Marcus and Kathy’s Central Park (surprise) elopement

It’s not often that I have a wedding date marked off on my calendar six months before the bride does. But Marcus and Kathy’s story is not your average wedding.

Marcus and Kathy are from Germany, and Marcus is a fan of my work, so he said “Hey, you know what would be fun? Let’s go to New York City! And while we’re there, Ryan can take some portraits of us.” Kathy loved New York and was working on improving her English, so it sounded good to her.

But Marcus had much deeper plans. He wanted to propose. So we planned together where the perfect spot would be, somewhere beautiful and as secluded as you can get in Manhattan. I would lead them in, taking portraits along the way and getting them comfortable. And then, when I said “Oh, look at this, this is the perfect spot!” Marcus would pretend to tie his shoe, kneel down to tie it, and pull out the ring.

Everything was working great. It was a beautiful day, as perfect as you could want. The park was green and lush, but not packed with people. I took them on a meandering path as we took photos, and came to a beautiful, secluded glade.

“Wow,” I said. “This is the perfect spot.”

“Yeah, it’s great!”

I waited. Nothing. “Ok, let’s take some photos here, and then I know an even better spot down the path a bit!”

“Well, look at this, what a spot! This spot is just perfect!”


Now I was getting a little nervous. Was the plan worked out well enough? I know that even the most enthusiastic proposal is such a huge leap, there’s always a moment like before you’re going to jump into cold water on a hot day. There’s nothing you want more, but you pause. I know this, so we continue walking. Last year I’d taught a workshop in this area, and some of the students said they found an amazing glen with a waterfall, stonework, all sorts of things you don’t expect to find in Manhattan. But I was busy and never saw it.

We kept walking, and there it was. The perfect spot. I set them up and said “Ok, guys, I want to to give a big hug.” And they did, and it was beautiful because they’re so in love. But really I wanted them to hug so Kathy couldn’t see me as I wandered behind. I signaled Marcus wordlessly.

Here, right?

Yeah, I got this.

He got down to his knees and said … well, it was all German, but it sounded very romantic. Tears, instantly. Joy, laughter, disbelief. Even bigger hugs. I absolutely love photographing surprise engagements just to be a part of this crucial moment.

But Marcus’s plan went deeper. He gave it a while, let the whole “I’m marrying this guy!” thing set in, and then he asked the real question: “Will you marry me … Wednesday? Here? In New York?”

She considered it, “Marcus, I’d love to, but I can’t get married without my parents here, they’re so important to me. And your brother, he’s traveling in Spain, it would kill him to miss it.”

He smiled. “Yes, we should ask my parents. We’re in luck! They’re here. And my brother? He’s not in Spain. He’s here.”

Woah. Marcus had planned it all out. He’d actually hired me six months earlier not just for the portraits, not just to capture the proposal, but for the wedding as well. It was all set … it just needed a bride.

She agreed. And that set about a whirlwind of emotion and shoes and dresses and more emotion, going through the entire process a bride usually goes through in six to 12 months in just a few days. So when we met on another glorious Central Park day, all of it was raw and powerful and beautiful.

It was an honor to tell this story and a pleasure to spend this time with Marcus, Kathy, and their families. And thankfully for the wedding day I brought along my own German, Stefy Hilmer, to help shoot and translate. I think I may need some more of this Germany experience, but more on that later.

Paul Rowland - A fantastic post, Ryan. This IS your “Avedon” image: So memorable & different, yet classic at the same time.

yuriy - Beautiful as always!!

Elissa - Yay! I can see your post now :) And all of the photos are beautiful, and the entire story is beautiful!!

Anne - Amazing as usual.

Fabrice Drevon - Oh yes Ryan… Really impressive.
Bravo !

Andy Stenz - My wife would have killed me if I had tried that. It’s beautiful and wonderful and tear inducing no doubt. Amazing job as always Ryan. Love the family and bridal party silhouette shout.

Jean Loper - What a beautiful couple and superb photography!!!!!!!

Hannah Chester - This literally gave me goosebumps. What an amazing story – and how lucky are you to get to shoot it? <3

Maura V. Kelley - That last shot? Epic.

Sara Kelly Johns - What a remarkable, romantic story that Ryan documented! Wedding photojournalism at its best!

Sue Kowalski - I could read his stories all day, Sara Kelly Johns…i feel like I am TALKING to him….amazing! thanks for letting us share!

Rammal Mehmud - Such an emotion-jerker yr anecdote & shots are! Love love love!

Rudy Conrad - completely stunning work Ryan…I like you less every time you post photos :)

Torry Keane - From one photographer to another ” You are the best at what you do,” Cheers!

Manel Tamayo - Fantastic post in a fantastic location, Ryan !!!

Meg - LOVED all your shots. Her dress was absolutely gorgeous. And I loved reading about them. perfect. awesome.

Joachim Kolender - Wunderschöne Fotos! Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland :-)

Emily - Love the photos & the story. And I love that you attract such a lovely variety of real people. Everyone always looks so genuine & happy & real. Love that.

Bartosz Gawlik - Really impresive and inspirational! Congratulations! Pozdrowienia z Polski!

Max - I haven’t commented on your site for a while… But this is f*cking unreal!!!!!!!! What to keep progressing Ryan!

Zak Hussain - You have captured emotions of this couple in such a terrific way, it is unbelievable. Well done !

Renard Richie - Ryan, you’re just on another level. Great job! wow.

Kevin - Wow! Another beautiful story moment captured. Super job as always Ryan :)

Martin Hambleton - Totally fab story. Completely romantic. And you took it all in your stride and shot another great wedding – though no surprise there.

Kristopher Gerner - Another beautifully photographed wedding. I really love the last taxi shot!

Juya - Nice clicks!! :D

Bastian - The story makes the images so much stronger. Go Ryan and learn some German. We are everywhere and much better than our fame. Keep up the amazing work. You are an inspiration.

Quynh - I’m new to photography and I only discovered you a few days ago. Absolutely love your work. What a beautiful story. Brought tears to my eyes.