A proposal is one of those major life events that are so full of happiness and hope for the future, you'll want to remember as many details as possible. Know what'll help? Pictures.
"What's cool about proposal photos is that they're 'engagement photos' in the literal sense of the phrase," says Mary Marantz, one-half of the photography duo Justin and Mary. "The actual joy and high are still happening."
Meet the Expert
- Justin and Mary Marantz are award-winning destination photographers and educators with over 15 years of experience in the industry.
- Aileen Choi is a Vancouver-based wedding and portrait photographer.
- James and Jess Wittmayer are the photographers and workshop coaches behind James and Jess Photography.
The surprise element is both a blessing and a curse: The upside is the potential for a lifelong keepsake capturing your lovestruck self in its most natural state. The downside is you run the risk of a bad hair day or outfit, an obstructed view from your photographer's hiding spot in the bushes, or sussing out what's happening.
Still, there's little that planning and preparation can't fix. To that end, we called in wedding photographers Aileen Choi, James and Jess Wittmayer in addition to Justin and Mary Marantz—and asked them about everything you, your soon-to-be fiancé(e), and your photographer should know about proposal pics and emerged with the below seven tips. Now all you need to do is share them with you know who and wait...
Consider Hiring a Professional
To those of you proposing—we get that your buddy Dan is well-meaning and has a fancy camera, but enlisting the services of a legit pro will both grant you access to his or her knowledge about what makes a great photograph and allow you to test run them as a potential wedding-day shooter. (If you do end up using amateurs, make sure their camera setting is on the highest speed with a continuous shutter, "so you're getting a few different versions of the big emotional moment," says Mary, and end up with at least one flattering shot.)
Mary suggests using "the same investigative skills you used to find a ring your soon-to-be fiancé(e) likes to find out their favorite photographer."
Ladies- and gentlemen-in-waiting, this is where you come in. If you don't want your partner's decision left up to a Google search, make your dream wedding photographer's identity known. Share a website link. Comment on a social media post. Literally look your person in the eye and say, "When we do this thang, I want so and so." Plus, the more time you spend with your photographer, the more natural the process and your photos become, so "the ideal is to have one photographer through the whole journey—proposal, engagement, wedding, anniversary," Mary says.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Good news for those proposing: You're not alone. "Planning ahead with your photographer is how you'll get the ideal light, location, and positioning," says Choi. If your ideal backdrop is a very public area, she suggests contacting the space beforehand to see if they can help with finding a secluded spot or providing crowd control.
"If you can, walk the location beforehand with your photographer at the exact time of day you plan on dropping to a knee," write James and Jess. If a literal walk-through with your photographer is unrealistic, FaceTime or send a video, but "by the end, you should know exactly where you'll be standing to propose and which direction to face," say James and Jess, and the photographer will know exactly where to be for that perfect, unobstructed, shot. Then, on the day of, don't be late. As James and Jess point out, "The sun sets at a specific time."
One strategy to aid proposal recipients in their own planning to be camera-ready is coming up with an alternative reason for a photoshoot, says Mary. "Tell them a photographer needs a model for a styled shoot or is trying out new equipment," she says. "It can be as involved as having your photographer post a casting call on Facebook—knowing your partner will respond—and happen to pick you guys."
Meanwhile, if you're the one expecting a proposal and concerned about looking your best, there's nothing wrong with taking a little extra pride in your appearance until it happens, say Jess and James. Any time it doesn't, you still look great. Win-win. (Heads-up: Reds, oranges, and hot pinks are not your friends on a digital camera, warns Mary.)
Share the Attention
It takes two to get engaged, so don't forget to capture both of your reactions. Mary recommends two photographers, one for each person, "since his (or her) face asking is the one she or he is going to want to remember." And Justin adds, "Sometimes you need two angles to tell the whole story."
Alternatively, Choi suggests positioning yourselves "flush to the backdrop, so the photographer is shooting the sides of you, with the both of you facing each other." Mary also mentions asking your photographer to give some camera time to the journey leading up to the knee bending—not just the proposal itself—and the surroundings.
"Her face before she knows what's going on is a huge part of the story," she says. "And you've picked this place because it's special for a reason. Make sure to get some photos that highlight whatever that is."
Prioritize Good Lighting
"Lighting is everything," says Choi, who identifies bad lighting as one of the most common mistakes she's seen in proposal photos. "Natural light is the most flattering, but other kinds of lighting can also create a beautiful ambiance." Proposers, ask your photographer for their insight and try to schedule outdoor proposals for "later in the day when the sun is low for soft, even light or at sunset," she says.
For indoor proposals, the ideal positioning has you both facing a window with the natural light shining on you. Additionally, "soft lighting, such as string or bulb lights, lots of candles or cool lamps and chandeliers can give a romantic feel whether you plan to propose outdoors or indoors," Choi says.
Embrace the Ugly Crying
This one's also for both of you: Mary and Justin agree your biggest hope for your photos should be the capturing of "truly candid and truly raw emotions." Though, "it's natural to want to keep your composure because you're getting your photo taken and you want to look your best," says Choi. "But you'll want to relive how you actually felt in that moment through your photos." So, stop stressing about what your hair looks like or whether your nails are done (maybe generally have your nails done if you suspect a proposal is nigh). "Ugly cry away!" Choi says. "The best proposal photos are the ones that are genuine."
Have your photographer encourage you to hold on to that emotion with simple poses and prompts (nothing too demanding during this overwhelming time), instructs Mary. "So like, 'Okay, I want you guys to put your foreheads together, and go back and forth telling each other what you're most excited about for the wedding,'" she says, "Keep them in that, 'Oh my gosh, this is happening!' bubble and feeling that real emotion."
Whatever you do, please don't attempt to "recreate" the proposal for vanity's sake. "I've seen enough of this to think it's worth warning against," Mary says.
Bring a JLo Kit
Think Jennifer Lopez's emergency bag in The Wedding Planner. Justin and Mary have their own JLo kit with tissues, makeup, a little mirror, Tide to Go pens, Shout wipes, sewing kits, fashion tape, Tylenol, nylon spray, extra batteries, iPhone charger, blister balm, a flashlight, and more. If you're proposing and you know your true love would appreciate the courtesy of a nose wipe before too many pictures are snapped, stash a kit in the car or with your photographer. But again, don't stress too much about it, "Happy tears make for great photos, too," say James and Jess. (See tip No. 5.)
Take Some Alone Time to Unplug
When the gang's all here, it's easy to turn your proposal into an impromptu engagement session, but don't overdo it. "A few posed photos are okay, but I wouldn't do a full engagement shoot because there's going to be so much going on," says Justin. James and Jess recommend only about 10 to 15 minutes of immediate shooting "while emotions are high." This time is "more about letting them soak it all in and documenting that than getting that absolutely perfect portrait," says Choi.
That goes for the newly engaged couple, as well. "Don't be so focused on getting that perfect Instagram photo or writing the perfect caption that you miss living it," says Mary, who advises waiting at least an hour before announcing anything on social media. "Otherwise, you're going to get frustrated and make him or her be an Instragram husband or wife way too soon."
If you're proposing with family and friends present, ask them to put away their phones, says Choi. "That way, they'll be completely present. It'll be so much more special to see your loved one's reactions in your photos instead of seeing phones in their faces."
Finally, ask your photographer to give you a few minutes alone before any more shooting takes place. "Say, 'Unless I'm ushering you over, don't rush to show yourself,'" advises Mary. "In the same way you shouldn't ruin the moment getting a picture for Facebook, don't let the photographer be the one to cut it short. That rush is a fleeting feeling. Hold onto it as long as possible."