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How I Proposed in the Darkroom with a Hidden Message

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My name is Paul Fehr, and I recently proposed to my girlfriend, Ale, in a photography darkroom. Here’s how I did it.

Ale and I both started learning how to develop and print film photos in our home darkroom about 6 months ago. Ale is in her last semester of architecture school, and I studied graphic design and am currently in an electronic instrumental band called Paul y Carlos. Both of us started analog photography as a hobby, buying equipment from eBay and learning from the Internet.

Two days ago, I used what we’ve learned (and a little experimentation) to propose to her using a secret message I prepared the day before.

To prepare for the proposal, I printed the secret message on transparency sheets. Due to my printer not printing a very black black, I ended up layering 4 layers and taping them together to align them.

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“Te casarias conmigo” is Spanish for “Will you marry me.”

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I used the transparency message as a mask. The part where light shines through turns black. I shone light on it for about 10 seconds to guarantee it came out black. Let’s hope it works!

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After burning in the text, I proceeded to try to print a test run. Notice that the text along the top is not visible? It (along with the image) appears when you put the photographic paper through the paper developer.

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It takes about 15 seconds for the image to start showing up once in the chemical bath, and it worked! I was super happy that both the picture and my masked text came out beautifully. Next, I packed up my darkroom and drove to my girlfriend’s home town (about 3 hours) to see her!

We had a quick photo shoot in the late morning when we arrived. My sister took photos of us.

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We went back to her house, quickly developed the roll (always nervous it won’t come out!). It takes a few hours for the film to dry, and to be able to print the picture, so I was kind of rushing everything along.

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I put in the sheet of paper with the secret text I had burned in the day before.

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I handed her the sheet for her to put through the chemicals. At first she gasped, and said that there were some weird dirty spots, but stopped mid sentence! My plan had worked!

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She turned around, was already crying and I was on one knee with ring in hand!

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I had previously dried and framed one of my (many) test pictures, so she could have something ready to hang up on the wall.

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She said yes!

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Here’s a video I made showing the whole thing from start to finish:


About the author: Paul Fehr is a hobbyist photographer who studied graphic design and is currently working as a musician in an electronic instrumental band called Paul y Carlos (music from their upcoming album is featured in the video above). He’s now engaged to his fiancée, Ale.

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