How to Propose - The Ultimate Guide

Everything You Need to Know to Plan the Perfect Marriage Proposal

how to propose man kneeling down to present engagement ring to his fiance during their fall proposal amongst the aspen trees and mountains

The Ultimate Guide on How to Propose

Not sure how to propose? Planning the perfect marriage proposal is no doubt a nerve-wracking process, but it doesn’t have to be hard to navigate. As a wedding professional and photographer, I have years of experience in proposal planning, and I’m here to share my best marriage proposal advice.

We’ll chat about everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable proposal. How soon is too soon to propose? We’ll break it down. Is asking for permission before proposing necessary? We’ll discuss the pros and cons. What do you say when proposing? I’ve got all the details. And I’ll even share all the information on how not to propose, so you can avoid common mistakes and pitfalls. Let’s dive in.

man holding his fiancees hand while she wears her engagement ring after he figures out how to propose

Disclosure: If you choose to purchase anything through my links, I may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through my links helps support this small wedding business and is greatly appreciated. Every product and recommendation included in this article on how to propose is curated with love, from selling platforms I use and trust myself (and that I recommend to the couples I work with).

Have You Two Talked About Marriage Yet?

Important Discussions to Have Before Planning How to Propose

I’m going to be real with you: TV and movies make marriage proposals seem like an unexpected, completely out-of-left-field type of thing, when in reality they aren’t. Nor should they be.

That’s not to say you can’t plan a surprise marriage proposal (you totally can, and many people do!). But before you even begin to plan how to propose, it’s important that you and your partner have talked about the idea of marriage in the first place.

Not everyone wants to get married, and not everyone has the same timeline for marriage. Are you sure you and your partner are on the same page? Make sure you have that discussion well before you plan your epic marriage proposal.

Because the first step in figuring out how to propose is deciding if you even should be, in the first place.

Is Asking Permission Before a Marriage Proposal Necessary?

How to Navigate Marriage Proposal Tradition, While Staying True to Your Relationship

This is one of those must-consider questions to consider when figuring out how to propose. The short answer on whether to ask for permission is this: it depends.

Asking for permission before a marriage proposal is a pretty traditional act, and in some parts of the country and world, it’s considered a best practice. That said, your marriage is about you and your partner, so if following those traditions doesn’t matter to the two of you, there’s no need to follow them.

As a wedding professional, I’ve seen every side of this story, and I’ve worked with couples who think the idea of asking for permission is outdated and antiquated, and ones who love it. This truly comes down to personal preference, upbringing, and what feels right for you, your partner, and your loved ones.

How Soon is Too Soon to Propose?

Does Marriage Proposal Timing Really Matter All That Much?

proposal on a hiking trail in the mountains - how soon is too soon to propose

Part of figuring out how to propose is figuring out how soon is too soon to propose. Want to know something crazy? As someone who photographs weddings, I’ve seen couples get engaged within a few weeks of meeting each other, and ones who have chosen to tie the knot or propose after more than a decade of being together. And you know what? I’ve seen both types of marriages truly last and thrive.

Choosing when and how to propose isn’t necessarily about the time you’ve waited to pop the question. It’s about the connection you and your partner have with one another, how aligned you are on your values, whether you’re on the same page from a lifestyle standpoint, and where you see your future together going. 

And of course, it all comes down to love. Have you spent enough time with this person to know you love them and can’t imagine spending your life with anyone else?

All of that said, it’s important to differentiate between love and lust here. The honeymoon phase in any relationship can mask things, and it’s important to experience some ups, downs, and real arguments with one another before committing to a marriage proposal. You want to see your partner at their best and their worst.

The reality is, marriage, as incredible as it is, is not always sunshine and rainbows. I actually don’t prescribe to the notion that “marriage is hard.” In fact, I wholeheartedly disagree with that. My own marriage presents plenty of challenges, but the connection I have with my husband makes it rewarding, not hard. That said, you are signing up for a partner for life, and you need to know how you two collaborate with each other.

So before you start figuring out how to propose, make sure your partner is someone you can lean on, trust, and are excited to do life with. And on that note…

Important Discussions to Have Before Planning How to Propose

How to Propose and Get a Sure-Fire "Yes"

how to propose at a scenic location without crowds and with the best lighting conditions

There are many things to discuss before planning a marriage proposal, but a few big ones stand out above all the rest. Disconnects over these topics can cause serious problems over the long run, so do yourselves a favor and talk these topics over before thinking about how to propose.


Do you have student loans or other debt? Do you have different perspectives on spending, budgeting, and saving? What are your short, intermediate, and long-term financial goals? Heck, for a potential wedding itself, are your spending preferences even compatible?

Finances are one of the most important topics to discuss before considering how to propose. Investing time into deep conversations to ensure you’re aligned financially can be one of the best decisions you can make.

If you realize you have different outlooks, it might not be the end of the world. You can discuss ways to structure your finances to reduce the potential for conflict while not breeding resentment over time. But if you choose to proceed, it will take persistent efforts throughout your marriage to be flexible, work with each other, and learn how to compromise. 


Do you want children? Does your partner want children? Do you have the same answer? If your answers differ, are you open to changing your mind? These are questions I highly recommend asking before deciding how to propose.

Let’s assume you both want children. Since we talked about finances, it also makes sense to think about whether you are also of similar mind when it comes to the monetary and time-related investments of raising children.

If your preferences on the matter differ and you’re not willing to compromise, there’s really no sense in planning how to propose.

Of course, some people do eventually change their minds. But it’s not fair to either of you to take a step towards marriage with such a disconnect on such an important matter.

Religious Beliefs

Is a religious tradition important to you or your partner? If you’re already on the same page, that’s fantastic. But if you don’t share a religion or if a shared religion has disproportionate levels of significance to you, it’s a crucial conversation to have before proposing. And if you’re considering having children one day, it heightens the importance.

What are your expectations for each others’ interaction with your religion? How will you expose potential children to your beliefs? Discussing how you would plan on engaging with religion and religious activities before proposing is important to avoid unexpected conflict later in your relationship.

How to Propose

A Step-By-Step Marriage Proposal Guide

Now that we’ve covered the essential marriage proposal FAQs, let’s dive into our recommended steps on how to propose. We’ll walk through everything you need to know.

1. Do You Plan on Proposing with an Engagement Ring?

How to Find the Perfect Engagement Ring to Propose Marriage With

marriage proposal engagement rings stacked together

Traditionally speaking, marriage proposals typically involve an engagement ring, but it’s by no means necessary. If you’re at the point where you’re wondering how to propose, you’ve likely already had discussions about marriage with your partner, and they may have even shared some of their favorite engagement ring styles. Use this as a jumping off point.

If you have no idea where to start, don’t worry! This is where friends and family can come in to help. See if your partner’s best friend has collaboration access to your partner’s Pinterest board, with ring inspiration and ideas. 

Family is also an excellent source for details on what type of ring and gemstone styles your partner likes. You can also plan your marriage proposal with a family ring, which is a super heartfelt and meaningful gesture.

When it comes to more unique and unexpected engagement ring styles for proposals, I personally love Etsy. They have so many unique and unexpected ring styles, and plenty of options for every budget range. Plus, you’re supporting local artists and sellers when you buy through them, too

2. Consider Who to Invite to the Marriage Proposal

How to Propose With and Without Loved Ones Present

how to propose post marriage proposal celebration at a cabin in the woods

If your partner is close with their family, it can be nice to have them waiting on site to celebrate after you propose. Coordinate a way for them to come about after you two have had your moment and they’ve said yes.

That said, having family present at your marriage proposal is by no means a requirement, and many couples opt not to do it. If that’s you, skip this step in the “how to propose” process. If you like the idea of privacy and sharing in this moment just the two of you, plan something intimate and cozy, without friends and family present.

When it comes to how to propose with loved ones present, this really comes up to personal preference. Do you imagine your partner would want family and/or friends there to celebrate with immediately after you pop the question? Then it’s worth considering. If not, something cozy and intimate is an amazing option.

3. Consult with a Marriage Proposal Professional

Who Can Help You Choose a Time of Year, Time of Day, and Epic Proposal Location

engaged couple reaching out for each others hands after planning how to propose

What do I mean by marriage proposal professional? Basically, that includes anyone who can guide you through the process of how to propose. Typically, this will be a photographer, but some people may opt to hire a marriage proposal planner as well.

Let’s break things down. There’s a good chance you want to propose at an epic location, at a less busy time of day where you can have more privacy. And it wouldn’t hurt to have some gorgeous photos to remember the moment by. This is where marriage proposal professionals come in.

Your proposal photographer can recommend the best time of year for that epic Colorado mountaintop proposal, for example (since many amazing mountain locations aren’t open year-round and have very finicky weather). Since part of any good photographer’s job is to scout awesome locations for their couples, they should already have a list of awesome spots at the ready, and be aware of the conditions there. 

Your proposal photographer will also have all the information on any permits you may need to have to have any sort of proposal or event at a spot (and believe it or not, many outdoors places do require these permits!).

Beyond that, your proposal photographer is also an expert on lighting, and can help you choose the best time of day for the best proposal pictures. I’ll speak more to the best days of the week and times of day for proposals in a bit!

4. Visit Your Marriage Proposal Location in Advance

How to Narrow Down the Perfect Spot to Propose

casual mountain marriage proposal on a hiking trail

Part of figuring out how to propose is making sure you’re as prepared as possible. If you’re planning your marriage proposal in a location close to where you already live, I always recommend making a visit out there around the time of day and year you plan on proposing. This will allow you to scope out the exact spot where you plan to pop the question.

Again, this is one of those scenarios where I highly recommend checking in with your proposal photographer or planner. See if they have any specific spots at your preferred location that would be especially perfect for the proposal. Typically, they’ll recommend a spot where the light hits best and where the views are especially gorgeous (never underestimate the power of good light!).

“How to Propose” Pro Tip: When choosing where to propose, make sure to also have a backup location selected, if your first choice is an outdoors spot. You’re at the mercy of the weather, and you want to make sure you have options in case they’re needed.

5. Choose the Best Day of the Week and Time of Day for Your Marriage Proposal

How to Propose Without Crowds Nearby

how to propose in a secluded location with the best lighting conditions possible

As a general rule to get you started, if privacy is important to you, I always recommend planning your marriage proposal on a weekday (and ideally at sunrise for the best light and least amount of people present). The closer to mid-week you can get for your proposal, the better. 

Why? If you plan on proposing at a popular spot, you can expect most people to visit that spot on or close to the weekend. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to busy, popular locations in the middle of the week and barely seen a soul.

The best time of year for proposing will vary greatly, depending on the type of location you’ve chosen for the proposal. For example, where I’m based in Colorado, the month of July is when the wildflowers are blooming like crazy in the mountains, and it’s gorgeous. If you want to know how to propose to truly take your partner’s breath away, mid-to-late July in the Rocky Mountains is a total winner. Meanwhile, May is still mud and snow season, and generally is a bad choice. 

On the other hand, May could be gorgeous for a coastal California Big Sur marriage proposal. Your proposal photographer can guide you through this part of the process on how to propose and help you make the best choice on timing.

6. What to Wear for Your Marriage Proposal

How to Propose with the Perfect Outfit Choices

how to propose with the perfect outfit

There’s no official blueprint on how to dress when you propose. It’s going to be very dependent on the type of location you’re proposing at. If you’re proposing after a long mountain hike, dressing up in a suit may not necessarily make sense, unless you plan on changing at the summit.

Whereas if you propose at a gorgeous mountain overlook near a trailhead, you can certainly go with a more formal option. My guidance for what to wear for a marriage proposal is basically identical to what I recommend wearing for an engagement session, especially since so many couples opt to add engagement session photos on to their proposal coverage. So if you’re unsure check out my guide that goes into all the details on great outfit options.

7. Decide Whether You Want Your Proposal Photographer Hidden or in Plain Sight

How to Propose with a Solid Logistical Game Plan

woman displaying her engagement ring with her hands around her fiance's neck after he proposes marriage

Now let’s chat about the specific logistics of how to propose. There are typically two camps of proposals: the ones where the photographer is completely hidden from the couple and the one where you both are aware that a photographer is present. 

Personally, I prefer the latter, since that gives your proposal photographer the ability to move around and capture the best shots of the proposal. The reality is, when you have to hide, your compositions are limited.

You’re probably wondering what the heck I mean when I say your photographer doesn’t have to be hidden. I’ll explain. Whenever I photograph proposals where I’m not hidden, both parties in the couple know that I’m there. But the person being proposed to simply thinks I’m just there for a fun photo session, and nothing more.

I collaborate with the proposing person to come up with a storyline that their partner is sure to believe, and we plan around that. That way, I can be in plain sight, make recommendations on good spots for photos, and so forth. Then when the proposer is ready to go, they’ll give me some sort of signal or nod, and I’ll respond back with a code word or action confirming I’m ready. That’s when the magic moment happens. Simple as that! And no one suspects a thing.

Any marriage proposal pro should be able to seamlessly guide you through this part of how to propose. Always be sure to ask any vendors you’re working with how they can help you plan this whole process so that your partner doesn’t get suspicious.

8. Craft a Heartfelt Proposal Speech

How to Propose in a Truly Unforgettable Way

how to propose marriage proposal speech handwritten in a vow notebook

This one is my favorite step in the process of how to propose, because it’s when your heartfelt feelings truly get to shine. All those thoughts you’ve been thinking and those reasons why you want to spend the rest of your life with this person? This moment is when you get to share them.

Much like my recommendation for crafting epic wedding vows, I highly recommend coming up with your words over the course of a few weeks, if not more. Take the time to write down your favorite things about your partner. Make note of any adventures you’ve taken together, meaningful moments, tough and exciting moments you’ve gone through together.

Personally, I absolutely adore this gorgeous handmade letterpress notebook for writing down those words. It makes for a super special marriage proposal keepsake you two can look back on for years to come.

9. Brainstorm Ways to Personalize Your Propsal

How to Propose in a Unique and Unexpected Way

man choosing how to propose with a puppy in hand on a rooftop in the city

Personalizing your marriage proposal is one of the best ways to make it special. Do you play an instrument? Consider playing it during your proposal, if that’s something your partner would love.

Do you and your partner love spending time out on the trails? Plan for a proposal at the summit of your favorite mountain hike or in the heart of your favorite mountain town.

Do the two of you love re-visiting the place where you first met? It could be worth considering making that the spot you choose to pop the question.

10. Plan for the After-Proposal

How to Plan Proposal Parties, Celebrations, and More

how to propose post marriage proposal hot springs soaking session in the mountains

Part of figuring out how to propose is also figuring out what to do after you’ve popped the question and your partner has said yes. This can be as simple as bringing along a celebratory champagne or planning a soak in your favorite off-the-beaten-path mountain hot spring, or as elaborate as a post marriage proposal party with friends and family afterward.

Most of the couples I work with actually plan to have engagement photos taken after the proposal, so we can capture the bliss and excitement of the moment. Ultimately, your post marriage proposal activities don’t have to be elaborate, but it’s important to come up with something thoughtful and meaningful to the two of you. 

Post proposal ideas could include: a picnic at the overlook where you popped the question, a reservation at your partner’s favorite restaurant, a night of stargazing after sunset proposal, the list goes on!

How Not to Propose - Pitfalls to Avoid

So we’ve talked a lot about how to propose. But what are some must-know no-no’s when it comes to marriage proposals? Let’s chat about how not to propose. 

Like we mentioned earlier, the worst thing you can do is surprise your partner out of the blue with a marriage proposal, when you two have never talked about marriage before. That should be a given.

Another tip on how not to propose would be planning a proposal in an extremely public and high pressure place if you know your partner is more introverted and would prefer more privacy. Some people genuinely don’t like the spotlight, and you want your proposal to be something they are comfortable with and excited about.

And lastly, another big mistake is forgetting to personalize your marriage proposal. You’re asking your partner to spend their life with you. And part of figuring out how to propose is making sure you tell them why. Recap your story. Tell them why you find them so special and captivating. 

Reiterate how much you love them. Make promises for the future. I promise you, there’s nothing more endearing and special than the words you share when you propose. The ring, the location, the celebration…none of it compares to the words you have to share. Whether they be short, long, simple, or complex doesn’t matter. But they should come from the heart.

You’ve got this. You officially know how to propose, and with a little bit of planning and preparation, you are going to blow your partner away. Trust in yourself and your feelings for them. That’s what matters most.

Now You Know the Essentials of How to Propose. Need More Engagement and Wedding Planning Advice?

I’ve got you covered with all the resources you need to plan the perfect day. For all the details on what to wear to your engagement session, I’m sharing my best tips and outfits in this guide.

For advice on what shoes to wear for adventure-focused elopements in the great outdoors, head over here.

And for the A-Z on budgeting for your elopement and how it compares to big, traditional weddings, check out my full cost analysis.

Sheena Shahangian Photography LLC

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