
This image appeared on the cover of Professional Photographer in 2005. It was an image from the first Indian wedding I ever photographed, and landing the cover was just huge.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
I took this image while second shooting for a friend. Since launching my studio, I think this is the only time I’ve second shot for somebody and asked to display the image on my own site. It’s still a favorite of mine, and hangs in my studio.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
This delightful bride married Jeff Caplan, founder of the Digital Wedding Forum, which I co-moderate. This image was taken in the Neon Sign Boneyard in Las Vegas.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography
An image taken in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.Dina Douglass / Andrena Photography