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Planning Your Surprise Proposal? 7 Tips from a Professional Photographer

So you've found your soul mate, and you're ready to commit to them in a big way! But moments like these deserve that little extra, that special gravitas that pulls it all together. Especially since documenting your special moment in this day and age is so attainable and instantly sets the stage for so many heartfelt memories you'll want to cherish forever. Still, alas, you can't do it all.

Well, you could, but if you're here reading this, you realize that trying to do it all could mean you don't get the proverbial shot. And, of course, if you had to choose one or the other, you'd select your special someone over an image or two in a heartbeat, but seriously you want that special someone and some fantastic shots that'll solidify the whole experience for years to come.

Recently engaged man and woman pose for their portrair
Winter Engagement in the Quarries of Central Vermont

That's why you're doing your research. You want to get it right, and you know you need help. That's where we come in. As photographers, we have a unique perspective few get to have. We've documented others who're going the same route as you. We have an idea of what works and what doesn't. We can help you plan and even bring in a surprise or two that your special someone will never see coming.

Here are seven tips to help you make sure you're making the most of this moment and that you walk away with imagery that genuinely captures this moment once in a lifetime experience.

Put Yourselves First

Making the experience about your partnership is the foundation of this entire experience. Adding in a few meaningful details throughout the day will anchor the day for years to come. So whether it's the location you go to, an event the two of you sneak away to, or a unique activity the two of you share, make this moment yours. It'll pay dividends for years to come, and make sure your photos are yours and yours alone.

Another way to look at this is to make sure you're taking your partner into account. Are they quiet, preferring a breakfast nook with a good book to the party scene? Then a low-key day will help them settle into themselves and ensure the entire experience is a delight. Are the two of you adventurous, preferring to get out and explore out-of-the-way places? Then make sure to find a photographer who enjoys venturing outside the studio and isn't afraid of a bit of weather.

A pretty woman poses after her surprise proposal photography session
Dynamic Engagement on Burlington's Waterfront

Where will you photograph your proposal?

A great photographer can work wonders given enough time and preparation, but planning a surprise proposal has many moving components. First, choosing the right location can take a lot of stress from the experience for everyone involved. At this point, you'll want to be communicating with a photographer and start building some rapport.

The right photographer will help you build your plan and alert you to things you might not have considered. The next item on this list has a lot to do with this as well.

Always Consider the Light

In photography, light matters more than anything else. You don't have images without light, and not all light is as favorable as you might think.

To start thinking about light, consider quantity and quality. Low light can test a camera's ability to gather enough information, while harsh light is rarely flattering. Your best bet is when the sun stretches out across the horizon or hides behind a pillow of clouds.

This kind of light is gentle and flatters most styles of portrait photography. In some instances, your photographer will work with a flash to supplement your images, but not all situations benefit from this style of photography. If you've hired the right photographer, they'll know how to manage the light, but as usual, finding the optimum situation beforehand reduces stress which is a great benefit to all, which is why we recommend the next one be your primary focus.

Plan Your Proposal!

Having a plan is often the deciding factor in whether a surprise proposal session goes well or not. Of course, as we all know, we make plans, and the powers-that-be laugh, but that's okay!

We've talked about reducing stress multiple times in this article, and we're going to repeat it here. Anything you can do to reduce stress will pay dividends throughout this moment and for years to come, and the best way to reduce stress is to have a great plan, with a solid backup plan or even two. You never know when something will go awry, and having a plan B in your back pocket ready to go is a surefire way to make sure you and your photographer don't miss a step.

Communicate Before your Proposal

In this day and age, there are so many creative ways to stay in touch. Optimally, you and your photographer will have a way to keep in touch. It might take some creative effort to put this in place, but the more details each of you has along the way, the better you can manage that darn stress that keeps trying to sneak in.

The trick is to manage that low-key aspect, not raise suspicion, and send a few essential updates when possible. If you're not sure about cell reception, send early, just in case. If you and your photographer can manage it, have a last-ditch system for when all other methods fail. This failsafe could be anything from a simple gesture to an entire charade depending upon your improv abilities.

Sneak a Hug Before You Propose

Giving that remarkable person in your life a warming hug is a surefire way to ease into "the moment." It gives you and your photographer a few key benefits that can be hard to come by otherwise. One, it can settle your nerves and give you that last boost of energy before you dip down to one knee. Two, it's a clear signal that, when done correctly, buys your photographer that critical moment to get in position. Three, you can use it to reposition.

For THAT special moment, you want your photographer to get your good side, which means being able to see both of your faces. If the staging, for some reason, isn't correct, this is a great way to nudge things back in place, and it feels good for you and yours too! And that's a win in everyone's book.

An ethnic man and woman pose for their engagement session in the heart of Vermont during foliage season.
Relaxed Engagement Session during Vermont Foliage Season

Enjoy Yourselves

Last but certainly not least, remember to enjoy yourselves. As you stage the day, don't forget to live in the moment. Be there with your significant other as much as possible. Yes, your stress level may climb as the day progresses, where you can let it go. Let the butterflies do what they do, and then smile anyway.

Like all exciting moments, there are lots of ways to help calm our nerves. First, take care of yourself, or get lost in taking care of your partner, either way, you'll be better for it. And then, once you've dropped to one knee, forget all about your photographer. They don't matter anymore. Not for a second. You've hired them because you trusted them, remember that, and then let the magic happen.

After you've proposed, you'll likely do a short engagement session. This moment doesn't have to be extravagant, but it can be a lot of fun as you both ride the waves of emotions that are likely crashing over you both.

If you haven't found a photographer yet, my wife and I have a soft spot for helping others cherish their sweetest memories.


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