Everything you need to know about planning a Staunton Wedding, and all the vendors that can make your dream day happen.

Wedding Vendor Guide

Staunton Virginia

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The joke around the studio is that I accidentally became a brand photographer. And it’s kinda true! Over the last four months, I’ve gotten to photograph eight (!) headshot or brand photoshoots for small business owners and creatives in our downtown Staunton studio at Virginia Creative Collective. What started as offering photo trades with close friends, turned into a whole branch of the business we didn’t expect. I’m finally getting around to showcasing some of that work! It’s on the website now, so I guess I’m officially offering some brand photography options. Here’s a preview of one of our first brand photoshoots, for a Charlottesville based wedding photographer, Lyn Waldrop.

Lyn Waldrop Wedding Photography – Brand Photoshoot

Lyn’s brand photoshoot was somewhat unplanned. We hosted a content day at the studio to help wedding professionals capture everything they needed for fall and winter social media content. As part of this, guests could either bring friends to trade photos with, or book us. Lyn opted to work with us, and I was her in-house photographer. I’m so glad this worked out for us! Since then, we’ve become friends, sent referrals, seen her more in the studio community, and love cheering her along online! Wedding photographer friends are the best and are so necessary to have in this industry.

What makes her brand photos special

It was during this photoshoot that I realized a love for brand photography. No, I’m not leaving weddings behind or scaling back on families. But it pairs so nicely with my passion for helping small business owners create a sound marketing strategy, break into new price brackets, and work through the business side of creative industries. Since this sessions, we’ve been flooded with inquiries and requests for this type of small-but-mighty brand mini photoshoot. Stay tuned! The studio will be offering a huge brand blitz day in January to kick of 2023 with a bang!

Collage of highlight images from elopement photography clients in downtown staunton virginia. Young couple is walking through downtown staunton, smiling, wearing blue suit and white sundress for their late summer elopement.

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I met James and Danielle about half way through their elopement on the Augusta County Courthouse steps. During my morning coffee run, I noticed a cute couple getting married just outside our photography studio in downtown Staunton, without a photographer! Danielle’s mom was there snapping a few images on her phone. But I certainly couldn’t let their wedding go on undocumented! So, I spontaneously photographed their Augusta County Courthouse Elopement. I rarely get to provide elopement photography. Maybe a couple times a year! So, this experience was really thrilling for me.

Meanwhile, my business partner Amanda watched from the studio doorway as I ran to my car, grabbed my camera, frantically found an empty memory card, and began taking photos. I got there just a minute before they sealed the deal with a kiss! As the ceremony concluded, I introduced myself and asked if they’d like some wedding portraits in downtown. Danielle was giggling so much, and the whole interaction had already made my morning!

The story behind their elopement

We only spent about ten minutes together in total. But as we took a short walk around Staunton for some portrait locations, we got to know Danielle and James a little better. They met many years ago, while their families were missionaries in Africa! What are the chances?! These two were in elementary school together, I believe PreK or Kindergarten. James’ family is British, while Danielle is from around here in Virginia. It’s pure serendipity that they ended up in the same location at the same time! Now, of course they didn’t fall in love in elementary school. The two reconnected when James reached out to an alumni group, looking for some former classmates. They met up, started talking, and realized they are so compatible!

Now, they weren’t always planning a mid-week, 10 AM elopement. James’ father was flying in from England to marry James and Danielle at their *real* wedding that weekend. However, non-citizens cannot officiate weddings in the United States. On a whim, they decided to elope a few days prior to save them the headache of having two officiants for their wedding celebration. Given the upcoming full wedding, they didn’t feel the need for arranging an elopement photographer for their short, weekday ceremony. But I’m so happy I stumbled upon them! The spontaneous nature of everything was so meant to be, and the joy was evident in their portraits. Elopement photography may be my new favorite service!

Spontaneous Augusta County Courthouse Elopement Photography from a downtown Staunton VA wedding goes viral on Instagram.

Okay, okay. We’re not talking millions of views. But tens of thousands in a few minutes is huge to me!! Amanda documented their story and behind the scenes of us working together. Afterwards, I created a reel showing the whole interaction unfolding, and the resulting images! Their elopement photos are so gorgeous, and quickly becoming some of my favorite to feature. See their elopement story on Instagram here.

And finally, the photos from their downtown Staunton elopement!

Now that you know the story, enjoy these joy-filled, unplanned newlywed portraits in downtown Staunton!

Couple poses for engagement photos in pollinator garden at blandy experimental farm in front royal virginia

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When Carla and Glenn mentioned going somewhere with classic Virginia mountain views, field, or blooms for their engagement session, I had just the place in mind. Blandy Experimental Farm is a free, expansive, and gorgeous place for engagement photos! We caught the end of the summer season, with the pollinator garden still full of color. The location was a perfect reflection of what they love, and exactly what they’d opt for on a weekend off.

A candid-heavy, relaxed engagement session

These two, like most couples, had some reservations and nerves about dressing up and being posed for their engagement photos. Most people only hire a professional photographer a couple times in their life–senior portraits, graduation, engagement and wedding, family milestones. But we treated it like a date night, and just look at the results! Blandy farm was a place they were familiar with, and we spent the first part of the photo shoot just walking around and getting more familiar with one another. It took a dozen frames or so, but we figured out what worked best for them, and the rest of the session was a synch!

Love, laughter, pollinators, deer, and Virginia landscapes!

This session has everything. First of all, they’re adorable. Carla cannot stop laughing at Glenn! I mean, I get why. But they are too cute. And we had lots of precious animal guests along our session. First bunnies and pollinators in the garden. Then, turtles, birds, and even a deer friend that didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence! I had to include them in the engagement photos, of course. They were all part of the process, and it’s fitting they make the final gallery.

Ready for your own engagement photos?

Maybe you landed here looking for a photographer, or maybe you’re just looking for outfit or location inspiration. Either way, I hope you love the photos and get something out of this! If you’re searching for a wedding and engagement photographer, I’m here to help! Here are some helpful links.

Learn more about Photography by Jo’s wedding photography experience.

View reviews for Photography by Jo.

wedding detail flat lay showcasing a modern, black and white invitation suit in the sunlight with golden carnations and a champagne class nearby.

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My approach to wedding photography is to be an incredible partner to your wedding day and vendor team. This includes helping you prepare a stress free timeline (along with your planner and team!), and resources to help you prepare for your wedding day. Gathering your details ahead of time is one easy thing you can do to streamline the first part of the day. Plus, you don’t have to do it yourself! You can designate a wedding party member to gather these things for you. I’m a huge fan of delegating anything you can!

Close up in a pink engagement ring sitting on an off white vow book next to a detailed wedding stationery suite.

What’s included in wedding details?

Wedding details covers a lot! There’s a few categories. I’ll take detail photographs and pullbacks of your full ceremony space, reception space, cocktail hour, and any other décor you’ve meticulously selected and designed. This means I’ll have to coordinate with the planning team, florist, catering, etc to ensure that the time I allot to photograph these details align well with the time they will be delivering and completing setup. But don’t you worry about that–I’ll handle those details!

Stationery details & wedding flat lays

Wedding flat lays with your full invitation suite take the longest. I love to include some personal florals, jewelry and rings, and other styling items like ribbon, ring boxes, hand written notes, wax seals, or anything important to you. I begin the day by styling flat lays. This way, your wedding party gets used to the sound of my shutter while I’m photographing wedding details nearby. They relax, and forget I’m there. This makes for great candid photographs later on!

Collage of various wedding stationery items, ribbon, ring boxes, and other wedding details.

For great wedding stationery details, make sure to save multiple copies of your full invitation suite. Order some additional stems from your florist to be included in the detail photographs. And, let me know what colors you’re using! I’ll bring coordinating items to style your wedding details.

Stationery covers a large range of items. You can also include menus, save the dates, place card or escort cards that coordinate, hand written letters, gifts, handkerchiefs, mementos from prior dates, and more! Get creative with the details you set aside. The more I have to work with, the more variety I can create for you! These images make great additions and transitional spreads for your wedding album designs.

Collage of fresh floral blooms and wedding stationery

Personal wedding attire

Wedding attire details are a must-have! I love thinking about the longevity of these detail photographs. We’re creating a record of trends and wedding fashion for future generations. And of course, the personal elements and individual style choices tell so much about your story as a couple! I know I loved looking through my family’s wedding albums as a kid. I hope my clients’ children will experience that same joy!

Details of your wedding attire include those classic images of your dress hanging up. Lots of brides choose a custom hanger, or maybe get their new last name painted! I’ll borrow your shoes, jewelry, bouquet, and veil for these images as well. I typically photograph these just after the flat lays, while I still have most of these items handy.

Black bow tie and red carnation boutonniere displayed in a groom's wedding details flat lay

Don’t forget the men’s details too!

I love a good groom’s flat lay! I typically don’t include the men’s details in with the full flat lay. Their accessories tend to be dark and bold, which don’t always photograph well with stationery suites. When I first start working with a groom, I’ll ask for his accessories. I’m looking for anything besides the suit, basically! Gather his shoes, bowtie or tie, cufflinks, his boutonnière, cologne, watch, and anything else sentimental. I’ll create an individual arrangement that aligns with the style of the wedding, but highlights his personal details.

Wedding details checklist

This is a lot to remember! I’m here to make it less stressful. There’s a mental checklist in my head that’s almost second nature at this point. Even if you don’t have your details ready for me, I’ll know what to ask for and can gather them up quickly. To make the most of our time together on your wedding day, I suggest gathering everything ahead of time. I’m providing my mental checklist below!


  • Dress
  • Veil
  • Bouquet
  • Earrings
  • Necklace
  • Hair clips and pins
  • ALL rings in one place
  • Shoes
  • Perfume
  • Any outfit changes
  • Pins, brooches, and family heirlooms
  • Garter
  • Full invitation suite (preferably two)
  • Save-the-date
  • Loose stems
  • Any accessories like ribbon or ring boxes
  • Tie/Bow tie
  • Pocket square
  • Cufflinks
  • Watch
  • Boutonniere
  • Couples’ gifts
  • Hand written notes
  • Vow books
  • Reception stationery: menus, place cards, etc
  • Any other sentimental accessories

Logistics considerations

Have all of your details gathered beforehand and a wedding party member in charge of knowing where they are. Keep all the rings (both of your bands and engagement rings as well) in one place. This is typically with the bride.

The florist should deliver personals (bouquets and boutonnieres) as well as loose stems before the photography time begins.

I will work with the planner to make sure there’s time allotted to photograph ceremony and reception details after they are completely set up, but before guests enter the spaces.

Reach out if you have any questions!

Downtown staunton runaway bride styled shoot snapshot taken on New Street, showcasing bridal crossing a crosswalk in the middle of historic downtown with a long veil flowing behind her.

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It’s not often we get to just play in the wedding industry. It’s high paced, lots of weekend work, and the creative shoots are a much needed break to fuel our client work! This runaway bride inspired downtown Staunton bridal photoshoot was a small part of a larger editorial at Virginia Creative Collective. We worked with Atlas and Ember events to coordinate a second look. This portion of the bridal photoshoot incorporated a short playful dress, floral umbrella from One Last Avcocado floral design, a cathedral length pearl veil, leather jacket and…. pizza! Everyone needs pizza at the end of their wedding day.

Playful, punky bridal vibes

Breanna from Atlas and Ember spearheaded the styling for the runaway bride look. We opted for a short dress and leather jacket to bring a punk edge to the look. The cathedral style veil was a nice contrast! And, the pearl-studded look brought an extra trend into the mix. Most of the attire items were already owned by the studio and sourced secondhand from wedding sales. While we love to partner with bridal shops, we know this session would get things a little dusty and dirty. The veil dragged the historic brick of downtown Staunton, snagging some of the tulle layers. Ultimately, that added to the overall look!

Utilizing Staunton’s New Street and Courthouse Steps

If you don’t know us well, our studio is located right across from the Augusta County courthouse. We occasionally see courthouse weddings from our window. It was fitting to end the mini styled bridal photoshoot there on the steps of the courthouse. Breanna got to showcase her just-in-time wedding planner skills by delivering Shenandoah Pizza, a local favorite, to conclude the shoot.

Downtown Staunton Runaway Bridal Photoshoot Vendors

Venue: Virginia Creative Collective, Staunton Studio and Event Space

Photographer: Jo Mahaney, Staunton Wedding Photographer

Planner: Atlas and Ember Events, Charlottesville Micro Wedding Planner

Florist: Keturah of One Last Avocado, locally sourced wedding florals

Event Rentals: Argent Events, Waynesboro boutique event rentals

Model: Lexi Have

Makeup: Libby Makeup Co

Groom in modern black fitted velvet suit jacket opens a bottle of champagne for his new wife during modern virginia wedding styled shoot in downtown Staunton, Virginia

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Just steps away from the historic downtown Staunton Virginia courthouse, we assembled a modern wedding editorial photoshoot. The creative portrait session celebrated the grand opening of Virginia Creative Collective, a new photography studio and event space. Showcasing the elegant mantels, plentiful light, and striking features of the grand hall, we chose bold black and white modern attire with touches of gold and mauve to bring life to the monochromatic style. Bold rental choices such as modern glassware and ghost chairs by Argent Events brought the historic space to life for our first wedding editorial!

The newest wedding venue in historic downtown Staunton Virginia

I have had the pleasure of cleaning, painting, and restoring the old Echols building on Barristers Row with some good friends and a lot of community support! Although small, we intend to host small rehearsal dinners, offer bridal suite space to prepare for your wedding day, and hold intimate wedding ceremonies and micro weddings. Rent the studio for events.

Inspiration for the Modern Virginia Wedding style

The color palate was inspired by the building itself. Boasting white walls and original, black, iron fireplace inserts with decadent carvings, black and white was the obvious choice! We selected silk off whites with bold black textured elements throughout our décor. The florals provided by Ket with One Last Avocado florals were simple but stunning blooms. Most stood on their own in bud vases strewn across the dining table. The table was set with mauve silk napkins lightly tied with thin black velvet. The placements featured modern glassware and plates with crisp lines, and black silverware to echo the contrast.

Staunton Wedding Editorial Vendors

Of course, I must thank the special vendors who made this day possible! We had the best team! Not only was the work amazing, it was a joy to be in the same room, laughing and working together.

Venue: Virginia Creative Collective, Staunton Studio and Event Space

Photographer: Jo Mahaney, Staunton Wedding Photographer

Planner: Atlas and Ember Events, Charlottesville Micro Wedding Planner

Florist: Keturah of One Last Avocado, locally sourced wedding florals

Event Rentals: Argent Events, Waynesboro boutique event rentals

Models: Tevin and Alexis

Makeup: Libby Makeup Co

A woman stands in a window sill in downtown Staunton VA's historic shops, facing her fiance and lifting his chin up to meet her face during their engagement photos

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Every engagement photographer has their go-to favorite photo locations. For me, downtown Staunton and Raven’s Roost overlook are my bread and butter! The downtown area is so photogenetic and provides enough variety that all my sessions still end up looking unique and personal. Raven’s Roost is absolutely unbeatable at sunset! If you’re looking for the perfect location for engagement photos in the Staunton area, this combo is it!

Why we picked Downtown Staunton for this Engagement Session

Staunton has a huge variety to choose from. For casual engagement photos, we can walk down the main streets, brick alleys, by cute shops, and stop for coffee or ice cream from a local vendor. It’s like a pre-date night! (And, I definitely recommend a date after your engagement session!). We also have the option of doing formal engagement portraits in downtown Staunton. The Sears Hill overlook bridge, regal columns at Mary Baldwin University, and locations around the train station are perfect for more dressy attire.

As of 2022, I now own a studio space in downtown Staunton. This allows us to have a space to change, do hair and makeup, and create more posed portraits in case of rain or snow.

Emily & Heston’s Engagement

These two are tying the knot shortly in 2022! After meeting at work and hitting it off, Heston popped the question and they’re off to planning! They chose to host their own wedding on their expansive property in the country, nestled just where Augusta County and Rockingham County meet. In addition to their wedding party, their dogs will be there for emotional support. I could NOT be more excited to see that! If you know me, dogs in weddings are one of my all time favorite things!

Enjoy their laid back, date day through downtown Staunton. I was just the third wheel!

Couple enjoys the cherry blossom trees at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Virginia for their engagement photo session.

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Having spent most of their dating life in and around DC, Emily and Ron knew they wanted their engagement session during cherry blossom season. We opted to skip the busy tidal basin and opt for the more private, scenic Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. Spring engagement photos in Virginia were just what I needed to spark my creativity after a long winter! Despite the rain threatening us all day and the blossoms not being at their peak, I have to say this is one of my favorite sessions to date! Emily’s flowy pink spring dress was the perfect fit for the gardens. Plus, their smiles when they look at each other are pure joy. I am so grateful they chose me to capture their wedding and engagement photography!

Preparing for their engagement photos

Before this engagement session, we talked about different locations in Virginia that might give us the classic cherry blossom look without being on the national mall or tidal basin. Meadowlark was our first choice because of the variety of blooming flower we’d have the opportunity to see! The spring colors were perfectly timed.

Before I drove up to northern Virginia for their engagement photos, we talked about what made them feel most comfortable. During engagement sessions, I aim to learn how to make the couple most relaxed so that wedding portraits can go smoothly too! Emily and Ron let me know that their first kiss at their wedding would be their first kiss EVER! They had never kissed before! So, I challenged myself with some alternative posing and prompting. To my surprise, it was not difficult to avoid at all! And, I think depicting intimacy in other ways was a nice, creative break.

Congratulations to Emily and Ron Buzon, Engaged and Married in northern Virginia!

Both this wedding and engagement session are one for the books. I’ll get to tell more of their story in the wedding blog. But, I just enjoyed their authentic connection, genuine full belly laughter, and general nerdiness. These are my kind of people!

Kind words from my clients

Emily says:

“If you are considering having Jo as your photographer for your engagement shoot, wedding shoot, family shot and more.. DO IT! Jo is incredible at what she does! My now husband and I never kissed until our wedding day and she helped us feel comfortable with each other and have fun at the same time. She is so easy to work with, on time, super professional but not stiff. She is so relational and kind. Her quality of work is out of this world! Do it. Do it. DO IT! YOU WONT REGRET IT!”

Looking for an engagement photographer?

Whether you’re looking for engagement photos in Virginia, or somewhere else along the east coast, I would love to chat! I believe in making sure every client is the best match, and I’m exactly the kind of photographer to best serve you. Contact me, and we’ll schedule a call!

bride and groom embrace moments after their first look, getting a moment alone on their wedding day

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Most people imagine their wedding day as this amazing experience you get to have together as a couple. In reality, you won’t spend much of the day side by side unless you make intentional time and space for it. Between getting ready separately, being in the spotlight for your ceremony, trying to talk to all your special guests, and other formalities… your focus is elsewhere for most of the day! To really enjoy the day together, you have to plan ways to get quality, alone time with your spouse on your wedding day. Here are some of my favorite ways to get alone time on your wedding day.

bride and groom embrace moments after their first look, getting a moment alone on their wedding day

1. Have a first look before your ceremony

A first look is really popular option! Not for all the reasons you think though. Yes, you might get a big reaction from each other and sweet, emotional first look photographs. And of course, it helps us schedule portraits in a way that allow you to go straight to your cocktail hour after the ceremony. But beyond that, it gives you space to feel the joy of the day.

Here’s the difference between a first look before the ceremony, and seeing each other for the first time during the ceremony.

As you walk down the aisle towards your fiancé, they might react with emotion, tears, etc. Or, they might also be so aware that they’re in front of people that they don’t let it fully sink it. Whether or not they react, in that moment, they can’t tell you how they feel. They can’t spin you around and soak in all of the details of your carefully picked out attire, hair and makeup, and shoes you spent weeks looking for.

Most importantly, you can take a moment to debrief together. Express your nerves, your joy, what part of the day you can’t wait for. Hold onto each other for a little while if you want. Cry a bit if you need, or laugh a lot! You can hide away in private too. It doesn’t have to be photographed or about the portraits! As much as I’d love to photograph

2. A private champagne toast after your wedding ceremony

If you have a wedding planner or coordinator, ask them to have some champagne and hors d’oeuvres ready in a private room as you walk down the aisle. It’s going to take some time for the rest of the wedding party and family to process down the aisle anyway. Go ahead and take an extra few minutes to breath with your BRAND NEW spouse!  Plus, let’s be honest, you’re probably starving by this point.

3. End the night with a private last dance

This is one of my absolutely favorite ways to end a wedding! Once you’ve danced the night away with your friends and family, clear the room and share a last dance for just the two of you. You can be yourselves, you can soak it all in together. Celebrate the conclusion of your wedding together, dancing alone in the room where your friends just celebrated you!

bride and groom walk off into the sunset alone together after their wedding reception

4. Schedule time for a sunset walk/portrait walk, just the two of you

The absolute best time for your newlywed portraits is the last ~30-40 minutes before sunset. But, that doesn’t mean it’s ONLY for photos! After your portraits, walk away from your reception for a few more minutes to talk to each other. All the rest of the evening, your friends and family will be SO excited to see you, dance with you, laugh with you. You want to say hi to all of them, but with 130 guests, that takes so long! Carve out some time for a conversation with your spouse. Better yet, a romantic walk at sunset.

5. Sit a little away from your guests at dinner

Setting yourself a table away from the masses ensures you space for quality time together on your wedding day. It also ensures you can eat! Most couples don’t eat their fill between all the different conversations, congratulations, and questions from excited guests. It’s not their fault. Your guests are just excited, and they’re probably been there an hour or so already and can hardly wait to share their love with you. Make it a little harder to interrupt your first dinner as newlyweds by putting space between you and your guests. You’re going to spend the whole evening with them. I promise you won’t miss out on anything by sitting down to eat on your own.

Alone time with your spouse on your wedding will help you soak in the day, and actually spend it together!

I hope this helps make your wedding special and stress free.

All of my wedding advice boils down to reducing your stress, increasing your enjoyment, and amplifying your joy. If you liked this article and want more wedding planning tips, photography content, stories from wedding days, and the occasional deal or announcement, join my email list.

I want your day to be as perfect as possible.

Over six years of wedding photography, I’ve picked up on dozens of little ways to help my couples enjoy their wedding more. It’s mostly behind the scenes things, communicating with vendors, and small tweaks to the schedule to make sure they stay IN the moment, giving us more candid, authentic, and joyful photographs. If you’re reading this as a bride or groom to be and this sounds like what you want in a wedding photographer, please reach out! is my email. I’d love to talk to you now, whether your wedding is in three months or three years. Let’s get a drink, hop on zoom, and figure out what you’re looking for in a wedding photographer. I betcha I either know someone, or am someone! 😊

A man is down on one knee, facing his girlfriend while standing in front of the blue ridge mountain overlook on raven's roost at the skyline drive. The girlfriend is shocked and happy, with her hands on her face. He has pulled off the perfect surprise proposal plan.

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It’s not unusual that the idea of proposing makes you nervous, you have no idea where to start or what to say. After all, most people do this once in a lifetime! If the topic of marriage and engagement rings have been coming up favorably, it’s time to start thinking about how you want to propose. Planning a proposal can range from simple and spontaneous, to elaborate romantic gestures. Whatever style is right for you, this guide will cover all the things you need to consider before you propose.

A man is down on one knee, facing his girlfriend while standing in front of the blue ridge mountain overlook on raven's roost at the skyline drive. The girlfriend is shocked and happy, with her hands on her face. He has pulled off the perfect surprise proposal plan.

What to do before you propose

Before you get down on one knee, there’s a few things you need to take care of first. Some are common sense, and you might not have thought of all of these yet!

Talk to each other about engagement and proposals

Make sure you are on the same page about whether marriage is in your near future. Don’t rely on passive clues. It’s totally okay to talk about the life you want together! A proposal can still be a delightful surprise, despite talking about it first. You never want to find out that you’re moving faster than your significant other when you pop the question. Talk about it first, and wait until you’re both ready!

close up image of man holding out engagement ring box just before his proposalFind out their ring style and size

This is arguably one of the hardest parts of planning a proposal. Few people fully understand their partner’s style enough to shop for them. This might be something you talk about also! It’s a big investment, and a lifetime one at that. You want to make sure they really love what you pick out. You can do this subtly, by pointing out styles you see and commenting on them. Their friends and family might be a great help too! Show them some of the rings you’re considering, and see what they think. More tips on how to find out their ring style at Martha Stewart Weddings.

Planning a proposal

Now we get to the good stuff. You’ve got the ring, you know you’re ready. Now what? You know your person, probably better than anybody. Do you think they want to be surprised and whisked off to an engagement party with friends and family? Or, maybe popping the question over a meaningful private dinner would be more their style. Whatever you decide on, be sure to be true to what you both love. It’s easy to get swept up in what’s trending, what might be really photogenic, or suggestions from friends and family. Ultimately, the gesture needs to be meaningful to your partner!

event staff at a wedding venue are tossing flower petals in preparation for their friend's proposal plan, helping him set up while the couple is on their way to the surpriseHiring a proposal planner

If you’re thinking about a grand gesture that might need a little extra coordination, you can actually hire a proposal planner! If you live in a rural area, there might not be planning services that specialize in proposals. But, wedding planners can help you out! Need flowers or candles set up in a remote location? A proposal planner has your back! While you’re distracting your partner with a day date and elaborate excuse to go on a drive in your best sundress, they can have everything ready for your big surprise.

Booking a Proposal Photographer in Virginia

Photography has become an important part of the proposal magic. The split-second reaction when you ask your partner to marry you is unpredictable, emotional, and one of a kind. They will love having photos of that moment! This is one they’ll want to relive as much as possible. To find a proposal photographer, you’ll want to look for someone who specializes in weddings and engagements. They have lots of experience with candid moments and couples, and have likely photographed a few proposals before. You can start looking for a photographer as soon as you’ve decided on a date, or at least time frame, for your proposal.

Woman shows off her brand new engagement ring to her friends and family at a surprise proposal party picnic just minutes after her fiance proposed in front of their friends and family

Coordinating with your proposal photographer

Communication is tricky when trying to plan a surprise proposal. You may not have met in person, so make sure they know what you look like ahead of time. Send pictures so they know who to look for. Pick out a clear location and give explicit directions on where, when, and even what specific spot or section of the location you’ll be in. For instance, if you’re proposing in a park or public place, you make want to specify the nearest cross street and send photos of the spot you’re envisioning. If you need help figuring out the best spot, your photographer can guide you!

couple embraces and kisses after proposal at ravens roost overlook in afton, virginia. The blue ridge mountains create a scenic backdrop for the proposal.What does a proposal photographer cost in Virginia?

Virginia rates–on average– are slightly above the national average for photographers. Like I explained in my article on wedding photography prices in Virginia, photography is a very independent industry with a wide range of pricing structures. Skill, demand, experience, equipment, availability, business costs, and cost of living all play a factor. In addition, the circumstances of the job like travel, hours of coverage, and what products you’d like included will impact the price as well. In Virginia, you can find proposal photographers ranging from $250 to $900.

For me, I price proposals like a normal portrait session. While my actual photography time is usually less than the typical session, the planning, staging, and ensuring the moment is captured requires more time commitment up front. I feel the pricing balances out. In addition, couples who have booked me to photograph their proposal get a nice discount on any full wedding and engagement package. I find it so beneficial to know the couple well before we work together on their wedding day. It helps with chemistry, ease in front of the camera, and understand who and what is important to the couple that day. Because of this, I offer an incentive to those who are working with me for proposal, engagement, and wedding photography. The session fee for proposal photography (Usually about $325-$450 depending on what you need) can be applied towards to wedding photography package towards the retainer. This way, by the time you pay for the wedding photography package, your proposal session was gratis (free!). You can inquire here.

engagement portraits taken right after a proposal at devils backbone brewery in nelson county, virginia

How to choose a place to propose

Similar to deciding when and what style of proposal you want to plan, this is a very individual choice. Some couples choose places for the sentimental value, like where they first met, a favorite restaurant, their college campus, or family property. Others choose romantic locations for the views, like an overlook, waterfall, city scape, or canyon. Whatever your style, here’s some things to consider.

Things to think about when picking a proposal location:

  • Accessibility: if you want an awesome mountain overlook, make sure you’re not hiking to a place where you’re going to be sweating and out of breath by the time you get up there.
  • Permits: for public places or government-owned facilities–such as the national mall or monuments in DC–you might need a permit if you’re going to have a professional photographer there. These are typically easily applied for. Just ask your photographer for help.
  • Crowds: going to a popular location might mean you don’t have the place to yourself. If you think this will make your partner uncomfortable having public attention, maybe propose more privately before or after your trip.
  • Travel: many people propose while on a trip or abroad. Make sure that you pack everything you need in your carry on in case your checked luggage is delayed or misplaced.
  • Weather: if it pours down rain, will this ruin your plans? Have a plan B if this is a concern.

image of man proposing to his girlfriend in the rain in DC in front of the Bartholdi Fountain.

Woman looks surprised as she walks into a surprise engagement party on the day of her proposal.Preparing for your proposal

That week, you’ll want to make sure everyone is ready for the big moment. If you’re working with vendors, send the final details of your plan and get them to confirm receipt. If there’s a surprise engagement party afterwards, make sure everyone knows what time you’ll be arriving and where to park. Emphasize that it’s a surprise! Some people might assume otherwise.

Get ready for the engagement ring

Back to that ring that you spent so much care and money on finding just the right one. If your partner is the kind of person that doesn’t like to be caught off guard and generally likes looking put-together, you may need to find some excuses to get them dressed up for the big day. Plan a believably nice date for the two of you–something that isn’t too out of the ordinary for your relationship, but still a special occasion. They may want a manicure a few days beforehand, so those ring photos are as gorgeous as possible!

close up image of engagement ring on a woman's hand with a fresh french manicure

What to say when you propose

Asking someone to marry you is a hard question to start. How do you sum up your feelings about this person in a couple sentences? Or, maybe you don’t normally talk about your feelings and the whole things feels very unnatural, but you’re ready for this. Don’t sweat the speech! By the time you start getting down on one knee, your almost-fiancé is going to be in a little bit of shock, maybe overjoyed, possibly trying to answer before you can even get the question out. Keep it simple, short, and to the point. Like these:

  • “I can’t imagine my life without you, and I want to be your partner forever. Will you marry me?”
  • “Your smile and laugh first drew me to you. I want to be the one that gets to see that smile every day for the rest of my life.”
  • “You bring out the best in me. I can’t stop picturing our future together. I can’t wait to get started on forever.”
  • More ideas on what to say when you propose

Tip: Write down what you’re going to say and practice it beforehand. It may sound silly, but it’ll help when the time comes and the nerves hit. Then, keep those words written down and save them somewhere. You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the specifics of the moment when you both get swept up in the adrenaline, and then time passes.

How to conceal the engagement ring before you propose

It’s common to be going on a date or driving somewhere together just before the proposal. This can make it trick to keep the engagement ring hidden until you propose. Do NOT, I repeat do NOT!!, use the giant black box the ring came in to carry it with you. Those things are bulky, and your partner is likely to notice it sticking out of your pocket. I recommend having a little synch jewelry bag or discrete slim ring box instead. Ring stash is another great option! If you are wearing a blazer or jacket, use that pocket instead of your pants pocket. A little bit before the proposal, discretely take the ring out of its packaging and hold it between your fingers. This also allows you to slip it on their finger and go straight to a hug and celebration without having a box in your hand.

parents embrace their children after witnessing their proposal

They said yes. Now what?

So what do you do after the proposal?! When you first get engaged, take a little time to yourself to soak it in. It feels like a whirlwind, so consider making plans ahead of time for how you’re going to celebrate. Don’t start talking wedding plans right away. Give it a few days of pure joy! When you’re ready for what’s next, read what to do after you get engaged for the conversation starters you need to start wedding planning off on the same page.

Still need tips on planning a marriage proposal?

That’s okay, I got you! This article from Bridal Guide has more great proposal ideas. You can always look to the Knot for all things wedding preparation, and Brides Magazine has you covered for trendy proposal ideas.


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