By now, you’ve seemingly done it all as a wedding photographer. You’ve captured the engagement session, the styled shoot, the intimate elopement, and, well, the wedding day. However, there’s one event that comes around once in a blue moon to really test your strength as a photographer–the elusive proposal. Being focused and prepared in the moment is as important as ever. You have to be able to read body language from afar, make sure no outsiders interrupt your shot, and get angles that make you seem closer than you really are. To make matters even more difficult, you have to do all of this while staying hidden.
If it’s your first time shooting a proposal, you’ve come to the right place. Before you hide behind that tree and start clicking, there are several things you should know. Fortunately, we reached out to Photobug Community members with proposal photography experience to get their firsthand advice. After you read these 12 tips, you’ll be as ready as ever to document your upcoming proposal.
Proposal Photography Tips: Prepping for the Proposal
1. Be Ready to Put In the Work
Proposals are not something you can simply wing the day of. They take intricate planning (which we’ll get to later). Be prepared to dedicate yourself to the proposal weeks in advance.
“Personally, I like to give a little more than just, “I’ll see you at this day and time–here’s my cost.” I find that a lot of the people planning proposals welcome help and advice on the location, placement, timing, planning, etc. (if they don’t have a planner doing that already). So when I have a proposal, I know I’ll be doing a lot more to plan for it than any other shoot.” – Jacqueline of J Grover Photo Co.
2. Learn About the Couple
Even though you’ll only be talking to half of the couple, it’s essential to get to know them on a personal level. Gathering details on their backstory and personalities can enhance how you capture their proposal. It’ll make the proposer feel more comfortable, too!
“Ask for as much information about them as you can. I usually send the proposer a separate questionnaire similar to my couples’ adventure session questionnaire. Knowing about their relationship’s character beforehand is crucial to reducing the awkwardness to a bare minimum. For example, ask how long they have dated, how they met, what they like to do together, what they like most about the partner, what are their quirks, etc.” – Radoslaw Rachwal
3. Design a Concrete Plan
If you want magical proposal photos, a solid plan is necessary. Start by listening to the proposer’s vision for the proposal, then work your way into making a detailed plan of action via email–or even better, over video. The more both of you are prepared, the smoother the surprise will unfold.
“Proposals are different from all other shoots I do because my clients are exclusively male-identifying (so far)–this changes the planning portion a little bit. My proposal clients respond better to concrete directions like timelines and maps.” – Kari Bjorn
“Be sure to communicate where they need to be and when. Talk to them about keeping it a surprise and how things can run behind (so build in buffer time). Also, talk about how you want them positioned in relation to you so that you can photograph both of their expressions the best.” – Malachi of Shell Creek Photography
4. Set Expectations
Your proposer may have a specific vision in mind, but it might not be completely feasible. It’s important for you as the photographer to remind them of the limitations of some locations and adjust their expectations accordingly.
“Explain to the client your personal limitations and the limitations of the location, especially if it’s a place where there may be a number of factors you can’t control. I often get requests for super busy locations because the photos never show the crowds. Make them aware of the pros and cons of the location, and if you need to, help them adjust the plans to make sure the experience is something both people will love.” – Cat of Wild Connections
5. Screen the Location Beforehand
When executing this big surprise for the couple, you’ll want as few personal surprises as possible. Mainly, check out the space to perform light tests, find perfect angles, test hiding spots, and verify the location is in tip-top shape.
“Research your location with careful attention to detail, navigating every nook and cranny to map out the perfect proposal and shooting spots. Prepare for unforeseen circumstances by identifying nearby locations as your plan B, C, and even D. Get to know the play of light, intimately acquaint yourself with the backdrops, and explore the scenery that surrounds the chosen location.” – Tom of One Thousand Words
6. But Keep It Light
There are certainly a lot of strategic pieces involved, but remind the proposer that whatever happens is wonderful. Proposing is a really exciting–and nerve-wracking–event for them. Do your best to provide support and keep them calm throughout the process.
“I tell them to just let the moment happen. It’s all too easy to fixate on creating the perfect moment. But proposals are a little bit unpredictable by their very nature. No matter what happens, it’ll be perfect in its own way. Everyone’s proposal story is different, and it’s normal to have a few goofy things happen along the way.” – Diana of Love and Latitudes
Proposal Photography Tips: The Big Day
7. Bring the Right Gear
How far away your hiding spot is from the proposal spot will affect which lens you should use. This is another reason why scouting the location is so important. If you have to be pretty far away to remain hidden, you’ll need your best zoom lens.
“I definitely advise having two cameras on hand. One camera body with a pretty wide lens to capture the whole scene, and then another camera body with a long lens, such as a 70-200mm to zoom in and capture the emotions and facial expressions. This is especially true for photographing surprise proposals where you may be hanging back far away from the couple.” – Malachi of Shell Creek Photography
8. Get to the location early
There aren’t any redos for proposals like there are for engagement sessions, so being on time is fundamental. Once you arrive, do some more test shots and ensure you have your camera on the correct settings. Keep in mind you may have to negotiate and communicate with strangers to ensure the location is clear.
“Make sure to arrive early to guard the location and to ask people to give you some space if there are folks in the location right before the proposal. It’s better to potentially piss a stranger off than to have to photoshop people out for hours”. – Kari Bjorn
9. Continued Communication is Key
Exchange phone numbers with your proposer if they feel comfortable doing so. This way, you can stay in touch and receive timing updates to help you better prepare for the moment.
“Communicate as much as you can, sooner rather than later. And don’t be afraid to emphasize things and repeat yourself. Nerves and excitement can really cloud the brain of the person who is proposing. Don’t just talk on the phone either, also send them written communication and direction as well!”– Malachi of Shell Creek Photography
10. Get Lots of Uninterrupted Photos
This moment is all about the two of them. Make sure to give them time and space to enjoy the moment before revealing yourself.
“Like a true documentarian, you want to let the moment play out naturally. This means making room for the couple to feel everything that comes up in the moment. The best thing you can do is give them space and snap photos” – Diana of Love and Latitudes
11. Give the Couple Time
Remember, this is still one big surprise for the new fiance! Take some time clearing the air and letting emotions settle before jumping into the post-proposal photoshoot.
“I’ve noticed that couples need a longer time to get used to the camera and photographer after capturing that short but exciting moment. Spending extra time with the couple, chatting about the photo shoot, and letting them know you, are some of the key points for that session.” – Radoslaw Rachwal
12. Plan For a Marketing Opportunity
After the proposal is said and done, you’ll finally have the opportunity to communicate with the couple together. This makes for the perfect time to demonstrate your skills as a photographer and market yourself. You just may get a wedding booking out of it.
“I treat proposals as a marketing opportunity for me and my brand after they’ve said yes and we’re doing the portraits. I’ll ask questions about where they are from, try to get a sense of where they’ll be planning a wedding, and offer very laid-back planning advice. I’ve booked many weddings from what I believe is just being the first option on their radar and establishing a relationship with them during the shoot and on Instagram in the following weeks.” – Kari Bjorn
We want to send a huge thank you to the Photobug members who shared their time and advice with us. Your willingness to participate is greatly appreciated. For the rest of you, now that you’re all ready for that proposal, it’s time to brush up on your engagement session photography.