Wedding Photo Chat with Ralph Alswang, Thursday, March 20, at 11 AM

Ralph Alswang, who has been doing wedding photography for almost 20 years, has also worked for Newsweek and Reuters and was Bill and Hillary Clinton’s official documentary photographer, a job that took him to 50 states and more than 60 countries. He chats

Ralph Alswang, who has been doing wedding photography for almost 20 years, has also worked for Newsweek and Reuters and was Bill and Hillary Clinton’s official documentary photographer, a job that took him to 50 states and more than 60 countries. He started his current photo company, Alswang Photography, six years ago.

Thank you for all of your great questions. It's an honor to be a wedding photographer. Please feel free to contact me with more questions anytime at And remember—good kissing is really important on your wedding day. And have fun.


Washington, DC
My fiance and I will have our engagement photos taken in DC next week (March 24th & 25th). Because our wedding is in North Carolina, our wedding photographer is out-of-town and is only marginally familiar with the DC area. We're wondering where we should take our visiting vendor to snap some great photos with noticable DC landmarks in the background. Our photographer has been to DC before and is suggesting the reflecting pool as a place for us to start.
I think you should choose a site that has great importance to you. Maybe you had a great date there, or it's important to you somehow personally. That is a better way to approach the portrait session than just picking a random site. The reflecting pool is a beautiful site, and the DC area has many great locations to photograph in.
Dupont Circle
I have a friend who's a really great amateur photographer. I see his photos every day on his Flickr site, but he's never done a wedding. But we're thinking about hiring him for a couple of reasons: 1. He would be so cheap! 2. It would mean a lot to us to have a good friend as opposed to some stranger shooting our wedding. Do you think this is a bad idea? If we do hire him, how can we test him out and instruct him on the kind of shots we want? Can he get practice anywhere before our wedding?
I think cheap in photography is always dangerous. This is the one concrete piece you're going to walk away with besides each other, so it's important that it's done right. I totally understand the need for budgeting, but on the Washingtonian list of recommended photographers there are many who have associates and different pricing for them. I would contact a few of them. I think it's great to use your friend, but I would be very careful of the results, and the loss of memories if the pictures don't turn out and the loss of friendship if things don't go well.
Arlington, VA
Hi Ralph! My ceremony and reception are being held at the same place and I am wondering how much time I need to book our photographer for. If we are starting the ceremony at 4:30 p.m. and plan to take pictures before the ceremony, what time do you think we should start? The reception is ending at 10 p.m. Thanks for taking my question!
It depends if you want the photographer to do "getting ready" photographs, such as putting on the dress or doing hair or moments with your good friends as you're getting ready. If you do want that plus take portraits before the ceremony, I think you should give yourself at least two hours. As far as total amount of coverage time, I think you need to book the photographer for at least six hours.
Washington, DC
Hi, Ralph. Are there certain colors that photograph better than others? I haven't picked bridesmaid dresses yet and any advice would help! Bright colors?
I love all color. I think what makes you happy on your wedding day is what is most important in choosing those things. You should go to Hitched, which is on Washingtonian's vendor list, and Julia and Carin will give you a good point of view on color choice and what's going on with bridal fashion and bridesmaids dresses.
Bethesda, MD
How much time do photos usually take after the ceremony? I'm trying to figure out what time to start the reception. Thanks!
Give yourself a solid 30 minutes by the time you get everybody together to take care of the photos that are needed. I have a theory on posed portraits. It should come down to about 6 groupings. You want a good one of yourself and your partner, you want one of your family together. Make sure you take really good pictures of your direct family. It's always important to keep the parents happy at a wedding. Do his family together, both families together. Then, do the bride with the bridesmaids, then have the groom come in, and the same setup for the groom and the groomsmen. Finally, an image of your bridal party at the location that puts it in context of where you are. I can do all of that within 30 minutes. All of these groupings are important, but what is most important is you all being comfortable and enjoying the process of the portraits. So if less is better for you, then do less. And always share a good kiss.
Washington, DC
I have light eyes and always seem to have trouble outdoors in sunlight- imagine how those pictures turn out! Have any tips? I don't want to ruin beautiful wedding pictures by squinting and closing my eyes.
Two important things: Choose a really good makeup artist from the Washingtonian vendor list. It sounds like you have great eyes and it's important to enhance them and bring them out. If I'm photographing your wedding and you told me this, I would try to find really good locations in the open shade, such as under beautiful trees, or in the indirect sunlight in the door of a church. If you feel yourself squinting, tell your photographer that's happening and you need to find another location to take the picture. 
Can you suggest some unique ideas for engagement photos? I'm kinda bored with couple in field, couple in front of landmark building, blah blah blah…I want something fun and special and a little bit wacky!
I can't agree more. Do you have a favorite bar that you had a great date at? Is there a location where you had a wonderful dinner together? Do you have a place that you have a favorite milkshake together? Go there and have a drink together, and you're laughing together and holding martini glasses or sharing a milkshake, and have the photographer capture that. Then, I would go on the street, because usually these places you like are in great areas, and do some really great street portraiture.
Washington, DC – Getting married in 57 Days!
Hi Ralph – My wedding is in May in St. Michaels, MD. My photographer lives in DC and wants to go out to the wedding site with me before our date for a "walk through." I'd be glad to go if we were getting married in DC, but it is not around the corner from here and basically requires a day trip on an upcoming weekend. With all of the other last minute things we have to take care of, I'd rather not go out there again until the wedding. Is this something our photographer might be able to do on her own? Or could she just get there a little early on our wedding day instead? Why is a walk through necessary? Thanks! Sarah
I think the use of your time is the most important thing. But with that said, you should discuss this with your photographer one more time to make sure that if you don't all go out there together, that you're comfortable with this not happening and the photographer not getting the info and approach they may need to do the work well. You could ask the photographer to do it early on the wedding day, but it might cut into your coverage time depending on how your package is put together. I would ask the photographer if they've worked there before and what their concerns are.
Boston, MA
For weddings, do you prefer to do staged shots or candid or a combination of both? And, why?
I believe a photojournalistic documentary style is the best approach. Take 15 to 30 minutes to do a few formal portraits of your family and friends. I think what you'll remember in 20 years are the images that have emotional impact and historical importance, such as your father and mother giving a toast talking about how amazing a person you are and what an incredible moment this is for them. And that's a completely candid moment.
Washington, DC
I'm sure you have stories! What shoot have you most enjoyed doing thus far?
About six years ago when I started really doing serious wedding coverage, I photographed a wonderful bride with her father. At the time I did not know, but her father was dying of cancer. He was an amazing man who had retired as a New York police officer. I grew up in New York City, and so we had a connection. About a week after the wedding the bride contacted me and asked if I could have the photographs ready. This is when digital photography had just started, and it was a month-long process to get images ready for a bride. So I stayed up for 3 days straight so that she could bring the pictures to her father in his bed in the last weeks of his life. These were the last images he saw of his daughter and himself. This is why I love being a wedding photographer—capturing memories that clients will have for their lifetimes and beyond.
Silver Spring, MD
Hi Ralph! I've been doing make-up on and off since right after highschool, but after college got caught up in the corporate world and just relocated to DC. Make-up artistry is still a huge passion on mine and I would like to start focusing on it again. Any advice for someone who (stupidly!) didn't keep up with her book, but is very good at what she does? Thanks!!
I would go on the Washingtonian list and look at Web sites of makeup artists and contact them and see if they need an intern or somebody to help them on wedding days with clients. 
What's the most unique location you've ever photographed at?
Two years ago I did a beautiful wedding on Bald Head Island in North Carolina. I think it would be a great destination wedding location for Washington couples, especially April or May weddings and September/October weddings. It's off season on the island and you would get good deals. It's a barrier island off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and it's just pristine and beautiful.
If you had to choose, black and white or color photography for weddings?
I love black and white. But the majority of my weddings, about 30% of the images are in black and white and the rest are in color. I would love to do a complete black and white wedding, but my clients always want a mix. I love black and white because it gets directly to the connection that the couple has to their wedding rather than people looking at how beautiful the pink dress is or how great the red roses look. It gets down to, that was the most amazing kiss, or look at that smile.
Washington, DC
My fiancee is really attached to her dog, a pet poodle, a little TOO much. She wants to include it in some of the pictures taken of us on our wedding day. I really don't think it is appropriate, ESPECIALLY with it being a little white poodle (make it a golden retriever or something, and we'll talk). Do people ever have photos taken like this? How do I get out of this one??
If you want to have a really good marriage, you should start now and let her walk the dog down the aisle if she wants to. I wish you all the best and I wish I was your photographer. It will make for amazing pictures. And remember, smile through all of them.
washington, dc
I want a photojournalist photographer! i don't wan't the cheesey pictures where everyone is lined up looking unhappy and angry. How can I make this happen?
Be very direct with your photographer. Tell him you don't like posed pictures and you don't want to do them. But I would still do one large wedding party photo and a really good portrait of yourselves together.
washington, dc
I really don't want to see my groom before I walk down the isle! On the other hand I don't want my guests to be waiting around while we go around the city for 2 hours taking pictures! What to do ?
I totally understand your concern, but if you give everybody a half hour to get to the cocktail reception, everybody has a drink and a smile and is ready for you, during this time you should be able to fit in the photographs that are  necessary. I think it's great to walk in to your reception and feel like the party is happening.
Washington, DC
Ralph! I want to take pictures all around the city! My husband Tim and I met working on Capitol hill, had our first date in Georgetown, used to live in Adams morgan, and now live in Dupont. I know it sounds dorky, but I want pictures all around the city as they were all very important to us. I'd like them to be in my wedding dress though. Is this a waste of time and money? Or should I save this for more of an engagement photoshoot?
You should do this as an engagement shoot. Much more relaxed, and more time. I call this a lifestyle engagement portrait, and they are really fun and wonderful to do, and you need a few hours to do them. That's not the best use of time on your wedding day.
washington, dc
Hello! I'm having my wedding in July. It's going to be SOOOOO hot outside. I don't want to be a sweaty mess in my pictures… I don't want my bridesmaids and groomsen looking gross either. Any reccomendations on when and where we could take some cooler/shady pictures.
It depends where your wedding is, but try to find shade for the time of day at the location that you want to be photographed at. And don't be outside more than 15 minutes! Have cold drinks available while you do the portraits outside. An opening to a building is always a good shady spot. If you want to use the monuments, there are a few locations that have shade. The Capitol, I think on the North side, has a park that has shade.
Washington, DC
What's up with this "photojournalism" trend in wedding photography? Doesn't anyone take posed photographs anymore? And aren't those "action" shots usually staged?
The majority of good wedding photographers take a percentage of posed photographs and very rarely are action shots staged. Sometimes you encourage a couple to kiss or hold each other a little bit, but you're trying to work in a way that they're comfortable and that's truthful to what's going on at the moment. 
Washington, DC
Where do you stand on giving the digital images of your work to your clients?
I do give images at the end of the process to my clients. I build the pricing of this into my packages. Usually the images are given to the client about six months after the wedding. 
Washington, DC
Hello Ralph! If it rains on my wedding day I will be so upset. I know this sounds stupid…but a bright sunny day is so important for me. If it does rain.. which with my luck I'm sure it will… how can I still get pictures with the beautiful buildings of DC in them despite the rain?!?!
Use an umbrella and a bottle of Champagne and have a great time.