Why keep a secret?

As a proposal photographer in DC, I often come across 'proposees' who tell me they knew it was a proposal before it happened. This doesn't make the moment any less special if I'm being honest, but there is something about a genuine surprise that makes the moment (and the pictures) even more evocative! If the surprise element is important to you (such as making the moment more memorable and joyous), then I hope some of the tips below can help you.

It should go without saying, don't' leave the engagement ring lying around.

*Getting married is a big decision, make sure you and your partner are on the same page about marriage before proposing!

surprise proposal at Jefferson Memorial
surprise proposal at Jefferson Memorial
surprise proposal at Jefferson Memorial


Plan more dates

The main reason most partners picks up on a proposal plan is because the proposer rarely plans activities (e.g. dates). Thus, when the proposer suddenly plans something out of the blue, it rouses suspicion.

Whether you have a proposal date in mind or are just thinking about it, it's good thing to plan more dates with your partner in the weeks leading up to your proposal. Plans don't have to be that involved - a stroll in the park at sunset, a dinner out at a favorite restaurant, enjoying a live show at the local theater, etc. By the time your actual proposal comes, you will have a good track record of planning fun things that the proposal will be less likely to catch suspicion. Be sure to talk about your wardrobe plan to get in the habit of coordinating outfits. That way it's not weird later when you ask them about their outfit for the actual proposal.

Bonus tip - don't stop planning fun things with your partner once you have proposed - keep the quality time going to strengthen your bond!


Pick an unexpected location

Once you decide to propose, the next question is usually "where?" Location is a key part of setting the ambiance and the emotion of the proposal. I've seen many proposers approach this opportunity in thoughtful and creative ways that managed to knock their partner of their feet:

  • Somewhere your partner has been wanting to go to - Have they talked about going to a hot local event? A mini getaway in a nearby town? Why not take them there and use the opportunity to propose? They will be excited to finally check it out and you won't draw too much suspicion since it's their idea anyway.
  • Somewhere you go together and is meaningful to you - Instead of going to a popular proposal spot (I'm looking at you, Lincoln Memorial), maybe there is a place that you go together from time to time and have made great memories. Why not add one more joyous memory by proposing there? Since you go there already, it won't be out of the blue and both of you will be more relaxed when it's time for the question.
  • Somewhere along the way to where you are already going - Already have plans to go somewhere that is near a cool/meaningful/interesting location, it can be an opportunity to propose along the way.
  • The great outdoors- There're many great outdoor spaces nearby where you can take a hike and enjoy a nice scenery. Waterfalls (Great Fall), mountaintops (Shenandoah), lakes, and forests are perfect scenic spots to pop the question. The outdoors is also great if your partner prefers more privacy during a big moment.

Bonus tip: Get to know the location beforehand by visiting it beforehand, otherwise, at the very least google it and / or call ahead to identify the best setting to propose and go over logistics.

surprise proposal at sunset DC rooftop
surprise proposal at sunset DC rooftop
surprise proposal at sunset DC rooftop


recruit a few trusted loved ones

Sometimes, a proposal can be made more special by involving your partners friends and family. Have their friends coordinate an outing with your partner and propose somewhere along their route. Their friends can also help you by distracting your partner while you get in place.

Some examples include: museum/garden visit, group picnic, or a group photoshoot

You can also loop in their family if they live close by or are coming to town for a visit. You can ask for blessing and get some surprise proposal help at the same time.

Some examples include: family brunch/dinner, museum/garden visit, or a family photoshoot

Bonus tip: Keep the number of people involved low to reduce chances of accidental spilled beans. Change names of your collaborators on your phone contact temporarily. Use code names if you and your partner share passwords or have open-phone policy.

extra Things to consider

A lot goes into planning a proposal, so here are other factors to help you think through the plan.

Do you have a rain/snow plan?

Do they like being the center of attention?

What will you do before/after to set / maintain the mood?

surprise proposal at Kennedy Center DC
couples engagement portrait with birds in California
surprise proposal at rock creek park boulder bridge

Best of luck!

I hope the 3 tips above will help you with your surprise proposal.

Even if your surprise proposal gets found out, the most important thing is that you took this important step in life's milestone. No matter what you do to propose to your love, it will be a memorable moment for you to cherish many years down the line.

If you would like to have your proposal photographed, Stefan A. Photography has years of experience documenting these all throughout DC. Send an inquiry now and I'd more than happy to hop on the phone to help you plan the perfect surprise for you and your future spouse.