Proposals are some of the most nerve-wracking moments in history to capture. There is so much pent-up anxiety while you are waiting for the person to arrive. Balancing this level of stress and producing artistic images and creative storytelling can be quite difficult. Luckily, I have gone through my fair share of stressful, anxiety-inducing proposals to help you out. These 10 tips are meant to serve as a guide for proposal photography and help you tell a captivating story even with the immense pressure of the situation riding down on you. Whether you are a newbie or want to learn how to improve your proposal photos, this proposal photography guide has it all!

Proposal Photography Tips

1. Location Scout to Prepare

proposal photography locationArrive early and start planning out your shots. This is a great tip for any type of photography but specifically for proposal photography. Location scouting is perfect for understanding what your best angle is without being seen or figuring out spots for photos after the proposal. Make sure the area is blocked off from the public or look for a more secluded spot in order to make it a private moment. Proposal photography is all about the moment so the last thing you want is someone ruining it by photobombing. While you are scouting, pay attention to light direction and make sure you’re setting yourself up for success.

proposal couple photosTypically, couples want a few photos together once the proposal is done, and this works as a great opportunity to give them your portrait photography experience. Give them a taste of what it’s like to work with you so they feel comfortable reaching out for an engagement session/wedding.

2.  Plan out the Proposal Details

best proposal photosOftentimes, they may ask for suggestions since it’s likely that you’ve experienced or been a part of more proposals than they have. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite proposal ideas for you to share with potential clients so you don’t have to do the research! A great way to make proposals personalized is to discuss their partner’s interests/hobbies and try to incorporate elements into the plan. Oftentimes people will mention their ideal proposal to their friends or family, so that is generally a great place to start the planning process.

3. Prep the Proposer for Photos

proposal get down on one kneeThis is (often) someones first time getting down on one knee and asking for a hand in marriage, so take it upon yourself to impart some friendly words of wisdom from the experience of photographing proposals, or even doing one yourself. Make sure the ring box isn’t too bulky to ruin the surprise, take out the box after they get down on one knee, get down on the knee that is closest to the camera so their body is open to the camera, and so on. Ask them to take their time, even though at the moment nerves may get the best of them, letting them know beforehand that the more time you have to capture the proposal, the better. They go by in an instant, so it’s important that you have the time to properly position yourself for the best possible outcome.

4. Position Is Everything

proposal photosPosition yourself perpendicular to the couple so you make sure you get both of their faces in the frame, then start moving around to get over-the-shoulder shots and tighter reactions. By starting this way, you cover all your bases and set yourself up to tell a stronger story. A better way to put it is to get your safety shots first, then work around the scene, finding foreground elements to shoot through, switching lenses, and focusing on smaller details.

5. Choose ‘Safe’ Settings

proposal photos on boat
ISO 100, f/4. 1/1000th of a second on 24-70mm lens at 24mm

If you’re worried that you might miss the moment, we advise you to choose settings that ensure you’ve got the shot. Because there might be action involved in the proposal (a quick hug or kiss, fast reactions, etc.), opt for a shutter speed faster than 1/400th of a second to make sure you don’t get any motion blur. If that means compensating by increasing your ISO, then so be it. For this reason, we also advise shooting on the highest megapixel RAW format in order to be able to crop in if need be. If the subjects are in two vastly different planes or if there is an elaborate decoration involved, don’t be afraid to change your aperture to f/3.2 or f/4. If you struggle with nailing focus, this tip will ensure you get your subjects in focus.

Rewind: 15 Tips For When You’re Having Trouble Focusing Your Camera

6. Use a Versatile Lens

best lens for proposal photography
Shot on a 70-200mm (Image on the left @70mm, Image on the right @200mm)

Although shooting on a prime might give you a wider aperture and shallower depth of field, chances are you will want to rely on a 24-70mm or 70-200mm in situations like this. If you don’t need to be hidden, then opt for a 24-70mm so you can move in and out of a scene. If you need to be hidden, then a 70-200mm is your best bet for capturing from afar. You won’t have the luxury of switching lenses in a tense situation like this, so you might as well pick a lens that can do it all. Be careful about switching lenses at the wrong moment because you could end up missing a tear, a laugh, or any number of worthwhile reactions. If you want to stick to primes, I would suggest a 35mm and an 85mm so that you have enough focal length variety to cover multiple scenarios.

7. Tell a Story Through Your Images

proposal photography storyWhen a couple looks back at these images, they want to see the entire moment, from start to finish. Work through the scene use your images to help narrate the action. A great framework to follow is to shoot wide, medium, and tight. Start off with a wide shot to establish the scene. Then, capture the medium shots to showcase the story. Lastly, get in tight and focus on the intricate details. For example,  if you look at the collage above, you’ll see a series of images that tell the full story of the proposal. Providing context, capturing the details, and shooting through the moments will allow you to depict the entirety of the proposal.

8. Look for Reactions

emotional proposal photosPart of the reason you should stick to one lens is to shoot through the emotions and moments of the proposal. When a couple looks back at these photos, they should feel transported back in time to the exact moment and feelings they had. There will also be moments that involve others who were invited to witness the event or even be included in the proposal process. Take a moment to pay attention to their reactions and make sure to capture a few images of them for the couple to look back on. The couple is so wrapped up in the actual proposal that everything around them is likely a blur.

9. Take Photos of the Ring

proposal photography ringLast, but certainly not least, photograph the ring on its own! Rings are often passed down from generation to generation and this can be a great memento for both the couple and the families involved. Even if it doesn’t have any familial significance, photograph the ring in the context of the proposal using props or showing scenery to help tie the story together. This might require you to bring a Macro lens with you, but it’s well worth it!

10. Don’t Forget to Breathe

proposal photography surpriseI wish someone told me this bit of advice before I stepped into my first proposal shoot. Fear of missing a moment or reaction is so real and is absolutely preventable if you follow all the steps we have listed. However, the most important thing to remember before actually capturing any of these moments is to breathe. Don’t let the anxiety and pressure of the moment prevent you from being able to make the logical decisions you need to make to capture the moment. Chances are your calm demeanor will help ease the proposer of the pressure they feel in the moment. Over time, it will become a routine practice of knowing where to be and what to capture and the anxiety of missing the moment will be fleeting.


proposal storyWe hope this guide gives you all the tools and tips you need to help you conquer proposal photography! It can be a tricky moment to capture but you should have no issues after making sure you’ve scouted and prepped all you can. Having open communication with the person proposing and making sure you’re both on the same page will help yield fantastic results!  Like every photography experience, you will get better each time at anticipating moments and feeling more confident in what images to capture to tell a stronger story. Use this as a guide for proposal photography to help capture unforgettable images for your clients. Good luck and let us know if we missed any tips in the comments!