Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Secret Proposal Photographer

You'll be thankful to have the special moment captured forever.
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
sarah hanlon associate editor the knot
Sarah Hanlon
Associate Editor
  • Sarah is an Associate Digital Editor for The Knot, with special focuses in fashion, pop culture and wedding trends.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Sarah was a contributing writer for Bravo at NBC Universal.
  • Sarah has a degree in journalism and resides in New York City.
Updated May 20, 2021
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Getting engaged is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, and we don't blame you for wanting to capture the experience. After all, you'll never regret having engagement photos to look back on for years to come. While some couples might prefer a private proposal, others may want an engagement photographer nearby to take photos of the entire ordeal. If you do want to have photos of the big moment, hiring a surprise proposal photographer might be the right choice for you. But don't stress if coordinating a top-secret engagement photoshoot sounds daunting—we're here to help.

We tapped industry pros to share everything you need to know about hiring a professional photographer for your proposal photoshoot. Here, you'll learn how to find the right photographer (or videographer) for you, as well as expert tips on creating a fool-proof plan that'll leave your partner truly shocked.

Set a Budget for the Proposal

The first step of planning an epic proposal is setting a budget. Think about how much you're willing to spend on your grand gesture, and create a plan that matches what you can afford. You can create an incredible moment for no cost at all—but if you're thinking of planning 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. (Need help narrowing down the most romantic proposal ideas? Check out our extensive list of engagement ideas that are sure to wow.)

Keep in mind that if you're going to hire a professional for a surprise photo session, their services will come at a cost. The cost of a proposal photographer likely won't be as expensive as a wedding photography session, but pricing depends on individual photographer rates and the amount of time they'll spend capturing photos for you. Start your search by using helpful websites like The Knot Marketplace or Flytographer to find local pros in your area. (For context, Flytographer packages span from $285 to $650.) Reach out to inquire about their engagement photo rates, and work with them to create a plan that fits your proposal photography budget.

Hire a Pro At Least 1 Month in Advance

As you begin proposal planning, it's important to hire any professional vendors as soon as possible. "I recommend hiring a photographer at least three weeks before your proposal," says Misha Wynn, photographer for Lavishly Lux Studio. "It's easy to think we just show up and shoot, but there's often a lot more planning involved. Typically, I'll create a timeline and visit the proposal venue to find the best spots for me 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," adds photographer Ashley Izquierdo. "To guarantee you get the photographer you have your eyes on, book them as soon as you nail down logistics." Working ahead will also help you relax in the days leading up to the proposal—because with so many other things on your mind, the last thing you want to worry about is finding a photographer and coordinating your plan last minute. "Photographers have busy schedules, and you don't want to be worried about trying to find someone who's available a few days before the proposal," says photographer Carly Landolt.

When you're ready to start searching for your pro, check out their online presence to make sure their photography style fits your vision. "Read their reviews, check their social accounts and look at their website," advises Izquierdo. "Make sure the professional you're hiring has a solid background and positive feedback. Confirm that they're active online and have recently published work that you can view."

Create a Proposal Route

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 pro an idea of what you're envisioning. This will help them learn the lay of the land and map a route that allows them to wait nearby to capture beautiful 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 Landolt. "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."

Some photographers might also visit the location with you 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 piece of the proposal."

As you plan your proposal route, think about potential barriers and how you can 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 or snow depending on where you live?" Asking these hypothetical questions will help you and your photographer prepare for any unexpected emergencies, like a summer rainstorm or a crowded sidewalk.

If you can identify potential roadblocks, you'll be able to prepare quick fixes on the spot if necessary. Perhaps your photographer will come prepared with an umbrella for inclement weather, or maybe there's a secluded path near your original proposal spot that'll result in better photos. Extra planning in the weeks leading up to the engagement will result in an easy, stress-free experience for everyone involved.

Have a Backup Plan

Pro tip: You'll never regret being too prepared. While it's important to set realistic expectations, remember that things might not always go according to plan—and that's okay! It never hurts to have a backup idea (or two) in case your preferred bench is occupied or your significant other takes the spot you were supposed to stand in.

While your proposal photographer will be able to react quickly and adjust as necessary to get the shot, chat through a few alternative plans or routes to be 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 in the moment. 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.

Work With Your Photographer Again

One of the best ways to support wedding vendors is to continually work with them throughout your planning experience. If you're happy with your proposal photographer's work, consider booking them for a formal engagement photoshoot and even your wedding photos. This will help your photographer get to know you and your S.O. 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 doesn't come as a surprise and they know the way a couple acts behind the camera," says Izquierdo. Adds Wynn: "Chemistry is the key to having great images. You also want to feel comfortable with your photographer. Your proposal photographer will also have a little insight into your love story, and that always helps for future sessions."

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