4 Tips for Surprise Proposals!

“My mom is getting engaged, but she doesn’t know yet.”

24 hours before the surprise engagement of my College Mom was to happen, I committed to witnessing and documenting it. An 8 hour Megabus journey later (never again), I was in Hampton, Virginia. Inside, I was bubbling over with joy knowing what was to come.

I had no experience capturing proposals until this day, but it is a request that I have grown to enjoy since. After many cases of trial and error, here are the best tips to making sure your proposal is documented perfectly and a day you and your partner will never forget!



Before you do anything else, decide how public you want the proposal to be for the both of you. Do you prefer something a bit more intimate or are you open to strangers and passerbys being able to partake in this moment? Maybe you don’t mind the crowd but your love gets nervous under public scrutiny. Use this to pick a location that is suitable for the both of you!

Note, if you choose a place that is popular or touristy, consider proposing during non-peak days/hours. That way, the proposal is still relatively intimate, if that’s what you’re looking for.



As a photographer, I advise my clients to consider proposing an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. This time changes based on the seasons. In Philadelphia, sunset ranges anywhere from 4pm to 8pm, depending on the time of year.

If you have a full evening planned, think through the timing of the proposal. If it is the first thing on your agenda, it relieves you of the nerves and sets a beautiful tone for the rest of the night. If last, it is the perfect cap on a wonderful day.


  1. Send Your Location

Location is everything. Get precise when describing exactly where the proposal will occur. “Somewhere around City Hall” isn’t descriptive enough. If the place doesn’t have a physical address, such as Fairmount Park, drop a pin at the spot. This helps me as a photographer scout for the perfect hiding spots and vantage points.



Make sure you send the most recent picture of the both of you AND a picture of what you’ll be wearing (and if you can’t get a picture of your attire, write exactly what you’ll be wearing). I also like to send along a written description of what I will be wearing, in case we are in a crowded place and I need to “blend” into the scene.

This helps to make sure we are documenting the right couple at the right time.


BONUS: Turn it into a mini engagement session!

When the surprises get even better! Some people love turning their proposal into an engagement session. It’s an amazing way to capture the authenticity of such a special and celebratory moment in your lives. Then, some people are so overwhelmed with emotion (#teamuglycry) that they just need a moment to take it all in. Others prefer just the pure documentation of the event and nothing more—get in and get out. Decide what works best for you and communicate this with your photographer. That way, we will be able to set up a timeline that allows us to account for weather and environmental elements.

Couple in Fairmount Park Tonjanika Smith



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