Today is National Proposal Day. Yes, it’s a real thing. Maybe you didn’t know that because it’s also the first day of spring. However, NPD creator John Michael O'Loughlin glommed onto this day with a purpose.
According to O'Loughlin’s website, this is one of “two days in the year where day and night are of equal length worldwide, symbolizing the equality of the two who comprise the successful marriage.”
That sounds romantic enough, but what about the actual proposal? It should be just as grand of a moment—one that you probably want to preserve in pictures. However, pausing to pull out a camera doesn’t seem like it would be a very appreciated gesture.
Need a little help making those memories last a lifetime? We asked 11 photographers for tips on how to take great proposal pictures without ruining the big reveal. Here’s what they said.
1. Get someone with experience
Whether you have a friend, family member, or professional shoot that big moment, make sure it's someone who actually knows what they're doing. After all, you only get one shot to do this correctly!
"Connect with a friend/acquaintance who is an amateur or professional photographer (or just really good with their camera) or find a professional photographer," says Alice Bil, owner/photographer at studioEPIC.com. "You have to be confident and trust the skills of the photographer and that they will capture this unique moment."
2. Brainstorm a bit
If capturing the moment in pictures is important, seek out a professional photographer to pick the perfect proposal spot. They will know what types of places pack the biggest dramatic punch.
"Brainstorm with the photographer before you decide where you want to propose," says Celeste Guidice, commercial photographer at Adobe Community Professional. "They may be able to make suggestions based on previous experiences that will get you the memorable images that you want."
3. Use the right equipment
It may sound obvious, but make sure your photographer is prepared. If they're going to be shooting from a distance, you're going to need something a little better than a smartphone.
“Get a high-quality telephoto lens,” says Rich Storm from NYPhotoNY. “This way, you can capture a true moment without standing two feet away from the couple. That would just be an assault on the senses. If you are a good distance away, chances are you won't be noticed.”
4. Consider location, location, location
Meet up with your photographer and talk to them about choosing a spot that’s visible from a nearby window, bridge, or some other plane that's higher than the one you'll be on.
“The trick here is that with the photographer upstairs, she will not be at your partner's eye-level,” says Erika Szostak at PhotoMadly. “We don't necessarily notice people on a different level than the one we're standing on—so many of us barely even look up from our phones! Then when proposal time comes, arrange for your photographer to be waiting in the predetermined spot before you arrive, and your partner will be none the wiser.”
5. There’s strength in numbers
Of course, an out-of-the-way location is beautiful and private. However, if there's tons of people around, it will be a lot easier to lose the photographer in the crowd. You may even want to bring your own posse to create a diversion.
"If you are bringing an assistant, it will be a perfect disguise because you can pretend to be photographing them as a portrait session and then just switch to the couple once the important moment comes," says Yana Shellman of Yana Shellman Photography.
6. Check your surroundings
Sometimes your surroundings will ruin that moment—or at least any chance of capturing it. A good photographer will know about backlighting their subjects, says Josh Hartman at Hartman Outdoor Photography.
“Choose a hiding spot that puts the two of them between you and the sun. Expose for your subjects—and presto.”
7. Don't be too obvious
That big moment doesn't need to be a big, elaborate production. Think about packing a smaller camera, which is a lot easier to conceal.
"I would recommend using a smaller mirror-less camera, which is just as powerful, yet far less obtrusive than a larger DSLR camera and lens," says Chris Corradino, photographer and lead instructor at Photo Mentor NYC. "This way, you'll look more like an amateur, as opposed to a professional."
8. Don’t get in the way
As the photographer, you’re there to capture the moment, not be part of the actual story. Do your best to stay out of the way.
“Staying out of 'frame' not just for the photo but the overall experience is important,” says Beth Skogen of Beth Skogen Photography. “I've done many acrobatic displays in order to execute this, but the most fun was hiding in a bush until it was all happening and jumping out just at the right moment to capture that experience.”
9. Hide in plain sight
Besides the camera, consider packing a few extra props to help conceal you from the proposal-in-progress.
"We shoot with a long, fast lens that allows us to be some distance away," says Will Thomas, photographer at Forge Mountain Photography. "And we sometimes cover the lens with a jacket, blanket, or whatever fits the scene the best."
10. Go small for the big moment
As mentioned above, a small camera can be concealed easily, but it doesn’t have to be something expensive and fancy to get a good shot.
“Use a GoPro or similar action camera that can easily be hidden away,” says Jonathan Padhiar, wedding photographer at JP Photography. “We tape over the red flashing recording light with masking tape to avoid giving anything away.”
11. Have a backup plan
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, things still happen. You can't control everything, so make sure to have a backup plan—or a good sense of humor.
"Weather happens," says photographer Thomas Robert Clarke. "If your plan is to propose in a park and it starts pouring buckets, then have a designated Plan B complete with choreographed positioning for the big question."