It was a beautiful day on Saturday for a Central Park lake proposal! Zing, the groom-to-be, did a lot of planning before the big day, and I am happy to say that Claire said ‘yes’! Check out all the details from Zing’s proposal to Claire in Central Park and find out my secrets to making it look like you have the park all to yourself.
While I have photographed hundreds of events in the park, this was my first Central Park lake proposal. Zing had envisioned asking Claire to marry him in a rowboat in the middle of the lake, and I was bound and determined to get him some quality photo. To prepare for the shoot, I coordinated with Zing and made a trip to Central Park the Saturday prior. I was there at 10:30 a.m. – the same time as the proposal – in order to assess the park for crowd control. Central Park is just getting busy at that time, and the sun is fairly bright. So the trick was to find the perfect spot away from the crowds and the sun. The good news is that the lake offers many options.
Central Park Lake Proposal: Best Photo Locations
- Meadow with weeping willow tree located just to the left of the Loeb Boathouse – If you can’t wait to pop the question, this spot is located directly past the Loeb Boathouse on the left. Personally, I think you should add a little more mystery to the boat ride – will he or won’t he pop the question? – so wait until you row farther into the center of the lake. But if you can’t wait, then this is the spot for you.
- Platform to the right of Bow Bridge – The next spot is a platform that comes right up to the edge of the lake, and is located directly to the right of Bow Bridge.
- Reeds to the left of Bow Bridge – Once you row past Bow Bridge, there is an area carved out of the garden where a photographer can get close to the water and have a view of the elegant Eldorado apartment towers in the background. The only problem with this view is that the reeds are quite tall, and you can’t quite get to the edge of the lake because of fencing.
- Platform on the west side of the lake, nearest to Strawberry Fields – Again, this is a crowded spot, and I have seen it used on a few occasions for weddings.
- Rocky beach by the Ladies’ Pavilion – This is going to be your most crowded spot, as there are a constant stream of tourists feeding the turtles. On the upside, you can have a view of the Manhattan skyline and the Essex Hotel in the background of your photos.
In this photographer’s opinion, the best location for a view of the Central Park lake is the platform to the right of Bow Bridge. Not only is this platform never very crowded, I have yet to see it used as a wedding location. Both the rocks nearest the Ladies Pavilion and the platform nearest to Strawberry Fields have been used for weddings, so there is no guarantee the spot will be free. Furthermore, the platform by Bow Bridge is slightly covered by trees so you have some shade, yet you don’t have the annoying overhang of the covered platforms. Most importantly though, the platform is within a quick sprint of Bow Bridge, so you can photograph the couple directly beneath you in the rowboat.
Central Park Lake Proposal: Popping the Question
That’s exactly what I did with Zing and Claire. Zing and I arranged ahead of time that he would row out to the platform. I dressed as a tourist in shorts and tennis shoes to blend in with the crowd and then stalked him all around the lake. When he came up on the platform, he threw down the oars and dropped to one knee. Seriously, Zing did a great job and didn’t seem the least bit nervous. Though the couple have been together for five years and met in college at UNC Chapel Hill, Claire said she was completely surprised. The proposal came off perfectly, and after several shots on the platform, I ran around to Bow Bridge to take shots of the couple from above the bridge.
For the rest of the time that Zing and Claire were in the boat, I followed them around the lake taking photos from every angle. I used my 400mm lens extender, so I was able to make it feel like I was in the boat with them. I recommend that couples row the entire length of the lake in order to take advantage of the many views of the park the lake has to offer. As you row towards Bow Bridge, the Eldorado apartment building towers dominate the skyline. But once you row past Bow Bridge, then you can look towards Central Park South and Fifth Avenue to have these buildings in view.
Central Park Lake Proposal: Tips
- Make a plan with your photographer of exactly where you will pop the question, and what you will do after you ask. Will you continue rowing or do you want to head back to the boathouse and take photos in the park?
- Know that it is tough work rowing a boat, as Zing found out the hard way. We were planning on him rowing a bit farther into the lake, but it is exhausting – especially in August. Wear something comfortable and breathable.
- Have your cell phone on you and be able to contact your photographer in case the plan changes. When Zing started rowing back towards shore after the proposal I texted him and then met him back at the boathouse.
- Timing-wise, it takes time to get the boat out into the lake and then back to the boathouse. For a full tour of the lake, you can expect to spend about an hour.
If a Central Park Lake proposal is on your agenda, here are the basic facts you need to know. The hours of the boathouse are 10:00 a.m. to sundown. While on the one hand you will get better light if you wait until the late afternoon to rent your boat, on the other hand, the park is also going to be much more crowded at this time. I would opt to go for the morning when the boathouse opens at 10:00 a.m.
The cost is $15 per hour and $4 for each additional 15 minutes. Please note payment is cash only, and there is a $20 deposit required. Each boat can hold up to four people, but from experience I can tell you that you will get your best photos being on dry land and not in the boat. There simply is not enough room in the little rowboat for you, your beloved, and a photographer. Worse still if you have a photographer, a bride and groom and a photographer, as I found at a Central Park wedding I photographed a few years ago. By the way, if you want to recreate a little bit of Venice in Central Park, then you can hire a full scale gondola – complete with driver – for $45 per half hour. Note that the gondola requires about a week’s notice.
Central Park Lake Proposal: Dry Land Locations
As far as taking photos on dry land once you are out of the boat, your nearest options are the Trefoil Arch (located right across from the boathouse), Bethesda Fountain, and of course, Bow Bridge. All of these areas are going to be chock-a-block with tourists, so I have a few recommendations. First, use the ivy background of the Trefoil Arch to full advantage. While I was there photographing Zing and Claire, I used the lush backdrop to shut out the crowds. The arch is a frequently used short cut for visitors, but by limiting the photo to the top half of the arch, I didn’t care who was passing underneath. Also, you would never know that there was a vagrant taking up residency inside the arch because I kept him in the dark (literally) for the photo.
A great spot to use for photos is the meadow with a weeping willow tree located in between the boathouse and Bethesda Fountain. For some reason this area is always fenced off. It’s a low bridge and there are never any security guards so live daringly and jump the fence for photos without the hordes of tourists. You’ll get a great shot over the lake.
Bethesda Fountain and Bow Bridge are entirely different animals, however, and it is difficult to keep the crowds at bay in both of these locations. For Bethesda Fountain, there is no hope of having the iconic staircase all to yourself unless you shoot here at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday (see my post about getting the perfect Central Park shots). Instead, I decided for Zing and Claire to use a close up view and get creative with reflections of the couple in the fountain itself. As for Bow Bridge, the area to the left of the planters is normally free and I so I positioned the couple in the shade with a great view overlooking the lake.
One other much less crowded photography location option is to head into the Ramble behind the boathouse. This area of the park is completely covered by forest and is never crowded with visitors. I used the area effectively for bride and groom portraits, and consider the pathway one of Central Park’s secret gems.
As for what to do once you have popped the question and taken a few photos, I suggest that you follow in Zing and Claire’s footsteps and have a picnic in the park. Zing surprised Claire (and me) by having his friend meet us at the boathouse. His friend arrived with a picnic basket, blanket, AND roses. It was the perfect ending to a perfect proposal.
And finally, I leave you with this very funny anecdote from Zing and Claire’s proposal. I have seen just about everything while shooting in Central Park, but this scene made me nearly drop my camera. As I was trotting around the lake trying to keep up with Zing and Claire’s Olympic rowing effort, I saw this epic wedding taking place on the lake platform. This platform in the lake inlet closest to Cherry Hill is regularly used for weddings, but this wedding takes the cake. To each his own, as they say.
If you would like to see more images from my marriage proposal portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com.