The Proposal—Skógafoss, Iceland
June 15th, South Iceland:
The story from the night of my proposal — the trials, the terror, and the triumph. How this picture came to be from the mighty Skógafoss waterfall. Featured on 500px.com blog ISO August 17, 2014
I had to convince my girlfriend of over a year and a half, Natalie, to drive from the comforts of our warm guest house in the small village of Vik, to the mighty Skógafoss. It was a tough sell on a cloudy and rainy evening at 11:00 pm…but I explained that we needed to take a chance on catching the elusive Icelandic midnight sun, plus get some “alone time” at the romantic falls. With a bottle of wine in my hand, I sealed the deal, but I knew that having these stars align was a long shot. In any case, I had bigger motives and needed to catch a break.
Thirty minutes later, we pulled up to the revered, mystifying waterfall and the rain ceased. The entire area was uninhabited and serene—just Natalie, me, and Skógafoss. Destiny was calling and I was nervous as hell.
If I was going to ask this woman to marry me, this was the place to do it.
As on many of our “photography vacations,” I had asked Natalie to bring her flowing, white dress, promising her that someday I would find a creative way to weave her into a grand photographic opportunity… and tonight I was going to deliver.
Even though she was freezing cold, she made the quick change in the car and ran out barefooted, laughing into the cold skóga-spray. I setup my Nikon D800E on my Manfrotto tripod and quickly composed a few shots and fired away. But I was really not focusing on the shots or planning on getting anything good—I was just mentally preparing for a life-changing event.
And then I got my signal from above—at around midnight, the skies began to miraculously part. At the sight of this perfect, unexpected light, I snapped into hyper-focused photographer mode. I moved my setup and composed one last shot at 44mm at f/16 with a 3 second exposure and an ISO of 100. I signaled her into position, wiped down my lens from the spray and fired off a couple more with the surreal midnight sun glow raging above us.
I came to believe my efforts were blessed. I was ready as I was ever was gonna be.
I took a deep breath, waved her back towards me, and met her halfway to place a blanket around her. With Skógafoss roaring and my heart pounding through my chest, I pulled out the ring that had been burning a hole in my pocket all the way from Texas, and I dropped to one knee, and proposed.
It was a powerful moment we’ll never forget. A magical location for just the two of us. I couldn’t have imagined it any more perfect. And in typical Icelandic fashion, 15 minutes later, the skies closed back up, but I was given my window of opportunity and I took it—a photo and a fiancée!
There was some difficulty taking this shot mostly due to my nerves and shaking hands, but also because of the spray and the longer exposure I wanted…I had my full-size microfiber towel, a must for any Iceland trip, draped over the camera at all times. I adjusted my camera settings and when ready I would pull back the towel and quickly wipe the lens down with Kimtech Science KimWipes (which take the spray right off without streaking), then fire. Before Natalie ran out in front of the falls, I instructed her to strike a few poses and hold completely still for 10 seconds each. She did a great job on this one. The longer shutter captured nice movement in the water and made her dress wave in the wind which turned out to be a nice effect as well.
As far as post-processing, I used my ever-progressing method along with some newer techniques for me involving luminosity masks… I started with some basic color adjustments for the greens and lens profile correcting in Lightroom 5. Then, in Photoshop CC, I spent a few hours playing with luminosity masks and applying numerous adjustment layers in order to get my preferred balance of tones, contrast and color throughout. Luminosity masks make a huge difference, but they do take a lot of practice and dedication to use them to their full potential—I am still learning new things with every image I process. As a final step, I selectively sharpened the image.