If you’ve paid attention to any of my work at all in the last few years, you’ll immediately recognize Melissa- hairdresser extraordinaire, savvy business owner, and all around beautiful person. In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of photographing Melissa and her family several times, including her amazing boyfriend, Mike. I’ve really loved getting to know Mike and could tell that he and Melissa had something really special. So when Mike contacted me and asked for my help in asking Melissa to marry him, I was overjoyed!
Melissa and Mike had planned a romantic getaway in Niagara Falls, NY for Valentine’s Day weekend, and he wanted to propose to her in view of the majestic American Falls- and of course, he wanted me to be there to capture the proposal on camera! Trying to coordinate details from Rochester (in secret, when Melissa wasn’t around) was complicated, but as luck would have it, some out-of-town friends of mine happened to visit the week before and decided to drive to the Falls to sight see. Perfect! I tasked them with scoping out the perfect spot for a proposal, and they delivered, bringing back cell phone pictures and descriptions of the Maid of the Mist Observation Deck. Our plan in place, all Mike and I had to do was wait.
As the day approached, we ran into our first hitch- the weather report. Forecasters began warning of highs of 4 degrees Fahrenheit, and subzero wind chills. Panicked, Mike and I tried to figure out an alternative proposal spot, preferably somewhere indoors and warm. I called and messaged just about everyone I knew who lived in the area, and the consensus was all the same- there’s just not much in Niagara Falls on the American side. We finally decided to grit our teeth, dress warmly, and stick to the original plan.
The day arrived, along with the predicted freezing temperatures and bonus snow drifts. Making it to the Falls was a little treacherous, but as I finally arrived (with my husband Nate in tow as assistant and second shooter), I felt a giddy nervousness set in. We made it to the Observation Deck and it was COLD, but stunningly beautiful. Nate and I couldn’t stop giggling at each other. We hadn’t wanted Melissa to recognize us, so we had both disguised ourselves: Nate wearing a ski mask that made him look like a Ninja, and me in a curly blond wig and giant fur cap. We felt like spies! While we waited for Mike and Melissa to arrive, we made our plan- we’d watch for them coming from the enclosed (but still cold) Maid of the Mist Observation Tower, and when we saw them coming Nate would run out to the Observation Deck outside and get in position, acting like a tourist taking pictures of the Falls. I would act casual and let them walk by me, then follow them out to the Observation Deck to photograph the proposal from an opposite angle. It was a solid plan, and when I got the text from Mike letting me know they were just a few minutes away, I nearly jumped out of my skin from excitement- there had been a break in tourists, and at the moment only Nate and I were there. Things couldn’t be more perfect. At that moment, a park employee approached me and my excitement turned to panic.
“Excuse me ma’am - we’ll need you guys to leave, the tower is closing now for cleaning.”
Seriously?? There was no way we could leave now. I began to plead with the park employee.
“Sir, please- I’m a photographer, and I’ve been hired to shoot a proposal that’s going to happen on the observation deck. The couple is on their way right now. It won’t take long. Please, just keep the tower open a little longer,” I pleaded. The employee looked skeptical. “Please,” I begged. Finally, he sighed. “I can keep it open a few more minutes.”
I could have kissed him, but I didn’t have time- just then I looked out of the tower and saw Mike and Melissa coming down the walkway. “That’s them! They’re coming! Thank you, thank you!” I yelled, and nodded for Nate to get into place. He hurried out to the Observation Deck, and I turned my back to the Tower entrance, doing my best impression of a random tourist. It was all falling into place. Until I heard the park employee stop Mike and Melissa.
“Sorry sir, you can’t come through here. There’s going to be a marriage proposal on the Observation Deck.”
WHAT. My heart stopped. I could hear Mike sputtering - “Oh… yeah? A marriage proposal… huh?” I panicked. We’d been found out. Melissa surely would know something was up! I peeked my head around the corner, still out of site of Melissa and Mike, got the attention of the park employee, and whispered “Psssst… THAT’S THEM. THAT’S THE COUPLE.” His face turned bright red as he realized his error, but I didn’t wait to find out what happened next- I abandoned my post and ran out to Nate on the Observation Deck.
“Nate! The park employee! He just stopped Mike and Melissa from coming in! He told them there’s a marriage proposal going on! What are we going to do???” As I yelled, my mind turned over the possibilities. Surely the park employee would let Melissa and Mike through now. What would they do when they got out here and saw we were the only ones here? Should I have Nate drop to one knee and pretend to propose to me? But would that call too much attention to us and make them recognize us? How could we fix this? Before I could decide, Nate glanced over my shoulder and whispered “They’re here.”
It was go time. Not knowing what else to do, Nate and I scattered (for some reason he took the post I originally was going to have, and I went to where he was originally going to stand) and did our best to look like tourists gazing at the Falls. I saw Melissa glance at us, but Mike quickly distracted her by suggesting she look through one of the viewfinders to get a better view of the Falls. Hitch #3- the viewfinders were solidly encrusted in ice. Thankfully Mike managed to act fast and pull out the ring and get down on one knee while Melissa assessed the icy viewfinder situation. It seemed like an eternity, but finally Melissa turned around and saw Mike and the ring- and her jaw just about hit the floor.
It was everything we hoped it would be- Melissa was shocked and excited, and then even more shocked and excited when she got a good look at the beautiful ring Mike had picked out. She had another shock when she realized Nate and I were there (“Kelly, are you seriously wearing a wig right now?!?! What are you doing in Niagara Falls? Where’s Claire?!”), and then the tears started to flow. Even though by this point I think all of our limbs were totally numb, Melissa managed to get the ring on her finger and kiss Mike, and Nate and I managed to keep shooting.
Even though our best laid plans didn’t quite work out the way we thought they would, it was still the perfect proposal. Seeing how happy and surprised Melissa was and how in love they both were made for an incredibly romantic day for all of us!
Congratulations, Melissa and Mike- and thank you for letting us be a part of your beautiful day. Wishing you a lifetime of love, laughter, and WARMTH! Happy Valentine’s Day!