Neil Colton Photographer: The Blog » Professional Lifestyle, Portrait & Travel Photography by Neil Colton

A Washington, DC travel photographer’s view of Charleston, SC, in an ongoing series about travel and travel photography.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE, CHARLESTON, SC

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We were supposed to be in Barcelona.

Instead, we are sitting on a hard plank bench at the front of a weather beaten covered wooden wagon, being pulled by two aging mules through the streets of this 350 year old southern city.  Yes, mules. From our tour guide, we learn that mules are best for this sort of thing. Less mercurial. More cooperative. Easier to manage. Who knew. As we start our tour, our resident-scholar-farm-boy-part-time-law-student-turned-tour-guide launches into a monologue about South Carolina’s glorious political heritage,  embodied in that great southern independent thinker, statesman and champion of free thought,  Strom Thurmond. Terrie and I trade concerned glances. I look at my watch. We are 10 minutes into an hour long tour. This is going to be a very long ride. The heat and humidity of high summer in the south is oppressive. We roll on.

Through the streets of Charleston, South Carolina.

Back to Barcelona. That is where this trip was to start. We would fly into El Prat Airport, in Spain, spend a few wonderful days in Barcelona, then hire a car and drive though northwestern Spain to Andorra. From Andorra, we would travel along the eastern coast of France to Marseille and Monaco. Slowly, we would wind our way to Paris, reveling in the French countryside and treating ourselves to the local cuisine, washed down with the wine of the day. It was settled. Done. Reservations had been made. Only the plane tickets were left to buy. Then, at the last minute, an unexpected change for us to come up with a new itinerary, stateside.

A trip to Paris and Barcleona had been easy for us to agree on. Where to go in North America would not be.

I lobbied to go north. Quebec had been wonderful. We fell in love with the city and vowed to return, soon. That was nearly 10 years ago. My vote was Quebec. No contest. Quebec with a Montreal chaser. Let’s book the flight. Terrie loved Quebec, right? Yes, she did, but not for this trip. This time, she decided, we were going south, to the Carolinas.  With day trips into the deep south, where we could enjoy “southern hospitality”, experience the “beauty of the old south” and “travel to places we had never been before”. Reluctantly, I was IN.

Next stop, Charleston, South Carolina.

Consistently ranked as one of the 10 Best Cities to visit in the US, Charleston knows how to take care of tourists and travelers.

From Wikipedia:

‘Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston has received numerous accolades, including “America’s Most Friendly City” by Travel + Leisure in 2011, and 2013 and 2014 by Condé Nast Traveler and “the most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living magazine.’

Charleston is all that and more.

Looking back, I wish we had planned more time in Charleston. As it was, this was the third/fourth stop on our Southern Tour, after stops along the Carolina coast and a trip to Savannah, Georgia. By the time we arrived in Charleston, I had one eye on the road north, heading home to Washington, DC. This would be the last leg of this trip and we had clearly saved the best for last. In the end, we only allowed for a few days in Charleston. It deserved more.

Back on the covered wagon.

The tour picked up pace, politics made way for historic architecture and stories of this charming city. A cool evening breeze moved in, clearing away the heat and humidity of the day. Our tour guide even taught us how to make southern fried cheese. Really.

 

For Travelers and Photographers

Charleston is a very photogenic city, as you can see. Lots of good eye candy there. I was drawn to the French Quarter on this trip. My background as an architectural photographer, and history buff, led me there. The French Quarter, alone, could keep a photographer busy for days. I had an hour and a half. I tried to use it wisely.

The images I have included for this post were captured on two separate days over a combined period of about three hours. That’s not a lot of photography, at least not for me. On an assignment, or traveling alone, I’ve been known to shoot from dawn to dusk, grab some for fuel, then out again after dark. Depending on the place and the assignment, that could on for days or longer.

Like most vacations, I was not alone.  I shot this more like a vacationer might. A snapshot of the city, but not the whole story. Not compelling content, but rather a collection of photographs that convey a sense of place.

Most of us don’t travel alone to beautiful cities, alone, simply to photograph them. We are traveling with friends and/or family. The challenge for photographers on vacation, and vacation travelers with cameras,  is how to capture a place with memorable images, without straining relationships with friends and family. Here are a few tips that can help you capture the sense of a place and still keep the peace with your significant other.

  • Scout before you go. Take a virtual tour of the city or place you’ll be visiting. Identify the areas, and things, that will help you tell the story of your visit. Have a plan for your photography, before you get there.
  • Work your photography into the flow of the vacation. Wedge an hour of photography into a shopping trip or the like. Take a stroll, together, through parts of the city you want to photograph, with a shared event, like lunch or dinner at a special place, as the end reward for patience.
  • Travel light. I carry one camera body and 2/3 lenses. max. In Charleston, I used my Nikon D4 and 2 lenses to capture all of the images here. The 24-70 f/2.8 is my workhorse for travel photography. For details and tight shots, I use the 70-200 f/2.8. I prefer the VR II version. On this trip, the 70-200 wasn’t with me, so I used a 20 year old 80-200 f/2.8 as my long lens. No VR, but still a great lens. You don’t need the latest and greatest gear to create good images. What matters more is technique.
  • Know your gear. This seems like common sense, right. Funny, though, how people (photographers included) often wait until the moment they are about to press the shutter release (or after…) to learn their way around the gear they have in their hands. Know before you go. Your pictures will be better for it.
  • Keep it simple. Visual story telling, for travel photography, is about creating  a collection of images that convey a sense of place. Trying to capture that singular image that your friends, family (or editor somewhere) will swoon over, will take valuable time away from the rest of the story. Odds are that a completely unscripted, unintended, brilliant scene will come along and you’ll be there to capture it.
  • Be conservative, but be good. This is not a political suggestion, even though this is Charleston. No, this is about doing the best you can to capture images quickly and well, then moving on to the next image. If you’re a professional photographer, you know this. Enough said. What I often find, working with amateur photographers in workshops, is a need to overshoot. Dozens of images of the same scene. Control this and your work, and life, will be better for it. Think quality, not quantity.

To join Neil for travel photography workshops in Washington, DC, visit DC Photography Workshops.

Now, to Charleston.

 

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TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE PHOTOGRAPHY: THE MANISTEE CHRONICLES: ARCADIA BLUFFS

Another offering in an occasional series about travel and travel photography. This post features Arcadia Bluffs, one of the premier public links-style golf courses in the United States, rated the #3 course in the state of Michigan.

Portrait of a golfer at sunset putting as the sunsets on Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia MI.

 

 

Every photographer experiences a period of struggle, when the creative mojo disappears.

When my mojo went south, I went north to recharge my creative batteries in beautiful northern Michigan.  Spending quality time with friends and family was long overdue. After intense periods of work, with relentless deadlines and demanding clients, time away from the camera and clients was a welcome respite. But how to get those creative juices flowing again?  Unlikely as it may seem, I got my creative mojo back during a round of golf on one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses I have ever set foot upon.

A place called Arcadia Bluffs.

From Wikipedia:

Golf Digest selected Arcadia Bluffs as one of the 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the United States in 2005. The course was ranked #10 in America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses list and #56 in the 100 Greatest Golf Courses list. In addition to the Golf Digest ranking, Golfweek magazine ranked Arcadia Bluffs at #24 in their listing of  The 100 Best Courses in United States.”

I am convinced that in the heart of every amateur golfer lies a belief, however fantastic, that one day, in one place, all those hours, days and weeks spent in toil on the fairways will coalesce into a near perfect round.

On this day, in this place, for a few brief moments, that happened to me, at a place called Arcadia Bluffs.

Arcadia Bluffs is a links course, in the style of the early Irish and Scottish courses.  Carved into the bluffs on the shore of Lake Michigan, it is at once awe inspiring and intimidating.  At its highest point, the links are sevaral hundred feet above Lake Michigan. The views from the elevated tee boxes are simply stunning. It is challenge enough to simply play this course, without the pull of amazing vistas to complicate your vision and your swing.

Now, to Arcadia Bluufs and that sublime day.

 

Portrait of Arcadia Bluffs golf course with golfers in the distance along Lake Michigan
Portrait of a golfer as he tees of at Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.A gollfer tees of at Arcdia Bluffs Golf Coirse set against the brillaint summer Michigan sky.Silhouette portrait of a golfer teeing off toward Lake Michigan at Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.Portrait of Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course against a brilliant blue Lake Michigan.Still portrait of a golf ball on a green at the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Candid portrait of a golfer putting at the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Portrait of one of the majestic greens on the Arcadia Bluffs Glof Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Portrait of a lone golfer planning his approach shot on a fairway of the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Portrait of the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan. bathed in late after Michigan summer sun.Portrait of a golfer driving his cart along the fairway as the sun sets on Lake Michigan at the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Action portrait of a golfer powering his way out of a bunker on the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan.
Candid portrait of a golfer chipping onto a green at the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Portrait of a golfer chipping onto the green as the sun sets on Arcadia Bluffs golf course in Arcadia, MichiganSilhouette portrait of a golfer putting on the back nine of Arcsdia Bluffs with Lake Michigan in the background.Portrait of golfers on the tee at Arcadia Bluffs golf course, with Lake Michiga in the background.Portrait of the setting sun on Arcadia Bluffs Gof Course in Arcadia, Michigan.Portrait of the course at Arcadia Bluffs as the sun sets on Lake Michigan.Portrait of three golfers on the back nine of the course at Arcadia Bluffs.Night portrait of the clubhouse at Arcadia Bluffs, as viewed from the 18th fairway.

About the water color. Lake Michigan is a blue like no blue I have ever seen.

That blue is real. I kid you not. I capture all images using the Neutral setting on my Nikon DSLRs. For you Nikon shooters that’s a setting below standard. By below, I mean less saturated. Nikon’s Standard setting ramps up the colors far too much for my liking. The colors in the Standard setting seem unnatural and over saturated, with too much pop. So, I choose the Neutral setting and add color and saturation as needed, in post productiion. I actually had to ramp down (decrese) the colors in many of these shots, because they were so powerful they seemed supernatural. A local resident started to explain why the lake was so blue, but he lost me at kelp.

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TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR: ICONIC SIGHTS OF WASHINGTON, DC

Join me this summer for this compelling photography tour, set in the in the beautiful capital city of Washington, DC.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The capital city of Washington, DC is one of the most photographer friendly and photogenic cities in the world. With broad, well lit streets, a low skyline and classic monumental architecture, Washington, DC is often compared to European cities. For travelers and photographers of all levels, Washington is a wonderland of photographic opportunities just waiting to be captured!

Spend the day capturing images of some of the most iconic architecture and historic sights in the world with photographer Neil Colton. Whether you are a veteran photographer, a visitor or a traveler preparing for a trip, this photography workshop and walking tour is a perfect choice!

The day starts at The White House, before heading to the National Mall, where we will tour some of the most historic monuments and memorials in the world, inlcuding The Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The World War II Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, The FDR Memorial and the new Martin Luther King Memorial.

Neil will work with you throughout the tour to make sure you end the day with a stunning new portfolio of images of this beautiful capital city and its iconic sights!

About Neil

Neil Colton is an award winning Washington, DC  based professional photographer. He began his photography career as an architectural photographer, working with some of Washington’s top architecture and design firms.  Neil has also worked as a photojouranlist and a commercial photographer.  His background in photojournalism gives him an understanding of the power and the craft of visual story telling. His travel and documentary photography has been featured and published in The Washington Post, Elan’ Magazine and Professional Photographer, among others. Working with Neil, you will not only learn about the city and the sites you will visit, you will also learn how to create a photographic story of the day, with compelling images of some of the world’s most iconic and historic buildings and monuments.

 At the end of the day, you will have a new collection of wonderful images of the Iconic Sights of Washington, DC and the city that is home to them!

What You Will Learn

We will discuss both the technical and the creative aspects of travel photography, including:

  • Best gear choices for travel photography
  • How to photograph architecture on your travels
  • How to compose your images for impact
  • How to create extraordinary images from ordinary scenes
  • Creating a visual story of your travels
  • Creating a ‘sense of place’ in your work
  • Photographing people on your travels

Sights On The Tour

  • The White House
  • The Executive Office Building (one of the most distinctive and under appreciated works of monumental architecture in Washington, DC)
  • The Vietnam War Memorial
  • The Lincoln Memorial
  • The Korean War Memorial
  • The WW II Memorial
  • The Martin Luther King Memorial
  • The FDR Memorial
  • The Jefferson Memorial
  • And more, depending on time

View from The Jefferson MemorialIconic Sights of Washingtpn, DC- The Jefferson MemorialSouth facade of The Lincoln MemorialIconic Sights of Washington, DC- The Korean War Memorial
Details of the Old Executive Office Building

Testimonial

“It was truly a great experience having you personally taking me around the city and teaching me excellent photography tips and insights from your considerable personal experience.”

Ian L.

Santa Monica, CA

Join us for this exciting day photographing the iconic sights and monumental architecture of Washington, DC!

Place: Washington, DC

Date 2: Saturday, August 19, 2017

Time: 8AM-12PM

Cost: $125.00

To Register contact Neil at neil@neilcolton.com. Ask about the VIP Discount for Facebook friends and followers!

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The Lincoln Memorial by Neil Colton Photographer

 

Neil Colton Launches Washington, DC Photography Tours

I am excited to announce that I am now offering private photography tours of the beautiful historic city of Washington, DC.

My goal is to provide the most informative, inspirational and enjoyable photographic tours available in the Washington, DC area today. I began my photography craeer as an architectural photographer. Now, after working as a professional photographer in Washington, DC for over a decade, I am eager to share my knowledge of photography and the city of Washington with others.

To that end, I work alongside you throughout the day, sharing my technical and creative knowledge and the history of the iconic sites of this incredibly photogenic city. I believe this hands-on approach is the most effective way to connect with you and to teach the aspects of photography that cannot be learned online or in books. My workshops and tours are kept small and intimate to allow me to work with you directly throughout the day.

My photography tours focus on the historic sights of Washington, but I also offer tours of Georgetown, Adams Morgan, DuPont Circle, Capital Hill and the exciting new Southwest Waterfront. All workhops and tours are customized for you and your small group of up to 4 photographers.

I can guide you on tour designed by me or you may select the locations and destinations and I will write the itinerary, tailoring my instruction especially for you or your small group. 

“It was truly a great experience having you personally taking me around the city and teaching me excellent photography tips and insights from your considerable personal experience.”

Ian L.

Santa Monica, CA

For more Testimonials click here.

To arrange a custom tour, please contact me for availablity and rates.

 

About Neil

Neil’s professional photography experience includes architectural photography, photojournalism, travel photography, event photography, commercial lifestyle photography, editorial photography and portrait photography. Neil has created content for clients such as AirBnb, 500px and Source Media, among others. He has photographed awrad winning architecture for several of Washington, DC’s leading architecture and design firms. Neil has worked for international non-profit organizations, NGOs, newspapers and magazines. Neil is a former Professional Member of the American Photographic Artists (APA) and The American Society of Media Photographers.

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WASHINGTON DC PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY: PORTRAIT OF AN ARCHITECT

 

Washington, DC Portrait Photography: Portrait of an Architect

Portrait of an Architect

 

THE MAKING OF A PORTRAIT OF AN ARCHITECT

When the call came in.I was set up on the front porch, enjoying a rare quiet moment.  I love porches. I spend as much time on ours as I can. Looking back, it was likely the reason we built the house.

Framed  in crisp white trim boards, with a grey flagstone floor, it is a simple porch, spanning nearly the entire width of our Arts + Crafts style home.  Defined by white pyramidal columns, a white Shaker style railing and set against the pale yellow clapboard that wraps the house, it provides a warm and inviting entry into our home. With wide open views of the 280 acres of protected wetlands that border our land, it offers a quiet retreat. I retreat there as often I can.

Back to the call.

It was Mark Yoo, an architect in Alexandria, a city that borders Washington, DC. He was referred to me by a fellow architect. Mark told me he liked my portrait photography style, particularly my environmental portraits. He thought I could be the right portrait photographer for his new project. Mark was building a new website and creating a new brand. He needed a new portrait, a new image, a new look: a portrait that would match his vision of him and his work and complement his new brand. He was not a fan of the ‘typical’ portrait experience. He was hoping my approach to portrait photography would be different. His last portrait session had been “brutal”, according to Mark.

That portrait was ‘professionally’ done in a local studio by a well known photographer. That session checked all the usual boxes:  studio setting, studio lighting, black backdrop, bathroom to the right, you get the point. The result was a generic looking headshot: brightly lit, sharp from front to back, ear to ear awkward smile and lacking any connection to the viewer.  It had all the charm of a marketing promo for a 3rd tier wedding DJ. Mark hated it.

For the next 20 minutes, Mark talked about architecture and his work, passionately. He spoke of his vision, of his new brand and the look he wanted me to bring to this new portrait.  I was ‘In’.

Finally, he asked “Are you interested in this project”
I didn’t hesitate.  “Absolutely. Now, let’s talk about how to do this.”

Many portrait photographers are wary of working with architects. They occupy a unique place in the portrait universe.  Architects are often perfectionists, highly critical, consumed with detail and self absorbed. Traits that may lead them to success in the highly competitive world of architecture, but qualities than can be daunting for a portrait photographer.

I wasn’t concerned.

I spent years working for and with some of the top design firms and architects in the Washington, DC area. My career as a professional photographer began with architectural photography. I enjoyed working with architects, whether it was on a construction site, behind a graphics monitor in an office cubicle or, now, from behind a camera.

We made a plan.

Mark had recently designed a new dance studio at an arts center an hour south of the city. It was nearly finished. We would meet there and choose a location inside the studio for the portrait session.  A week later we met there to scout the site. I chose a spacious corner studio, with beautiful northern light falling into the room from the tall windows that lined the outside walls. The exposed brick walls, aged hardwood floors and barrs (ballet rails) added just the right touch of texture and an understated elegance to the setting.

We were set. This would be the environmental portrait Mark wanted, set in one of his projects, with beautiful backdrops.

We agreed on a date and time and to sort out the details, soon.  Before I left, I scouted the studio and the grounds outside the studio, looking for alternate locations as a backup.  After years of location photography I have learned, the hard way, to have a Plan B (and even a Plan C and D) ready to go on session day.

The day of Mark’s session arrived. It was summer in the in city of Washington, DC. Outside temperatures were hovering in the upper 90s, with high humidity. Typical DC summer weather. No problem. We would be working in the dance studio, in a beautiful room with soft northern light, right?

Not so fast.

The studio had just opened for business and the afternoon students were rolling into our chosen studio, now. Really? I thought we had booked it. Nope. As these well planned events often go, the studio administrator had never received Mark’s message to the studio owner about our portrait session. They were using our studio.  It was booked for the rest of the day! No other suitable space in the entire studio was available. Everything was booked. Remember Plan B? No problem. We’ll just move outdoors, right? We were on the move.

The locations I had scouted on the grounds were suitable, in a pinch, but they were not great. First, shade was a problem. There was none. Next, the best I could find had a background with such strong background that it would be entrirely blown out.  I would have to overpower that strong backlight it with even stronger light on Mark. I was not in love with that option. So, before we headed into the great, hot unknown of the outdoors, I looked intently for any indoor option, as we were exiting the studio.

And there it was.

As we were nearly at the end of the entry hallway, I spotted a small room to the right.  It was cluttered and looked to be in use, but it had high ceilings, brick walls painted white, a killer tall window and a view of the buildings outside. Daylight was streaming in the windows, but fading oh so quickly. And so was our time. The entire studio was filling up fast. We had one hour, maybe less, to clean the room (full of furniture and staff gear), set up for the shoot and get our shots of Mark.

No problem. We were in!

Mark was a great subject. It started slow, with Mark quite nervous, until my assistant decided that he was a Bradley Cooper look alike. Marked beamed!  He was was now relaxed and confident. Once I was able to calm my assistant down (be still my beating heart), things went well.

Less than hour later, the shoot done, we wrapped up, packed up and were on our way to our next adventure.

 

 

 

 

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