Indian Weddings in London
What happens at Indian Weddings?
All weddings are unique, but some are more unique than others. Indian weddings are epic, and an Indian Wedding Photographer in London, I absolutely love finding out that a couple wants to book me for theirs. I’ve shot hundreds of Indian weddings in London since I began life as a wedding photographer, as well as a fair few in India and other parts of the UK and the world.
But wherever they are located, I know I’m going to be in for a serious party and a visual feast for the eyes. I try to make my approach to every Indian wedding as personal as possible. By getting to know a couple as best I can, understanding their relationship, their passions, their family in as much detail as possible – I can tune into the atmosphere and emotions that much more closely. And that is even more powerful and important at an Indian wedding, since the different events and sheer number of people mean a sixth sense for the moments that matter can come in very handy.
My approach at all weddings is much like journalism. By trying to document the event without imposing on it, I can capture more authentic moments, without distracting – or annoying – you or your guests. A bit of posing is always required, of course. Portraits done on the fly don’t look very good! But I want you to be able to enjoy your Indian wedding and soak up every minute of it. There’s a lot going on and a lot to think about. So the less I take you away from your special occasion and special people, the better.
32 of my favourite images from Indian Weddings
Taking your time
Indian weddings tend to be very colourful compared to Western weddings, but they also last longer too. In order to honour the coming together of two families, plenty of time is devoted to that process of getting to know each other. There are a lot of people to meet, and when you’re going to arrive as strangers and leave as family, that’s not something you want to rush. It all helps to make sure the relationship gets off to the best possible start, plus it’s great news for me. I love watching people chatting and capturing the little – or not so little – exchanges that happen between them at unexpected moments.
Lots of symbols and colours will be on display, reflecting the couples’ faith. From the invitations guests receive to the different ceremonies, there may be all kinds of vibrant visuals utilised. Each has its own meaning for the faith and the couple, and each gives me a special opportunity to document the beautiful images employed for future generations to understand.
Flowers can also have their own unique meanings. Marigold flowers convey passion, happiness and positivity, while red can be used to show the importance of the event. Hindu wedding invitations will sometimes be written in red ink to give them an auspicious air prior to the occasion. Whether you’re looking at the details in close up, or stepping back to marvel in the colourful chaos on display, one thing is for sure – as an Indian wedding photographer it’s a joy and a privilege to capture such an intense visual array.
Understanding the ceremonies
Really there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ Indian wedding. Because religion and region can play such a big role, I’m used to expecting all kinds of variations. Sikh weddings will differ from Hindu, Jain and Parsee weddings, but they do generally all take place over several days – a rarity in western weddings (unless you count stag and hen dos).
It definitely helps having experience of Indian weddings prior to photographing them, though. Because each day has its own set of specific ceremonies, each with their own meaning, you can use your understanding to capture the atmosphere in the right way. You also know which family members are likely to be most prominent and important at each moment too. Many of these rituals will be very longstanding customs – sometimes religious, sometimes not – but the more I know about each the better my photos will be.
The Mehndi Ceremony
The Mehndi ceremony – also known as the Henna Ceremony – tends to fall on the day before the wedding, and (as you have probably guessed) involves a lot of henna! The feet and hands of the bride have henna applied, usually with her mother, and other women, in attendance.
Sometimes it will be very private, but not necessarily. Usually an experienced Henna artist will be chosen to apply the henna patterns, starting with the bride and inviting other women and girls – perhaps from the groom’s family too – to join them. The mood is generally calm and quiet and thoughtful, and with so many beautiful artworks on display and a nervous excitement in the air – it’s like a goldmine of stunning images for a wedding photographer!
The Sangeet ceremony is more likely to feature at north India weddings, and essentially involves the whole family singing and dancing, and letting their hair down before the big day. There’s none of the raucousness of a stag or hen party – instead it’s a joyful occasion with lots of food and the latest Bollywood hits.
The Indian wedding ceremony
Most of the Indian weddings I’ve photographed have involved Hindu ceremonies, so I’ll explain a little bit here about what happens.
Everything takes place beneath a canopy called a Mandap. If it’s not always practical to build it outside – British weather, I’m looking at you – then it can be built inside instead. The Mandap has four pillars, which represent each of the four parents. The actual parents (along with the couples’ siblings) will stand at the Mandap and await the bride. Typically, the bride’s maternal uncle will be the one to escort her down the aisle to join them, and the bride’s brother will be tasked with handing rice to the bride and groom for them to throw into the fire pit.
Don’t worry, it’s not a huge roaring bonfire. Usually the fire is just a small brazier, but it still has powerful symbolic importance for the ceremony. Agni the god of fire sustains life, and this gesture allows the couple to ask Agni to bestow life on their marriage.
After the bride’s parents have given away the bride – which is known as Kanya Daan – the bride and groom will join hands and walk around the fire. This is called the Mangalphera.
They do this four times, each circle representing a different goal: morality, personal gratification, prosperity and spirituality.
There are still several more rituals still to be performed, though. There’s the Havan, in which the priest ties the bride and groom’s scarves together then walks around the fire offering flowers, rice, and herbs to the flames. Then there’s the Saptapadi in which the couple take seven steps, each one representing a different marital vow of support and commitment. Finally, the groom places a red powder on the bride’s forehead and gives her a necklace of black and gold beads (and maybe some diamonds too), a gift known as the Mangalsutra.
Their marital bond now complete, guests will throw flowers to bestow happiness and prosperity.
The Indian Wedding reception
On paper, an Indian wedding reception is much the same as a western wedding reception, with great food, heartfelt speeches and lots of entertainment and music. In reality, they are way bigger, way more bonkers and way more fun.
Whether it’s a flamboyant theme, attention to detail or just sheer mind-blowing scale, expect to be blown away!
I’ve never been to an Indian wedding reception that wasn’t spectacular, turning the celebrations up to 11. From extravagant floral decorations to fabulous traditional curry banquets and plenty of beautifully decorated desserts, you’ll be in heaven. Just don’t eat too much as the dance floor will be packed till the small hours. And that’s when I sometimes get my best shots. Because every part of the occasion takes the emotion, the fun and the excitement to another level. Which makes it that much easier for me to get incredible shots that the couple and their family will never get tired of looking at.
Capturing Your Day
There are lots of ways describe what your big day feels like, but none of them really come close. It’s such a complex, nuanced blend of people and emotions and encounters that every single detail needs to be experienced to really understand it. It’s the same with your photos too. The photographs I take reflect that challenge – they don’t try to order or organise each moment, they just honour it, capturing that feeling as honestly as possible. It’s impossible to say what will will trigger that instinct for me, and show me the exact moment and framing that’s required. It’s become a sixth sense. It could be someone’s posture, an exchange of looks I spot, or giggles that are about to bubble over into belly laughter.
Whatever it is, I know it’s right from the feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something inside me says ‘Yes!’ I know my couples respond viscerally in the same way when I show them the shots. Indian Weddings are beautiful in all kinds of ways, and no two photographers would shoot the same Indian wedding the same way or discover beauty in quite the same things. What I offer is a highly refined instinct for spontaneous human emotion, something that transcends the physical and brings everybody’s inner feelings to the foreground. Tracking the spikes in energy and the little lulls as well. There’s a lot of craft required in achieving this, and I often vary my cameras or approach to lighting depending on what my gut feeling is telling me will work best. But it’s something I’ve learned to trust over the years, and has resulted in some of the most spectacular shots I’ve ever taken.
It’s a joy and a privilege doing what I do, and few things give me more pleasure than showing someone the photos from their big day, transporting them straight back into those memories, some of the most precious they will ever have. I want everyone to be blown away by your photos, most of all you. Whether I’m working as an Indian wedding photographer, or on the road shooting destinations around the world, I just want to do your day – and your love – justice.
I don’t believe in regrets.