The Surprise  Proposal: The Planning Process

To capture outstanding surprise proposal photography, we must use one of my favorite words, ‘skulduggery,’ because surprise proposal photography involves trickery: loving trickery.

Typically, when I work with the partner who is planning to propose, we work on the following:

1) Location: the ‘proposer’ will, in most cases, have an idea of where they would like to propose. My involvement is to provide options for the selection of the final proposal location. I consider my ability to remain out of sight and the optimum lighting to capture the proposal. If the client is from out-of-state or just doesn’t know the area, I will research the location and provide suggestions, as shown in the image below.

For this shoot in East Matunuck, Rhode Island, I offered three possible locations. The white arrow is the direction of the sunlit at the time of the proposal.

East Matunuck as a location for a surprise proposal

2) Staying Out of Sight: I have hidden in long grass, pretended I was visiting a neighbor, and often hidden in plain sight pretending to be a nature photographer. Whatever it takes!

3) Coordination: my preference is to use texting as a communication method. It is unobtrusive and can be used in a clandestine fashion. On the day of the shoot, I ask that the client take a selfie with their partner and send it via text. I will also describe what I am wearing, although my camera is usually the giveaway!

Armed with all of this information, I arrive early to ensure that I can park and scout the location. I will take a few test shots to ensure that the camera is set up correctly for the moment of the proposal. With the camera set up, I will move to my hiding place, unless I am hiding in plain sight, in which case I will pretend to be photographing birds, boats etc.

When the couple arrives, I am on tenterhooks waiting on the proposal. Sometimes, I receive a text giving me notice of the impending proposal, but I often have to watch every move waiting for the exciting moment.

I use a long lens, a Canon EF 70mm-200 f/2.8, paired with a Canon EOS 1DX, professional equipment for the proposal itself. Once we have captured the proposal and the joyous moments after, I will switch to a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 lens which produces beautiful portraiture. I will also use fill-flash at this time (Canon 580EX and a Gary Fong light diffuser.)

proposal photography at the ocean house, rhode island

Armed with my beautiful portrait lens, after the surprise proposal, we will have a mini-engagement shoot, where I will take a variety of beautiful portraits (see some sample below) of the happy couple and the ring!

There is a lot of work preparing for a proposal shoot, but I am rewarded with being enveloped in pure joy.