By Lilit Marcus, CNN
It seems tailor made for Instagram likes: bright blue sky, white walls and a ruby-colored dress swirling elegantly in the breeze.
These images, known as “flying dress” photos, started out on the picturesque Greek island of Santorini and have since become popular in other tourist spots like Dubai, Tulum and Italy.
While the pictures look like they could have been taken for a high fashion magazine, the photo shoots are relatively affordable and have become a more common offering on travel experience booking websites like Viator and Klook.
Born on a Greek island
The couple were both wedding and portrait photographers and Babenkov was reportedly working on a shoot in the Dominican Republic, during which a stylist added a long train to a gown to add more drama, giving him the idea to replicate the look for tourists.
Since then, they have expanded their business to Italy, Cuba and Dubai.
Volokitina and Babenkov took advantage of SEO — search engine optimization, a way to pack a website full of key words that make it easier to find in a quick Google search — and now it’s practically impossible to find a flying dress photo online that doesn’t lead back to their website or social media profiles in some way.
Success, though, has given other people in other markets the idea to try out a similar photography business model.
Chrisan Hunter is one of them.
She was working as a wedding planner in her native Montego Bay, Jamaica, when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Rather than pursue her own travel dream — going to Santorini to stage a flying dress photo shoot — she decided to capitalize on the trend in her home country.
She also got lucky. Although Jamaica has had some short lockdown periods and curfews during the pandemic, the country has mostly remained open. Tourists from the US and Canada continued to head to Jamaica for their vacations, meaning Hunter was still able to attract customers.
And, ironically, quite a few of her clients were people who had planned trips to Greece that fell apart because of travel restrictions or changes.
Behind the scenes
People who book a photo shoot with Her Dress Jamaica, Hunter’s company, are able to choose from five different photographers based on whose style they like best, and Hunter provides everything, from the dress itself — in a range of inclusive sizes for women of different body types — to hair, makeup and styling help upon request.
One of the most common questions she gets asked is whether she owns a wind machine to get the dresses to swirl so dramatically.
“All our shoots include an assistant,” Hunter explains. “We get our clients dressed and everything, and then once it’s time to shoot, we coordinate with the photographer and it’s a 1, 2, 3 count. We throw up the dress, he catches (the shot) fast.”
Now, like most trends, flying dresses have gone beyond solo experiences. Hunter has coordinated group photos for up to 14 women in different dresses as well as several maternity shoots.
Other similar photography businesses have had to find their own ways to up the ante.
Flying Dresses Tulum, based in the popular Mexican resort town, expanded their offerings to include waterproof “flowing dresses” that are perfect for floating in cenotes, the colorful water-filled sinkholes that are found throughout the Yucatan peninsula.
Other companies can take the photos by drone or organize a proposal to happen mid-shoot, thus guaranteeing that the ring photos will also look Insta-ready.
Every rose has its thorn
Still, there are some things that even the most beautiful dress can’t easily hide.
Christina Kumar did one of these shoots in the California desert.
“The cameraman had to do a quick rattlesnake check at my standing location,” she tells CNN, adding, “there were thorns all over my dress because it was in a location with very dense nature, and it was very hot.”
She ended up moving around as little as possible during the shoot, letting the dramatic dress do the work.
Despite the potential for disaster, Kumar’s shoot went off well and she loved the final product.
Hunter says one of the biggest challenges for her business is Jamaica’s unpredictable climate. But there’s always a covered area that models can stay in until the storm clears up, and a local photographer used to working with the conditions can grab a few beautiful pictures in seconds.
Potential travel hazards aside, the average shoot takes just an hour — but the photos can last forever.
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