Wait, There’s Such a Thing as a Surprise Proposal Photographer?

Here’s the inside scoop on secret photography.
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Feb 13, 2024

Getting engaged is the first magical step in your marriage journey, so we don't blame you for wanting to capture it. While some couples prefer privacy, others want a proposal photographer nearby to take photos of the entire ordeal. And if you're reading this article, we can assume you're considering the latter option. (Did you know that The Knot 2023 Real Weddings Study found that 25% of proposers hired a professional vendor, primarily hidden professional photographers, to snap pictures during the proposal?) But don't stress about coordinating a top-secret photoshoot, we tapped industry pros to share everything you need to know about proposal photography. Here, you'll learn how to find the right vendor and get expert tips on creating a fool-proof plan that'll leave your partner none the wiser and both of you with sentimental keepsakes.

In this article:

What Is a Proposal Photographer?

A proposal photographer is a wedding-related vendor who takes images of you and your partner a little before and during the proposal. The purpose of this pro is to have someone capture the big moment while being unseen so the surprise isn't spoiled. You can use the proposal pictures for holiday cards, your wedding website or frame them in your home.

How is proposal photography different from engagement photography?

Proposal photography is the art of capturing a marriage proposal. Meanwhile, engagement photography is portraiture of to-be-weds. A proposal photographer may snap a few engagement photos right after the proposal, but it's a good idea to book a separate engagement session with your wedding photographer ahead of the big day. An engagement photo session will help ease your nerves before the wedding since you can practice posing and ensure you work well with your photographer, who may be a different pro from the one hired for the proposal.

Do You Need a Photographer for a Proposal?

Honestly, it depends. While you don't need to have your proposal photographed, many people hire a surprise proposal photographer because they want a memento from this life-altering occasion. A wedding proposal is an exciting new life stage so you may regret not having the event memorialized.

But we also totally get that many people want their proposal to be a private special moment. The benefit of having a proposal photographer tucked away like paparazzi is you get your intimate moment but walk away with photographic memories you can share on social media or even use for a save-the-date.

How Much Does a Proposal Photographer Cost?

The first step in planning the best proposal is setting a budget for the entire endeavor. Think about how much you're willing to spend on your proposal ideas, and create a plan that matches what you can afford. You have an incredible moment for no cost, but if you want to plan something extravagant, like a private dinner on a New York City rooftop or a Valentine's Day getaway, your engagement will require some preliminary financial planning.

So if you're hiring a professional for your proposal photos, remember that their services need to be in your budget. The cost of a surprise proposal photographer likely won't be as expensive as a wedding photography session, but pricing depends on the individual's rates. Reach out to your desired photographers, inquire about their proposal photo packages, and work with them to create a legendary moment.

When Should You Book a Surprise Proposal Photographer?

As you begin proposal planning, hire your vendors as soon as possible. "I recommend hiring a photographer at least three weeks before your proposal," says Misha Wynn, a professional photographer and founder of Lavishly Lux Studio. "It's easy to think we just show up and shoot, but there's often more planning involved. Typically, I'll create a timeline and visit the proposal venue to find the best spots to capture the moment."

Plus, if there's a specific pro you want to work with, it's always better to reach out as soon as you have a proposal spot and date confirmed. "Photographers fill their calendars months in advance. To guarantee you get the photographer you have your eyes on, book them as soon as you nail down logistics," adds Ashley Izquierdo, a full-time international photographer since 2017. Working ahead will also help you relax in the days leading up to the proposal––you don't want to try to find a photographer last minute with everything else on your mind.

How Do You Hire a Photographer for a Proposal?

Many wedding photographers offer engagement and proposal photography services, while others specialize in proposal photography. Use The Knot Vendor Marketplace to find top-rated wedding proposal photographers near you. But if you're planning a destination proposal, it's probably more cost-effective to hire someone local to where you're popping the question instead of flying in a photographer.

Once you've found a handful of potential pros, look at their portfolios to see whose work fits your needs. Do they have the experience you're looking for? Do they match your photography style? Are they available on your date? Gather answers to these essential questions before signing on the dotted line.

Always do online research.

When you're ready to start looking for your proposal photography vendor, check out their online presence to ensure their photos fit your vision. "Read their reviews, check their social accounts and look at their website," advises Izquierdo. "Make sure the professional has a solid background and positive feedback. Confirm they're active online and have recently published work you can view."

How Do You Coordinate With Your Photographer After Booking?

Once you've secured a proposal photographer, you'll be ready to finalize day-of plans. If you've already selected a proposal location, give your vendor an idea of your vision. This will help them learn the lay of the land and find a place that allows them to wait nearby to take beautiful proposal photos. "The first thing I do is set up a call with the proposer to hear about their plan and see if it's a good fit," explains Carly Landolt, a second-generation photographer who captures weddings, engagements, first birthdays and much more. "We map out a route, and I instruct the proposer how to stand and in which direction. I also manage expectations from the start. I'll discuss the pros and cons of certain locations and bring up strategic things that the proposer may not have thought of yet."

Visit the proposal location and consider possible obstacles.

Some photographers visit the location with the proposer to have a more hands-on approach to planning the proposal. "Typically, I'll take a tour with the proposal planner to determine the best route, location and angles," says Wynn. "This also helps me determine my location and the equipment I should use. From a photographer's perspective, this is often the most important."

As you plan your proposal, note potential barriers and how to avoid them. "It's important to consider the time of day you're going to propose and how busy a public place might be, as well as the season," advises Izquierdo. Does it typically rain during the time of year you want to propose? Is there a chance of snow where you live? Asking these hypothetical questions will help you and your photographer prepare for unexpected emergencies, like a summer rainstorm or a crowded sidewalk.

Talk with your proposal photographer about a Plan B.

You'll never regret being too prepared. Set realistic expectations and remember that things might not always go according to plan, which is totally okay. It never hurts to have a backup idea (or two) if your preferred bench is occupied or your significant other takes the spot you were supposed to stand in.

Your surprise proposal photographer will be able to react quickly and adjust as necessary to get the shot, but you should still chat through a few alternatives so you're ready for anything. "If the proposer has chosen a public location, bystanders can get excited and stand in the shot, or other things can happen that are out of anyone's control," says Landolt. "A photographer would normally direct the scene, but since you're planning a secret proposal, they're unable to have certain controls." Because of this, having a backup plan will help you and your photographer get the shot no matter what happens. Not only will this help you get the best photos possible, it'll help you feel as confident as possible when you pop the question.

How to Keep Working With Your Proposal Photographer

One of the best ways to support wedding vendors is to work with them throughout your planning experience. If you're happy with your proposal pictures, consider booking the photographer for a formal engagement photoshoot and your wedding photos. This results in you, your future spouse and your photographer getting to know each other well, which will translate into pictures that perfectly capture the essence of your relationship. "Hiring a proposal photographer is a really great opportunity to get acquainted so that, if you work together on the wedding day, the photographer's work won't come as a surprise, and they know how the couple acts behind the camera," says Izquierdo. Wynn adds, "Chemistry is the key to having great images. You also want to feel comfortable with your photographer. Your proposal photographer will also have insight into your love story, and that always helps for future sessions."

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