Go behind the scenes with an engagement photographer! Explore the nitty-gritty details that go into documenting one of life’s most memorable moments. (Photos of Lara & Mike by: SVETLANA SAUER)
In the Hawaiian oasis she calls home, Svetlana Sauer photographs families, elopements, and intimate weddings. But she reserves a special place in her heart (and lens) for marriage proposals.
“As a photographer, I’m always trying to capture genuine emotions. Photographing a real proposal and freezing that moment in time for a couple is amazing. The reactions are so raw and vulnerable, and there’s just so much beauty in that.” – SVETLANA SAUER
Self-portrait of Svetlana
Drawing In Your Dream Client
Svetlana’s stunning website was crafted by our partners at FloThemes, and her artistic statement is immediately clear. Rich tones and muted highlights intermingle with crisp details and soft bokeh – all enhanced by FloThemes’ delicate design.
Svetlana is 100% herself on social media as well, which helps her attract precisely the clients she wants; the clients who truly crave what she creates.
“Almost every time I’ve been contacted to shoot a proposal – unless I already personally know the couple – they’ve found me through Instagram!” – SVETLANA SAUER
BLOG BONUS: Click & Read More Instagram Tips!
Determine Your Approach
A photographer will likely photograph any proposal they book in one of two ways:
- You’ll photograph the couple with everyone’s knowledge. Only you and the proposer will know a proposal is about to take place!
- You’ll hideout at the surprise proposal location and unobtrusively make proposal photos. Introduce yourself to the unsuspecting party after there’s a “YES!”
But sometimes even the photographer is surprised! For Lara and Mike’s engagement featured here, Svetlana believed she was only making portraits of a happy couple. She had no idea Mike had brought a ring for Lara!
When Svetlana realized what was happening, it was GAME ON!
The No-Matter-What, Must-Have Shots
“My top three must-have shots are the before, during, and after!” – SVETLANA SAUER
Have a mini shot-list in your head to help you stay on track as the moments unfold. Photographing an engagement can be tricky! A photographer only has a few seconds to capture key expressions, and you’ll have little-to-no control over the precise positioning.
Hone in on your must-have moments, and prioritize them above all others.
“We arrived at the beach in Maui and met Svetlana, and she asked right away if we were engaged. My heart sunk a little when I had to tell her ‘No, not yet.’ ” – LARA
#1: BEFORE: A Proposal Photographer Must-Have
Photograph the moments leading up to the big event. They will add depth and context to your story!
- If you’re photographing in secret: use a long/telephoto lens and photograph from an obscure spot; or masquerade as a tourist or landscape photographer if there’s nowhere to hide!
- If you were booked to make “portraits”: pre-arrange a signal with the proposer, so you’ll know when he or she is about to propose. You don’t want to be checking your camera settings while your client is getting down on one knee!
“As the couple is walking toward the proposal spot, the proposer is usually so nervous, but the other person doesn’t realize what’s happening yet! It’s such a special moment, because this is the last time they will ever be ‘just dating.’ In a few moments, both of their lives are going to change forever.” – SVETLANA SAUER
Help the Groom Choose the Best Light
One of the essential engagement tricks to remember is to ensure proper lighting. However, a photographer can’t always control the time when the surprise is going to happen. Likewise, there might be no time for a photographer to change camera settings.
Give your professional opinion on timing based on the scenario he plans to achieve. For instance, if the groom-to-be wants dreamy-looking photos, suggest shooting during the golden hour. Make sure to explain to the proposer where he should stand so that you still have even lighting.
Show the Proposer Where to Kneel
Like any other professional shoots, angling and positioning are crucial. Even during a face-to-face moment, a photographer must see both of their profiles, as well as the full context of what’s happening.
With the right angling, a photographer can capture great moments from the proposer getting down on one knee, the bride-to-be’s reaction, and the environment around them.
“We were about ten minutes into the photoshoot when Mike said, ‘Wait. Before we keep doing this, I’m going to ask her to marry me.’ I turned around to see Mike holding the ring. He dropped to his knee and asked me if I would marry him. I think I started crying tears of joy and laughing at the same time!” – LARA
#2: DURING: A Proposal Photographer Must-Have
“If there’s one shot I know I have to get, it’s him right as he gets down on one knee! It’s such a beautiful and classic shot, and I know that’s the one they will always treasure.” – SVETLANA SAUER
It’s critical to plan ahead so you can get the best possible angle of the couples, the ring exchange, and the “YESSSS!”
One of the best tips a photographer can follow is to give the client a signal before he’s about to drop to one knee. From there, it’s your job as a professional photographer to capture everything as moments unfold.
A photographer can’t miss the most important shot, which is a pulled-back horizontal image showing every moment. Whether you’re shooting alone or there’s a second photographer with a camera, make sure to zoom in for tight shots to get more detailed photos of their reactions.
PRO TIP: Pre-Plan the Spot
Speak with the proposer in advance to determine where the event will take place. Check they haven’t selected a spot with uneven lighting or a cluttered backdrop.
“It is honestly a moment I can never forget, and it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it. Mike is the most supportive person in my life. He looks out for me like no one ever has before. He allowed me to believe in true love! I’m so happy our engagement was caught on camera so we can look back at that special moment for the rest of our lives!” – LARA
#3: AFTER: A Photographer Must-Have
“I love the shot right after she says “yes!” and has the ring on her finger. There’s so much happiness in that moment. I know that no matter what trials lie ahead for the couple, when they look back and see that photo, they’ll be able to feel that pure joy all over again.” – SVETLANA SAUER
The first fifteen minutes (or less!) of a photographer’s engagement session encompass most of the action. Plan to stick around, though! You’ll make some of the most intimate, love-filled portraits of your career.
Introduce Yourself to the New Bride and Do a Mini-Session
Svetlana books each session to incorporate the engagement and a small portrait session afterward. It’s the perfect time to document couples in love – a true engagement session.
Give time for the couples to regroup. Since they’ve just experienced one of the best moments of their lives, you can take advantage of holding an emotional and adrenaline-filled mini session.
Do’s & Don’ts
Svetlana identified some of her early challenges and lessons so you can avoid the same mistakes as you book and photograph your first proposals!
DON’T: Forget A Long Lens
“It can be tempting to use your favorite prime lens, but you don’t want to ruin the surprise by being too close, or miss the shot because you were hiding pretty far away.” – SVETLANA SAUER
Because everything happens quickly, we recommend a telephoto zoom lens that offers you a range of options. Or, if your long lens is a prime lens (such as a fixed 200mm lens), wear a second camera with a slightly shorter lens for alternate compositions.
PRO TIP: Currently In Svetlana’s Gear Bag
- Nikon D750
- 70-200mm Zoom Lens
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Lens
- Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens
DO: Know Who You’re Photographing
Most proposals are a surprise to one of the parties involved, so Svetlana doesn’t typically meet her soon-to-be-engaged couples before the shoot day.
Are you supposed to photograph the event in secret? Then you’ll need to know for certain that you’re following the right partner with your camera! Svetlana solves this simply:
“I’ll ask the person who booked me to send me a few photos of them; and then on the day of our shoot, I have them text me and let me know what they are wearing.” – SVETLANA SAUER
PRO TIP: “I almost got arrested!”
One photographer told us about the time a police officer questioned him as he hid behind a tree with his camera. Thankfully, this photographer had a copy of his contract on hand. He proved to the officer that he had, in fact, been hired to hide in the woods and unobtrusively document the client’s impending engagement!
DO: Scout the Location In Advance
Don’t just show up and start shooting! Whenever possible, scout the location a week in advance so you can plan with your client exactly where the surprise should take place.
If it’s not possible to visit the site until the day, make sure you have a clear way of communicating any last-minute details with your client. This can be tricky if the photographs are meant to be a secret, but with a bit of planning, any photographer can pull it off!
DO: Have A Plan B In Place
What will you do if it rains?
Where will you go if the quiet park your client selected has been taken over by a carnival?
What if s/he says no?
“Prepare for the worst and discuss a back-up plan with your client.” – SVETLANA SAUER
The first two questions can be discussed with your clients. Perhaps there’s a covered location nearby that can serve as a rain-plan, or an alternate park if the circus has come to town.
Of course, a rejected proposal is a true nightmare scenario for any photographer. You should know how you’ll handle yourself should that highly unlikely scenario occur.
Do NOT discuss that possibility with your client. That conversation would be invasive and incredibly stressful for them!
Simply consider your own personal boundaries and expectations as a photographer, and rehearse those responses in your mind.
Perfection Hidden In Happiness Wrapped In Wonderful
A “YES!” is a can’t-lose client experience for a prepared photographer. Your clients have just enjoyed one of life’s most beautiful traditions, and you have the evidence! Deliver with a flourish, and you’ll be blessed with delighted customers-for-life.
Deliver A Sneak Peek – ASAP!
“I send the couple one to two photos that same day – no matter what my schedule is like – because I know they want to immediately share the news with their friends and family! Then, in about a week, I have their full gallery ready. The reactions are so fun to see!” – SVETLANA SAUER
Your clients are going to share their engagement with the world – or at least their little corner of it! Make sure one of YOUR photos accompanies their news!
“I literally screamed with joy looking at every photo! Mike was like, ‘Woah, relax!’ ” – LARA
Are You Ready?
We think you are! And even if you aren’t so sure, your clients may have other plans!
Simply stay on your toes, be prepared for anything, and tell the story that’s in front of you.
“Shooting a proposal can be super-intimidating, but if you are well-prepared and have ongoing communication with the client, anyone can do it!” – SVETLANA SAUER
Have YOU ever photographed a proposal? Share your tips in the comments!