Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

Go behind the scenes with a proposal 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

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer
Self-portrait of Svetlana

Preparing for Magic

The proposal itself lasts mere seconds, but the preparation begins days and weeks in advance. From first contact to final photo, Svetlana knows every ingredient necessary to document a couple’s engagement intimately yet unobtrusively.

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 Sauer's website by FloThemes
Svetlana’s Website

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

PRO TIP: Use Smart Instagram Hashtags!

Svetlana loads her Instagram images with intentional hashtags. Rather than randomly hashtagging her photos with words like #engaged or #love, she chooses hashtags a real couple might search when looking for a proposal photographer!

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

How can you adapt these hashtags for your city and genre?

#hawaiiphotographer #oahuphotographer #oahuweddingphotographer #hawaiiweddingphotographer #mauiphotographer #kauaiphotographer #bigislandphotographer #mauiweddingphotographer #kauaiweddingphotographer #laiephotographer #laiewedding #honoluluphotographer #hawaiifamilyphotographer

BLOG BONUS: Click & Read More Instagram Tips!

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Determine Your Proposal Approach

You’ll likely photograph any proposal you book in one of two ways:

  1. You’ll photograph the couple with everyone’s knowledge. Only you and the proposer will know an engagement is about to take place!
  2. You’ll hide out at the proposal location and unobtrusively make photos. Introduce yourself to the unsuspecting party after there’s a “YES!”

But sometimes even the proposal photographer is surprised! For Lara and Mike’s proposal 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!

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

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 a proposal can be tricky! You only have a few seconds to capture key expressions, and you’ll have little-to-no control over the couple’s precise positioning.

Hone in on your must-have moments, and prioritize them above all others.

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer
“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 proposal. 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

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer
“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

If you don’t photograph The Proposal, then, well… you didn’t photograph the proposal!

It’s critical to plan ahead so you can get the best possible angle of the couple, the ring exchange, and the “YESSSS!”

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

PRO TIP: Pre-Plan the Proposal Spot

Whenever possible, speak with the proposer in advance to determine where the actual proposal will take place. Make sure he or she hasn’t selected a spot with uneven lighting or a cluttered backdrop. Suggest alternatives if necessary!

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer
“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 Proposal 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 proposal photographer’s 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.

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

Svetlana books each proposal session to incorporate the engagement and small portrait shoot afterward. It’s the perfect time to document the couple in love – a true engagement session.

Do’s & Don’ts From A Proposal Photographer

Svetlana identified some of her early challenges and lessons so you can avoid the same mistakes as you book and photograph your first proposals!

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

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 the proposal 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.

Once the crucial moments have passed, you’ll be able to slow down and return to your regular gear routine.

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

PRO TIP: Currently In Svetlana’s Proposal Gear Bag

  • Nikon D750
  • 70-200mm Zoom Lens
  • Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Lens
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

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 proposal in secret? Then you’ll need to know for certain that you’re following the right couple 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

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

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 couple’s impending engagement!

DO: Scout the Proposal Location In Advance

Don’t just show up and shoot! Whenever possible, scout the location a week in advance so you can plan with your client exactly where the proposal should take place.

If it’s not possible to visit the site until shoot-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, you can pull it off!

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

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.

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

Of course, a rejected proposal is a true nightmare scenario for any proposal 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, and rehearse those responses in your mind.

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

Perfection Hidden In Happiness Wrapped In Wonderful

A “YES!” proposal is a can’t-lose client experience for a prepared proposal 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.

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

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!

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer
“I literally screamed with joy looking at every photo! Mike was like, ‘Woah, relax!’ ” – LARA

Are You Ready To Photograph A Proposal?

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

Behind the Scenes With A Proposal Photographer

Have YOU ever photographed a proposal? Share your tips in the comments!


Keep Learning, Keep Thriving!

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