So you are ready to take your love relationship to the next level with a commitment to lifelong love and partnership. You’ve purchased a beautiful engagement ring, obtained the blessings of your partner’s parents, and are dreaming of how to pop the question… Which leads to a few very important questions that need to be answered first. For instance, where can one learn how to plan a surprise proposal? And, how can you be sure to have great pictures to remember and share those life-changing moments? As a professional engagement, elopement, and proposal photographer, I have seen a number of amazing proposals and I’d like to share some helpful things I’ve learned from those happy couples.
Be well prepared.
Planning and preparation oftentimes make the difference between mediocre and outstanding. When it comes to something as significant as how to plan a surprise proposal – one moment in life that alters all the moments that come afterward – you will want to be sure that every aspect of the experience is filled with the same magic you feel in your hearts for each other. In addition to my own suggestions, you might also want to check out the expert advice from Lauren Rodrigue, of Wedding Wire, in her article, “6 Ways To Get That Surprise Proposal You’ve Always Wanted” by clicking here. As I mentioned, I’ve seen and documented several beautiful and successful surprise proposals, and here are some helpful observations from those events:
Select a special location to propose.
Setting sets the mood and context. Some places have special meaning, such as where you met, had your first kiss, or first date. Certain places are so incredibly beautiful that just being there can alter your mood and very being. I personally am a big fan of photo locations with stunning natural beauty, which we have plenty of here on the West Coast. If you can come up with a location that combines personal meaning with gorgeous scenery, all the better! If you are hiring a professional photographer to document your marriage proposal there’s a good chance they may be able to suggest excellent locations. I oftentimes find myself recommending places that are more off the beaten path. After all, who wants their engagement or proposal photos to be cluttered with selfie-snapping tourists in the background?
Plan to pop the question at the best possible time.
“Timing is everything”, so the saying goes, and planning the best time for your surprise proposal is essential. Would you like to celebrate this happy occasion on your own, or do you envision celebrating with friends and family right afterward? If it will be just the two of you, proposing in the wilds of Big Sur could be perfect, but if you intend to connect with the family for post-proposal cork-popping you might want to stay closer to home and family. There are good reasons for the fact that so many proposals happen around the holidays, as it is a time when many families gather together from their far-flung homes to celebrate together. The happy news of an engagement only adds to things to celebrate and be thankful for. When considering how to prepare for a surprise proposal, the next item is completely obvious, yet not always so simple…
The element of surprise.
As Lauren Rodrigue points out in her helpful article, the subject of marriage should be deeply explored before you propose. When you pop the question the answer, “yes”, should be something you expect to hear, while the actual moment and circumstances of the proposal will be the surprise. Popping the question at a time when it’s not completely expected is simple enough, but how can it also be choreographed to coincide with a planned family gathering, in a special place, AND with a photographer there to document the magic and excitement of it all? The short answer is you’re probably going to need help! For illustrative purposes, I’ll share the story and a few happy photos from a recent surprise proposal at The Marin Headlands, near Sausalito, California.
This now-happily-engaged couple, Dominic and Nicole, resides in the San Diego area, and he proposed to her at Hawk Hill, in the Marin Headlands, near San Francisco. Dominic planned his surprise marriage proposal on a weekend when Nicole traveled alone to the Bay Area, to spend the weekend with her best girlfriends. Little did she know her girlfriends were in cahoots with Dominic, delivering her, at just the right moment, to Hawk Hill, where she never expected to see her boyfriend! It all flowed without a hitch, and it was easy for yours truly, the photographer, to act like a tourist with a camera until Dominic was on one knee with ring in hand. At that point, all the planning and strategy had paid off, and as you will see from the photos below, these two were over the moon with joy and excitement.
One clever client I worked with was able to completely surprise his partner by telling her that he wanted to hire a photographer for a romantic portrait session of the two of them. This was my own suggestion, to be sure his partner would have every opportunity to properly prepare for being in front of a camera. It worked flawlessly, and she was super impressed that he was so thoughtful and hired a professional photographer to create portraits of the two of them. As noted in this article on the pros and cons of hiring a professional proposal photographer by Nicole Harris, of Martha Stewart Weddings, most humans prefer to have the opportunity to prepare themselves for a photo opportunity. Staging a romantic photo session that turns into a proposal shoot, the moment you pull out the engagement ring is a great way to go. This will ensure that the love of your life is looking his/her best, without spoiling the surprise in your proposal. Another way to be sure that attire and makeup are camera-ready is to propose on the way to some event that calls for dressing up. Please scroll on down to see the photo story of Dominic and Nicole’s first moments of engaged life!
Dominic was awaiting the arrival of Nicole here, atop Hawk Hill, in The Marin Headlands.
The moment when Nicole, second from left, spots Dominic, who she thought was back home in San Diego. She’s just trying to make sense of what she is seeing…
The look of excitement on her face shows that she realizes something awesome is about to happen. Dominic is down below, waving for her to approach him. She goes to him, and the following sequence of pictures tell the story better than any words…
Group photo, with our elated engaged couple and Nicole’s girlfriends, who did an awesome job of keeping the exciting secret plans secret! Dominic brought fine bubbly and opted for travel-friendly plastic “stemware”. This beautifully planned and executed surprise marriage proposal was a perfect success! We went on to do a sweet and romantic engagement photo shoot with just the two of them, at a nearby black sand beach.
Have someone skilled working the camera.
As a final suggestion, for the best results, work with a skilled professional photographer. Friends with nice cameras may be happy to help, but if you want to be sure to get an abundance of images you’re thrilled with, your best bet is to use the services of someone who makes their livelihood creating amazing pictures.
My studio, Expressive Photographics, is known for fun and creative Lifestyle, Wedding, Elopement, and Engagement Photography throughout the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas, as well as the Big Sur Coast. Assignments involving travel, are always welcome.
Thanks for checking out my article on how to prepare for a surprise proposal. Please share your comments below!