As full time travelers who live out of carry-ons, there is no argument that the best souvenirs are photos. They cost nothing, weigh nothing, and there is literally no limit to how many you can have.
Well they should cost nothing, in most cases. Not unless you want to be queen for a day. While in China, I splurged big time on a set of photographs.
While walking around Wuhu with my cousin one afternoon, she pointed out a photo studio. Now, in China, one of the most popular things for a young woman to do is to take a set of professional glamour shots in a studio. (Though actually, this is highly popular for couples as well, and even teens and kids. So basically, this is just a popular activity all around.) I had taken a set on my last trip to China five years ago, but wasn’t really satisfied with how they turned out. As soon as I saw this studio, I knew I wanted to take another set of pictures there.
Why? Because it specialized in old Chinese costumes. Think elaborate hair pieces, luxurious silk drapey dresses… we all have fantasies of being taken back to a decadent old era!
The problem was that we had only booked two nights in Wuhu and were leaving the next day. But I already had my heart set and wasn’t about to leave town without a set of pictures. Miraculously, the studio had one available spot the next day and were willing to squeeze me in.
Later that day, I pleaded with D to book an extra night in our hotel. After some heavy begging, he reluctantly agreed. I pounced on that spot.
I chose a package of 4 different costumes and 20 photos. One annoying thing about these studios is that you don’t get a digital copy of all the photos. Even though they take 40-50 frames per costume, you only get to select a limited set amount. This package came with 20 digital photos, as well as an photo book and larger wall print. But as I only live out of a carry-on, I didn’t want anything physical. After some negotiation, they agreed to give me a 10% discount.
After much pouring over the catalog photos, I decided on a Mongolian princess, a Chinese fox spirit, a queen, and a Chinese opera singer.
Four different looks: playful, wicked, regal, and sensual.
Now, can you guess what is what? :)
If your inner glamazon/model does not exist (like me), not to worry! The photographer will tell you exactly what to do.
Taking photos in old dress is different than in modern dress. In old dress, you need to look the part, give off the right feel, hold your head and hands a certain way. The photographer will guide you every step of the way. She’ll tell you how to position the head, what to do with your hands, how to position the body, where to direct your gaze, and whether to smile, etc.
Whether your pictures turn out beautiful or not will entirely depend on the photographer’s guidance.
In an attempt to get out of my usual comfort zone and go for something a little more daring, I picked the tattooed opera singer, one of their most risque pieces. This costume was basically completely topless, with only two large ribbon flowers covering the chest.
My photographer was so incredibly easy going that as awkward as it was to have a stranger taping ribbon flowers to your bare chest, it wasn’t long before I felt comfortable with her. She was fun and goofy, and yet gentle when giving guidance. She made me feel so at ease that I almost forgot that I was standing in front of her and a couple of assistants effectively naked.
And of course, I’m sorry that I cannot share some of those photos (those are just for me :)). And that most photos you see here from that set are cropped.
The photo selection:
Usually, it takes about one week before the photos are ready for selection. The studio will do a light touch-up on all the photos (color fixing, etc.) before they become available for viewing. Because they want to present the best possible photos to the customers.
However, I didn’t have a week. I was leaving the next day. I managed to convince them to let me see all the pictures as-is (straight from camera to computer) the next morning. They weren’t too happy about that but accommodated my request.
I was absolutely thrilled with how beautiful the pictures turned out! I had such a hard time narrowing it down to only 20 photos and ended up paying extra for additional photos.
Quick review of the studio:
I went to 盘子女人坊 (website | English: Pretty Venus Town Photo Corp, and please, do google image it to check out other sets!), a studio chain that specializes in old Chinese costumes. There are multiple locations all throughout China.
I was super impressed with this studio. Not only were they were able to squeeze me in at the very last second, they also accommodated my request to view and select my photos the very next morning. There were several girls shooting that day, and the photographer and makeup artists were all running haggard, but they still treated each girl like she was the only one.
I was also impressed with the level of skill of the makeup artists. I’m telling you, these hair styles were no joke, with all the fake pieces and accessories! The hair alone for the queen costume took an hour to complete and must have weighed about 10 pounds!
Important information + tips:
- These kinds of studios are full service. They will provide the outfits, hair + makeup, photography, digital files as well as any print outs or photobook options.
- If old Chinese dress does not interest you, there are studios for any kind of shoot you may want, from modern dress to old costumes to couples engagement/wedding shoots.
- Allow a complete day for the photo shoot. I started at 10 am and didn’t leave the studio until 9 pm.
- It’s a good idea to allow at least 3 weeks, in order to have enough time for booking, the actual shoot, photo selection, photoshopping, and delivering the final product. I was incredibly lucky that the studio make such a huge effort to expedite for me. And also, I had a cousin who could stay and wait for the CD to be ready, and then transmit to me. Given this, it is probably best for those who are traveling at a slower pace.
- Cost: Original price was 1200 RMB (or roughly US $200) for the package of 4 costumes, 20 photos, and a photobook. Because I didn’t want the photobook, I negotiated a 10% discount, which brought it down to 1080 RMB (or US $170). However, the tattoos cost extra as well as the additional photos I selected. So in total, I probably spent a little over US $200. A complete steal, if you ask me.
These photographs are truly the best souvenirs and trust me, they are worth every single penny. I love having a beautiful set of pictures to look at. I’m slightly addicted now and I’m already wondering when can I go back to China to take more!
Is this something you would do if you were to visit China? Which costume was your favorite? :)