So last Friday was a new experience for me and I loved every moment of it! I had the unique privilege of shooting a surprise engagement. I worked with Nick and Bryanna last year for about six months at Buffalo Wild Wings after graduating from college and right off the bat, one of the first relationships I heard about was theirs’. A wonderful match. Bryanna, the passionate, fiery, artistic easy cryer. And Nick, the soon to be military, easy-going laughter fest. Both WONDERFUL people to work with. Both very honest and simply a joy to be around. And after now knowing them for about a year, I got an invite on Facebook to a group titled “It’s a Surprise!” Instantly I assumed that this was some kind of birthday celebration but I was quite pleasantly surprised!
Nick was going to propose (Yes I know this is obvious by the title of the post but for the story’s sake it’s kind of an important detail). BUT, what you wouldn’t initially realize from the title is the location where this was going to go down! Much to my… and just about everyones’ surprise… Nick chose to ask Bryanna to marry him in Buffalo Wild Wings, where they have spent so much time together over the years. And, I had the honor and privilege of being there to capture these wonderful moments that will last forever! So, to honor them I wanted to write just a small glimpse into who they are for them to read and the world to share. HOWEVER, as with everything I do, I don’t want to just post some photos of a beautiful moment between a couple and leave it at that. As someone once might have said, “In every moment there is something to learn. Just as a cow can be used for a thousand purposes, so also every moment is packed full of usefulness to anyone smart enough to look for it.”
Today I want to share about what technique I used to capture this engagement in hopes that it might give you a few ideas too. So here goes!
First and foremost, when shooting ANY sort of engagement, you need to know where the groom PLANS to engage the bride, because this is where the main magic will happen. If you don’t know this one piece of information, you are setting yourself up for possible epic failure. So, with the help of some stickers, Nick showed me his approximate stopping location and I set up a flash.
THE FLASH: Okay. Not going to lie. This is a new technique I’m learning. I’m not big on flashes but as I shoot more and more indoor things, I’ve discovered it is necessary to the look I want to achieve. AND, I adore some of the magnificent effects you can get from it. So, throughout this shoot I decided I was just going to go for it and see if I could achieve pictures I actually liked using a OCF (Off-Camera-Flash) from BEHIND the subjects. Here’s an example of what this achieved.
I chose this photo as an example because the effect is subtle. Just a SLIGHT ring of light around the edges of Bryanna that popped ever so slightly. And all I did was place a flash on a remote sync a few feet behind them. Not a difficult thing to do by any means. But going back to the first thing, if I hadn’t known where the couple was going to be standing, this technique would be much harder to pull off. Then of course someone might say, “Well what if they move and your flash isn’t anywhere close to the correct position?!” Two things. First, a flash can be used for more than backlighting. So, learn all the uses of this piece of equipment. Because of the environment I was working in, I don’t actually have an example of this form this event, but a flash can make wonderful effects if you and your flash make a 45 degree angle from your subject. It gives a lot of depth. And second, if the flash isn’t working, turn your remote sync off and rely on your manual basics.
If you don’t know how to shoot in manual, start today. And if you’re totally lost, I wrote a post (HERE) about the “Dreaded Manual Mode” a couple weeks ago for the beginner beginner who is just trying to figure out what they all do.
Next, I looked for multiple angles and shot them even if I wasn’t suer how it wold look. When he actually popped the question, I simply tried to be everywhere that I could while still placing Bryanna in between myself and the flash behind her.
Standing slightly to the right (which I love because I captures the reaction of the waitress behind Bryanna)
Crouched down behind Nick to get the shot from a lower angle, catching the people standing above while getting Nick and Bryanna in the shot at the exact moment he was placing the ring on her finger
You’ll notice that the second shot from a below angle is, at least in my opinion, WAY better than the other photo. But, this was actually the last photo I took of him on his knee. Often times, I have seen photographers get locked into what I call “angle fright,” where they seem paralyzed into one angle and are so focused on perfecting the manual settings on their camera for that one spot that they forget there are thousands of other ways they could be approaching the situation! So don’t do that. Look for every angle!
And this brings me to quantity. I took 400 photos in 15 minutes. 400. Yes, I know that seems like a lot. But I wanted to make sure that at the end of the day, I had photos from EVERY angle of EVERY situation I could. So I kept snapping. One part of this was simply to switch lenses a LOT. Mostly my photos were shot with a Nikkor 35mm 1.8 but to get more portrait type shots I often switched the my Nikkor 50mm 1.8. I know it’s a subtle change, but it really does change the way a photo works. Further, in order to get this quantity inside a noisy, busy restaurant, you have to be willing to release control and go candid mode. I considered trying to create some posed shots, but in order to do that, I would have practically had to yell for Bryanna and Nick to understand what I was saying and I had a limited time (I was late for a volunteering obligation at the ranch I live on). So when necessary, just release control and simply keep snapping photos!
And last but not least, WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE AND BE BOLD. I was there to photograph an engagement. Sure, that room was PACKED. And yeah, the lighting in those buildings is pretty darn awful (I would know. I spent a semester in it.). But as a photographer, “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die” (The Charge of the Light Brigade, Lord Alfred Tennyson). I have found when lighting doesn’t go my way, as with everything else in life, it is not my job to question why and be sad about it. It’s my job to make that lighting look awesome, as if EVERY engagement could and SHOULD be shot in a packed Buffalo Wild Wings. And be bold! To capture an engagement is to capture a MASSIVE step in a couple’s journey. If you need to walk out into the middle of a busy dining area to get a shot from further back, do it! I can tell you as someone who’s worked as a server that you should most definitely NOT get in their way, but after you’ve considered them, do what needs to be done [Now of course there is a line here that you shouldn’t cross… Just don’t stand on a table with customers in the booth and you’ll be fine.].
So in summary:
1. Know where the moment is supposed to happen
2. When indoors (or outdoors), if you’re feeling like learning something new, get a flash and some kind of remote sync device
3. Get every angle and shoot on manual mode so that you don’t have to worry about your camera automatically changing the settings on you
4. Take a TON of photos with different lenses to allow for a variety of angles and emotions
5. Be a photographer who welcome a challenge and boldly moves to overcome it
6. BONUS TIP: Relax and have fun! You’re shooting a BIG moment and the more you enjoy it, the better your pictures will look.
After we got the text that she was on the way, Nick nervously waited in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant
A final glance at his buddies before dropping to a knee. If you look at her face, it’s obvious she really had NO idea this was coming.
She said yes!
After hugging all hundred people who came, Bryanna and Nick enjoyed a quiet moment by the jukebox.
Once again, congratulations N&B. I wish you all the luck in the world.