Dramatic Focal Point captures Summit County wedding proposals in the moment
Dramatic Focal Point
What: Proposal, wedding and lifestyle photography by Travis Konkle, a former federal law enforcement agent now based in Summit County.
Pricing: $250 and up (proposal packages), $300 per hour and up (wedding packages)
For details on pricing, packages and Konkle’s past clients, see www.dramaticfocalpoint.com.
On a crystalline afternoon this past December, Travis Konkle was tracking a soon-to-be engaged couple through the chilly woods outside of Breckenridge.
And his quarry wasn’t making the hunt easy.
For most of the afternoon, Konkle had been silently waiting in a dark and cramped mining shack found steps from the snowy track at Nordic Sleigh Rides, a local tour company. He was armed with a camera, champagne, engraved champagne flutes, an embroidered blanket and two wooden signs, one reading, “He asked,” the other reading, “She said yes,” both covered in hand-glued snowflakes.
Just as the sun was starting to drop, the sleigh rounded a corner with Konkle’s nervous mark and unaware girlfriend. The Michigan natives arrived right on time, just as the photographer expected, and while they unloaded the plush sleigh he prepared to snap photos of a moment few couples capture: the exact second a man drops to his knee and pops the big question.
But the bride-to-be had other ideas. She was enamored with calm, quiet Breckenridge after an early snowstorm, blissfully unaware of the prearranged proposal site that Konkle and her boyfriend had agreed on a few days prior.
And so, she began wandering into the woods.
“I am a firm believer in ‘Hack it ‘til you make it,’ so even though I had no idea if it would work, I told them I could do it,” Konkle says. “I really wasn’t sure how, but I was going to find a way.”
It was Konkle’s first-ever proposal shoot and nothing was going as planned. For starters, the photographer was clad in a bright-orange puff coat — hardly camouflage against a blanket of fresh snow — but knew he had to leave the blind at the mine shack.
“I felt like Elmer Fudd, going from tree to tree to tree, hunting Daffy Duck without him knowing,” Konkle says, miming cartoon movements as he talks. “They went a good 200 yards down the trail from where they were supposed to be. It was a chase, that’s for sure, but I learned so much from that first time.”
Finally, the moment came. With Konkle hiding in wait behind a stand of trees, the boyfriend knelt in the snow and pulled a ring box from his back pocket. His now-fiancé was completely surprised — and then Konkle stepped out. He popped the champagne, poured the bubbly and began snapping posed shots. The day hadn’t quite gone as expected, but then again, few proposals ever do.
“I learned it’s a fluid moment,” Konkle says. “You can’t keep it contained, and I tell guys that now. You can script the marriage proposal — and you want to — but you have to be prepared to go off script.”
FED TO PHOTOG
As far as he can tell, Konkle more or less invented proposal photography a few months ago. It’s a much different beast than wedding photography or even engagement photography, two long-standing musts for newlyweds. He has years of experience with both through his company, Dramatic Focal Point, but when the boyfriend’s mother called him about the proposal — and then flew from Michigan to help plan every detail, right down to the embroidered blanket — he was entering an entirely new field.
“If women proposed to men, I’d get hired every day of the week, three times a day,” Konkle says. “Women think of things like that, but guys tend to overlook those details. They just think about where and what kind of ring.”
Of course, it takes a particular skill set to catch couples in their most private moments without ruining the surprise. Konkle describes proposal shoots as “a clandestine operation” — a major selling point for his male clients and, though he rarely advertises his background, a tactic he knows intimately.
For 15 years, the Washington, D.C., native was a federal law enforcement agent who specialized in all things stealth: photography, surveillance, tech. He tracked illegal narcotics in the field, snapping photos from helicopters and tailing drug dealers through the bone-dry desert.
“I tell these guys, ‘I can hide 10 feet away without you knowing,’” Konkle says. “Couples have almost walked on top of me. That comes back to being in the desert, where you will literally have someone step on your hand in the sand but you can’t say anything because 15 guys are walking by with AK-47s and 2,000 pounds of marijuana.”
But after operations in the desert and across the U.S., including the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the federal grind started to wear on Konkle. About three years back he made good on a high school dream — “I always thought I’d move to the mountains to be a photographer, a ski bum,” he says — and came to Summit County with his partner, Christy, and their three children.
“We have one of those mix blended families, one of those ‘mine and hers and ours’ concepts,” Konkle says. “I like to tell people we’re a typical Colorado family now: three kids, two dogs, one Subaru in the driveway and more skis in the garage than we know what to do with.”
A BRAND-NEW NICHE
When folks first hear about Konkle’s new, strange vocation, they have one of two questions: are you a hunter, and has anyone ever said “no”?
The answer to the first is simple: No, Knokle says, he’s not a hunter, but then again, tracking people is much different than tracking an animal.
“Believe it or not, it’s harder to hide from a human than it is a deer,” Konkle says. “The human eye is preprogrammed to look for other humans. Animals don’t care about the human figure — they’re more worried about movement — but we do. We know to look for the silhouette of a head.”
Thanks to his law enforcement background, Konkle knows how to hide quietly in a mine shack or snow bank. He also knows to wear a foliage-covered ghillie suit in summer — yes, he has one — and bring a snow-camo cover for his camera in winter.
But simply looking the part is only half the battle. Since more than half of his clients come from out of the state, Konkle likes to act as part photographer, part concierge. He works often with sleigh-ride outfits like Nordic Sleigh Rides and Two Below Zero in Frisco to arrange proposal rides, and he’s quickly learning the photogenic forest and ridgelines of his adopted hometown. When the Michigan couple had a last-minute family emergency, Konkle rescheduled the shoot for 10 days earlier — then tweaked the embroidered blanket with Photoshop to show the right date.
“It’s kind of like a wedding in a way,” Konkle says. “You have all these massive details, but when it comes time for the actual proposal, all you have to do is walk. I can handle the details — when you drop to a knee, she’s in a bubble.”
And Konkle banks on his subject’s tunnel vision. He doesn’t mind staging photos, but the first smiles after a proposal can’t be replicated.
Still, Konkle knows that Millennial couples want to share that moment on Facebook the next day. It’s a generational shift, and he uses it to fine-tune his niche. He’s posted photos from 16 proposal shoots to the Dramatic Focal Point Instagram, where followers — mostly women — tell him what angles and hiding spots work best with “likes.”
“I’m a photojournalist by heart,” Konkle says. “That’s how I shoot weddings — fly on the wall, don’t become part of the story. But with these, you become part of it. I even have photos of guys right after the proposal, pointing directly at the camera like, ‘Yeah, I did it.’”
Then there are moments no one can predict, even the always-prepared Konkle. In late March, he was approached by a Delta Air Lines pilot who wanted to propose “on top of the world,” or as close as he could get in Colorado. Konkle suggested Machine Gun Ridge, a popular snowmobile route near Vail Pass. The photographer would meet the couple there, hiding in plain sight high above a boulder outcropping he marked with a bright-green water bottle.
But, again, the man’s girlfriend had other ideas. As he led her toward the water bottle, she began walking dangerously close to a cornice — the same cornice Konkle warned the boyfriend about during their pre-proposal meeting.
“I almost called the whole thing off,” Konkle says of the one and only time he was almost caught by his quarry. “It was going to become a safety issue if she went any further, but they finally made it to the bottle. He dropped to one knee and the rest was history.”
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