How A Photographer Proposes Marriage

How A Photographer Proposes Marriage


Before I get into the thick of this post, and the resulting photos, I need to get a little personal. This will probably be the most personal post on the Matty blog, ever. I try to keep the blog fairly focused with sights set on the photo gigs and the fun stories from said gigs. But… these photos are 100% personal, also a rarity to the blog, so here ya go, a little insight into me and more specifically – the most important relationship in my life.

Alice and I had been dating for… geez, over 4 years. The time has gone by quick, crazy quick – a perspective created by busy lives and a very happy relationship. We have always jokingly called the time we spend together the “time machine,” because the time always seems to pass impossibly fast (think ‘Inception’ but the exact opposite). We hit it off from our first interaction and I can honestly say we’ve never had a bad fight, which kinda freaks me out because we are the exact opposite in almost every way. It has created a balance and strength in our relationship that goes so far beyond the saying, “the sum is greater than the separate parts.”

People say that building a house together is one of those true tests of a relationship, a situation that puts tremendous stress on a couple which will expose issues between them. Try building/running a business together and coming home every day and still seeing your relationship grow – ours did. That is really, really saying something because I never take a day off (ok, I take a day or two off a couple times a year). Alice has been shooting with me as well for almost as long as we’ve been dating. We’ve found that you can’t help but catch the shutterbug if you hangout with me. She’s been conducing her own shoots for a couple years now, and I think she covers event photography better than myself.

Photography has been such a huge part of both our lives, I felt it would be really fun to somehow integrate this into a surprise proposal. Oh, but how…

The Idea

I had been mulling over how I was going to pull this off for a few months – achieving great photos with great light, but it be a total surprise photo shoot proposal. It’s quite impossible to bring lights, big cameras, and a picturesque location together and make this whole event read like any other ordinary situation. But there it is… make it seem like any other ordinary situation. Matty shoots are quite the productions, in order to get the photos we do, pictures are not exactly stumbled upon, we make them happen. The story I started to cook up involved another guy who contacted me (aka a client), wanting me to do surprise proposal photos for him and his soon-to-be-fiance. This would allow us to get the location, setup, and have everything in place without throwing off any alarms to Alice. I’d then have a planned situation like we were testing the lights. I’d pass off the camera to the other guy, have Alice step into the photos with me to pose for lighting “tests,” and that’s when I’d do it. It was an ok idea, but I didn’t like the fact that Alice was already prepared for an exciting proposal moment – albeit another couple. The true idea which actually got put into motion just fell into my lap.

A good friend of mine, Andy, and I planned on putting together a fun weekend getaway with the girlfriends on Whidbey Island. It’d be a relaxing time filled with good lodgings, food and drink, park exploring, and a drive-in theater. It was after we agreed on a weekend and hung up the phone that it occurred to me. Andy is solid shooter as well, one of the few people I can toss a camera and count on making some great frames. I called him back not too long after and got his thoughts and we formulated the setup.

The Setup

Having been to the island a number of times, I already knew of a handful of locations that would work for the shoot. We came up with the plan that Andy and his girlfriend, wanted some really nice pictures as a couple. I’d use the photo time with them to get all my lighting dialed in, get some good shots of them, then toss Andy the camera and have Alice hop in with me for some shots. For this to go well I had to give Alice prior knowledge of us getting photos also. Asking Alice on the spot to get some photos would not have gone over well, and a pretty poor move. To plan one of the most important moments in our life, organizing it all to be photographed really well, yet not giving a lady the opportunity to look nice… yeah…

Though the weekend (and photo proposal setup) was planned a month in advance, I didn’t mention anything about any photos to Alice until the day before we left so that it seemed very casual and not planned. I mentioned to Alice that Andy had text me and wanted to know if I could get some couples photos of them, and noted that we could get some too.  This made sure her and I could also look nice and she wouldn’t be any wiser to the plan. See, Alice is a lot like me, and for any other shoot we dress very functional (shorts, sneakers, and whatever t-shirt we blindly grabbed to be comfortable and focused on work). Not exactly the clothing you’d want such for a planned moment.

In the weeks leading up to the weekend, I routinely mentioned the things I was excited about (drive-in, the parks, etc). I made sure to communicate to Alice that my mind was on these other things (further disguising any other possible “options” I may have in-mind for the weekend).

Even better, I planned to have Alice pick out a “great location” for the photos, and she’d have no idea that she just selected her own proposal spot. Yes, without a clue, she just guaranteed me that she’d love this location and the resulting photos. I don’t know how else I could have ensured a better spot yet still making it a surprise. Bonus points.

The Day Of Execution

Minus a couple small heart attacks from close calls with Alice almost finding either the hidden ring or the resulting purchase documentation, everything was going smoothly, no indicators were sent Alice’s way to ruin the surprise. Friday morning, on our way up, I didn’t have a precise day/time for the proposal, I was going to let it reveal itself. I found myself getting more and more anxious to pull the trigger as we made the drive North. I think it was on the ferry ride over to the island that I decided it HAD to be that evening. It was just too much, I was exhausted from keeping a secret from the one person I tell everything. On top of that, Andy and Jolaina had to keep the secret as well. With all of us, plus booze and a relaxed environment, I could see someone accidentally spilling the beans at any moment.


This was taken on the ferry ride up to the island. She has no idea. 🙂

We arrived to the island, got settled into the lodge and then went scouting for a location for “couples” photos. We looked at a few spots, and we all agreed on the spot. I suggested since the weather was nice and we had no set plans for the evening we just do the pictures. I could see the relief on Andy’s face, he was as nervous as I was about unintentionally spoiling the surprise. We ran back to the lodge, and while the ladies were changing Andy and I walked out to the cars to draw up the final play of the game and how I was going to time the exchange – the snagging of the ring hidden in my camera bag, etc.

Arriving back at the location, a beautiful hillside which rolls right into the sea, we setup the spot. The beauty didn’t come without a price, the wind was strong and relentless. The softbox on the light took on the characteristics of an agitated crocodile, a constant fight to keep it composed and pointed in the right direction. Knowing Alice so well, I was confident enough to hide the ring box directly underneath a compartment in the very camera bag which she would also be accessing as we setup (I couldn’t put the ring on my person until the moment because I wanted to present it in the box and I was in light summer wear).

I setup a “behind-the-scenes camera” to capture the moment on video as well. We often setup a BTS camera for Matty shoots, but I set this one up more to capture the subjects and not the action of the production, and Alice actually called me on it! I was proud of her and flustered all in the same moment. She knew it wasn’t a good spot, but I shrugged it off in haste, using the wind as an excuse to just push through and get the shoot finished.

With camera and lighting dialed in, I snagged some shots of Andy and Jolaina. Alice swapped places with Jolaina, who now had the unfortunate duty of wrangling the light. Andy and I handed off the camera, and then the moment was here.

The Moment

I asked Andy to take some test shots of Alice from another direction which would distract her as I quickly reached into my camera bag for the ring (which was completely in the open of everyone’s view, and only about 20 feet from Alice). I swiftly stuffed it in my back-right pocket, an obviously gigantic bump (as you can see in the photo below), I had to arrange my body and approach Alice so that she’d always be on my front-left. Andy snagged some normal photos, and once I got the green light, I asked Alice, “what do you think about making this our last shoot and boyfriend and girlfriend?” Her face took on an odd mix of emotion, I could tell it was this, “that’s not funny, Matt.” I am always joking around, so I can’t blame her for the initial reaction. It only lasted fractions of a second as she saw me reach for the ring, realizing this was the real deal.





On one knee and waiting, she didn’t provide the obvious reply. We hugged, but no “yes” quite yet. I had to ask her again, “so that’s a yes then?” We laughed and then she said it a couple times. It was pretty funny. Andy handed the camera back after we stepped out and mentioned how fast his own heart was beating. I guess I did put some pressure on his shoulders… He did a fantastic job capturing the proposal, just like I knew he would. Thanks again, bud.

The Future

A Hawaiian wedding is already booked for this December, with a local reception in January 2015. For those friends and family reading this, details on that soon!

And, finally, I get to stop hearing the all-too-true statement from almost every person who meets Alice and feel compelled to tell me, “she’s a keeper, Matt.”