In April we explored Hokkaido with Ryan from Stories with Ryan and our good friends Asher and Ruth. During the pre-trip discussion a concern that came up was the season – early April isn’t considered prime time for Hokkaido travel. Could we still come back with beautiful photos and footage?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is a question.
What’s the most important part of your destination pre-wedding?
All of us came to a similar conclusion, Asher having helped BeyondPictures in our early days and Ryan having accompanied us on many local and overseas shoots. Our answer came pretty quickly. We share a sentiment, or a philosophy, if you will, that has guided the way we shoot from day one. I want to finally write this down because I believe that this can extend beyond the creative space and benefit your pre-wedding experience.
What is it that couples should take away from their destination pre-wedding shoot? Perhaps a set of gorgeous photos or videos, shot in a far-away place against breathtaking backdrops. A hope that your love will be as immaculate and as immortal as the images you bring home. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re not saying that’s not important, because it is. But we think something else takes first place.
We hope that the images we bring to you will still mean something ten years later. Twenty years later. Thirty. We want these pictures to show who you are, what you love doing, and we want you to have fun making them. Asher didn’t want familiar shots of cherry blossoms in full bloom; he wanted snow and the Blue Pond at Biei. We went with that. We shouldn’t always need iconic places to make iconic memories, because what matters is the journey. We want our couples to be in the presence of friends rather than photographers, and to genuinely enjoy the process of creating their albums and films. I guess you can say we hope to make memories, not pictures. Great pictures are just symbols of memories well made.
Half an hour away from Sapporo, the city of Otaru bustles with activity. Our second day of the Hokkaido pre-wedding shoot was looking up. A warm, pale sunshine thawed out the arresting chill of the day before. Ruth and Asher had never been to Hokkaido, and had never worn a kimono or yukata before. We knew they would be up for some fun, so we had them put on the traditional costumes before taking a tour of the city. It was an unhurried affair; part shoot, part sightseeing. Otaru flourished during the rise of Western influence in Japan, and its architecture presents a unique blend of Kyoto-esque timberwork and colonial masonry. Few places can make you feel as though you are caught between two worlds at once.
After a while we could feel the pair brimming with unspent energy. Perhaps simply walking was too mild of an activity for them. We asked them about it, and they raised the idea of dancing through the city. Dance they did.
Asher and Ruth gambolled through streets lined with traditional shophouses and little family stores, attracting curious eyes of tourists and locals alike. The ambience of the shoot had suddenly changed. Instead of taking in their surroundings they were now in a world of their own, the centre of attention, a parade of two. We had as much fun shooting them as they did dancing.
It was when they started to become playful that we felt our shots finally match the vibrancy of their personalities.
This wouldn’t have worked with a more mellow couple. We couldn’t force people like that to frolic down avenues and put on clothes they wouldn’t feel comfortable sporting. We would have suggested to shoot in a more relaxed environment, like a cafe. The style should match the people, not the people to the style. When couples share their videos and photos with others, the last thing we want them to hear is “Wow, that doesn’t look like you at all.”
How do you capture the essence of someone’s romance in such a short time? I’ll be honest. It’s not a straightforward answer. Our whole creative process is built around getting to know the couple first. We insist that constant communication is a necessity. Sometimes preferences and personalities come right out during the planning phase. Sometimes they’re alluded to in seemingly irrelevant conversation. Sometimes we only get to understand something when we are on shoot. That’s why we always suggest stretching out the itinerary a bit; this way we have more time to bond with the couple, and we also want the trip to feel like a holiday rather than a mad scramble for shots. And who doesn’t love a longer holiday?
Later that evening we intended to make a two-hour drive to Asahikawa for a sunset scene, but we noticed that the sun was getting pretty low.
We agreed not to stress about getting to Asahikawa on time – we had good light and we had our cameras. That was what mattered. We pulled over by a field with no name we could see. One end stretched an infinite sheet of fresh-fallen snow, the other the intermittent rumble of passing trains. We suggested to repeat some of the dances that they did earlier, and off they went. At some point Wenkai tripped and flipped over onto the thick snow, like some cheap stunt out of a low-budget movie. We howled with laughter as he stood up; nothing broken and nothing lost. If only I had that down on video to show you.
Soon enough Asher and Ruth started hurling snowballs at each other. They frolicked in the snow, returning to some alternate childhood in a time and place never lived before. We let them have their own fun, intruding only to pick angles and encourage ideas. We stayed like that for a while, laughing, romping, watching the faded pink light turn to twilight gloaming. Ruth later told us that that evening was her favourite moment of the trip.
We prefer to simply lead couples to activities and actions that feel natural; ones that they might have done even if they weren’t on a shoot. It’s not that we don’t do any directing. We plan for things that allow a couple’s personalities to shine through. We keep an eye out for opportunities that allow serendipity to take over. Because when couples are genuine, the actions that we prompt them to do turn into real connections that carry emotional meaning. I don’t know about you, but we believe that couples shouldn’t come back feeling like they were on a photoshoot. They should feel like they had an adventure that is special to them, sprinkled with little moments known only among ourselves. On this trip we braved storms (literally!), had some of the best food of our lives, and saw sights that we may never see again. Ryan, Wenkai, and I had great fun shooting with Asher and Ruth. And hopefully, beautiful pictures weren’t the best thing they came home with.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
– Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Video by BeyondPictures. Photos courtesy of Stories with Ryan. Thanks Ryan, you rock 🙂