When Niko contacted me about photographing his surprise proposal (in Newport, Rhode Island) to Tori, he did not have a location in mind. Being from out-of-state, Niko was seeking local knowledge. The first thing I asked was, where is your hotel? The hotel was outside of mainstream Newport because it was pet-friendly, and it was at this point I discovered that Niko and Tori were traveling with their furballs, Max and Daisy. With this new knowledge in and, it was a clear decision, Beavertail State Park. My thinking was that Niko would inform Tori that they would take the dogs for a walk before dinner in one of Rhode Island’s gems, a short jump across the Newport Bridge, and they would be there! And Tori would not suspect a proposal during a dog walk.
As we continued our discussions, it appeared that there would be additional players in preparation for the surprise proposal; Tori’s mother Myst and their family friend, Christine. Myst and Christine had a small shelf set up, with momentos to be at the place of the proposal.
This additional information complicated the setup some, so not only was I going to direct Niko to a place he has never been before, but I also had to coordinate Myst and Christine. They had also never been to Beavertail. And now, we would have to hide the shelf out of view. I decided that the best place (hoping that the wind would be in our favor) would be the rocks on the Newport side of Beavertail. I sent Niko an annotated screenshot of Google maps that highlighted the area I had in mind and the access points, and some photos that I had previously taken of that area. In my mind, I did have a plan ‘B’ behind Battery Whiting, which was part of Narraganset Bay’s defenses in World War II. This is a grass-covered structure that would provide some protection from the wind.
Niko had provided me with Myst’s telephone number, and so I called her, and we discussed the plans. I described the lay of the land at Beavertail and all the access points, and to set her mind at ease, we planned to meet at 5:30 pm and set things up. We have a game plan.
On Saturday, as I left my house at 5:00 pm, I sent a group text to Niko and Myst to inform them that I was rolling, setting everyone’s nerves at ease! One thing less that they would have to worry about, ” is the photographer going to show up?”
When I arrived, the wind was out of the south, which was a bit of pain, but I also discovered new information: they had large letters that spelled out ‘marry me.’ This information and the direction of the wind put plan ‘B’ into action.
Not only did Battery Whiting protect from the wind, one of the now-defunct gun emplacements provided the perfect stage for the ‘marry me’ setup.
Myst and Christine set to work, and while they were doing that, I took photos of our location, annotated them with directions, and sent those to Niko. Now, he would know how to approach our display. After that task was complete, I had to run down to the rocks and collect small rocks to stage the letters such that they were more visible on approach. We must have repositioned the letters and the shelf a half dozen times, but eventually, and just in time, we were all set for the arriving couple.
I opted to hide on the east side of the battery because Niko and Tori would be coming from the west side, and the ladies would hide behind a parked car. Game on!
I am Scottish, and Scotland’s great poet Roberts Burns once wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men…” And for all of our planning, Niko and Tori came from the East (because Niko could not read my text with the instructions without giving the game away).
In my hiding spot, I saw Max and Daisy first, then Niko and Tori, and without missing a beat, I turned my back to them to take photos of the Mountain Laurel, which was in bloom. I think I saved the day! I continued to keep my back to them and walked away from them while taking photos of the foliage but with one eye watching them.
As Niko dropped to his knee, I swung around and jumped into action using a long telephoto lens. However, it is tough to be discrete when you have two dogs protecting their owners and barking at you.
It was wonderfully chaotic.
After the proposal, we walked around Beavertail for a mini-engagement shoot as the sun was setting. We could not capture sunset photos because the newly engaged couple had dinner reservations, but we got to see Beavertail State Park at its best.