Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
No matter how many surprise engagements we’ve done, I’m always nervous. But this time, I’m especially nervous. Ryan and Clara are both dear friends of my fiancée Sarah and I, and Ryan and I have been talking about this proposal for months. Somehow, Clara had been convinced by Sarah and other close friend the night before that she shouldn’t get her hopes up – engagement was still a long ways away.
That’s what she was told, at least.
The day before the proposal, Ryan and I met on top of Culbreth theatre to plan everything out. This spot was perfect – a large, circular, outdoor stage adjacent to UVA’s School of Architecture. Sporting views of Charlottesville and the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side, and a small park full of benches and sculptures on the other side, it would give an exceptional back-drop to their photos, while providing me with plenty of places to hide.
As agreed, I arrived early, and politely asked a few people to vacate the premises. With a minor explanation, they excitedly agreed. As Ryan’s dot on “Find my Friends” got closer and closer to my location, I reminded myself of the plan, and where I should be for each second of the next 10 minutes.
As soon as I saw Ryan’s car pull around the corner into the nearby parking lot, I rushed behind a large sculpture made of concrete and metal pipes. I’m not sure what exactly it’s supposed to represent, but it made for an excellent hiding place! Ryan and Clara soon approached the top of the theatre and began to dance.
I had only been there about 30 seconds, and everything was already going wrong. When we scoped out the spot the day before, I had decided on a hiding place and told Ryan exactly where to dance to get the perfect photos. I had also told him exactly where NOT to dance because he’d be completely hidden by trees and the backdrop would be obscured by an ugly brick building.
You can imagine my vexation when Ryan led Clara straight to the wrong spot and began to dance.
My immediate reaction was to drop to the ground and, massive telephoto lens in hand, army crawl to a nearby tree that I could crouch behind for a better vantage point. This, I could work with. Ryan and Clara danced for several minutes, and I snapped away as I watched them proceed through some of their favorite moves.
As their dancing ended, I repositioned myself behind the statue, and Ryan lead Clara, still barefoot from dancing, over to a bench. Before I know it, Ryan has stood up and taken Clara’s hands in his own while simultaneously positioning himself with his back to me. I could see on her borderline-terrified face that it had just dawned on Clara what was about to happen.
As Ryan dropped to his knee and pulled out the ring, Clara’s hands instinctively went to cover her mouth, but no tears fell from her eyes. Instead, something happened that I’ve never seen before during a surprise proposal.
Clara was filled with so much joy and excitement that it overflowed into jubilant laughter! No soon-to-be bride (including even my own – sorry Sarah!) was able to hold back tears, until now. The smile on Clara’s face told me everything I needed to know about the many years that she and Ryan would share during their lifetime together.
By now, I’ve totally forgone the hiding place, as the couple’s tunnel vision has totally excluded everything but their future spouse’s face. After several more embraces, Clara notices me as Ryan points me out. This time, they share the laugh.
In the end, everything turned out fantastically, and we had plenty of time to capture a few portraits before they ran off to a reservation at their favorite local brewery.
Unbeknownst to Clara, her night had only just begun – after dinner, she’d arrive back at her house to find it overflowing with her dear friends and family who had traveled from across the East Coast to celebrate their engagement.
Sarah and I’s special gift to them was this: having all of the photos retouched and delivered so that their friends and family could view their proposal photos with them for the first time, mere hours after their engagement.