A Surprise proposal Story

It’s officially engagement season, and everywhere I turn someone is getting down on one knee, or thinking about it! A few months ago I got a phone call from Kunal in Maryland.  He was so sweet, and really wanted to make sure that everything went off without a hitch when he popped the question to his girlfriend, and he had a million ideas, and questions for me. He had already brought some props, and decided where he wanted to propose, and had selected the Place Of Fine Arts in San Francisco. He was debating on having about ten family members hidden strategically behind the bushes to pop out and congratulate his girlfriend after the big moment. There were a ton of moving parts to this proposal and I’m going to give you my top 8 list of how to plan a perfect proposal, and tell you how we helped make Kunal’s surprise proposal a true masterpiece!

    1. Plan, and then plan some more.

      I can not stress to you strongly enough how important it is to put in as much effort as you can here because she’ll notice everything, and go over it in her head, and tell her friends and your future children about this moment. Make sure you have talked about marriage and that you’re both on the same page, and that you see yourselves heading in the same direction say, two years, five years and ten years from now. Even though the proposal is going to be a wonderful surprise, the idea of the two of you getting married, shouldn’t be. Kunal and his love had talked about it, and in fact, she was getting impatient waiting for him to pop the question! He wanted her to be totally caught off guard, and he enlisted her mother to help. (He had also asked for her parent’s blessing and received it, which is a nice tradition if it’s appropriate in your situation.)

    2. Develop a “Can’t Miss” plan to assure that your intended, will get to the proposal!

      The basis of the plan was that Aanchal and her mother would go on a mother/daughter trip to San Francisco to spend time together before the holidays.  They expected that there would be a proposal, and the two wanted this weekend to bond and connect before Aanchal would start her wedding planning. As far as she knew, her boyfriend Kunal was back in Maryland, at work. Let me also mention at this time, that your partner is going to want to look their best for the proposal and the photos that you will most likely be taking during and after the big moment.

      Of course, hiring a professional to get their hair and makeup done, and telling the person getting surprised what to wear isn’t an option, but….Some ideas that we’ve used with couples before, were to say that you have tickets for the theater, or you’ve booked a romantic dinner at a really nice restaurant that’s famous for its insta-worthy view, or you have to go to an important work cocktail party and have to have a plus one.

      Since we’re in San Francisco, a lot of our surprise proposals are for couples that are here on vacation, and having a fancy dinner reservation has been the most popular trick. In Kunals case, he had Aanchal’s mother bring a HUGE purse the proposal location and inside was a beautiful red dress and high heeled shoes that she’d snuck into her luggage before the trip! After the proposal, his fiance was able to change into the outfit that she really wanted to wear for her engagement pictures. Her mother had also arranged a spa day so that her daughter’s nails would be perfect when it was time to slip the engagement ring on, and it seemed like a perfectly normal vacation activity.  Feel free to steal this idea!

      Where should you not propose? At somebody else’s event. There is nothing tackier than stealing somebody else’s thunder, and while plenty of proposals have happened at other people’s weddings, don’t be that couple. That goes for baby gender reveal parties, Bar Mitzvah’s, baptisms, other couples engagements, birthday parties and dare I say it, funerals. And just as you shouldn’t propose there, don’t announce your engagement at any of those events either.

    3. How do you know what kind of ring she might like, and what size to get?

      I think the most common ploy to finding out your intendeds ring size is to ask her girlfriend to slyly inquire. Please don’t do this, if you still plan to have a “surprise” proposal, because she will be ON to you! There’s not a woman in the world that needs to know her BFF’s ring size, so it’s going to be super obvious. I mean, can you picture it? She’s out having coffee with her friend and the convo goes like this, “Oh wow, I LOVE your sweater! Hey, what size ring do you wear on your engagement finger?” Um, No, just NO.

      Unless you’re giving her some kind of unusual family heirloom ring made out of metal from the center of the earth, you should easily be able to have your local jeweler resize the ring for you, if need be. Most rings come in a standard size six and can be easily sized up or down. If she happens to have other rings at home that might be easy to get access to, then you can just press one into a small bar of soap, make an impression and bring it to said local jeweler to find out her exact size.

      Have your ring insured before you take it out of the jeweler’s shop. I did have a groom once who put the ring in his glove compartment and had his car broken into before the proposal, and he had not insured the ring. Save yourself the stress, and call your insurance company with the details right away. It’s a big investment and you should protect it just like you would with any of your valuables.

      These days, most people have either a Pinterest or Instagram account. The best thing about these platforms is that they’re primarily visual. Chances are she’ll be sitting right next to you looking at diamond rings and you can sneak a peek at what she’s been swooning over. If you’re not having any luck that way, go ahead and pop something up on your own screen and pretend it’s an advertisement and ask her what she thinks. You can pretend you like it or don’t like it, and see how she weighs in. You could ask her best friend, but you also run the risk that she’ll spill the beans, and when it comes to a real surprise proposal, the fewer people that know, the better.

    4. Selecting the right spot to propose, and how to make it perfect.

      Think classic and go big. What do I mean? When you are choosing your proposal location, you should pick someplace that has significant meaning, or at least that will have significant meaning as you return to that spot in years to come. For example, a busy crowded restaurant is not ideal. What happens if the restaurant gets sold, or “your table” gets moved and they build a salad bar in its place? What if a waiter interrupts you in the middle of your heartfelt speech? You need someplace with space, a little solitude or at least some privacy and more importantly space away from tourists. Think about places that are meaningful to you. Where did you meet? Where did the two of you go on some of your earliest dates, or where have you always talked about traveling to on your dream list? This should give you some ideas to work with. When in doubt, someplace with a beautiful view is always good. If you’re planning on bringing a photographer with you, consider if it will be a good place for engagement pictures that you’ll want to frame later.

      Kunal selected the Palace Of Fine Arts because his family always gathered there for picnics when he was growing up, and it had wonderful memories for him. They had never been there together and he wanted to merge his past with their future as they blended families.

      He and I had very, very long talks about the exact time of day and the sunlight. Originally he wanted to do it later in the day, but when I looked at the sunset calculator (engagement photographers’ best friend!) and knew that the proposal had to come before the next few hours of their couples and family photos, we had to start earlier. Doing engagement photography at the Palace Of Fine Arts has it’s own issues as it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco and I did not want to see a bunch of strangers in most of their photos. I did know a specific location that we could use, and I emailed him a map of exactly where I wanted him to set up his props and make a beautiful space for Aanchal to literally walk into. If you look at the photos you’ll see the exact moment she sees him and what he’s created for her, and her mother’s reaction to the setup. It’s absolutely priceless. That’s the reaction you want to have.

      Another benefit of the space we chose, was that it was surrounded on several sides by water, so no tourists could walk behind him in the proposal shots. If you can, plan to have a wall, the ocean, or the forest behind you for this reason. In this proposal, there were also about a dozen family members who would be included and also had to be hidden! Fortunately, I know some massive fluffy plants that grew nearby, and we hid everyone back there until she said yes.

      After the Palace of Fine Arts, we whisked them away to the cliffs overlooking the ocean and Golden Gate Bridge.

    5. Should you hire professional photography and video team?

      We’ve had some clients that were almost more nervous about taking engagement pictures, than the actual proposal, but we’re here to help. That’s what professionals are for. We’re great under pressure, can guide you through the tough spots and make sure you’re positioned to get the best photographs of this major life moment. Because while you’re a nervous wreck (not that anybody can tell, we swear you look great!), we’re in our element. In today’s culture, we share through visual storytelling online, and this is a story that you’re going to want to tell, quickly and beautifully with engagement photographs. Some couples like the beauty of their own video, and being able to hear the proposal with the help of a lapel microphone, which is very discreet. It’s definitely a moment that’s going to be worth replaying. Between long lenses and small microphones, we can get the footage without being invasive.

      Going back to one of the subjects that I had gone over before, which was how to get your partner to get properly dressed up and at the right location at the right time, we suggest that you straight up tell them you’ve hired a photographer to do a couples photo session. This works really well if you’re on vacation in a new place, or also you can tell them you’ve surprised them with a special shoot to make really awesome holiday cards to make all her friends jealous! Once you’re both at the location, we can introduce ourselves, set you up in the best spot, and then you drop to a knee before she knows what’s happening!

    6. How do I ask her to marry me?

      This is a great time to be real and authentic. Take a deep breath and tell her not only how much you love her (or him or them)  then say why. The “why” is a big part of the proposal and this is when you can share a story about what you thought and felt the first time you met, or what happened that made you realize that you’d fallen in love. You don’t have to memorize exactly what you want to say, word for word, but do have a specific story picked out and the feelings that you want to talk about. Mentioning how you envision your future together and the plans you’ve dreamed of making together are good subjects. For example, talk about traveling to a specific country together, maybe rescuing a shelter dog and eventually having a baby, or even starting your careers together as full-time wedding photographers like my team members Julia and Don who were on site for Kunal and Aanchal’s surprise proposal!

      This way, she’ll know that you’ve put a lot of thought and intention into asking her to share your lives together, and that should produce happy tears and an answer of YES!

    7. Be properly prepared to share the happy news right away.

      You’re both going to want to share your good news with your friends, family and the whole world, right away. Make arrangements with your professional engagement photographer to have a sneak peek within the first few days when you’re just bursting with excitement.

      Proper etiquette is to tell your parents and then siblings first. Think of it this way, the people you tell first should be the ones you’d expect to be told personally if it was their big news.

      Also, if either of you has family outside of the country that you’re getting engaged in, you’ll want to have either Whatsapp or maybe Skype set up to communicate with parents overseas more easily if your cell phone doesn’t have an international plan in place. It’s also very easy to make an online engagement website to share your photo session and post the date and time of any celebrations that will be happening. Weddingwire.com can help you make your wedding website, and Mixbooks has a $25 coupon to design your engagement and wedding party invitations if your photos are hosted on Smugmug, which is the company I use.

    8. Enjoy being engaged.

      I know the second couples get engaged, they’re off running to plan a big crazy wedding. Take your time to smell the proverbial roses and revel in this next step. Resist being pressured to plan something that doesn’t resonate with the two of you. Breath in this moment and savor it, before taking the next step. This moment, is a beautiful moment.