Getting engaged – Capturing the moment

I get married in less than a week. I’ve posted before about what it meant for me to get engaged, but I realized that I’ve never posted about how I did it.

Before I proposed, I knew that I wanted to document it in some unobtrusive way that preserves the specifics of the memory for just us, but still lets us share pieces with others. When my brother-in-law proposed to my sister, I was tasked with trying to covertly take pictures. Unfortunately, the only lens I had at the time was a 55mm, and my sister saw me rolling around on the grass trying to sneak closer. I learned that I am a terrible ninja, and that I should come up with a better plan for myself.

Capturing video was out of the question for the reasons I mentioned above. What I really wanted was a time-lapse that could be controlled remotely. I decided to build a makeshift intervalometer to drive my digital camera, taking a picture every 5 seconds or so. My first instinct is to write software, and that is what I hastily did. I downloaded the Canon SDK and was able to control my SLR with it, despite the fact that I don’t know Objective-C and hate to look at it. After getting a prototype working, I realized that 1) My camera would need to stay tethered to my computer (wireless USB mostly isn’t a thing) and 2) I would need to figure out how to trigger the program remotely. #2 is doable, but #1 mostly shut it down because it would be really hard to hide both my laptop and camera.

I mentioned this problem to my friend Peter, who suggested I consider a hardware solution. This really isn’t in my wheelhouse, but I have always wished it were. I went through a phase when I got out of college where I would buy broken TVs for cheap off of Craigslist, usually plasmas, to see if I could get them working again. Mostly I failed, but every once in a while I would get something working, and I did learn a few things along the way. But mostly this dumb hobby consisted of trying to track down obscure components from digital junkyards which were defective half the time anyway. Ultimately, I realized that the sad truth is that most electronics produced today aren’t meant to be serviced, but discarded.

Anyhow, Peter grew up with a mentor who is one of the few remaining wizards who does his programming with a soldering iron, not a keyboard. Between the two of them, they built a circuit for me based around a 555 timer that takes as input +12Vdc, and outputs to the camera (via a 2.5mm tri contact jack) either a short, or not. The short is what triggers the shutter activation. Here is it in action:

To be able to turn on the circuit from the couch, I bought a cheap wireless remote online that looks like this, straight from China:

I bought some lithium camera batteries, which Peter wired up for me to power the thing.

I arrived at my family’s lake house a day early to get things set up and calibrated. I hid the camera on top of the cabinets in the kitchen and pointed it into the family room. Live view on my camera helped me get the focus exact. Other settings were harder to dial in since the proposal was happening at sunset and light was changing rapidly. My dog Wilson was a patient and helpful test subject.

The mirror slap on my SLR is pretty loud, especially in a quiet room. To avoid detection, I needed to mask it with some ambient music. I wanted something that was instrumental, slightly dramatic, and played in a major key. “Explosions in the Sky” fit the bill nicely. I made a playlist and picked a song as my cue so there was no way I could drag this out. The song I chose is aptly titled “So Long, Lonesome”. Have a listen:

While Shannon was upstairs getting cleaned up for the evening, I turned on the music and reached into my pocket and turned on the circuit with the remote to begin taking pictures while I waited for what seemed like an eternity. When she finally arrived I asked her to sit with me. My voice quivered in nervousness, and nice things were said. It was simultaneously profoundly meaningful and unnatural. The ease with which I interact with her was briefly gone under the pressure and anticipation. My halting speech and trembling hands indicated to her that something was up, and she did a pat down of my front pockets checking for a ring. On cue, I got up, pulled the ring from my back pocket, and asked her to marry me as the music reached its perfect crescendo.

She immediately began ugly crying in a way that wasn’t super reassuring. Despite a number of dry runs the night before, in the heat of the moment I forgot to stay off to the side so that my camera could capture her reaction in high-resolution. I think she probably prefers it this way. I did however set up a secondary time-lapse on my laptop that was taking pictures from an alternate angle. I can’t remember if she said yes, or nodded, or just hugged me. However she indicated it, the answer yes and the weight was off my chest. This was the best thing I have done that I am glad I never have to do again.


Surprise proposal

We already had plans to go to my Aunt’s house that evening for dinner, which we still did. What Shannon didn’t know was that both of our families were there waiting for us. We walked in to the surprise which caused a bit more hysterical crying. But most of all, we were just so happy that we got to experience this together, and with our family.

We’ve been engaged for a bit over a year, and it has been great. But I am ready to be married now. Fortunately, I only have to wait a few more days.

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