Do Your Research
With proposal photography, you only get one chance to get the perfect shot, so it’s crucial to do plenty of research before the question is popped. Talk to the person who’s proposing about their plan for the evening. Will it be a private, intimate event with just the couple, or will family and friends be a part of the festivities as well? If the proposal includes more people than just the couple, be sure to coordinate with the family and friends and make sure everyone is clear about the plan, the time and the location. You don’t want little cousins popping up in the background of photos of the couple before the big question gets popped.
Scout the Location Alone
This is one of the most crucial parts of the pre-shooting process, and will help ensure that you capture the most important moments from the best angles. If the person proposing already has a location in mind, check it out first by yourself, and look for the best spots for the couple to be and the best locations for you to shoot from. If it doesn’t look like the location will work photographically – either it’s too open and empty, with nowhere for you to shoot from without being spotted, or it’s so crowded and busy that you won’t be able to get a clear shot – scout around for other viable options. Don’t be nervous suggesting another nearby spot. You’re the professional – trust your instincts if you think a location won’t work, but make sure to have a couple backup suggestions ready.
Go Back to the Location with the Person Proposing
After you’ve scouted by yourself and have a good idea of the best shooting locations, go back with the person who’s going to propose. Check out the area around the same time of day that the proposal will happen. That way, you’ll both have a good sense of what the light will look like, and you can take some sample shots of the person proposing to give them an idea of the kind of shots you’ll take on the day of the actual proposal. If you have suggestions for different locations, take them there and explain what you think are the advantages and disadvantages of each spot. Make sure you come to an agreement on a location that you’re both happy with. It’s their proposal and therefore important to take their desires into consideration, but if a certain location really is better photographically, be firm and clearly explain your concerns and suggestions.
Make a Concrete Plan
Once you’ve agreed on a time and location, plan out all of the specifics, and write everything down to ensure there’s no confusion. Work together to decide on the best place for the question to be popped – these will be the most important shots, so it’s crucial to find the most photogenic spot with a nice open space and a compelling background. Show the person proposing where you’ll be shooting from, and talk specifically about which way the couple should be facing in order to capture the reaction of the person being proposed to. Make a plan for one or two other nearby locations to shoot at right after the proposal.
On the day of the proposal, make sure you have all of the equipment you need charged, cleaned and ready. For the proposal itself, you’ll want a zoom lens that will allow you to be far enough away from the couple that there’s no risk of being spotted, while still capturing clear, high-quality images of the couple’s expressions. The Canon EF 70-200 at f/2.8 and the Nikon 70-200 at f/2.8 are both great telephoto portrait lenses. You’ll also want a wide angle lens in order to get a variety of shots and capture the setting as a whole. The Nikon 24-70 at f/2.8 and the Canon 16-35 at f/2.8 both have large focal ranges and shallow depths of field – perfect for wide shots of the setting and full body shots of the couple.
Get the Shots
On the day of the proposal, stay in touch with the person proposing for updates on the couple’s schedule and location. Make sure you get to your shooting spot with plenty of time to set up and prepare. Shoot with the telephoto lens first, focusing on the face of the person being proposed to. Try shooting vertically to include the person who’s proposing in the frame as well. Make sure you get shots of the couple before the proposal, the reaction when the question is popped and the hugs and kisses that follow. Give the couple a few minutes for the shock to wear off before revealing yourself. After you come out of hiding, switch to the wide angle lens and take portraits of the couple kissing, holding hands and smiling. Make sure to get a shot of the ring if there is one. Talk to the couple about when they want to announce the engagement to friends and family, and share the photos online accordingly.