January 4, 2016: how I photograph proposals
Marriage proposals are my favorite type of event to photograph. I love being one of the few people to witness such an important moment.
When a guy emails me that he's planning to propose, I usually recommend an outdoor spot in an open area. That allows me to photograph the proposal undetected. It also creates pleasing background separation. Furthermore, I think locations with minimal foot traffic are best. That way, passersby don't accidentally show up in any of the shots. None of these rules are absolute, though. In the Lincoln Memorial shot below, the crowd on the steps behind the couple added a sense of place.
In terms of time of day, I push for early morning or late afternoon. Those times typically provide the most flattering light. In contrast, direct sunlight in the middle of the day can create harsh shadows on people's faces. Night/indoor proposals are less than ideal due to the need for conspicuous flash and/or high ISO (a camera setting that causes "noisy" photos).
Photo on the left: middle of the day, direct sunlight. Photo on the right: late afternoon, shade.
Once the guy and I have agreed on a time and a location, I try to visit the spot with him in person so we can get a feel for exactly how it will go down. Also, I like to send him the following pieces of advice:
- If possible, come up with an excuse for your girlfriend to dress nicely and/or get a manicure. In my experience, girls appreciate that in retrospect.
- Before you kneel, position your girlfriend so I can see her face. Those are the shots she'll want the most, and proposals are too quick to walk to a different perspective in the moment.
- Don't point me out to your girlfriend right away. Her immediate, unfiltered reactions will probably be some of the best shots from the session.
I send the guy a few brief text messages throughout the day to make sure we're on schedule. I don't send too many; I don't want to raise the girlfriend's suspicions.
Once the couple approaches the spot, it's go time! I snap away with a high speed shutter setting that allows multiple shots per second. In 2016, I'd like to improve on the steadiness of these shots. I'm usually so excited during proposals that my typically steady hand-held technique gets a little shaky! Thankfully I've learned to leave enough margin around the photos that I can straighten them in post-processing. My 200mm lens allows me to maintain a healthy distance. I might invest in a 300mm lens or even a 400mm lens so I can get close-ups, too.
After the guy reveals me to his fiancée, I like to take a few posed shots of the newly engaged couple (assuming the guy doesn't have other immediate plans).
A macro shot of her engagement ring never hurts, either.
The next day or the day after that, I meet with the couple again so they can choose which photos they'd like to purchase. I recognize that couples want to announce their engagement on social media as soon as possible, so I edit and deliver their photos quickly.