San Francisco, Pier 39

How I recorded her "yes"

It started with a message on Instagram. It was an old friend from high school. He admitted to me that he had big plans to propose to his long-time girlfriend, so already I was going to say yes to whatever he asked. 

This was a last minute "week-of-project" that I was diving head first into and although weather and time of day were logistic problems I was going to have to hurdle, I told him that I would without a doubt be delighted to photograph this moment for them.


He's paid a local artist in the San Francisco area to play some Christmas music on the pier, and then at a specific point in a specific song during a specific window that night, Aaron would take over and sing their song for the whole pier before dropping to a knee and popping the question. 

Now my next step was figuring out how in the hell I was going to do this night time shoot correctly and ensure I get everything he needs. I chose a hotshoe mount for my iphone to record the moment in video (something they didn't ask for, but why not?) and for my camera, in the end I chose my 24-85mm lens over my 85mm F1.8 because I needed the ability to get different focal lengths. 

With my weapon of choice, I got in the car and drove. And drove. And drove. Two hours of rain later and I made it to San Francisco. I made it to the world famous Pier 39 and while I had time to kill, I had a drink (or two) at the Hard Rock Cafe. I watched a football game and pretended to understand the rules, met an amazing German Family that needed some quick directions and I almost certainly pointed them in the opposite direction, and eventually made my way outside.

In front of the Christmas Tree on the pier, rising at least 50 feet, where they had their first date, the musician is singing. Couples and families pass by the performance, avoiding puddles and slick wet wood. The whole scene looks like a Christmas movie and it's moving and wonderful, and I get my test shots down to lock in my settings.

I knew Aaron would be around somewhere but as this was a surprise proposal, we wouldn't be able to acknowledge each other. Eventually I spot him. He spots me. He gives me a quick nod and I try not to laugh. Of course inside my heart is pounding because it has just hit me that I'm about to do this. 

The singer begins with the signal, a Beatles song that they had agreed on beforehand. Aaron suddenly takes the stage and after a couple verses (and me maddeningly snapping photos) he steps forward, Kelly is covering her mouth with her hands, and Aaron whispers to her for a few moments as I circle them like a vulture. He drops to his knees and these photos are the moment she said her "yes". The crowd clapped. It was beautiful. I'm not crying, you're crying.