Spoiler alert — she says yes. Congrats to Brent & Susan for their recent engagement. :) In this post, I want to discuss preparing for proposal photos, my brush with Murphy’s Law, and how I came so close to missing this shot. If you’re a photographer, read up! It could happen to you.
Choosing a location: Brent contacted me from Windsor and asked me to photograph his proposal to Susan on top of Mont Royal during their trip to Montreal. The time-consuming part in planning this had already been done (flashback to Stephen & Sidney a year ago), so I already knew that it was a good location for a few reasons:
1. Cover for me: There are other tourists with cameras, and you know, lots of them are asian, so I blend in pretty perfectly. 2. Cover for the person proposing: It’s already part of their visit to Montreal. And by that I mean that it wasn’t a spot selected just for the proposal. It’s something that they would want to see as part of their trip anyway. This makes it easier for Brent to plan without looking super suspicious. 3. Positioning and control: The viewpoint allows me to sneak up on them. That sounded super creepy. But it’s true though. Because it’s a viewpoint overlooking the city, we know that they’ll be standing in a predictable direction. And that makes it easier for me to give instructions to the proposer during our planning.
So now that we have a good spot, how do we prepare next?
Clothing: I had Skyped with Brent, but I needed to identify them from far away, so I asked him to text me a description of what he was wearing the day of when he had a chance. He managed to slip away from Susan and texted me saying that he was wearing a “prat coat”. What the hell is a prat coat? I Googled it and saw Chris Pratt’s outfit from Guardians of the Galaxy, a long red leather jacket. I thought no way. Epic. But really? Turns out that in his haste he made a typo and peacoat got autocorrected. Oh well. Not as exciting, but I told him “You know Brent, if this happens again in the future, just say PINK PANTS”.
Checkpoints: Throughout the day, he also kept me updated with texts sent at various checkpoints we had predetermined. This is helpful, since setting up a rendez-vous for an exact time on top of a mountain in a city where you don’t live is hard. It also helps the photographer out. When you’re up there, you feel like an anxious kid playing hide and seek.
Weather: It was snowing. Really cool for a proposal setting. As for me, I had worked in much worse conditions in the past, so it wasn’t too bad, but it was still cold-ish. I stayed inside the chalet and in the warmth for as long as possible until the last checkpoint sent from Brent. Then I went outside, and cue Murphy’s Law.
What happened: I know from experience that camera batteries suck in cold weather. I brought 6 camera batteries with me, and kept two in my palms on purpose to keep them warm and ready to be swapped out in case something happened.
When Susan and Brent showed up, I got in position. Following our plan, Brent led her to the edge. I told him to pick a spot to enjoy the view, wait 30 seconds, then propose. So I see him find his spot. A 30 second countdown starts in my head.
This buffer time is useful for me to pre-focus before the moment. So I get closer and bring the camera up to take a test shot. Everything looks good, I take a few steps and take another test shot. And then Murphy’s Law happens. The lens while focusing gets stuck in an out of focus position (presumably from the cold). There’s about 23 seconds left at this point before the moment happens. I do the first thing any photographer would do, which is to make sure that autofocus was not accidentally switched to manual. Already in autofocus, still not working. So I switch it to manual on purpose and turn the focus ring manually. The focus ring is completely stuck. 15 seconds left. Any shot that I take here would be completely out of focus still unless I stand right next to them.
My friend told me afterwards that I could have stalled Brent by having someone throw a snowball at him. Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to that — I had a second camera as backup, already turned on and ready to go around my neck. With 10 seconds left, I swung the other camera around, got closer to work with this shorter lens, and managed to capture the moment.
Of all moments, this is one that you really can’t re-take. I’ve never had to rely on backup equipment before, and I never thought that equipment would fail at a time THAT close to the crucial moment. HOLY CRAP. Boy did I breathe a huge sigh of relief afterwards. I tested the lens afterwards, still didn’t work. It wasn’t until we went back indoors and warmed up that it started working again.
So this cautionary tale has a happy ending for everyone. Backups are awesome. I’m happy to have this story, as it justifies all of my backup paranoia so much.