Love, authentic connection, and an entire session full of excitement as a newly engaged couple celebrates right in front of your camera — yep, I love photographing marriage proposals!
But even though the proposal is a surprise for your client’s partner, nothing about this session should be a surprise for you. As the photographer, you’re about to capture a once-in-a-lifetime event that your clients will remember forever. It’s a few seconds of complete surprise, raw emotion, joy, pure magic — and it happens in the blink of an eye. When photographing a surprise proposal, you definitely need to know how to capture the magic of the moment beautifully the first (and only) time it happens.
I’m going to share my six steps for photographing a surprise proposal like a pro without ruining the surprise.
1. Choose a location that fits your couple’s personality.
Location is one of the main factors that determines the feel of a session. When a client reaches out to you in hopes of surprising their partner with a marriage proposal, ask for details and really get to know them as a couple. Are they adventurous? You may want to suggest a small hike, or a location with mountain views. Do they prefer to stay home and snuggle in their pajamas? Maybe they would prefer an in-home session. Getting to know your clients is so important in choosing the perfect spot for magic to happen.
Once you choose a location, spend time getting to know it. Have you been there before? If not, visit during the time of day you’ll be photographing the proposal. What season is it? What will the weather look like that day? Make sure to check in with your client and select a very specific spot for the surprise proposal at the chosen location.
2. Have a specific plan for finding your client on the day of.
After the client and I have chosen a location for the surprise proposal, I get started with planning the little details right away. Remember, nothing about photographing a surprise proposal should be surprising to you as the photographer.
One of the most important things I need to know is the exact meeting location and how the client and I will find each other. Since I always visit the location in advance, I tell my client exactly where I’ll be. I also tell him what I’ll be wearing so he can easily determine that I’m there without ruining the surprise for his partner. My photo is on my website, so the client often knows what I look like already. I also ask my clients for a selfie and a description of their shirt or jacket so I know who to look for.
3. Have a plan and be prepared for the big moment.
Once you’ve decided on all the details and chosen the perfect spot, you need a plan on how to actually photograph the proposal without ruining the surprise.
I like to bring a friend or assistant with me so that I can pretend I’m photographing her as we wait for the couple to approach. I get my settings ready by placing my friend in the light I think the couple will be in for the proposal, and then I wait anxiously.
Proposals are unexpected and everything happens at what feels like lightning speed. You don’t want to miss the defining moment of the session, so be sure you have your camera settings right before the proposal begins. If it’s windy, raise your shutter speed. If it’s dark or overcast, raise your ISO. Face different directions and memorize how many stops of light change as you take a 180-degree turn. It can be so tricky to remember all of the details once you’re in the moment.
4. Keep clicking through the proposal and all the moments that follow.
When I can tell he’s about to ask, I click away like a mad woman and briskly walk towards the couple. One of my biggest pieces of advice for photographing a surprise proposal session is to keep clicking through the moment. Did your client just get down on one knee and now the couple is kissing and hugging? Don’t stop clicking! Proposals are full of so many emotions that putting the camera down means potentially missing a big bear hug, a belly laugh, and often a few tears. I photograph everything!
5. Offer the couple a moment alone, and then finish the session.
Once things have calmed down, I walk up to the couple and congratulate them — remember that this is an exciting, super emotional milestone in their lives. I often suggest they take a few moments to just be with each other, without my camera in their space. I walk away with my assistant for a moment or two and let the clients talk and hug. Once they’ve had a chance to connect, I go about finishing the session as I would with any couple — lots of laughs, jokes and silliness.
Don’t forget to show off that ring! Capture hands as the couple hugs, or get a close-up of the ring on the finger.
6. Ask before you share any images!
Once your time is up, check in with the couple — will they be letting their family know about the engagement that day? If not, be sure to ask for permission before posting a sneak peak to social media. You don’t want to steal their thunder (or offend any relatives that would have preferred to hear over the phone).
I also let my couples know the lead time on a completed gallery. They will be excited to receive the photos and share the moments with friends, so often reiterating your timeline can be helpful in managing your clients’ expectations.
I use ShootProof to deliver my galleries about 2-4 weeks after the proposal. I encourage the couple to quickly download the images from the gallery onto a cloud-based service (like Dropbox or iCloud) so that their images will be safe and backed up. My husband is a network security engineer, and constantly reminds me of how important it is not only to keep your data secure, but to make sure it’s backed up safely. I host client galleries for 6 months and send a reminder once the gallery has expired. Clients also have the option to purchase prints through their gallery; I use Miller’s Photo Lab for print fulfillment.
Most importantly, have fun! There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of photographing a surprise proposal, and the more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to capture those amazing, once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Camera: Two Canon EOS 5D Mark III cameras
Lenses: Sigma 35mm 1.4, Sigma 85mm 1.4, Sigma 20mm 1.4, Canon 24-70 2.8 II
Special Items: HoldFast’s Money Maker Dual Camera Strap. Lots of memory cards. Oh, and hand warmers — I live in Vermont and it gets cold here in the winter (I ended up photographing a surprise proposal this winter in 6 degrees Fahrenheit. For real!).
All photos by Jenna Brisson