While engagements, morning afters and boudoir shoots are still sturdy upsells for wedding photographers, proposal photography is on the rise and is all about being discreetly on hand as someone pops the question. In pursuit of recording yet another component of a couple’s love story, the proposer hires a paparazzi-style shooter hidden a few feet away—usually at a romantic public destination—to capture the moment.
Lindsey Kent is an American photographer living in Paris who’s cashed in on this service since offering it on her website Pictours Paris (which also offers tours around the romantic city with a photo shoot by Kent and picnic lunch by her chef husband). “I started [to shoot proposals] in January 2013, and have done more than 70 since,” says Kent, who estimates proposal sessions account for more than 1/5th of her yearly revenue.
Using her native English as an advantage for tourists from the U.S., U.K. and even Russia and Japan, Kent’s system for keeping the proposal a surprise is fairly simple. The future groom (or proposer) typically emails her anywhere between three weeks to a week before the event—usually having found her through her website (Google Adwords is her biggest ally) or her Facebook page. Kent then sends the client ten photos of location options around the city, and he chooses one. She sends the client a map to the decided location with exactly where to stand, they agree on a time of day and then swap photos of each other so they can be spotted before the big moment.
Then the stealth part comes in: “I always get [to the location] early just to be ready,” Kent says. “I blend in with the tourists and start taking photos right away. If we’re at the Eiffel Tower, for instance, I’ve already told him in my emails exactly where to get down on one knee. A lot of times the guys see me and get so nervous that it happens really fast.”
Kent positions herself about 20 to 30 feet behind the couple to not blow her cover and uses her 70-200mm lens. In some cases, she’ll be closer with a fixed lens. “They always hug and kiss and cry, so I continue to shoot for another minute or so,” she says. “Then he points to me and she freaks out even more. It’s really fun.” The photographer then does a mini engagement session for about 10 to 15 minutes.
While the actual shoot tends to only take about 25 minutes, Kent’s rate includes a super-quick turnaround time so that the couple can share the images with folks back home while they’re still on vacation. She delivers photos via Dropbox, both in web and print resolution with a print release form.
“Basically my standard rate for [non-proposal] photography sessions is 175 euros per hour [about $240 at time of writing] with the images delivered in about two weeks,” Kent says. “The couple is eager to share the photos and exciting news with their friends and family, so I deliver the edited images within 24 hours. The fee of 195 euros [for a proposal session] seems fair for everyone, and guys are happy to pay and have their special moment captured!” Kent also offers two-hour engagement sessions, as well as add-ons including video coverage and Champagne.
While the majority of her proposal sessions have gone on without a hitch, there are always exceptions. “I had one last summer where I had exchanged at least 20 emails with a guy leading up to the date, and I was there at the location with Champagne,” Kent remembers. “I see him, and then I see the couple is talking really seriously. I just started taking pictures of them, but then he looked at me and motioned like, ‘You gotta go.’ It was super awkward and I left. He emailed me after and said [his girlfriend] freaked out and she’s just not ready for it, so the proposal was premature.” Aside from that one incident, though, Kent says it’s usually “just happiness and excitement.”
Kent says that specializing in proposals has not only added income, but also a sense of fulfillment to her business. “It’s so easy to make it happen in a public place, and in Paris, The City of Love, it’s definitely a thing,” she says. “But this is such a huge life moment for couples in love—no matter where they live. It’s worth documenting.”