The Paparazzi Wedding Proposal

The start of something...

The start of something…

Over the holidays I was hired to be a stalker. I said yes.

Before you jump to conclusions, allow me to explain the context. I was approached by email from a man living outside of Montreal, who was planning to take his girlfriend to Montreal for a romantic weekend, and propose to her. He wanted me to photograph the proposal without being noticed by his girlfriend. I thought it was a fun idea and accepted the challenge. It was a lot of fun and I think will make for a good story the couple (she said yes) can tell at their wedding and hopefully one day to their children.

I often get asked if I cover weddings and work with couples doing things like engagement shoots. Because I am known primarily as an event and conference photographer, and mainly market those services, I understand why people don’t assume I cover weddings as well. There used to be a stigma attached to covering weddings – as if being a wedding photographer was some how a step down in being a professional photographer. I’ve never felt that way and have covered roughly forty weddings in my career, but keeping a wedding photography business and a more corporate and event photography business separate made sense. Of course, by splitting up the two businesses the effort to promote each is duplicated and in the past few years I’ve skewed much more heavily to working with corporate clients and conference organizers at the expense of my wedding photography business. All that to say, I was thrilled to have the chance to work on this stealth assignment because it’s exactly the kind of work I like to do. It’s creative It’s challenging. It’s fun and romantic. And good old-fashioned romance is fun to see and be a part of.

My client had several ideas to begin with and over a few Skype calls and emails we laid out a plan together. Using Google Maps to scout out locations, we chose a route that would lead the couple out of the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal where they were staying, through Old Montreal along St.Paul street down to the Old Port.

Walking route to view to clock tower from Hotel Nelligan

Walking route to clock tower from Hotel Nelligan

I would be set up in the hotel, start shooting from a distance there and then follow them on their walk down to a designated place at the water’s edge with a view to the clock tower where I was to approach them mid-selfie and offer to take their photo for them, at which point my client would smile and the cat would be out of the bag. With just a few on-the-fly adjustments, it worked out perfectly.

At the Hotel Nelligan, where it began, I realized that there was not one, but three potential lobby areas (one being the restaurant). A special shout out to the Hotel Nelligan staff at Verses who were supremely helpful and on board with the plan once I explained it to them. I asked them to direct the couple to a table by the window while I set up on a table for one, two tables over. Alas, I realized that perhaps the couple wouldn’t come in here at all but might just sit in the lobby which proved to be true after a few frantic texts with my client. Luckily I was able to get out and set up in the lobby in time before their arrival.

Right on schedule, they came down and he made an excuse to return to the room where he had other plans afoot. I grabbed a few shots of his girlfriend, but feeling I was way too exposed, exited the hotel and went across the street into a store from which I could watch the front door without being seen.

Let's take a walk

Let’s take a walk

They emerged a few moments later and we began the dance. Every now and then they’d pause for a couple selfie and I’d snap off a few shots pretending to be a tourist taking pictures of buildings. Luckily Old Montreal is full of camera touting tourists, especially around Christmas time, so I didn’t look that out of place. I tried to keep a safe distance, sometimes dogging them from across the street, other times falling in behind them or running ahead to get in front of them on their side of the street, shooting from whatever angle I could find that didn’t make me stand out too obviously.

The plan unfolded perfectly in the crowded streets but as the path they chose led them closer to the water there were fewer and fewer people on the same route till eventually it was really just me and them.  I hung back and pretended to read the signs and stare out at the action in the port while letting them get ahead to the targeted intervention point.

The caper proved successful and post-selfie assistance shot, I revealed myself as planned and we continued walking together, stopping at picturesque spots along the way, as we came across them.  The final leg brought us back to the hotel where we took a few more shots in the lobby, then headed up to their room where my client had strewn the floor and bed with rose petals where we snapped a final shot and I left them.

As I drove home I was inspired by the idea and felt this is something more couples might want to consider. Montreal deserves its reputation as a romantic city, and there are plenty of interesting streets to wander and suitably romantic backdrops to make for some fun photos that will nicely augment your wedding book.

Click here to see a few more photos from the shoot.

Using HDR & long exposures for blur effects in your travel shots

Ghostpeople of Berlin's East Side Gallery

Ghostpeople of Berlin’s East Side Gallery

I read an article this morning by Adam Karnacz in Vantage (on Medium), called Removing People with Long Exposure, in which he described the technique he uses to disappear people from photos at sites where it is impossible to otherwise get a clear shot. Places like St. Peters in Rome, Stonehenge or any major tourist attraction. It’s a simple trick which I also discovered myself recently while visiting Berlin. I was at the East Side Gallery, a 1.7 km long section of the Berlin Wall left standing and completely painted over by artists after the wall came down on November 9, 1989. I had wanted to visit it the first time I was in Berlin two years ago, but ran out of time. Even this visit was rushed, arriving by cab at the end of the day just as the sun was setting. In addition to the dim lighting, there was a metal fence up in front of a large portion of the east-facing wall, erected by the city of Berlin just that day for temporary cleaning of the site. But even at this later time of day there were crowds of people milling by, congregating around the most recognizable sections of the gallery.

I did not have a tripod, as I rarely travel with one since the time I almost missed a flight leaving the Canary Islands because my tripod needed to be checked by security. It is cumbersome to travel with one anyway, but I’ve found a makeshift one can be found by using what you find in your surroundings. A pole to lean the body of the camera on one side works well, or the top of a car or nearby mailbox. A garbage can will work in a pinch, depending on how recently it was emptied out.

I set my camera to shoot high dynamic range (HDR) (which means the camera takes three shots in succession at three different exposures, one under, one correct, and one over-exposure, then merges the three images into one). Shooting HDR requires very static subjects, otherwise the merged images don’t match up and you get strange, electric looking outlines. However, an unexpected advantage I discovered was that if you shoot HDR where something is moving in front of your static subject, i.e., people walking, you get a beautiful shot of your subject and the people either blur right out of the picture or add a surreal, ghostlike effect, showing the traces of humans but nothing recognizable. (See some of my photos of Berlin’s East Side Gallery here)

I thought the effect worked particularly well in some of the shots of got of the East Side Gallery.

IMG_1859

As darkness fell, I switched over to using longer exposures, but this time pointed my lens to take in a bit of the road to capture oncoming traffic to create some random light paintings with headlights next to the wall imagery. I liked the effect in these shots as well.

Electric avenueAnd then there was this final image, which had nothing to do with the wall but was in one of the cars parked right in front of it that I was using as my makeshift tripod. Somehow seems to perfectly capture the quirky, captivating, energy that Berlin emanates and is maybe one of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

Berlin's Hula Girl

…then we take Berlin

I recently visited Berlin for the first time and immediately fell in love with the city, now my second favourite place in Europe after Barcelona. I was attending a trade show (ITB, the world’s largest travel and trade show) but managed to get a few days around the busy show to wander around a little bit of Berlin and take a few snapshots I’m happy to share here (click on the image below to visit my gallery):

Street Fawker

With hot summer days fully arrived in Montreal, the streets are stages for all kinds of photographically interesting parades. I spent the weekend at the St. Laurent street sale, and had fun photographing an impromptu dance troupe that set up shop across the street from an event I was covering. This performer wearing a Guy Fawkes mask caught my eye.

You can see more shots on my photo portfolio site.