Neil Colton Photographer: The Blog » Lifetsyle, Portrait, Travel & Fine Art Photography by Neil Colton


Washington, DC Portrait Photography: Portrait of an Architect

Portrait of an Architect


The call came in around 3 in the afternoon.

It was Mark Yoo, an architect in Alexandria, a city that borders Washington, DC. He was referred to me by a fellow architect. Mark was looking for a photographer for his new project and he like my style of portraiture. He was building a new website and creating a new brand for his firm. He needed a new portrait, a new image, a new look: a new portrait that would match his vision of himself and his work and complement his new brand. He was not a fan of the ‘typical’ portrait experience. His last portrait session had been “brutal”, according to Mark. He was hoping working with me would be different.

That portrait was ‘professionally’ done in a local studio by a well known DC area photographer. The session checked all the usual boxes:  studio setting, studio lighting, black backdrop, smiling assistant, bathroom to the right. You get the point. The result was a predictably generic 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.

Finally, he asked “Are you interested in this project”

I didn’t hesitate.  “Absolutely. I;m IN. 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 interior 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.   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 high summer in the in city of Washington, DC. Outside temperatures were hovering in the upper 90s, with the usual 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 the day and the afternoon students were rolling into our chosen studio, now! Really? I thought we had it booked, reserved for our well planned session. Nope. As these ‘well planned’ events often go, the studio administrator never received Mark’s message, sent to the studio owner, about our portrait session. The studio was bboked for dance 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, truth be told. First, shade was a problem. There was none. Next, the best spot I could find had a background with such strong backlight that it would be entrirely blown out.  I would have to overpower that strong backlight 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 an indoor optionas we were walking out.

And there it was.

Nearly at the end of the entry hallway, I spotted a small room to the right, unoccupied. It was cluttered and looked to be used as a sort of conference room or employee lounge. It had high ceilings, brick walls painted a plae white, a killer tall window and a view of the buildings outside. Daylight was softly pouring in the through the windows and fading oh so quickly. And so was our time. The room would soon be needed, by the staff.  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. Let’s roll!

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

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


lifestyle portrait of a couple wearing shades near dupont circle in washington dc

[pp_gallery id=”6205″]Washington, DC Lifestyle Photography: Daniel & Kristy

As the long, cold winter drags on here in Washington, DC,  here is a post that is sure to warm up your day.

To some, things just come naturally.

Like being comfortable in front of the camera on a swelering hot day in Washington, DC. The brutal DC summer heat has arrived and the high temperatures this week are hovering at100 degrees. Add drenching high humidity and, well, you get the picture. It’s the reason air conditioning was invented.  For this session I’m in lightweight shorts and a Dri-Fit top, carrying the lightest camera bag I own, packed with the absolute minimum of gear. And still I feel the weight and force of this oppressive heat and matching humidity, like I’m in a perpetual sauna.

This is one session I won’t soon forget.

Why shoot in weather like this, right? Good question! We had planned for cooler times, but between Kristy’s travel schedule, Daniel’s work schedule and my jam-packed in-season bookings calendar, we just couldn’t get it done. But the window of time to shoot this session is closing quickly, so here we are on a blistering late summer afternoon in downtown Washington, DC, doing a lifestyle session for this remarkable couple.  ‘Remarkable’ may be an understatement. ‘Superheroes of the Summer Heat‘ may be a better description of these folks. Marvel should sign this couple to a conract!

Daniel & Kristy are in full dress-up mode. And they look amazing!

I feel like I’m dropping weight standing still.  Danile and Kristy look as fresh and as ready as if we were doing a studio session. Note to self. This couple would make great politicians, in case anyone asks, never breaking a sweat under pressure or cruel heat. Shooting a couple like this makes my job almost easy. Almost. There is still work to be done, but when it’s fun and the folks you’re working with are calm and cool it’s not really work at all, except for wiping the occasional foggy lens and keeping yourself and your gear dry.

So, even in 104 degree weather, this was fun. A very special thanks to my creative director for this session ~ Daniel, of Daniel and Kristy. Like I said, he’s a natural.

To schedule a Lifetsyle, Engagemnet or Portrait session, contact me for rates and availabilty. 2019 spring and summer session dates are booking now!


Washington, DC Lifestyle Photography: McKenna Farms

Lifestyle portait of Sarah and Joe at McKenna Farm

Just a short drive north of Washington, DC you will find the historic City of Frederick, MD.

From the City of Frederic website:


Here, museums meet martini bars, scenic landscapes provide thrill seekers with adventure, and cutting edge cuisine is served up in Civil War-era buildings alongside unique specialty shops, galleries, museums, and theaters.

Located less than one hour from Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Gettysburg, the city of Frederick, Maryland is surrounded by mountain views, wineries, orchards and vibrant Main Street communities. Visitors can hike on the Appalachian Trail, visit Maryland’s largest brewery, and tour a battlefield all in one day.

This is Frederick County, where hip meets historic every day.

It is there, in the rolling hills and lush countryside of Frederic County, MD that you will find McKenna Farms, the country home and rural retreat of Joe Mckenna and Sarah Brennan. My assignment for Joe and Sarah was to create lifestyle and portrait photography images for the new McKenna Farms website.

After a full day of shooting, on a gorgeous late summer day, with the very photogenic Sarah and Joe, we had created a series of images that would connect them to website visitors and share their vision of McKenna Farms.

About Sarah, Joe and McKenna Farms, in their own words:

Our Journey

“In every city dweller, there are dreams of an escape to the country. But what happens when a city couple from D.C. purchase a 220 year-old farm house to try and live out their “Downton Abbey” dreams?

Well……that’s where our story begins and we can assure you that the execution of that dream has been far more difficult than anticipated; and our confidence often outshines our abilities and resources at every turn. But we find opportunity in every crisis and we are slowly mastering our new domain. We hope you’ll settle in and follow our journey from the Capitol to the Country.

The beginning. Like most city couples, we wanted to be part of the farm-to-table movement, eat locally, support smart farming, reduce our impact on the earth, etc. However, our participation stopped at our local farmer’s market because we didn’t have the time or the know-how to bring the country into our city lives.

We toyed with the idea of buying a little country house for years and when we finally did it, we imagined great weekend escapes with afternoons of skeet shooting and evenings of dressing-for-dinner. To our surprise, we quickly replaced those activities with eight-hour days in the garden and enough manual labor to make even the biggest outdoor lovers shutter. Somehow, and to our great surprise, we both became slightly addicted to a simpler lifestyle and all of the amazing things we were learning.

We had no idea just how happy we would be playing in the dirt, learning to grow our own food, raising animals, and bringing an old house back to life.  This is our journey from Capitol to Country.”

Joe & Sarah


Portrait of Sarah in the garden at McKenna Farm
Lifetsyle Portrait of Joe building a stone wall at McKenna FarmLifetsyle Photography of products at McKenna FarmLifestyle Photography of Sarah at McKenna FarmLifetsyle Photography of Joe at McKenna FarmLifestyle Photography of the garden at Mckenna FarmLifestyle Photography of Sarah in the garden at McKenna FarmLifetsyle Photography of products at McKenna FarmLifetsyle Photography of a table setting at McKenna FarmLifestyle Photography at Mckenna FarmJoe & Sarah at the main house at McKenna FarmLifestyle Photography of Sarah and Joe at McKenna Farm
Mckenna Farm Lifestyle Photography Sarah


Washington DC Travel Photography-The Marriott Ranch


Another offering in an occasional series about travel and travel photography. This post features The Marriott Ranch in Hume, VA.


TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: The Marriott Ranch, Hume, VA


Our Story

A gift of a stay at the Marriott Ranch and dinner at the historic Inn at Little Washington took us west on a brief holiday just before Christmas Day.

We arrived at the Inn at Fairfield (aka The Marriott Ranch) in the early evening on a Friday afternoon in December, as ominous deep blue-black clouds of a gathering storm swirled around the ranch as far as the eye could see. The 65 mile trip from our home in Old Towne Alexandria had taken more than 2 hours.  Traffic in Washington, DC is never good, but on Friday afternoon it is at its very wrost. The transition from a bustling urban scene to a primitive rural setting was welcomed. We were looking forward to this respite from the city, however brief.  Although our destination, Hume, VA, was new to us, the trip through Fauquier County, VA was not. For nearly 7 years we had lived in Warrenton, VA, a sleepy southern town once The Seat of The Confederacy.

It was familiar territory.

Once voted ‘One of The 10 Best Rural Counties to Live In in America’, Fauquier County has since experienced considerable growth and development, particularly in the northern regions near the suburban counties bordering Washington, DC.  But that development has yet to reach the western areas of Fauquier County, which retains it’s simple, primitive beauty, born of rolling hills, horse farms and unobstructed views of the Blueridge Mountains.

The 4,200 acre Marriott Ranch lies at the foot of that mountain range, only 18 miles from scenic Skyline Drive.

Once inside the Inn, we were greeted by Caroline, the concierge, a pleasant young lady dressed in jeans, blue denim shirt and work boots. She checked her laptop, confirmed our reservation and checked us in. Next up was a brief tour of the Inn and that ended in our spacious room overlooking those rolling hills.  Done for the day, Caroline said good bye, left the building and left us alone. Literally. Alone. This was the Friday before Christmas. Clearly not a peak time for visitors. As odd as the timing may seem. it was perfect for us.

Except for the permanent staff (2) and a caretaker living in an outbuilding, we were completely alone at The Fairfield Inn.

We settled in, refreshed ourselves and confirmed our reservations for what we anticipated would be the highlight of the weekend; dinner for two at The Inn at Little Washington. Once an average dining experience at a quaint country inn, a meal at the Inn at Little Washington is now the stuff of legend. The Inn’s culinary curriculum is the province of award winning chef Patrick O’Connell, a true artiste’ with an avocado, or any perishable fit to eat. And if not fit to eat, fit to photograph. O’Connell approaches food preparation much like David Lynch approaches film making, creating things that are unique, strange and exciting all at once. At $450 a couple, to start, the experience could easily disappoint.

It does not.

Even for an ascetic  non-dairy eating, vegetarian, tree hugging type like me, this was an event to remember. It made my wife proud to see me leave my culinary comfort zone and venture into the wilds of Chef O’Connell’s world.

With dinner in the books, the 20 minute trip from Little Washington back to the Marriott Ranch was uneventful, but the gathering storm was looking ever more ominous. High winds, heavy rain and dropping temperatures meant we were in for an eventful night at The Inn at Fairfield Farm. Fortunately, we were exhausted enough to sleep through the night and miss the excitement of falling trees, flying shingles and power outages that surrounded us.

The next morning arrived all too soon.

We fully expected to be alone at breakfast, but we were surprised to find 5 new guests had joined us during the night. A family from Bakersfield, CA had come to visit Elizabeth, the resident horse trainer and keeper of the hounds. Yes, Fox hounds. So, over a traditional Southern style breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, biscuits, coffee and orange juice, they filled the time with stories of Fox chases, runaway horses and driven Hound Masters (or is it Hunt Masters…) reveling in the thrill of the hunt. So that’s why people flocked to the ranch during the hunting season. Fox hunts in the tradition of the landed gentry. ‘Full  Cry’ and all that. If Fox Hunts are your passion, this is your place.

Breakfast done (I had the juice and a wondeful bagel-like thing) and stories of The Hunt behind us, we packed our gear and set out to have a longer look around. It wuld be our first in daylight.

Experienced travelers today will know that a stay at a Marriott facility can be a rather spartan experience. Well, it all started here. Clean, simple, utilitarian. The J. Willard Marriot signatur experience. Add WiFi and a semi-soft pillow and that’s the Marriott of today. Not far removed from the Inn at Fairfield Farm. What you need, but little more. The single concession to modernity at the Inn is the Common Room, where you’ll find a few board games, magazines (notably ‘Wine’ and ‘Virginia Horseman’ ) and a flat screen connected to satellite TV. With the exception of updated appliances, much at the Inn is like it may have been when J. Willard bought the place.

We stopped on our personal tour to chat with the ‘housekeeper’. She shared that, although J. Willard loved to spend time at the ranch, he never stayed in the Inn itself. Instead, he kept a trailer on the grounds, where he would camp on his visits. Even when Ronald Reagan visited, J. Willard camped in his trailer. Clean, simple, utilitarian. It all started here.

J. Willard was clearly an admirer of photography. Family photography and images of himself abound. Framed black and white images of Marriott, alone and with his considerable family, adorn the walls of the Inn. Little else does. The first floor Library is an historical gallery of photographs taken of the Marriotts over a stretch of many years. Reagan on horseback, Marriott on horseback, everyone on horseback. The family portraits are quite well done. Traditional poses, as you might expect, but composed, lit and captured in a timeless fashion.

As we walked, I looked up. Time and light was fading.

If I was going to capture any images of this place, it would have to be now. I had packed a basic travel kit- a Nikon FX DSLR and a couple of lenses. Always have that with me. Realizing that travel photography can often be a victim of circumstance (you often shoot images of where you are, without much preparation and with guests along), I decided to turn this shoot into an exercise; a teachable moment in travel photography. I would shoot like the average traveler might. One lens. One setting. Usually Auto, right. This could be a challenge. The skies had gone Gothic and greay and the light followed. Here comes the rain.

Get to it!

Twenty minutes later I was done.

I chose the my Nikkor 50mm 1.4G for this exercise. Great all around lens and perfect for low light. Nikon pro bodies, like my D4, don’t have an Auto setting, so I shifted into Program mode, which is professional jargon for Auto. Program just sounds better. Shooting in Program mode is a lot like listening to elevator music. All the highs and lows are compressed into an average mid tone that offends no one, but neither does it excite. The camera decides what’s best for the image. Usually f/5.6 and a shutter speed that will render the image with 18% grey as the target tone. Safe, but bland. But I pressed on. I tried to recall the last time I shot in Program mode. I could not. My first choice is Manual mode, then Aperture, then Shutter for action (AV and TV for Canon shooters), but for this exercise Program mode it would be.

Final tour and vacation photos done, we packed our gear and headed home, as the skies grew darker, the winds rose and the rain began to fall heavily.

Travel Photography: The Marriott Ranch in Hume, VA


Washington DC Travel Photography-The Marriott Ranch
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