Ethan McGinn knew he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Amy Verdin, for a long, long time before he actually had the opportunity.
So, during the 18 months between the date when Amy's sister announced her engagement and her wedding in Italy, the 31-year-old McGinn had time to get creative.
"I wanted to be respectful and not steal her sister's thunder," McGinn says over the phone. "I wanted to wait until she and her fiance got married. But, I didn't know their engagement would take two years."
McGinn, 31, and Verdin, 24, met four years ago while both were attending nursing school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Verdin was pretty and smart and has a great sense of humor, and McGinn says he was instantly smitten.
Last January, McGinn, who has a background in art, was blowing the snow off the driveway at the couple's Frederick home when he decided to write his sweetheart's first name in the snow. The result came out so well that he photographed the scene, printed it out and had it framed.
The obvious next step was to take a series of photographs over the next seven months, spelling out McGinn's proposal one word at a time. He says he chose places that had special meaning to the couple.
For instance, the couple had a date one night on Federal Hill to watch the sun set. While Verdin parked her car, McGinn hurriedly spelled out the word "will" using his motorcycle jacket and boots, and then snapped the photo before she could return.
"You", which features the couple's dogs, Elsa and Sam, was taken on a beach in Calvert County where Verdin grew up.
"Marry" was shot the night before the actual proposal in the couple's hotel room in Venice, using the engagement ring that McGinn planned to slip on her finger.
"Me" was shot on a lake in New Hampshire close to where McGinn grew up. Squiggles of suntan lotion on his crossed feet spell out the words. (That's Verdin in the kayak, cuddling McGinn's niece.)
After attending the destination wedding, McGinn suggested to his girlfriend that they prolong their vacation. On Aug. 30, when they were taking a gondola ride in Venice, he pulled out his cell phone and showed Verdin the slide show he'd created. Then, he watched nervously as comprehension slowly dawned across her face.
It didn't take Verdin long to say yes.
"Amy said that she smiled so much that her cheeks hurt," McGinn says.