How To Plan A Surprise Proposal

Determine The Location

For your surprise proposal, find a romantic, meaningful and beautiful location or one you’ve always wanted to visit together as a couple. It could be a romantic dinner location, a mountain lookout or the beach at sunset. It could be where you went on your first date or a place you love to frequent together. A family beach house or Airbnb can be lovely, as well. Feel free to ask a photographer for recommendations they might have.

Formulate A Plan To Dress Up

Suggest dressing up for dinner as an excuse for you both to look your best. If you plan on making dinner reservations, definitely discuss timing with your photographer. Most photographers will want to do the proposal 2-3 hours before sunset, unless the location is naturally shaded or it ends up being a super overcast day. A late sunset in the summertime can be problematic for dinner reservations because the light will be best from about 7-9 pm. In which case, it might be best to have dinner before the shoot or find a place that stays open late. If dinner needs to happen during the best hours of light just know you likely won’t get that sunset look.

Find A Photographer

Select a photographer with experience shooting proposals. I’ll be honest, proposals can be extra stressful, not just for the person proposing but for the photographer, as well. Coordinating a proposal, being in the right spot, and nailing a fleeting moment, and then following up with creative portraits is way more challenging then doing a straight-up engagement session. It can be super nerve-racking for a photographer who has never done one before. Luckily, I’ve done a bunch, and have a solid process dialed in that will help us both feel confident that it will go great!

Plan The Walkthrough

Do a walkthrough with your photographer of the proposal location so you know where to kneel with lighting and visual impact in mind, and so the photographer can be set up with the best vantage point. This is best done a few days to a week ahead of time. It can be especially important if the location is expansive, with many entrances or various trails where it will be difficult to anticipate your approach. During the walkthrough, I will also talk lighting and backgrounds and the pros and cons of prioritizing these based on preference. 

Sometimes it’s impractical to do an in-person walkthrough because you may be coming from out of town or the location is hard to reach. If you’re from out of town, then it’s preferable to jump on a video chat while I’m at the location so you can see the lay of the land and so I can point to reference points so you can orient yourself for the big moment. If it’s a hard to reach location where time-wise it’s impractical to make a separate trip to the location then we’ll rely on online maps, photos, and trail guides to get the best approximation of how things will play out. It’s a little harder that way, but if you want that epic view it can be well worth it, even if we have to re-stage things a little because we weren’t able to sync up as well as we’d hoped.

Finalize The Game Plan With Your Photographer

Discuss with your photographer how you see the proposal playing out. Of course, we will anticipate your partner saying, “YES!” But when you get to the proposal location, do you plan to get straight to the proposal or do you plan to chat for a bit and work up to it. Do you see anything else happening? Do you want to hang out for a while to drink in the moment privately or do you want your photographer to jump right in for up-close reaction shots of you two admiring the ring and then move immediately into portraits. This will help the photographer anticipate the moment and react accordingly to the vibe.

Usually, I try to hide or at least have my camera hidden so as not to give away the surprise. So I will have my camera down from my eye with my settings dialed in ahead of time. Once you begin proposing, I will need to react quickly to compose the image, nail focus, and possibly make small exposure adjustments if lighting changes. Once you’ve proposed and done all the crying and hugging, I will have to gauge when the moment has sufficiently passed to insert myself into the celebration. The better I can anticipate what you’re going to do and how you want it to play out, the easier it will be for me to nail all the technical stuff and be unobtrusive as possible.

Stay In Contact With Your Photographer On The Day

The day of the proposal you will likely be pretty busy with your mind on things other than communicating with your photographer. You’ll probably be thinking more about the proposal itself than the photos. But it’s still a good idea to stay in contact with your photographer a little bit. Things come up, like the shooting location being closed or an unanticipated tour bus of people crowding the area or the weather taking a turn for the worse. Maybe you arrive early to the shooting location or get out the door late. I recommend two check-ins the day of the shoot. The first in the morning to confirm the proposal is moving ahead as planned. And the second confirming your approximate arrival time. It can be as easy as pre-writing, “Here” into a text thread and tapping send as soon as you arrive in the parking lot. That way I know the surprise proposal will be going down any moment.

Incorporate Something Special

Feel free to plan something a little extra if you feel like it. Having a picnic setup with champagne can be an extra romantic gesture and can give you something to do and a moment to chat just after proposing. If you’re the type of couple that loves to be surrounded by family and friends for moments like these, have some of them pop out from hiding for a fun surprise. Arrange a private musician to serenade you. Feel free to get creative.

Anticipate The Portrait Session

Following the proposal and anything else you might plan, anticipate a portrait session that will last about 30 minutes to an hour. Your partner may not anticipate this aspect of the day, so they may feel a little uncomfortable to start, especially if the wardrobe didn’t come together for reasons. It’s important for you to bring as much confidence as possible to the portraits so that you can help ease them into it.

Photo Delivery

After portraits have been concluded, you can anticipate getting access to your surprise proposal gallery within about a week so that you can jump right on making announcements to celebrate with friends and family! 🙂

What To Do With Your Photos

Now that you have access to your photos, what should you do with them? As mentioned above you could use them on save the dates or wedding invites. Of course, you could print a few off and put them on your walls, as well. You could share a few to social media and incorporate them into your wedding website. I’ve known some couples who have used their photos as center pieces on their wedding reception tables. Others have made two to three large prints to display on easels at their reception entrance. Another great option is to order a proposal album containing 20-30 images and use it as a guest book at your wedding where guests can sign on blank pages or along the margins. Whatever you do, be sure to print your photos in some form!

Example Galleries

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