Getting Ceremonial

by Sarah Kinbar

DQ Studios

February 11, 2013

Wedding photographers Dave and Quin Cheung of DQ Studios in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, never exclusively shot ethnic weddings and haven’t sought them out, yet they’ve earned their place as the go-to photographers for Asian couples in Alberta and beyond (they’ve recently been as far afield as India and Thailand).

The Cheungs’ story as photographers began when Dave found an old Canon AE Program film camera sitting unused in his dad’s closet. He embraced the opportunity and began taking pictures everywhere. As for photographing as a couple, the duo first met as musicians: Quin’s a bass guitarist and Dave plays the keyboard. After marrying, they were fortunate to fall into their love of photography together.  

“In 2000, we traveled around France carrying only a backpack each with the essentials and stuffing the rest of our rucksacks with two Canon AE Programs (we bought a second one at a pawn shop!), three lenses, a tripod and a whack of 3200 ISO film,” says Dave. “We were hooked. That trip transformed us from people who loved to take pictures to a couple on a mission to take pictures of people.”

Photographer Alex Opao, who lives three hours away in Edmonton, Canada, mentored the couple, introducing them to the darkroom and helping them to feel completely at home there. He also took them on their first wedding shoot and shared booth space with them at trade shows to help establish themselves as DQ Studios.

Soon after, the Cheungs transitioned to digital photography, but the “attention to detail we learned transferred over to the digital darkroom, which still feels like magic,” says Quin. “[We love] to see the image captured from a single shutter press and lovingly transformed to its final presentation.”

But how did they find their niche market? “Some of the early ethnic work [we’ve gotten] has to do with living in a multi-cultural country, and I’m sure our Asian roots have made some [people] comfortable with hiring us,” says Dave.

But those attending their seminar at WPPI, “Asian Weddings: Surviving and Thriving on Ethnic Weddings Here and Abroad,” will discover that the secret of the Cheungs’ success has not just been cultural sensitivity—although that hasn’t hurt. They key, as it always is, has been their technique. “As we began to shoot various customs and ethnicities, the way we use flash became a great asset in capturing the uniquely vibrant colors, traditions and events which accompany Asian weddings,” Dave explains.

The Cheungs are certain that their early decision to emphasize their uncommon command of off-camera flash has made their imagery more flexible and powerful. The couple shoot Nikon, and, flash-wise, they love the Nikon iTTL system and rely on it extensively. Having remote control over their lighting has allowed them to be more creative and work even faster.

“We’re really excited to share our experience shooting and lighting Asian weddings,” says Quin. “We’ll be taking people behind-the-scenes on the making of the images as well as some struggles we’ve had along the way, such as the shear length of multi-day, multi-ceremony affairs, language barriers, and encountering new customs and traditions. We also found working with video crews in India—some as large as ten-men crews—daunting, as we had to share space and lighting while still capturing our signature work for our clients.”  

Quin says they also plan to “geek-out” gear-wise and share the tools that make shooting and lighting easier. “For those who travel or aspire to, we’ll be sharing tips and techniques for efficiently packing and making it safely to your event,” she says.


 Zen and the Art of Wedding Photography

Being a husband-wife team means Dave and Quin have the privilege of spending a lot of time together, with their discussions including work, family, life-goals and their shared future.

“We’re often asked about how we balance life and work. We’ve designed our living/work space with our offices occupying half the floor and a workout area on the other half. Having the workout area always in view and instantly accessible is a constant reminder to make time to be fit. It truly can become a competitive advantage when it comes multiple-day long Asian weddings!” says Quin.

“One question we love to ask each other the night before we shoot is, ‘What are you going to do differently?’ I think it’s a check to make sure we don’t go on autopilot and shoot the upcoming wedding like the last. We have never worked a wedding from a shot list. Still, it’s too easy to check-out mentally instead of really investing in the moments in front of us,” she says.

The night before a shoot is also a good time to discuss any new or different gear setups and the issues that may come up. That night, the family usually has an early dinner and bedtime. All the gear and snacks are packed and ready to go in the car. They wake up with a rested mind and body, the best platform to create their work.


Do's & Don'ts

As a preview of their seminar, the Cheungs have refined their advice into these simple tips for ethnic weddings.

DO your homework. Invest the time to research online and through conversations with friends and acquaintances to learn details about different kinds of Asian ceremonies. Hindu ceremonies, for example, are rich in traditions and emotion, involving the parents in elaborate and colorful blessings, which take place around a fire. Korean and Chinese tea ceremonies, in contrast, are often more formal and methodical in how they honor families and handle the blessings of the couple.

DO be 200-percent aware of everything and everyone around you at the wedding. Even if you don’t understand the language, there are many cues that will help you know what’s important to shoot. Always make a point of knowing the whereabouts of the parents and siblings of the bride and groom. For example, at Indian weddings, they are often at separate venues. Because they will be involved at the start of all ceremonies, you need to keep track of them: If it gets too quiet where you are, ask where the families are and run!  

DO shoot first, ask later. Sometimes, important ceremonies and rituals may happen without any pomp, celebration or announcement. If you’re not sure, just shoot it, and ask later to figure out what exactly was happening and the importance of it.

DO pack twice the batteries and memory you think you’ll need. You may be asked without notice to shoot another ceremony or to keep shooting into the night as the party continues.

DO be ready to run! Asian weddings—particularly Indian ones—are like a parade: they may start indoors, go outdoors, then go back indoors all within an hour! Knowing this, pare down your gear list and make sure to have everything readily available to shoot any type of event in any type of lighting.   

DO always work hard. Family and friends at the wedding will be watching and will notice your work ethic, good or bad. You may feel like you’re in the shadows, but in reality, you’re in the spotlight.

DO pace yourself. The Cheungs jokingly call Indian weddings “the Marathon of Weddings” because of their many ceremonies and required hours of shooting. Make sure your mind, body and spirit are ready to give all you’ve got, for  hours on end. (See the sidebar on page 59 for Dave and Quin’s advice on mental and physical preparation.)  

DO smile. Beyond language and culture, a smile speaks volumes.

DON’T pretend you know everything. Be honest about your experience or inexperience within their culture. Honesty and excitement go a long way to earning trust.

DON’T expect things to happen as scheduled. They never do.

DON’T arrive late. Though Asian weddings are known to run later than late, it’s better to “hurry up and wait” than to miss an important event.  

DON’T assume anything. From taking off your shoes, to never turning your back to their holy book, to covering your head—be ready and willing to respect traditions.  

DON’T forget to back up EVERYTHING. Twice. And keep an extra copy of all your RAW files on hand.

Dave and Quin Cheung will present their WPPI  2013 Platform Class, “Asian Weddings: Surviving and Thriving on Ethnic Weddings Here and Abroad,” on Thursday, March 14, from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.

Sarah Kinbar, a writer based in Orlando, Florida, is the former editor of American Photo and the current editor-in-chief of Garden Design. Her own pictures can be seen on BigBlendedFamily.com, where she blogs a few times a week.

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