Few Tips and Advice for Shooting Surprise Proposals

Even in the most tumultuous of times, life still goes on and people are still getting engaged and planning their weddings. If you've had an inquiry for a surprise proposal, here are some things you may want to consider as you prepare for your shoot.

I feel like there is something in the air because this week alone I have seen four acquaintances and friends get engaged as well as had a last minute booking myself for a surprise proposal. Whether it's the end of the summer or several months spent in close proximity during the lockdown that has made people realize they're ready to pop the question, but regardless of the reasons why, the reality is that many are getting engaged and it's definitely something you can tap into and include in the services you provide. 

Even in 2020, there are still many couples who are planning to get engaged.

Communication is Key

When you have your first inquiry from a client looking to book you to capture their proposal, communication is key on both parts. Hiring a photographer may be something they have planned for months or just an impromptu idea, but either way you need to ensure that you have acquired all necessary information. It is possible that your clients are not aware of what details are important to you when shooting a life event like this, for example, the available lighting at the scene during the time of the day they have chosen, the background of the location, your access to it, and more. You need to make sure you have gathered answers to all of these to ensure that you know exactly what you're working with, which means clear communication via emails or telephone. 

If your client is around their partner most of the day, it can be difficult to arrange a telephone call or a pre-shoot meeting, but it's possible to organize everything through e-mail correspondence. Make sure you are clear in outlining what information you require to be confident in shooting the proposal and also manage their expectations if they wish to shoot a proposal in tricky locations or during critical times of the day, such as, during sunset. 

Prepare Yourself and Your Client

In the ideal scenario, you would visit the location with your client to meet them and also to discuss the logistics of the plan. This isn't always possible, unfortunately. I have had both face-to-face meetings with the client at the location of their proposal as well as phone or video call conversation to discuss the details when the location was further away or if it was inconvenient for the client to meet up. Either way, for me the most important thing has always been to thoroughly know their plan and to explain what I require, such as, a particular distance I need to stand from them.

Knowing the location, the background, and light situation you're working with, will help you decide on what kind of equipment you want to use.  It may be that you are wearing a harness with two cameras and different focal length lenses on or you may shoot light with just one camera. If you know you'll be working from further afar, it may be helpful to use a longer zoom lens for the proposal to give you more room for flexibility. Once the question has been popped, though, you can always swap to a different camera and lens combination when photographing the couple after the event.  

For this shoot, I was lurking in the corner of the church before the couple came inside and the groom got down on one knee.

I always makes sure that I have done several test shots, chosen the correct settings, and am ready to go. There's nothing worse than scrambling to change settings on your camera menu when you're photographing such a fast event. It goes without saying that preparing yourself prior to the shoot also means arriving with plenty of time to set up, get in the right location, and make sure you are ready to work with the available light and background.

In regards to preparing your client, make sure that they also know where you'll be stood and what you expect of them, for example, if you have chosen a particular spot for them to get down on one knee or if you need them to lead their partner in a particular direction to be able to see their faces or side not backs. The emotions will run high for your client so it's best not to overwhelm them with many instructions and simply explain where you want them to stand or which way to face, while you do the rest.

Expect to Feel a Little Out of Place

Obviously, for most situations you will not have met your client's partner prior to the shoot, unless you are shooting your friend or family member's proposal. There can be shoots where you are clearly visible, stood with a camera ready to shoot, which may make your client's partner throw some confused looks at you at first. Or, you may be thrown in a situation where you are acting as a regular passer-by shooting something that happens to be in the same location as them. There are many scenarios that result in a surprise proposal, so expect to be put in a situation you've never been in before but that's half of the fun of doing shoots like this! It's also likely that you may be simply stood in one place and waiting for a while. So far, I cannot answer how I would react if the person receiving the big question would answer with a no, but I guess I would still shoot away and figure out what to do with the pictures later! Luckily, I haven't been in that position yet.

Prepare to Shoot After the Proposal

After the proposal, be ready to do a brief couple's shoot. Most photographers include that in their proposal package with varying degrees of images delivered or the length of the shoot, so make sure you have quickly scoped what's around that may make for a good couple's shoot location or background. I usually do a brief shoot afterwards, to capture the overwhelming emotions and shock, with a touch of few shots of both of my clients and the ring, before leaving them to enjoy and celebrate for the rest of the day. 

I actually really enjoy the part after the proposal because both of clients are so full with emotions and naturally engage (no pun intended) with each other, which results in natural looking photographs. So far, all my clients have been full of nothing but smiles and excitement after the proposal. It can certainly be a nerve wracking experience for both your client and yourself when getting ready for the shoot, but once it gets going, the time flies by so fast. Enjoy the experience itself and enjoy the emotional highs of documenting beautiful life events like these!

What has your experience been so far? Have you had any mishaps during a proposal shoot?

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