Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
Over the years, Sarah and I have had the joy of photographing more than 25 surprise proposals as we watched young men ask a single question that would change the course of their lives. Between that and my own experience of proposing to Sarah, we’ve learned a lot! I certainly wish I had all this information before I got down on one knee!
But now it’s our turn to pass along our experience and wisdom to every guy out there wondering to himself, “How do I propose to my girlfriend?” Every week throughout this Spring, we’ve been posting an updated version of this 2018 blog series. It’s mostly written as a note directly from me, Hunter, to all the guys out there who are exactly where I was back in 2016: head over heels in love with a girl, with absolutely no plan on how to ask her to be yours! Sarah even chimed in with some of her input to the ladies who think the big question might be coming soon!
Hey guys, thanks for tuning in! Last week, we talked through picking the perfect spot to propose. This week, we’ll be zooming way in and focusing on the actual ask! Although it will probably only take five or ten minutes, months of planning have gone into this moment!
Over the course of five blog posts, we have been leading up to this moment. In Part 1, I asked you to consider the huge step that you’d soon be taking, and to make sure that you were ready for this step in your relationship. In Part 2, we schemed on some ways that you can find out her ring size without tipping her off, and we even advised you on picking out a ring. In Part 3, we talked about how to plan the day around a proposal to make it totally unforgettable. In Part 4, Sarah spoke directly to the ladies out there and asked them some very real questions, just like I asked the gentlemen in Part 2. And in Part 5, we helped you pick out the perfect location for the proposal.
Finally, you’re ready for the big moment. You’ve both thought through the process and are sure you want to be engaged. You’ve picked out a ring, planned the day perfectly with the surprise party waiting for you after, and chosen the perfect location. Now is the moment of truth. Your training is almost complete. It is time, my young padawan. Time to pull out that ring and ask the big question!
If you’re the type of person to read professional photography blogs (which you obviously are if you’re reading this), then it may be a bit redundant for me to talk about the importance of capturing such an important moment on camera. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that there are certain times in life – engagements, weddings, new babies, etc. – huge milestones that are worth investing a little extra time, energy and even money in to capture forever. So don’t let this moment go by, because images fade much more slowly than memories! Even if it isn’t us, we hope that you’ll find someone to be there when you ask the big question (although obviously, we do hope it is us)!
Anyway, if you’ve hired a photographer who has experience with proposals, they should be able to consult on best practices for the location you’ve chosen, making suggestions like when and where to propose to capture the proposal in the best light. You already know from Part 3 that you should always aim for Golden Hour whenever possible, but they may be able to give you an even more exact time to aim for, and this will depend on how long you’d like to take portraits for afterwards. Your photographer will also take the direction of light and backdrops into account to give you the best images possible! At least, that’s what we do 😉
Your photographer should also have a plan for how to remain hidden so the person standing with a giant camera doesn’t give away the surprise at the last moment! Since Sarah and I work together as a husband-and-wife team on all our photography, we have an advantage. No matter the location, we can almost always hide in plain sight! We just put down a blanket and break out our picnic basket. Of course, from far away, no one can tell that the basket is filled with camera equipment and telephoto lenses instead of wine and cheese.
If you’ve managed to keep things a surprise this far, make sure you don’t stumble in the final moments! You’ve hired a photographer, purchased an engagement ring and maybe even planned a surprise party, all without tipping her off. The last thing you want is for her to figure it out that morning when she notices a huge cube sticking out of your pocket!
We recommend purchasing a thin ring box made specifically for surprise proposals. It’s a better option than the giant ring box, and is definitely a better option that putting the ring in your pocket or bag without any protection! That’s how you lose very expensive jewelry my friends. You can find them on Amazon for under $50, which is a small price to pay in comparison to how valuable the ring — and the surprise — will be!
So, here you are. The moment has arrived. Golden Hour has just begun and the two of you are at the location you selected after reading Part 5. The photographers are in place, discreetly hiding their cameras and telephoto lenses. Maybe you’re at a local park or sipping a glass of wine at a vineyard. It’s time to casually suggest you go for a walk. She’ll think you’re just checking out the beautiful mountain vista or city skyline, but you know that you’re walking to that perfect location that you and your photographer have figured out ahead of time.
In my experience, it’s really hard to keep your head clear in this moment. Your heart is beating at approximately 400 beats-per-minute and you’ve already forgotten your own name. But that’s fine! All that matters is that you can remember her name, and the words “Will you marry me?”
However, you’ll likely want to practice a few more words than that, so consider spending some time planning well in advance. I’d recommend writing down everything you want to say to work out the kinks and get everything out of your head and onto paper. I’m not kidding when I say that I recommend making a bullet-point list, writing out an short speech, or even just a few points to remember. Then, practice a few times while you’re alone so that you can nail it in the moment. Or, if you’re the wild-type, just wing it. But I will warn you: minutes after proposing, 90% of our proposing guys (and I add myself to this statistic – Sarah can attest) always tell us afterwards: “I had this great speech planned out, but in the moment I completely forgot the entire thing and just blurted out ‘MARRY ME!'”
If you’d like to have more than “[Girlfriend name], will you marry me?”, but aren’t sure where to start, this is one area where I cannot advise very specifically. Maybe you want to take a moment to affirm her and remind her of all the reasons that you’re in love with her. Perhaps you want to retell the story of your relationship in a few sentences in such a way that the story very obviously culminates with this moment. Or maybe you just want to tell her how much you love her. Either way, make it genuine and make it from the heart. I’m sure she’ll love it.
Now if you’re not the speech type, or if you just want to add a little extra flare to the proposal, there are plenty of options to spice things up. You could consider writing a long note instead of a short speech. We’ve had guys do this before, and they loved it because they got to say everything they wanted to say, exactly how they wanted to say it, but didn’t have to worry about memorizing a long speech. We had one guy go one step further with this idea – he enclosed his note and a bottle of wine from that year in a box, and hid the box in the vineyard he was proposing in. They “discovered” the box while walking through the vines, and he conveniently had the key in his pocket!
You could also use a prop to ask – something that’s personal to your relationship. We had a gentleman write those all-important words on a leaf, as he and his girlfriend had once written poems to each other on leaves early in their relationship. To an outside observer, it may have seemed like an odd thing to do. But to them, it was a very personal expression that told her, ‘I know our history and it’s important to me, and I want to make a future with you!’
We had another guy who had a bottle of wine engraved with the question and the date. He gets bonus points because he also just created their first family heirloom!
Get down on one knee. Give your speech. Ask her the question. Wait for a response. Put the ring on her finger. Then stand up. In that order.
This is really important as it will give your photographers enough time to capture you down on one knee. A lot of guys go down for what seems like 45 milliseconds then pop back up like the ground was lava. We completely understand how eager you are to embrace, but let that moment where you are down on one knee really sink in for both of you. I believe that a husband’s job from the day he says “I do” until the day he dies is to selflessly and sacrificially serve and love his wife. Being down on one knee before her is a good physical representation of that, so don’t pass this opportunity by!
Now, stand up! Hug her! Kiss her! Lift her off her feet! Do whatever the heck feels right in that moment! You’re engaged!!
Hooray! She said yes! You’re engaged! If you’ve hired us, we’ll wait until you both have caught your breath, then walk up and introduce ourselves to your new fiancée! We’ll also use this as an opportunity to brag on how far in advance you hired us and how much effort and preparation has gone into the moment!
Then, we’ll whisk you two off for an engagement mini-session! It’s just like the 90-minute engagement sessions we do with all of our wedding couples, except abbreviated. We know that she’ll have lots of questions to ask, and you two have a lot of staring into each other’s eyes to do, so we won’t hold you long. Plus, there might even be a dinner reservation or a surprise party waiting for you! But we know that we want to take advantage of all the love and emotion that you two are feeling in that moment, and give you some killer images to post on social media that evening to announce the big news!
We hope that these blogs have helped couples (and especially the guys!) as they plan their paths to engagement. Next week, we’ll give some advice on how to turn a proposal into a full-weekend celebration! But for now, you’ve got some speech-writing to do, don’t you!?