by portrait photographer David Henry. Since 2006 but above all since 2012 I’ve developed a specialty of taking pictures of guys asking their girlfriend or boyfriend’s hand in marriage. The séance usually starts as a classical portrait session, though all the while I’m expecting and looking for the decisive magic moment when he is going to get down on one knee, pull out a little box with an engagement ring and ask the Big Question. Regardez cette page en français; 閱讀本頁中文
The sessions play out in four basic ways…
The couple ride in from the south side of pont Alexandre III near l’hôtel des Invalides. I take pictures as they arrive, step down from the carriage and walk to the middle of the bridge. I take portraits of the happy couple and all the more pictures while he’s asking his question. After that I photograph them with champagne with the horse and back inside the carriage.
The fiancé- and fiancée-to-be arrive in a majestic vintage Silver Cloud at place du Trocadéro or elsewhere around the Eiffel Tower. The peak moment is often timed to coincide with the first five minutes of the hour at night when the hundreds of little white lights sparkle and flash on the tower. More often then not there are plenty of people around who notice what’s going on and cheer and applaud.
The event is staged as photography lessons: We start at a café and I teach the fiancée-to-be the base technological concepts of photography. Then we go for a walk in Paris among plenty of historic monuments, and take pictures and I continue the conversation on technical topics, discussing them from different angles, to make sure they are all understood. At some moment the man asks me to take portraits of him and his girlfriend and will say quietly say to me, “This is it.”
Otherwise, I take these photographs completely in a completely incognito kind of way at a distance of at least 15 feet with a long telephoto lens, taking pictures in a candid manner from perhaps the other side of the street. After the big moment I get closer, I change the lens for a transtandard zoom, I turn on the flash and I take the portraits of the happy couple.
Very careful planning is required when I will take the pictures incognito, in a paparazzi way. Typically this means sending many e-mails back and forth, deciding on an exact time and a precise location, and sending pictures of myself and each of the couple, as well as specifying how each of us will be dressed.
One frustrating thing about taking wedding proposal pictures outside is that there are generally dozens or hundreds of people in any given spot in Paris, resulting in images cluttered with random tourists and other visitors in the background. The trick for avoiding this is to plan the session very early, perhaps at 8:00 am. At that time in the morning I’ll be able to photograph you and your loved one with a clean, pure image of the City of Lights behind.
You will be able to download the pictures of your elopement the next day in a .Zip from a link I’ll send by e-mail, and if you are not traveling with a computer I can upload the photos to Nikon Image Space, where you can view and share the images on social media with a smartphone or a tablet.
David Henry taking pictures of Nik Zgraggen and his girlfriend Kelly Koss on pont Alexandre III shortly before Nik asked Kelly to marry him. The happy couple were chauffeured there by Philippe Delon in his white Cinderella horse carriage on September 21st 2016. —photo by Silvia Ponchon Preihs
The first place that comes to my mind for asking the big question is the western tip of île de la Cité, down on the quayside. The view from there is like being on a boat, looking downstream on the River Seine west towards the Louvre, pont des Arts and so forth. The equivalent spot on the western tip of île Saint-Lous gives a similar effect, and in general I adore île Saint-Louis.
Other ideas would be on top of one of the bridges over canal Saint-Martin, the northern side of jardin du Palais Royal next to the fountain, in the middle of place des Vosges, or perhaps inside the Grand Foyer of Opéra Garnier.
All images are © 2018, David Henry, all rights reserved. Written permission is required for any use.