Engagements

How to Propose – Planning Tips from a Virginia Proposal Photographer

filed in

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.

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.

Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear it!

Grab my free guide to plan the perfect timeline for your day. 

Grab Your Guide