How to Plan a Surprise Marriage Proposal

If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to say that you are thinking about proposing to your partner. Congratulations!! That is a huge decision to make and a very wonderful and exciting one at that. 🙂 A proposal can really be whatever you want it to be, but if you want it to be the best possible surprise it can be, the following steps will guide you through planning a surprise proposal that you, your family, and friends will be bragging about for generations.

Step One: Get that bling!

Let’s assume you haven’t already bought a ring for your partner yet and you just don’t know where to start. Check to see if your partner may have a Pinterest board with their favorite rings saved! If not, secretly ask their best friends what they think your partner might like in a ring design. Worst case scenario, take photos of jewelry that your partner currently has, and bring those photos in with you if / when you go into a jewelry store so they can give you their expert opinion.

The next challenge with the ring is going to be purchasing one that is the right size. If you don’t get it perfect on the first try, it’s okay as these can be resized later on. However, getting the size right the first time will save a lot of hassle down the road so here are a few tips on how to get it right. 

If your partner has a ring that they normally wear one one of their ring fingers, try to sneak away with the ring when they aren’t wearing it and take it into the store with you. If you’re buying one online, try to take the ring into a jewelry store to at least get it sized.

If that’s not an option, maybe your partner wears their rings all the time, wait until they take it off for a brief period of time. This could be when they’re going to take a shower or about to do some kind of arts and crafts. While the ring is off, quickly grab a pen and a piece of paper. Trace the inside of the ring onto the piece of paper and then place the ring back where your partner left it. Then take the drawing of the ring into a jewelry store and have them size the drawing.

Step Two: Choose a photographer and decide on a date + location

Now that you have the engagement ring, don’t let it burn a hole in your pocket! If you want this surprise to be done right, it might take a few weeks to get all the details worked out. All good things take time and patience, right?! 

First and foremost, you want this exciting moment to be captured on camera. Unless you want underexposed, blurry, photos with a finger in front of the corner of the lens, (not to mention the chance of someone totally missing your partner’s reaction when you’re down on one knee all together), I highly recommend hiring a professional photographer for this special moment. I would even go as far as to say that experienced wedding photographers are best suited for this type of job because they are used to high pressure situations that could change in an instance, and they know how to adapt quickly while also taking amazing photos. 

(Pro Tip: Create a unique email address that only you have access to for corresponding with people involved in this planning process. Something like This can then be used down the road when you’re planning your wedding too!)

Once you have a photographer selected, then you can start discussing dates. If you can, try to be flexible here as there are many people involved, i.e. you, your partner, the photographer, and any friends or family you might want to have in attendance. Narrowing down a date can be tricky, but with proper communication it will be much easier! 

If you don’t already have a location in mind, a good photographer will be able to provide you with some suggestions. They will be able to take into account the vibe and atmosphere you’re going for when giving you suggestions. 

If you already have a location in mind, discuss the location with your photographer. A good photographer will go out and actually visit the location prior to the day you plan to propose to make sure that they have all the different variations of possibilities figured out.

Actual image of me planning different variations of how to get to the proposal location while hiding

Many photographers will also include a very short “engagement” style session for immediately after you pop the question. This will be great for capturing the natural emotion of the moment, but you can also use these for Save the Dates, or decoration on your wedding day. 

(Pro Tip: A really good photographer will also bring a prop for you to use for these photos. Whether it be flowers, a bottle of champagne with some flutes to drink out of, or something else – they will go above and beyond to make sure the photos are perfect.)

Step Three: Plan a party or dinner for after you pop the question

While the actual plan for the proposal seems like it would be enough excitement for one day, it actually goes by very quick and it will be over and done in a matter of just a few minutes! Keep the energy and excitement alive by having a party or dinner planned for after you put that ring on your partner’s finger. It’s a great way to not only share the news with your closest family and friends, but it also allows them to actually celebrate with you as well. 

You can book a room at your favorite restaurant where food and drinks are ready to go, or you can plan to have the party at your home (or a friend’s house!) and have food and drinks prepared by your friends and/or family before the proposal or while you are out proposing.

There’s no need to go too crazy with details when it comes to this party. It’s mostly about everyone being together to celebrate. If you or family / friends really want to go all out, consider having a ‘Just Engaged’ cake ready to go, or maybe some ‘She / He said yes!’ cookies available for people to grab. More importantly though, be sure to have plenty of drinks available!

(Pro Tip: Make sure you have a few bottles of champagne available for everyone to have a toast!)

Step Four: Coordinate with any friends or family planning to attend the actual proposal

No matter what, this will be an intimate moment between you and your partner. Most likely, the two of you will have tunnel vision for each other for at least five minutes while you pop the question and while your partner stands there in a state of shock. (This is a good thing!) Once you and your partner come back to reality, your friends and family can also be there to cheer you on!

If you want to have friends and family there in on the surprise with you, make sure you choose a location that allows them the space to be able to hide. The last thing you want is your partner to see a familiar face right before you ask your big question! 

Have your friends, family, and the photographer arrive at least 15 minutes in advance. If you want, you can even give your guests a job to do. They can bring the flowers, or maybe sprinkle rose petals on the ground where you’re going to pop the question. Your photographer will be in communication with you all the way up to a few hours prior to the event, so your photographer will be able to guide the guests on what to do and when to do it.

(Pro tip: Turn your cell phone notifications off from any public devices on the day you’re going to propose. You don’t want your partner seeing any texts from friends, family, or your photographer asking questions about the day right before you reveal your big surprise!)

Step Five: It’s time to pop the question!

Create a story with your partner’s friends and family about one week prior to the big day that way no one accidentally gives away the surprise. For instance, build a plan where you tell your partner that y’all have plans to hang out with friends at a specific time. Try to make those plans sound relatively normal and not something super out of the ordinary so that way your partner doesn’t start to suspect anything. 

(Pro tip: make sure your partner’s hands and nails are clean and ready for the proposal. About 3 – 5 days before the proposal, have your partner’s best friend or a close relative suggest to go get their nails done together. Make sure it’s someone you can trust won’t spill the beans!)

Finally, all your hard work, planning and patience have all come down to this very moment! Keep your cool though, you don’t want something as simple as nerves to give it away. Stay positive and think about how great you will feel when your partner says ‘Yes!’ Actually asking the question is probably the easiest part of the day and it will all be so worth it! By the time everything is all said and done, you will hopefully be a newly engaged couple! Congrats! 🎉🎉🎉

meet ila


As a fine-art wedding photographer, I enjoy photographing every one of your special moments. On your wedding day, I will be both your photographer AND your right-hand man. I will be there to make sure everything runs smoothly and seamlessly, all while capturing the story of your wedding day from beginning to end. My goal is to create timeless, uniquely-you photos that you’ll enjoy for a lifetime. 

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