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The Ultimate Guide On How To Propose To Your Partner

a proposal in Georgetown dc
a proposal in Georgetown dc
a proposal in Georgetown dc

Proposing to the love of your life is one of the most important moments you and your partner will ever experience. It is the moment you two officially start your life together, so it’s no wonder there is a lot of pressure to “get it right.” With the right perspective, some planning, attention to detail, and a little creativity, “getting it right” can be easier and more enjoyable than you think. In this guide, I will walk you through the steps to plan your perfect proposal. Below, you’ll also find tips on how to make the moment reflective of your love story, how to capture the moment so you can share it with others, and tips and tricks to make sure the moment happens the way you envision it.

The Initial Planning Steps

First, let’s discuss how to start planning your proposal. A wedding proposal should reflect you two and your unique love story. The proposal itself should feel as natural and comfortable as you two feel together. It should reflect your individual personalities and also how you two are together. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you determine what direction to take for your proposal:

Brainstorm location options

Recall the most important moments in your relationship so far. Maybe this brings up memories of your first date, a moment when you had a pivotal conversation that deepened your connection, the place where you said “I love you” for the first time, or a moment that made you realize that this person was “it” for you… Where did these moments happen? Would these locations make for a good proposal spot? Another way to approach the proposal location is to consider activities you two do together. Do you both like to hike? Are you foodies? Do you two love to read together, travel together, or play games together? The activities you two enjoy together can give you clues to the perfect proposal location. 

a couple holding hands
a couple holding hands

What does your partner want out of the proposal?

Have you and your partner discussed what the expectations are regarding the proposal? If not, can you figure this out without giving away the surprise? Consult your partner’s friends and family if possible (only speak to those who can keep a secret!). You’d be surprised how many friends and family will know the exact details of your partner's proposal wishes. Consider your partner’s personality and what they find meaningful. Are they extroverted or introverted? Would they prefer a private moment, or would a proposal in public be exciting to them? Would they enjoy a proposal with friends and family present? Would they appreciate a sentimental location, or would they prefer a location with an incredible view that will photograph well? Do they want it to be lowkey? Do they prefer heartfelt and emotional? Or are they expecting fireworks, flowers, and balloons? 

What do you want to experience at your proposal?

This proposal is about you too! I know most of the focus gets put on the partner getting proposed to, but you are a part of this equation, and your needs should be met as well. How have you always envisioned proposing to your partner? What have you always wanted to express to them at this moment, and in what way? How do you show love to your partner, and how do they receive it? Consider what you are and are not comfortable with. While stepping outside of your comfort zone can be very romantic in some instances, I would recommend sticking with a plan that makes you feel comfortable–nerves are to be expected, but avoid plans that make you uncomfortable if possible. 

Use the ideas that you come up with during your proposal brainstorm as you further develop your plan and follow the remaining steps.

A man proposing to his girlfriend in front of a winery in virginia
A couple holding hands in front of mountains in virginia

Choosing & Hiring a Proposal Photographer 

Do I Really Need To Hire A Professional?

Before you ask, yes, you absolutely should have this moment professionally photographed. This is one of the most important moments in your life, and it will be over in a matter of minutes. Photographing the moment allows you two to go back and relive the moment and share it with friends and family! Who doesn't want professional photos to announce their engagement to the world?  

An experienced proposal photographer will be able to aid in the planning process as well. Having someone experienced on your team will alleviate some of the stress of planning this all on your own, which will result in a better overall proposal. Do you know the exact time of day you need to be at your chosen location to achieve the perfect lighting for beautiful proposal photos? Do you know the exact spot to stand in to get the most epic background for your proposal that will blow your partner’s mind? Do you know which way to face so that you two are evenly lit with flattering light on both of your faces? I didn’t think so, but an experienced proposal photographer will be able to provide you with these answers and more! I have helped many proposals go so much smoother than they were originally planned because of my knowledge of locations, lighting, and logistics. Trust me, it’s worth hiring a professional photographer! You and your partner will thank me later 🙂 

Looking for a wedding and proposal photographer in the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia area? Inquire with me here, and let’s start planning your perfect proposal!

Great Falls Park engagement session photos

How To Choose A Proposal Photographer 

When searching for a proposal photographer, look for a wedding and engagement photographer with experience photographing proposals. There are a few ways to search for photographers: 

A Good Ol’ Google Search
Use search terms like “proposal/wedding photographer insert your city, state” and “insert your chosen proposal location proposal photos.” With these terms, you may be able to find a photographer who has experience photographing proposals at the exact location you want.

Searching for a photographer on Instagram can be a bit more difficult. You can search with tags; for example, “#dcproposals” “#dcwedding” and “#dcweddingphotographer” are all popular tags that photographers use in the Washington DC area. Use similar hashtags for a search in your area.

Utilize Wedding Vendor Directories
Carats & Cake, Style My Pretty’s Little Black Book, The Knot, Wedding Wire, etc. These directories are a great place to look for wedding vendors of all types.

Ask Your Married Friends And Family
Do you have a friend who absolutely adored their wedding photographer? Have you been to a wedding recently where you thought the wedding photographer was very personable, and you loved the gallery? 

When looking through photographers' portfolios, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you like the way this photographer captures candid moments and emotions? 
  • What style of photography do you and your partner like? Dark & moody? Film-like? Bright & ariy? True to life color? 
  • Are you and your partner drawn to a particular way of posing? Do you like classic poses, joyful images, or more editorial styles? 

Consider if you would like this photographer to photograph your wedding down the road. The proposal is a great opportunity to work with a photographer before the wedding day, build rapport, and ensure that you enjoy working with them. The better your wedding photographer knows you two, the better they can capture your essence and tell your love story. The proposal can be the start of this beautiful process. 

a couple walking around Annapolis maryland
a couple walking around Annapolis maryland

Tips For Working With A Professional Proposal Photographer 

As a wedding photographer myself, I know all of the best practices when it comes to working with a photographer for your proposal. Here is a list of my tips and things to consider: 

Go To The Proposal Location With Your Photographer
If you and your photographer can go to the location ahead of time to walk through the exact proposal plan in person, it will pay off in dividends in the end. Go to the location at the same time that you plan to be there for the proposal to see what the light looks like and to choose the spot for your special moment. You will feel so much more at ease if you can stand in the exact spot, face the right direction, see what the light looks like, and finalize all the last-minute details. Just keep in mind that you are asking your photographer for more of their time, which they may charge for.

Best Practices If You Can’t Go To The Proposal Location With Your Photographer
If going to the location together with your photographer is not an option, here are my best tips for having a successful proposal: 

    • Visit the proposal location on your own at the time. Visit the location at the same time of day that you want your proposal to happen and on a date as close to the proposal day as possible. Take photos and videos of all of the spots you are considering and send them to your photographer. 
    • If going to the proposal location ahead of time is not an option, use Google Earth to see where the sun will be in the sky during your proposal to estimate the timing for the best lighting on the day of the proposal. Google Earth has a function where you input the date and time to see where the sun will be on that given day.  
    • Plan out the proposal in as much detail as possible and communicate your plans to your photographer ahead of time. Instead of choosing a general location, find the exact coordinates of the spot on Google Maps or Google Earth so you both know where the proposal will take place. 
    • Have a video meeting with your photographer or send photos of yourself and your partner so they know what you look like.

Make A Back-Up Plan
What is the plan if there is bad weather? What is the plan if the first chosen spot is not a viable option? Create a backup plan with your photographer just in case plan A doesn't work out, especially if you plan a proposal in a public space.

How To Hide Communication With Your Photographer
If your partner will notice that you are messaging a mysterious person frequently, here are a few tips on how to not tip them off:

    • While planning the proposal, communicate with your photographer only via email and video call. Have emails go to “Promotions” or another hidden folder. 
    • Save your photographer's phone number under a contact name of someone you regularly speak with. 
    • On the day of your proposal, share your location with your photographer so you do not have to text back and forth.

Stay Down On One Knee
This tip is to help out my fellow photographers out there. If you are the one doing the proposing, do us photographers a favor and stay down on one knee for at least 10-20 seconds. Sometimes, during a proposal, one partner is screaming “yes” before the other even has time to get their knee on the ground. If this happens, go down on one knee anyway and stay there for a breath. Give us photographers a second to capture that moment before you hop up. Thank you in advance 🙂

a proposal in Georgetown dc
a proposal in Georgetown dc
a proposal in Georgetown dc

Preparing for the Proposal 

Preparing the Details of Your Proposal 

First off, let me say that there is no wrong way to propose to someone as long as you are being true to yourself and considering your partner’s wishes. There are so many ways to propose! Let’s go over a few examples to inspire ideas for your own proposal, as well as some best practices for successful engagements:

Concealing the Ring Box
Let’s not give away the surprise before it even begins. Many engagement rings come in a very large ring box that is incredibly hard to conceal. Trust me, your partner will notice a large square object sticking out of your back pant pocket. I recommend getting a slim ring box that will easily fit in a pant or jacket pocket. Where you hide the box will depend on your outfit. If you wear a blazer, hide the box in the jacket pocket instead of your pant pocket. A pant pocket is a great second option, and slim ring boxes can easily fit into tall socks as well. If you carry a bag or purse, simply hide the box inside.

What To Say
You can take the pre-engagement speech in many different directions, so my main point here is to keep it authentic to you. If you have a lot you want to express, then go for it! If you want to keep it short and sweet, that is great, too. Don’t pressure yourself to say a lot if you know you’ll be full of nerves. You are allowed to simply say, “Will you marry me?” and leave it at that. If you’d like to be a bit more elaborate, here are a few points to touch on if you need some inspiration: 

    • Tell them all of the reasons why you love them.
    • Include the moment you knew they were the one. 
    • Explain how you envision the future with them. 
    • And, of course, finish it up with the classic words, “Will you marry me?”
    • If you have a lot that you want to say, you can always write it down and read it to your partner, wedding vow-style, or just give them the letter so they can read it on their own.

Classic Proposal Additions
The classics are classics for a reason: they are romantic and will never go out of style. Here are a few additions to your proposal that you might want to consider: 

    • Champagne! Please don't forget to bring flutes with you so you two can pop the bottle and share a celebratory glass together.
    • Your partner’s favorite flowers or the always classic red roses. 
    • A picnic of your favorite snacks. 
    • A “Will you marry me?” sign.
    • Balloons, fairy lights, and other decor. Decorate the proposal location with your partner's favorite colors, or stick to classic red.
    • The only addition I recommend not including is confetti, that is, unless you plan on cleaning all of it up afterward. Leave no trace!
a coulpe together in washington dc
a coulpe together in washington dc

How To Prepare Your Partner 

You obviously do not want to give away the surprise, so try your best not to act completely out of character. Still, I’ll go out on a limb and assume your partner will most likely appreciate a bit of effort and looking his or her best in the proposal photos. Here are a few tips to get your partner looking their best without giving away the surprise:

Plan A Date (Preferably Several) And Tell Your Partner
Plan a day of activities or a nice dinner out. The proposal can happen prior to, in the middle of, or after the date. Telling your partner about the date plans will get them to dress appropriately for the date without giving away the proposal surprise. If planning a date or an entire day of activities for you and your partner sounds out of character and will tip off your partner, then I suggest starting to plan dates for you two now, months in advance of the proposal. Get your partner used to you planning dates for them. It’s a great habit to get into, surprising your partner with activities they’ll love that will have the added and more important benefit of deepening your connection. If your partner is used to going on regular dates and sharing new experiences with you, they won't know when to expect the proposal.

Have Friends And Family Help
Can friends or family surprise your partner with a manicure or hair appointment prior to the proposal? This can sometimes be a giveaway, but if your partner regularly gets their nails done, then this option is a must!

Have Friends And Family Plan An Event
Does your partner regularly go out to eat at nice restaurants with their friends or family? If so, have a friend or family member plan a nice brunch or lunch out and invite your partner. Your partner will already be dressed up for the day out, and you can plan on surprising your partner after lunch. This will come as a big surprise, especially if your partner did not expect to see you that day!

Incorporate The Proposal Into Another Event
If your partner would appreciate friends and family being at the proposal, plan on hosting your loved ones for a weekend brunch, backyard BBQ, or out at your favorite restaurant. Your partner will dress appropriately for whatever event you plan, and you can celebrate with your friends and family after–a proposal and engagement party in one!

Give Hints Without Giving It Away
To build suspense, tell your partner that you need them to wear a specific outfit and get dressed up in a certain way because you have a special date planned for them without giving away the date.

a couple walking together in the national arboretum

Proposal Locations In Virginia and Washington, DC

Choose a location that makes the most sense for you two, but in case you need a little inspiration, here is a list of a few romantic locations that provide a beautiful backdrop for a proposal. 

Washington DC Monuments 

The Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The Reflecting Pool, & The Tidal Basin all make for beautiful iconic DC proposal locations. These locations will give your proposal photos the clean, classic, modern aesthetic that DC is known for. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing this location: 

  • You will need a photography permit
  • Refer to your photographer for suggestions on the time of day and proposed location to avoid tourists and get the best background possible 
a couple looking at each other in dc
a couple holding hands in dc

Washington DC Museums 

There are many museums to choose from in Washington, DC, that all make for a lovely location for a proposal, especially if the weather outside is not ideal. The National Portrait Gallery is a particular favorite of mine, with many beautiful rooms and exhibits. Choose a favorite museum of yours and select several exhibits where you can envision the proposal. Follow up the museum tour with a nice lunch and drinks to celebrate.

Iconic Washington DC Buildings & Locations 

Washington, DC, is full of iconic landmarks and famous buildings that make for beautiful backdrops for a proposal. Keep in mind that some of these locations require a photography permit while others do not. Here are a few examples:

  • The National Cathedral is a beautiful mix of history, architecture, and lush gardens, perfect for a proposal in the spring and summer months. 
  • The Capitol is quite possibly the most classic DC location choice of them all. The area around the capitol building is quite large
  • The Library of Congress has a variety of photogenic locations both inside and outside of the building and is full of history. 
  • The US Supreme Court Building is a great choice for a modern, very clean aesthetic. The all-white building and surrounding area are crisp and minimal in the best way. 
  • The National Arboretum is a lovely mix of classic DC with the column architecture and lush gardens with a variety of plant life and manicured gardens. This is a perfect location for a walk in nature or a picnic. 
  • The US Botanical Gardens has a wide variety of plant life, including an outside garden with views of the Capitol in the distance and a tropical paradise inside the greenhouse.  
  • Georgetown is a large area that offers waterfront views, cute sidestreets, and historic canals, all of which make for beautiful locations for a proposal. 
a coulpe together in washington dc
a couple in great falls virginia

Romantic Virginia Locations  

Virginia has a variety of natural landscapes to choose from. With a plethora of trails, wineries, breweries, restaurants, and inns, there is a perfect spot for every couple. Here are a few examples: 

Skyline Drive Outlooks
Along the iconic skyline drive in the Shenandoah Valley, there are many outlooks with beautiful high-up views of Virginia that you won't get anywhere else. The great thing about these outlooks is they are easily accessible (each outlook has a small parking lot), and there is no hiking required. When choosing an outlook, make sure you know what time you will be there, as some outlooks face the sunrise while others are on the opposite side of the mountain ridge and face the sunset. 

Wineries & Breweries
Many wineries and breweries in Virginia look out to rolling hills and mountain ranges reminiscent of the beautiful views in Italy. A few of my personal favorite wineries and breweries are: 

Restaurants & Inns
In Virginia, you can find restaurants with waterfront views, mountain views, vast landscapes, and beautiful interiors. Here are a few of my personal favorite Virginia restaurants and inns that have scenic views and curated interiors perfect for a proposal:   

When all is said and done, the only thing that matters about a wedding proposal is that it is true to you and your partner and the fact that you two are now engaged, of course! I hope the information in this guide has given you ideas and direction on how to plan your own perfect proposal. Congratulations to you and your future fiance! 


If you are looking for a wedding and proposal photographer in the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, you can inquire with me here. Let’s start planning your perfect proposal!

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