By Serena Solomon and Annette Witheridge
CENTRAL PARK — As the lovestruck couple wandered through Central Park, a shadowy figure darted in and out of trees, training his huge, long-lensed camera on their every move.
As the would-be groom dropped onto one knee and pulled a ring from his pocket, the photographer — now hiding behind a foodcart — clicked frantically. A crowd had gathered next to him, eager to find out who the couple were.
Were Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt finally getting engaged? Had Jennifer Aniston's love life finally improved?
Former paparazzo James Ambler, who spent five years documenting the lives of the famous like Jolie, Tom Cruise and Tiger Woods, is accustomed to fielding such questions. In June he launched the company Pap the Question, turning his skills from celebrities to making normal couples like Mayank Desai and Lisa Sheth feel like stars.
Ambler offers his services to secretly capture the moment couples decide to spend their lives together.
“For the first time in my life I am not photographing celebrities, just photographing happy couples about to get engaged,” said Ambler, an English expat now living in Chelsea.
He said he came up with the idea for Pap the Question when he realized he had no pictures of his proposal to his now-wife Kate.
The 31-year-old Ambler remembers the bout of nerves he felt that day in Central Park, an experience he uses to help his clients through their big question.
“It is terrifying, absolutely terrifying,” he said. "My poor wife must have known there was something up."
With the $450 basic package, including a walk-through of the engagement, Ambler has become something of a pseudo consultant giving advice to ensure a spectacular moment and calming the nerves of his clients.
"We like to do a run-through with our clients so its makes them much more at ease and our job a lot easier," said Ambler. "With the nature of this work we only have one shot at this."
Ambler took DNAinfo through the recent proposal of Desai and Sheth in Central Park. Desai surprised his girlfriend by flying in from Texas — and then surprised her again by proposing.
Ambler snapped every second of the emotional moment.
While Pap the Question is yet to capture a proposal dud, Ambler says he offers a 75 percent refund to any man whose proposal ends in a "no" — as well as the comfort of a cold beer.
“We don’t want to break their bank as well as their heart,” he said. “Let’s face it, it’s going to be pretty tragic.”
While Ambler is now working full-time on his new company, he occasionally still takes on real paparazzi jobs. He had his own moment of fame four years ago while trailing Angelina Jolie — she gave him a lift in her car after the bike he used to follow her got a flat tire.
With the fast world of celebrity-chasing almost behind him, Ambler is now relishing his new softer role.
"It is one of those stories that you will always think of it," he said. "As a young couple it is the first moment where you are really making that big step together."