Monday, July 20, 2009

Pre-wedding Photos with Mona Lisa

Due to a lack of information regarding this process, I decided to write about my experience taking pre-wedding photos at Mona Lisa Bridal Salon in Hong Kong.

I want the readers to note two very important things:
1. I do not read or speak Chinese and neither does my fiancee
2. I live in the USA and was in Hong Kong for 6 days only.

[[ Brief Overview ]]

You can get wedding photos done at Golden Plaza (Prince Edward MTR) quite inexpensively, but most places seem to only speak Chinese and I wasn't too thrilled with the quality of the photography. That is my personal opinion. Also, everybody says "Go to Shenzhen!" but I was discouraged from going there due to time, language, and visa constraints. If you want to go to a major bridal salon in Hong Kong, expect to pay at least $10,000 HKD for your pictures regardless of what your package price is (see details below). There will be three appointments, one for a fitting (3-4 hours), the photo shoot (all day), and photo selection (3-4 hours). With Mona Lisa, the fifing took place at the Kowloon location. The photo shoot and selection is at the Park Island Palace location. which can be accessed via bus from the Lan Kwai Fong MTR station, which took about 40-60 minutes from the Wan Chai MTR station. They will give you directions after you book your appointment and again after you finish your fitting appointment.

My overall opinion (I haven't received the finished products yet, but I have already reviewed the photos): They surpassed my expectations in terms of picture quality, professionalism, and make-up/hair. However, price wise... they were pretty expensive. However, I imagine the same quality photography would cost significantly more in USA. For me, this was a valuable use of my wedding budget.

[[ Finding the Right Place ]]

I started doing research for PW photos about 1-2 months before my trip. I mostly fpcused on websites that had English pages since those would be places that would cater to non-Chinese customers.

Here are some of the links I compared (with price ranges in HKD):

From a general list of studios:
  • GP Wedding: Best prices, had trouble contacting (did eventually get email).
  • Romantic Life: $13888-$15888; lots of magazine advertising.
  • Mona Lisa: Positive reviews found online: $7988-$9988; lots of advertising.
  • AT Studio: $4980-$29980.
  • The Studio: $1680-$28,000.
I narrowed it down to AT Studio and Mona Lisa for various reasons (we all have different needs, remember mine was having a foreigner-friendly studio!), and ultimately went with Mona Lisa since I was able to find some online reviews.

While they have cheaper packages online, via email they said the only two available were $7988 (indoor/outdoor) and $9988 (Lamer, yacht pictures). I went with the cheaper package because well, this was already more than I wanted to spend. The person I was in contact with spoke English very well. She set up appointment times and I expressed to her my concern about how short my trip was, and she was able to squeeze all the appointments together during my short stay.

Here's a recent magazine advertisement (featuring celebrities):

[[ Choosing and Fitting ]]

The first appointment was the dress and tux fitting. I received three dresses (one indoor and one outdoor wedding dress and one evening gown). This process takes a while, allocate 3-4 hours for this. The indoor dress should be somewhat poofy. Asian wedding dress styles are somewhat larger and "blingier" than their Western counterparts, just remember ruffles and patterns do show up in pictures but bling does not. The bigger dresses do look nice in pictures, so don't pick dresses that you want to walk down the aisle in, just pick something that is flattering and is of a cut you like. Most dresses were strapless. The outdoor wedding dress is going to be less elaborate (for good reason) and more "beach" style. Use the same logic, but remember you will be walking around a lot in the dress. The evening gowns will also be worn outside. Again, they are not the kind of evening gowns that you might ever have an occasion to wear back home, unless you and you family often make appearances at fancy outings. Just have fun with this one! I selected a blue dress that looked like something popular in the 1920's and it looked very awesome in the pictures! I will say the person helped me definitely helped me... in the end I picked all three dresses from ones she recommended and not from anything I selected myself to try on.

Two more things: The price quoted doesn't include a bouquet, a tuxedo shirt, and a girdle. They will sell these things to you, but add in an extra $1500 to the price if want to buy directly from them (I did). If you bring you own bouquet (this will save you a lot of money), get something very pretty and make sure you get the smaller flower arrangement for your man and also some extra flowers for your hair. I personally recommend the one they sold to me (it was very beautiful) and it was nice not having to carry it around the MTR, but I might have liked to have a little extra money to spend on extra prints instead. I think most couples brought their own. Also - tux shirts are not the same as white collared shirts (our mistake).

[[ Photo Shoot ]]

I want to start off by saying this isn't for the faint of heart. We showed up at 10:15 am and were at the Park Island studio until 9:30 pm. Make sure you bring some snacks with you because the selection is pretty limited and there isn't a built-in lunch break (but there was a 2 hour break while we waited for night shots and our photographers ordered food for us, so bring some money if you think you'll eat dinner). Bring a comfortable pair of shoes and a nice pair of shoes for the pictures, inform your photographers if you have both.

Girls will be taken to a make-up room and powdered up. I was a little concerned with the amount of make-up they put on me because I tend to not wear make-up very much. However, just have faith. Like the dress, there is make-up for going out and make-up for taking pictures. The make-up will look nice in pictures and my make-up artist did a great job. Afterwards she styled my hair. She handed me a book to choose my hairstyles, but I decided to let her pick all three because I pretty much had faith in the system (she added long hair exensions to my shoulder length hair). I know a lot of you ladies will have more preferences than I did. While this is going on, your man will be dressed in a tux and ushered into the "dude lounge" where they put action and kung fu movies on repeat (he'll watch each of them a few times). Guys get some light powdering but not much more (no hair styling included). This whole process took 1-1.5 hours.

We met our photographers after this and thankfully one of them spoke English very well and the other one spoke English well enough. They said they typically get one couple per week who do not speak Chinese. That made me feel better, I was glad we weren't the only trouble makers!!

They'll take one set of indoor pictures and two sets outside (and then they will also take night shots as well if its in your package). We started off with the indoor pictures. Now, neither my husband-to-be nor I are very photogenic and we did not have any experience taking studio pictures. The photographers taught us how to pose. They took a set of "practice" shots, which seemed silly at the time, but when we reviewed the photos later we could see how our inexperience was visible in the earlier pictures. If you're good at taking pictures, show your stuff so you have more pictures to choose from.

I thought I only wanted indoor pictures, but the outside pictures turned out incredibly well. I mean, incredible! The weather was perfect when we went (overcast, partly cloudy), so this helped. Harsh sunlight probably will diminish the results. So we were lucky. My husband to be did get quite sweaty so bring some tissues with you to dry off (Hong Kong summers are HOT!).

It's going to be a long day... so I recommend getting a good nights sleep and having a very positive attitude throughout the day. Just be happy to spend time with your guy and feel good about looking beautiful! Some tourists snapped pictures of us during our photoshoot and shouted congratulations, which made us laugh.

[[ Selecting Pictures]]

We went back at 8:30 pm to Park Island for another 3-4 hours of wedding album fun. The first thing you'll do is have to narrow your 200+ pictures down to whatever number your package stipulated. In our case, it was 40. Of course, we had a hard time getting it down to 40 and after much grief we limited ourselves to 50 pictures. Some advice: don't keep variations of the same pose, just pick your favorite one. You'll want variety in hairstyles and backgrounds instead. Also, you will find a much larger number of bride solos than groom solos... ladies, you are beautiful but remember you're taking wedding photos. Pick your favorites and the rest can be eliminated. It's harder to take nice group shots on your own.

After you've picked your pictures, a sales person will come over and discuss the many album options that you have. Lets be honest: they will push you to spend more money. The stuff they try to get you to buy is nice and you will want it. Now, I had a budget that had been surpassed before I even left for Hong Kong. Other than the extra prints, I did not buy any of the additional products (I might regret this later). So what I recommend is, pick a package that is below your budget from the beginning (although, I would say don't skimp on the number of picture "styles" the take -- has to do with how many different background shots are included in your picture). That way, you can upgrade whatever albums you want and order extra prints. Even if you don't, the "baseline" albums are very nice and you'll still have beautiful pictures to treasure of your engagement. Still, you are only married once (hopefully!) and perhaps this is where you should cut corners (I did though!). Think realistically about your budget before you make your appointment.

After you have made your decision, you are invited to return in three months to pick up your order at one of their branches. Being from USA, I can't just go pick up my pictures. You can have a friend bring them back for you or pay DHL to pick up your order (add around $3000 to your order). People have had bad experiences with the Hong Kong post and shipping albums, but it is a cheaper option ($1800 HKD).

[[ 3 Months Later... ]]

The final product: to be continued!


  1. aww i'm sad you never posted your pics! i will be going to see mona lisa and would love to see other people's pic and experiences

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