Around this time last year, I began the very sneaky business of helping a friend/groom plan the perfect proposal. In all fairness, he planned it. I was brought in to photograph it. But in order to pull it off, we had to manage some important logistics and planning was key for the surprise element. In the process, I picked up some crucial pointers that I thought might be helpful for other photographers gearing up to capture a couple's big moment.
Given the season of love and the likelihood that there will be a few proposals taking place this weekend (wink wink), I figured this would be an ideal time to share the knowledge!
1. Scope out the location in advance and find your hiding spot
This is the single MOST IMPORTANT tip for photographing a proposal. I met the groom at the proposal spot the day before he popped the question to go over his plans and make sure I was in a spot that was hidden but still gave me an optimal view of the action. It's important for the propose-er to know where you are, even if the propos-ee does not-- this is something you need extra eyes for to make sure you're able to see the whole thing unfolding while still not compromising your role (thus ruining the big surprise).
2. Discuss positioning
Make sure that you know where exactly he plans to go down on one knee and make suggestions based on factors like lighting and where you're able to hide. Not to say you have to "choreograph" it per-say, but you kinda do. I know it probably seems silly, but these guys have a TON racing through there mind right before they propose so in some ways, it can actually be helpful to give them specific marker for where they should stand, what direction they should face when the hit the knee, etc because then they don't have to think about those details, but the issue at hand-- ya know, asking the woman he loves to be his wife for ever and ever. And hey, if they forget (again, lots going through their heads) just improvise. That's what photographers do.
3. Fill in business owners, groundskeepers, etc. with the details
It was a pretty quiet day around these grounds on the day of the proposal because it was cool and had been raining all day. But about 10 minutes before they were set to arrive, a groundskeeper started walking around the area. I swiftly left my hiding spot to let him know what was taking place and kindly infer
"if you could kindly make yourself invisible for the next 15 minutes that'd be great."
Just try to imagine this situation with a groundskeeper trimming trees in the background. Awkward. Some proposals happen in public places, in which case, you embrace the crowd and become part of it as your "hiding place." But in the case where you're seeking privacy, you need to be direct about addressing any person or situation that could disrupt it and cause the moment to be ruined.
4. Encourage "golden light" timing
If at all possible, encourage an early evening proposal time to get the best and most flattering light. (In this case, it had been raining all day and was extremely overcast so the timing for light didn't make a difference, but was perfect in that it stopped raining about 5 minutes before they arrived!) Nighttime only complicates an already complicated situation and mid-day light can be harsh and difficult to shoot- especially when you're limited in your angles and ability to make adjustments. Planning for a sunset proposal is not only romantic, but the ideal conditions for shooting to make sure you don't miss a beat!
5. Get the groom's contact info and stay in touch on the big day
If at all possible, have the groom contact you with updated plans and timing. Sometimes things shift and if they're planning to be at the location an hour earlier than expected because they decided to skip the movie, you need to know! On the flip side, you don't want to be hiding in a bush for an hour because they decided to take a detour and get ice cream after dinner.
6. Be early and ready in a blink
Take #5 with a grain of salt because with proposal shoots, flexibility needs to be your game. You need to be early regardless of the set "time." I hid in a prickly bush in the rain for about 20 minutes before they arrived and the excitement was killing me! But I was glad to have some time to set up my gear, practice my angles, and make sure I was out of sight because once they arrived, it all unfolded so quickly! (Side note, I had also just found out I was pregnant that morning so I was glad to have some time to center my thoughts!) There are no "do-overs" or pause buttons when it comes to this big moment so you gotta be quick and sharp!
7. Use a zoom lens
Without the flexibility to move with your subjects and the necessity to hide out of view, a quality zoom lens is pretty much your only option. I used my Nikkor 2.4 70-200 lens for the whole time which allowed me to capture the detail of their expressions and the big picture environment all from my tiny little hiding bush a few yards away.
8. Come out, come out wherever you are
After that diamond is securely on her finger and they are officially engaged, go on and come out from that preciously chosen hiding spot for some better angles (she still probably won't notice you.) Then, as long as it's been cleared by your groom beforehand, I think it's a great idea to go on and make yourself known, congratulate the couple, take some quick shots of that initial joy, and then excuse yourself to let them enjoy their moment. In this case, the groom and I talked about maybe walking around and doing a little mini-shoot after the proposal, but in the moment, it just didn't feel right. I wanted to let them be together without a third wheel, bask in the love instead of worrying about posing, call their family and friends, and get on with their night.
Photographs are great (obviously) but so are memories, and one should not get in the way of the the other.
This was actually my first proposal so I'm obviously no expert, but I was pretty happy with how it all turned out! Every proposal is different, but I think these tips can be helpful across the board. If you're planning on photographing a proposal this weekend or any time in the near future, best of luck and happy hiding! It's a thrilling experience and such fun to capture the beginning of a new adventure for two people in love.
And if you're planning on doing the proposing, best of luck to you as well!
Cheers to love and photographing it :-)
See the whole recap of Brandon and Xandra's proposal here!