Plane, train, an automobile and a horse

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The couple, who plan to wed in July, also touched down at the Rockcliffe Airport. (Photo: Troy St. Louis)

When Nancy Kalinda and Francis Mavula started to bounce ideas around for their engagement photos, their ideas revved from zero to 60 in about three seconds.

The pair, who were engaged just before Christmas 2011, didn’t want the standard shots of a bride-and-groom-to-be cuddling under a tree.

They were inspired by a television ad for the premium vodka Cîroc, which shows a pack of elegantly dressed revellers led by rapper P. Diddy exiting a private plane and heading to a party in Las Vegas.

Mavula has a passion for nice cars and planes — one of his favourite things to do in his spare time is to watch planes take off and land. If there was going to be a plane and a high-performance automobile, they reasoned, maybe there should be a train.

And a horse.

“I love horses,” says Kalinda, who happens to have a friend with a farm east of Ottawa. So they asked their wedding planner what she could do to make it a reality.

Wendy Leung of Beyond Events had a week to put all the shots together.

She went through her list of contacts and arranged to borrow a shiny red Ferrari from Exotic Car Rental, got permission to shoot at the Rockcliffe Airport and in the Arc Hotel’s sleek modern lounge in downtown Ottawa.

They added a shoot with the steam train at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology. Leung borrowed sample gowns from Mia Bridal Co. and two tuxedos from Morris Formal Wear.

The shoot took seven hours, there were four changes of wardrobe for the bride and three for the groom.

Kalinda arranged for friends to do her hair and makeup.

Leung handled the props — luggage for the airport shots, a champagne bucket and glasses (the “champagne” in the glasses in some of the photos is actually ginger ale ).

“Wendy planned a magical day for us,” says Kalinda. “It was like a labour of love.”

Gone are the days were a wedding photographer’s job was merely to line up the bridal party and make sure no one is squinting. The speed of the digital age — and the fact that photographers can snap hundreds of photos without having to develop the film — means that bridal photography is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Photos can be easily retouched.

At the same time, the Facebook generation is accustomed to “curating” their lives through photography. Couples are requesting engagement shoots that are just as elaborate as the wedding shoot. Brides and grooms-to-be are able to easily peruse images from dozens of weddings on the Internet to see what they like and what has been done too much, says Leung. They want atmosphere and they want the photos to tell a story.

“Everyone wants something different, whether it’s the location, props, or a magazine-like set. It sets the tone for the wedding. The guests will know what to expect,” she says.

“Some couples just want to go where no one else has gone.”

Troy St. Louis, who has been a wedding photographer for about seven years, says engagement shoots typically take about two hours. This shoot required three cars, five settings and about seven hours.

“I wanted it to look classy and fashiony, too,” says St. Louis, who is also doing a five-minute video “story” of the wedding day. “With couples now, they want a stylish shoot. They want role-playing.”

For Mavula, sitting in the Ferrari was a highlight because he had never been in one before. So was taking pictures on the actual airport runaway.

For Kalinda, the hardest part was shooting the train scene in the hot sun for two hours.

“Luckily, there was a hotdog stand with a picnic table in the shade. When we were done shooting the scene, we all took a break to enjoy a cold drink with a hotdog,” she says.

“I kept telling myself to ‘smile’ à la Tyra Banks. We got a few good shots, thank goodness, but it’s not easy pretending to be a real super model.”

Kalinda and Mavula, both public servants, met in the summer of 2007 after a Kanye West concert.

They had a lot in common. Mavula was born in Burundi, came to Ottawa when he was nine and went to university in the U.S. on a soccer scholarship. Nancy was born in the Congo, lived in South Africa and came to Ottawa in her mid-teens.

“The energy was great,” says Mavula. “We started talking on the phone. We couldn’t stop talking.”

They discovered that they both wanted the same things in life — to have a family, travel, give back to the community and to Africa. Mavula asked Kalinda to marry him in just before Christmas 2011 with carefully-staged proposal that everyone in both families knew about — except Kalinda.

Mavula’s family invited Kalinda’s family for coffee and cake. An aunt urged Mavula to make their relationship official. He got down on one knee and poured out his heart for 15 minutes before presenting her with a hideous ring he claimed he had especially designed for her. This was a joke. The real ring came out later.

They have already used some of the photos for their “save the day” cards, the wedding invitations and the rehearsal party. They plan to scatter framed photos from the shoot on the tables this July at their wedding, an event that has expanded to nine bridesmaids, nine groomsmen and five junior bridesmaids once they added up siblings, cousins and old friends.

“The wedding will be a big party. We just want it to be a celebration,” says Kalinda.

They probably won’t use the photos with the Ferrari. “We felt it was a bit pretentious,” says Kalinda, who confesses she felt a bit queasy showing her mother the steamy shots taken in the Arc lounge.

“We wanted to have something to look back at,” Mavula says of the engagement shoot. Adds Kalinda: “Now I just want to get these elaborate pictures done every five years.” How will they top this at their wedding? “I have a secret location in mind,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to steal my idea.”

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