The biggest issue when shooting a surprise proposal of marriage is that there are no do-overs. You cannot replicate the emotion of those precious seconds post-proposal. And so, the photographer must be fully prepared and ready to adapt to changing circumstances.

What equipment to use?

Camera equipment for a surprise proposal photoshoot Whatever equipment you use, you should have a backup; as I stated in the introduction, “there are no do-overs,” and so I embrace dual-redundancy with two cameras set up ready to go. I take test shots on both cameras to prepare them for the exciting moment, but the preparation begins in the office.

My primary camera body is professional-grade, full-frame Canon EOS 1DX, and my backup body is another professional-grade body, the tried and tested Canon EOS 1D MK IV. Each of these camera bodies has dual memory card slots; I set the cameras to record to each memory card simultaneously. This tactic offers dual redundancy in the unlikely event that a memory card will fail. Always plan for the unexpected.

Both camera bodies share the same battery, and so I charge four batteries overnight, two for the cameras and two to carry in my gadget backpack, just in case!

Before departure, I take the lenses off, put the bodies in ‘Bulb’ mode, and clean the camera’s sensors using a red rocket blower. I then assemble the primary lenses and clean them. My primary lenses are:

  • EF 70mm – 200mm f/2.8 lens – I pair this with the EOS 1D MK IV because this is a crop camera which means that I will have a more extended reach for the initial proposal shot because often I have to hide well out of sight.
  • EF 85mm f/1.2 – this is a beautiful portrait lens and does most of the heavy lifting during the mini-engagement shoot.
a woman is surprised as she is proposed to at Slack Reservoir, Rhode Island

Photographed using an EF 70mm – 200mm lens on an EOS 1D MK IV body. This initial moment of a surprisal photoshoot requires that I must either be out of sight or hidden in plan sight but either way I must use a long telephoto lens.

happy couple touch noses after a successful wedding proposal, in east matunuck rhode island

Photographed using an EF 85mm f/1.2 lens on an EOS 1D X. This prime lens produces beautiful portraits with outstanding bokeh (background blur) producing the most romantic of images.

I also carry an EF 24mm – 70mm f/2.8 in my backpack for wider angled shots.

For a secondary light source, I use a Canon 580 EX II paired with a Gary Fong light diffuser, which softens the strobe light. The strobe is battery activated with four AA batteries to ensure that those batteries have support. The refresh rate is instantaneous; I use a Godox external power pack that I charge overnight.

Because I have to be mobile, carrying my equipment is a Manfrotto ProLight backpack. In the backpack, I take two of everything that I may need.

I am now ready for my surprise proposal photoshoot.

Check out samples of my surprise proposal photography