There are loads of articles out there that list 60+ ways on how to propose — anything from creative to romantic, modest to lavish, or intimate to public ... and such resources are fine if you want to spend hours figuring out which advice is based on experience and actually works (hint: most of it doesn't).
You see, most people make one of three mistakes when they propose to their loved one:
- they fail to come up with a sound game plan, which should be the starting point for any marriage proposal;
- they underestimate the time it takes to pull off a personalized (and memorable) proposal;
- they make the proposal about themselves instead of their partner.
Here’s the truth: asking the person you love to marry you is a big deal.
most of You only get one shot at planning a fairytale proposal … and with so many details to keep track of, popping the question can quickly become a little overwhelming …
But not with us.
You see, as the number one proposal photographer in Paris, I get to plan and witness fabulous marriage proposals daily (yes, that’s hundreds of proposals per year).
Importantly, I went through the process of planning a proposal myself :-)) … and spent countless hours analyzing why some proposals just work while others tend to fizzle out.
Well, because when it comes to extraordinary proposals that touch the heart, this video offers three insanely inspiring ideas on how to propose. The Airport Proposal will give you Goosebumps and have you in tears …
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the top 14 tips on how to propose. Each tip contains proven, actionable advice that you’ll be able to turn to again and again as you plan a dream proposal she’ll love for the rest of her life.
Ready to dive in? Let’s do this!
1. What’s your gameplan on how to propose?
We all want a marriage proposal that will make her heart sing—one that flows naturally, feels sincere, and crescendos with an emotional surprise-element. But the difference between wanting and achieving is your ability to create and stick to a gameplan.
Interestingly, it’s less about the budget than about your earnestness, effort, and personalization.
Hey, I’d even go so far as to say that the proposal is not about you, and all about her.
When you keep that in mind, it’s easier to invest in the right ring, select a location worthy of the amplitude of the moment, come up with a truly personalized proposal concept, and confidently deliver a message from your heart that will touch her deeply.
In turn, she’ll tell everyone she’s the luckiest girl in the world to be engaged to you—her loving and dedicated true love.
So while each proposal is as unique as the relationship you both share—and assuming she’s the soulmate you want to spend the rest of your life with—it’s crucial that your “Roadmap to Yes” considers the following essential proposal checklist:
- Get her dad’s blessing;
- Decide on the proposal date;
- Tips for picking out and ensuring the perfect engagement ring;
- DIY or hire a proposal planner?;
- Secure your proposal location (exclusive vs. public setting);
- Book your photographer and videographer to document the special occasion;
- What to say when you propose: how to perfect your “Will you marry me?” pitch;
- Memorable proposal ideas: personalize the proposal experience;
- Dress to impress;
- Master the logistics on the day of the proposal (avoid these 5 common mistakes);
- Ace the actual proposal;
- Spread the news and celebrate;
- Make the entire evening special: the follow-through after she says “Yes.”
2. Get her dad’s (family’s) blessing
And I’m not talking about a casual “I’d like to marry your daughter” phone call.
Officially asking your future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand is a signal of respect to him, to her, to tradition, and to the romantic institution of marriage.
With that said, you need to time your in-person visit to your girlfriend’s family such that …
- her dad is available and able to commit quality time (be respectful of his work schedule);
- Select a date and time when you know your girlfriend will be out of town or otherwise engaged as to not raise any suspicions. If you can trust your girlfriend’s best friend to keep a secret, I like the idea of sending them on a weekend-getaway together. Like this, you can visit your girlfriend’s family in peace of mind;
- If for some reason it’s not possible (or desirable) to ask her father, simply ask her mother for permission. Remember that it’s about being considerate and paying respect to her and her family.
3. Decide on the perfect proposal date as soon as possible
Timing your proposal date is easier said than done.
According to a British survey, Christmas Eve is the most popular day of the year to propose … followed by Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve (interestingly, the same study maintains that 23% of women prefer that the proposal take place on Valentine’s Day).
The greatest advantage I see to proposing on a holiday or birthday is that your partner is less likely to suspect the proposal, which means it’s easier to explain why she’d need to dress sharp, get out of bed early, or even why you’re taking her on a trip to Paris.
With that in mind, pick a date with personal significance to you as a couple while paying attention to the following calendar-related considerations:
- is your girlfriend available on your favored date? Consider her work schedule, school, kids or pets, birthdays, holidays, previous commitments, and other responsibilities;
- You need an official proposal date before you can hire a proposal photographer, make a restaurant reservation, book your flights and hotel, …;
- Will your proposal involve extensive travel, the need to secure a visa, requesting her employer for time-off, …;
- Any seasonal constraints, e.g., expected weather conditions for an outdoor proposal, sunrise and sunset hours, airfare deals, availability of key vendors and venues, special events that could obstruct your fancied proposal spot (real examples I’ve experienced include Paris Fashion Week, United Nations event, filming of a Tom Cruise movie, etc.).
Below is an actual email from a client who had booked me … just to realize that her girlfriend would not be able to get time off from work.
Happy New Year! I’m writing to get your opinion: I had originally scheduled the surprise proposal for October 1, and am now wondering whether we can postpone it until February? I know your schedule is extremely busy and I feel awful to ask you for this favor. I just found out that Kathy is unable to get this October off from work. Please let me know if it’s possible to switch the date? Anytime in February that works best for you. Thank you so much and have a great day.
4. I’m new to this whole engagement ring thing …
In many cultures, the diamond engagement ring—made out of almost indestructible material—is considered a romantic symbol of endless love and commitment.
And let’s face it, she’ll expect you to produce a fabulous ring when you get down on one knee.
Your partner will be the one wearing the ring … so unless your proposal plans are an open secret, pay attention and try to figure out her style before going ring shopping. Enlist her mom, sister or best friend for advice as long as they can be discrete.
If you ultimately just need to take a wild guess, keep in mind that the most common ring size for women is size 6 (16.5mm) and that most rings can be resized if they don’t fit. A reputable retailer will usually offer to resize the ring for free.
So how much should you spend on an engagement ring?
Well, I’m not a big fan of spending more than you can afford and would make the following observations:
- think in terms of a total marriage proposal budget that includes the ring and also accounts for travel + hotel, photographer, videographer, a romantic dinner, Champagne, flowers and other personal touches;
- Be prepared to do plenty of research since you’re likely to spend real money on her engagement ring. As with any significant investment, quality jewelry comes at a cost;
- This nifty engagement ring affordability calculator allows you to estimate the cost of an engagement ring based on the quality of the diamond you’re after. I highly recommend that you first familiarize yourself with the 4Cs—cut, carat weight, color, and clarity—and ideally visit a reputable jewelry retailer in-person to get a sense of what kind of ring you want;
- Do you desire the distinctive Tiffany Blue Box? Well, you’re not alone, but you’ll need to pay a premium for the convenience and peace of mind that comes from dealing with a luxury brand. Just appreciate that companies, such as Tiffany, Cartier, Bulgari, and others spend millions on marketing and operate with higher margins … which in laymen’s terms means you’re paying more for an equivalent diamond ring;
Ok … so you purchased the ring … what’s next?
Well, you’re not done yet:
- make 100% sure that the ring will be in your hands well before the proposal date (no ring => no marriage proposal);
- Protect your investment against loss, damage, and theft with worldwide jewelry insurance; you may also want to check your homeowner’s insurance policy to see if it covers damaged or lost jewelry. Do note, however, that many homeowner’s insurance policies are subject to exclusions or maximum limits that may not cover the full replacement value of your ring (here’s a list of 16 ‘listed perils” that are typically fully or partially covered by homeowners insurance;
- If you’re considering a destination proposal (i.e., one that includes travel), you unquestionably want comprehensive insurance coverage. Importantly, you need to come up with a foolproof method of keeping the ring unnoticed as you and your girlfriend go through airport security and share a hotel room.
5. Do I need a proposal planner?
Well, it depends …
- are you considering a more elaborate proposal and find it challenging to put together all the pieces;
- Perhaps you just want to hire someone else to help you come up with best proposal ideas;
- Or maybe you have your heart set on a destination proposal and don’t have the time to assemble an experienced local team of vendors;
- Flash mob anyone?
- Hey, I’ve worked with clients who hired a proposal planner just to gain access to an exclusive venue, a rooftop terrace, celebrity performer, helicopter, vintage car, or a yacht …
If you go with a proposal planner, make sure to understand her approach to proposal planning. Have her spell out the process from initial consultation over concept design to execution. What’s her method and frequency of communication? Does she charge the vendors she recommends a commision? Can she leverage her relationships and reputation to secure a discount or added value for you?
In summary, what will you get for your money?
Some luxury resorts will direct their guest relations officer or catering staff to assist you when you book one of their exclusive suites, salons, roof-tops, or grounds & gardens. This works out well since such hotels have well-oiled systems and vetted vendor relationships in place.
And yet another option would be to lean on the experience and network of your photographer; it’s quite common for me to assist my clients with location choice, attire, timeline, and a curated list of my favorite vendors.
6. Where should I propose (exclusive vs. public setting)?
I’m going to come right out and connect the dots for you … your partner’s experience will be shaped by two things:
- how does reality meet (her) expectations;
- your ability to create a setting that stimulates her five senses in concert.
That should be music to your ears since you pretty much have full control over both elements and it’s relatively easy to move the needle in your favor when you appreciate the importance of location choice.
If she’s more the sentimental type, I’d consider taking her to a spot of personal significance, such as where you first met or professed your love for one another—it kind of symbolically brings your relationship full circle.
As you see in the photos below, Jeff chose to propose to Koeun at the Atelier Cologne, her favorite perfumery boutique. Jeff used his charm (and relationship with the New York-based Atelier Cologne) to privatize the Atelier Cologne in Le Marais, Paris. He even got the store manager to engrave their names and proposal date on her favored fragrance, Clémentine California.
If you’re thinking of a romantic destination custom-made for lovers, then how about making your next vacation a dreamy escape to Buenos Aires, Paris, Rome, or Venice? Here’s a list of the World’s Most Romantic Cities.
Say she’s into adventure or the untamed wilderness, then a private helicopter tour in New Zealand or a majestic hot-air balloon ride in Colorado might just be beyond epic! Hey, there’s always the mountaintop in Aspen, Colorado, where Paris Hilton said “yes” to Chris Zylka.
Next, ask yourself whether she’s more of a public or private person. Unless you think she would appreciate curious onlookers and spectators, I’d recommend making your proposal as private and exclusive as possible.
Public proposals don’t necessarily make things easier—especially when you’re thinking of, say, a flash mob or streaming your proposal onto a jumbo-screen in a stadium during a live event (here’s how to propose at a live baseball game).
Then again, the whole idea of a public proposal is presumably to have it witnessed by the cheering masses, right? As such, you at least don’t need to worry as much about crowd management and other potential distractions, and can instead shift your focus to logistics.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with proposing in front of family, friends, or even thousands of people. After all, you know your partner, traditions, and cultural practices best.
So you’ve settled on a general location (e.g., Venice) and let’s further assume you value privacy … what’s next?
Well, as you might imagine, you’re not done yet. Most cosmopolitan cities offer plenty of fabulous options. Options, in turn, mean you’ll need to make some decisions … and each decision comes with a set of expectations. Let me explain applying a simple, real-life example:
Say you have your heart set on a romantic Eiffel Tower proposal in the City of Lights. You could propose in plain public view, e.g. the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, Trocadéro, Champs de Mars, Alexander III Bridge, or along the Seine River.
As you see from the photographs above, the public view can be stunningly beautiful and, at times, even offer privacy … if you’re lucky …
With that said, as in any major cosmopolitan city, it’s equally possible to arrive at, say, Trocadéro just to find the square
- blocked off for the filming of Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster;
- congested with tourists, photographers, street vendors, thieves, and other bystanders;
- obstructed by large cranes building out a runway set for Yves Saint Laurent during Paris Fashion Week;
Or you could opt for a more discrete vantage point of the Eiffel Tower, e.g., from an exclusive terrace or rooftop at the Shangri-La Hotel, The Peninsula Paris, Raphael Paris, or the Four Seasons Hotel George V.
When you invest in a private venue, you’ve essentially secured the following benefits:
Enhanced control over your environment:
- More privacy: privacy and intimacy seem to go together. In the absence of any public boundaries, some of us simply do not feel comfortable expressing our true self, exposing vulnerability, and sharing our most personal thoughts.
- Noise control: allows you to reduce noise from cars, bystanders, and other unwanted distractions … and you might even be able to softly play her favorite song in the background;
- Ability to personalize the proposal setting: since you now de facto rented space, you, your proposal planner, florist, or the venue’s catering staff are free to transform the environment as you see fit—candles, rose petals, musicians, scavenger hunt, candlelight dinner, a personal butler, and a host of other cute proposal ideas;
- Predictable lighting conditions: light is the one element nobody wants to pay for; yet, it affects our five senses and helps bring the atmosphere to life. Just imagine being able to create a romantic setting with the same exposure as the Eiffel Tower at night—it’s just you both and the most magical structure in the universe.
Timeline flexibility is a significant side-benefit of acquiring a private venue—notably for surprise proposals given that it’s not always straightforward to get your partner to be ready and show up at the designated spot without giving away the surprise.
Weather contingency plan: well, I always tell my couples to box up their worries and not stress over factors beyond their control, such as the weather. I also don’t give much credence to Plan B thinking. With that said, venues that offer both indoor and outdoor solutions will often accommodate a proposal location switch on short notice … which, ultimately, amounts to peace of mind, right?
7. Book a professional photographer and videographer to document the special occasion
Let’s make this one easy: you absolutely need to hire a professional photographer to document your proposal forever.
Sure, we’ve all heard horror stories of photographers who ruined the surprise element, missed the actual proposal, or otherwise diminished the proposal experience.
Then again, that’s all the more incentive to take the photography decision seriously and invest in the best photographer you can afford—an experienced and caring professional who’ll deliver extraordinary photos fast (I’ll get to the importance of a quick photo turnaround in a little).
The question then becomes how to identify and book the right photographer for you.
The simple answer is that you need to get to know and trust your photographer and love her work.
Next, reach out to your favorite photographers as soon as possible to ensure their availability. Chances are that if an artist is good enough for you, she’s also good enough for other gentlemen. In other words, good people get booked fast and well in advance.
For a multi-photographer studio, make sure to understand whom you’d be working with.
In your inquiry email, be personable, engaging, passionate, and forthcoming with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing. Tell the photographers about you as a couple, why your partner is your soulmate, your initial proposal ideas, and what you love about their photography.
People like to work with people they like … and you might even get a better deal when a photographer feels like you’re a brilliant fit.
It’s a good time to ask potential photographers for their collections and pricing options. Just be mindful to not make your inquiry about price per se. It’s a touch uninspiring and can come across as though you’re looking to buy a commodity rather than invest in a compassionate companion to document one of the most special moments in your relationship.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices of potential proposal photographers, you must decide how much you want to invest in your photography services?
The answer depends on multiple factors—notably on your economic situation, your overall proposal budget, and how important the photos and photography experience are to you as a couple. Just keep in mind that there are no do-overs and that photography may be more important to her than to you.
You see, proposals (and weddings as you’ll find out soon) do not come cheap … and chances are you’re already spending a pretty penny on the ring, a fancy hotel, potentially flying your families into town, props & Champagne, fine dining, the proposal setting, and a host of other elements related to your proposal concept.
Why then take a risk and cut corners on the documentation?
What about video services—should I hire a filmmaker to capture my proposal?
The short answer is a resounding “Yes” since videography—when done right—is splendidly complementary to photography.
Take a look at this fairytale proposal, masterfully filmed at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte by Chris from Zen Film Works, to get a sense of how video adds emotional context, movement, and energy in a different way from photography.
That’s why you need to step up and confidently invest in a professional cinematographer who is experienced, discrete, and appreciates that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime moment for you. Anything less is probably a waste of your resources and potentially sets you up for disappointment.
Here are some of the most common questions and answers we get all the time when it comes to proposal videographers.
How can I identify and hire the right proposal videographer for me?
I’d suggest applying a similar approach to what you’ll use to secure your proposal photographer. Also, note that it takes a unique skill set and experience for a videographer to capture a proposal. Just because a filmmaker is great at capturing, say weddings or stylized films, does not mean she’d be qualified to document a live proposal.
First, identify a handful of talented filmmakers whose work you love; you can use Google or YouTube to search for videographers near you or who are located in the city you intend to propose. Make sure you understand their work and look for some element of consistency; avoid stylized films since they allow for do-overs and are not representative of what you should expect.
If you’re using a proposal planner, ask her for 3-5 recommendations that suit your overall proposal budget. If your planner can negotiate a better rate or additional value on your behalf, ask her to reach out for availability and pricing.
Alternatively, ask your photographer, friends, or even the catering director of the hotel where you’ll spend the first night as fiancée and fiancé for recommendations. Oftentimes, catering managers have a curated list of vetted film vendors they know, like and trust.
Next, reach out to a short-list of potential proposal videographers and openly share your story, why you like their work, and be forthcoming with any additional information to better manage expectations. You might want to already mention your approximate videography budget and specify your preferred date(s) and anticipated hours of video coverage.
How much videography coverage do I need for my proposal?
Well, it depends on multiple factors, including your budget, whether it’s a complete surprise proposal and, of course, your vision for the final film product. If you’re merely looking for a videographer to just capture the actual proposal, then the artist’s minimum coverage should suffice (typically 30 minutes or 1 hour).
However, when you’re after a film that tells your story, the sky is seriously the limit and you probably want to invest in as many hours as you can afford.
We have seen films where the videographer will secretly interview you before the proposal (possibly in your hotel lobby if you can sneak away from your girlfriend for a few minutes) or have you narrate your own film after she says “Yes.”
Just imagine playing your proposal love story on your wedding website or at the reception of your wedding before your grand entrance … Goosebumps, tears, and incredible engagement are almost guaranteed.
Is it important that my proposal photographer and videographer have worked with each other before?
No, it is not really necessary when you hire professionals. With that said, it is desirable that you connect your proposal photographer and videographer as early in the process as possible. They can then coordinate amongst themselves so you are assured of a smooth, discrete and amazing experience.
Do I need more than one videographer to capture my proposal?
Typically, two cinematographers will add additional angles, focal lengths (wide and zoom), and creative interpretations of your proposal. The result should be reflected in a stronger overall film.
Hiring two videographers allows you to capture her reaction in addition to the main perspective of the proposal (i.e. you both parallel to your desired backdrop).
One often-overlooked benefit of booking two filmmakers is that the probability of actually missing a significant moment is substantially reduced (keep in mind that when your proposal takes place in a public setting, there’s always a small chance that a car or bystander could suddenly obstruct the main perspective).
On the other hand, more videographers typically imply additional costs and sometimes an increased potential to intrude or possibly even give away the surprise element.
Can you recommend any amazing proposal videographers?
Of course. While this list is by now way exhaustive and constantly updated, here are a few recommendations we have personally vetted. They are exceptionally talented, passionate, caring, and experienced … and will do an amazing job for you.
Zen Film Works
Ping Pang Films
Ray Roman Films
8. What to say when you propose: craft, practice and refine your “Will you marry me?” pitch
It’s not enough to come up with a fabulous proposal concept, an eye-catching engagement ring, and drop to your knee. Your partner likely expects more … and deserves more.
And while there are no hard rules, it’s probably safe to say that you should budget a fair amount of time, love and effort to perfect your “will you marry me” pitch.
And just like with her engagement ring—which symbolically brings your relationship full circle—your 4-word proposal should be preceded by a story that powerfully sets the tone, sharpens her senses of what’s about to happen, and connects the dots between how far you’ve come and where you’re going on your life journey.
There’s plenty of advice out there on what and how to say, including a crash course courtesy of The Knot. Yet, you know your partner best … so when your heart is pure, and you’re completely focused on her and convey how much she means to you … then that’s perfectly fine.
Chances are you’ll be a nervous wreck in the hours leading up to the proposal. If she knows you well, she will likely suspect that something is not quite normal … and that is how it is supposed to be.
With that said, whether you’re a polished speaker or not, I highly recommend jotting down some notes weeks or months ahead of the proposal date. Then, over time, pull out your proposal pitch to refine and rehearse. This is an iterative process … so do not wait until a few days or hours before the proposal.
Questions to ask yourself include, but are certainly not limited to:
- how is she the soulmate who completes you;
- How does she enrich your life, inspire you, and make you a better person;
- Why is she the person you aspire to live with forever;
- What is it about her that you love before you fall asleep and when you wake up;
- Where do you see your future together—paint a picture and tell a story?
As you can imagine, there’s more …
Practicing the pitch is one thing. Then there’s still that little detail of getting on your knee. Gentlemen … suck it up, drop down, and make her feel like the most desirable woman in the universe. Anything less would rightfully be considered lazy.
Chances are you’ll be comforting her tightly while you deliver your “will you marry me” pitch. However, when you’re ready to get down on your knee,
- take one big step backward;
- Mind your posture and feet spacing;
- Present the ring box as you would anything precious with both hands;
- Look her directly in the eyes and ask her to marry you; and
- Do not get up from your knee until she comes to you to accept the ring (stay on your knee for at least 5 seconds).
So what finger does the engagement ring go on?
Let’s keep this short and sweet: in most western countries, the engagement band goes on the “ring” finger of the left hand (the fourth finger).
Visually ace your proposal by avoiding these common mistakes and oversights:
- do not carry a wallet, phone, keys, or anything in any of your pant pockets since the bulkiness will show in your photos and video (and cannot easily be removed);
- make sure to maintain perfect eye contact throughout the duration of your proposal—notably, while you’re on your knee asking her to marry you;
- this one is a little challenging but well worth the effort: discretely try to get her to tie her hair into a bun or pull it back so it does not conceal her face/reaction when she accepts the ring;
- dress to impress and unbutton your jacket buttons since your jacket might otherwise look clumsy when you lift the ring box up towards her;
9. Memorable proposal ideas: how to personalize your proposal experience
Personalizing your proposal can make a massive difference in how she experiences, remembers, and even tells everyone about it. Hey, we’ve seen it all—helicopter entrance, fireworks, entertainers … and plenty of other extras that may inflate your proposal budget.
Then again, let me first go on the record by stating that you do not need to spend much money to make your proposal special.
Your effort level and sincerity, however, are not optional.
And while any personalization should be as unique as the relationship you share, there are a few common elements that make for heartwarming proposals that stand out, including
- the anticipation that builds and crescendoes when you finally propose (one popular way to build anticipation is through a scavenger hunt of sorts, where you drop little hints, surprises, gifts, … until you finally propose);
- Surprise element;
- Cater to her five senses (notably sight, sound, and touch, but also smell and taste);
- Effort and chivalry;
- Making it about her (e.g. her favorite flowers; a pair of shoes or a dress to go out for dinner that evening; a hand-written note,
Concepts that caught my attention include a scavenger hunt, musicians, a Champagne table, a hand-written note, a priceless ambiance … all of which you’ll get to see in this amazing proposal filmed at the Shangri-La Palace Hotel by Tuan from Ping Pang Films.
13. Got her to say “Yes.” What’s next?
I’m not a big fan of proposing in a restaurant—it certainly does not photograph well, and is typically not private. Some restaurants may even deny you the possibility to bring a photographer along.
With that said, I firmly believe you need to invest in an amazing brunch and dinner on the day you propose. Make reservations well in advance.
- TAKE YOUR TIME, before, during, and after she says “YES”
- send me a recent photo (perhaps a selfie on the day of the shoot) so I can instantly spot you and be ready
- do not carry any wallet, phone, or keys in your pockets so they do not show in your photos
- for extra credit, we need to see her face and reaction (try to cleverly have her pull it back or in a bun)
- deliver your “Will you marry me?” pitch before you get on your knee
- stay on your knee at least 5 seconds and have her come to you to get you off your knee (do not feel obliged to get up fast)
- mark your ring box in a way that you can easily figure out in the heat of the moment what the front and back is so you can open the box with the ring facing her
- bring your relationship full circle as you comfort her and gain her full attention. Then take a step back and drop to your knee
- look her in the eyes and make her feel like the most amazing woman in the universe
- we can also organize a violinist which is always a special touch and you might want to consider Champagne?
Is Cengiz the right proposal photographer for me?
Yes, of course 🙂
Can Cengiz do destination proposals?
Yep. We travel around the globe with our clients
What is it like to work with Cengiz on a proposal?
Well, the best thing is to hear what other happy people have to say about Cengiz.
Is it worth it to hire Cengiz for my proposal?