Extravagant wedding photo fever hits China

Chinese couples have started a tradition of staging lavish wedding pictures months in advance of the big day, often at the cost of thousands of dollars.
CBS News

June is the traditional month for big weddings.

CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton reports from Beijing that it's not just American couples who pull out all the stops.

The scene is familiar: A bride choosing a dress, getting make-up and hair done, walking into a fake chapel, posing for the camera.

After picking the perfect dress and experiencing a full pre-wedding make-over, Beijing bride Yan Fen is finally ready for her big day - posing for the camera.

In China, couples say "cheese" in elaborate photo shoots months before formally saying "I do." It's a romantic rite of passage that demands days of effort, multiple costume changes and a hefty budget - ranging from 500 to 10,000s of dollars in a country where the net urban income averages less than $250 a month..

Taking photos is on the same level as the wedding itself, explains one young bride.

For decades, Chinese couples marked their marriages with a single, solemn snapshot. Now, few formal photos are taken the day couples tie the knot. Instead, studio photography plays a key role in China's booming $63 billion wedding industry, explains bridal website entrepreneur Gwo Ing-Lee.

It has to do with just how quickly China is opening up and it's directly related to the fact that they have a lot more money than they used to before.

In this money-fueled land of make-believe, anything is possible, from jetting off on a stationary speed boat, to traveling back in time to imperial China, or perhaps to 17th century France.

In the West, wedding photos often capture real moments in time, but Chinese photos are carefully crafted so couples can enact their romantic fantasies.

Those who can afford it even travel to exotic destinations like China's southern island of Hainan, not for a honeymoon, but for the vogue shoots of their dreams.

You need to get a certain look in their eyes, explains photographer Qin Leiqin. If you're just documenting a pose, you're not doing a good job.

Whether a staged look of love will lead to a lasting partnership is impossible to predict, but at least, in China, many marriages start picture-perfect.