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

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WASHINGTON, DC PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS

Professional photographer Neil Colton leads private photography tours in the historic Capital City of Washington, DC. These personal tours are designed for individual photographers and groups of up to four. The focus is on travel photography, lifestyle photography and photojournalism, capturing images of the iconic, historic sites of this beautiful city and learning to tell the story of your visit with compelling photographic essays.

With its broad well lit streets, low skyline and easy access to monuments, memorials and museums, Washington, DC is one of the most photogenic and photographer-friendly cities in the world.

Tours are 4 hours long and open to any level of photographer. Tours can include:

  • The Icons of Washington, including the White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial and other iconic sites on The National Mall
  • Capitol Hill
  • DuPont Circle
  • Georgetown
  • Adams Morgan
  • Your Custom Itinerary

Neil will lead you to the best places in Washington to create compelling pictures of this historic Capital City.  He will also lead you to sites that are off the beaten path, where tourists and visitors rarely go. As a longtime resident and former lead instructor for one of Washington’s most popular photography tour companies, Neil knows the city well.

Unlike fast-paced, heavily scripted tours, your itinerary is flexible and can be changed on the fly. Throughout the day, Neil works alongside you, at your pace and without pressure, to make sure you see the city as you want to see it and that you capture wonderful images of the city of Washington, DC.

Tours are offered through all seasons of the year and during iconic events, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival. Sunrise and sunset tours are a popular option and yield some of the most dramatic images of this photogenic city!

About Neil

Neil began his photography career as an architectural photographer, creating images of award winning projects for architects and design firms. He has worked as a photojournalist, a commercial lifestyle photographer and as a contract photographer for a media company in New York, creating portraits of CEOs and CFOs in the financial world. His travel photography has been featured in regional publications and travel magazines. His commercial clients have included ad agencies representing Airbnb, American Express, AT&T and Anheuser Busch. His documentary portraits of The People of Haiti were used as the stage backdrop for high profile benefit concerts in the US, following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010. They have also been used by several international non-profit organizations and NGOs for worldwide promotional campaigns.

His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Professional Photographer, Elan’ Magazine and Hilton Head Magazine, among others.

Rates

  • For solo photographers, the rate is $325.
  • For 2 photographers, the rate is $285 per photographer.
  • For groups of 3- 4 photographers, the tour rate is $275 per photographer.

To schedule a private photography tour or workshop, or for more information, contact Neil by email here.

Testimonials

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

Dr. Ian L., Santa Monica, CA


I was heading to Europe, ready to take great pictures of the cities and sights in England, Spain, France and Italy. My new camera was all that I expected, but my pictures were not. They were more like snapshots: flat and boring. A friend recommended that I take a travel photography workshop with Neil before the trip. I am so glad that I did! In a few short hours Neil showed me how to compose a photograph and ‘see’ the picture, before I snapped the shutter. He also showed me how ‘tell a story’ with my pictures. Working with Neil has given me the confidence to take on Europe with my camera!

I can’t wait for the plane to take off!

Steven S., Bethesda, MD


I have taken many workshops and tours, but Neil’s private tour in DC has been the best of them all. I learned more in 3 hours with Neil than I did in the 3 years I have owned my DSLR. His instruction is clear and simple and he takes the time to work with you individually. I definitely recommend Neil to anyone who wants to improve their photography and create great images.

Linda C., Washington, DC

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TRAVEL & FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY: ARCADIA BLUFFS GOLF CLUB

This post features Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course, one of the premier public links-style golf courses in the United States. Rated the #3 course in Michigan, the #13 public course in the United States and the #68 course (public or private) in the country, Arcadia Bluffs is one awesome track.

Contact Neil for details about purchasing Fine Art Prints from this series available in the Arcadia Bluffs Collection here.

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

Every photographer experiences a time of struggle, when their creative mojo disappears.

When my mojo went south, I went north. To recharge my creative batteries in northern Michigan. Spending quality time with friends and family was long overdue. After a long, intense period of work, with relentless deadlines, endless editing and demanding clients, time away from camera, computer and clients was sorely needed.

But how to get those creative juices flowing again?

The solution?

Go north, young man. To the links in a place called Arcadia and a golf course like no other. I rediscovered my love for photography 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.”

To the course.

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

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

Arcadia Bluffs is a links course, in the style of the early, and legendary, Irish and Scottish courses.  Carved into the bluffs on the shores of Lake Michigan, it is at once awe inspiring and intimidating.  At its highest point, the links are more than one hundred feet above Lake Michigan. The views from the elevated tee boxes are simply stunning. To play this course well is a true challenge for the average golfer. But add the pull of breath taking vistas, and a dramatic course design, and this becomes much more than  simply a round of golf.

Now, to images of Arcadia Bluffs and that sublime late summer day, once upon a time.

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 blue like no blue I have ever seen.

That blue you see in these images is real. Almost too real. I captured these images using the Neutral color setting on my Nikon DSLR pro body. You Nikon shooters will know that Neutral is the setting below the standard or ‘normal’ setting. SOOTC, Nikon’s Standard setting ramps up the colors far too much for my liking, so I choose Neutral as my starting point, then add color and saturation as needed. I actually had to ramp down (reduce) the color intensity in many of these shots, even at Neutral, because they were so strong that they seemed supernatural.

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Washington DC Portrait Photography: Portrait of An Artist

Olga Bauer is a talented Washington, DC mixed media artist, specializing in abstract art. She is also a friend and a wonderful subject for portrait photography. Olga and I met a few years ago, when I photographed her and her family on a warm sunny day in May. We enjoyed that session so much that we decided to meet again in the fall and create a series of portraits of Olga alone.

For this session, I chose a location along the Potomac River, just north and west of the city. Bordered by a broad walking trail cut through a deep dense forest, the location was perfect for the day. We met there on a bright cool morning in November. The fall colors were stunning and so was Olga, as we spent the next few hours searching for the best locations to create a series of portraits for Olga’s personal portfolio.

Olga is not only a very talented artist, but she is also a wonderful model, with qualities of elegance, poise, beauty and patience that are admired and appreciated by this portrait photographer. Shooting in the studio allows control of every aspect of a portrait session. From the ambient temperature in the room to the color and quality of thelight, the photographer is in complete charge. No guesswork there.

Move outdoors and that all changes, dramatically.

Everything becomes a challenge and that continues through the session. From choosing the best locations to managing pink cheeks to harnessing (or avoiding) the power and beauty of a brilliant sun, creating portraits on location requires a patient (and adventurous) model and an experienced photographer. On this day, Olga brought the patience and adventurous spirit and I brought the camera, along with a bit of experience.

Many thanks to Olga for a wonderful session and to helping me create some great portraits of her!

To see Olga’s artwork, please visit www.olgabauer.art

Thanks for checking out Washington DC Portrait Photography: Portrait of An Artist!

 

 

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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 of the city.

We arrived at the Inn at Fairfield (aka The Marriott Ranch) in the early evening on a Friday afternoon, 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 the bustling urban scene to a primitive rural setting was a welcomed one. We were looking forward to this respite, 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 that was 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 lone concierge, a pleasant young woman 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 of 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. Raw pigeon? Bring it on! It was a dinng experience we would not soon, if ever, forget.

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 turbulent 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, so 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 would be our first view in daylight.

Experienced travelers today will know that a stay at a Marriott facility can be a rather spartan experience. It all started here. Clean, simple, utilitarian. The J. Willard Marriot signature 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 a satellite. 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. Trademark Marriott.

J. Willard was clearly an admirer of photography…and himself.  Family photography and images of J.Willard 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 grey 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 don’t have an Auto setting, so I shifted into Program.  Program 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 range 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 Stories: The Marriott Ranch in Hume, VA

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WASHINGTON DC PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY: PORTRAIT OF AN ARCHITECT

A look back to one of my favorite portrait sessions and one of my favorite clients.

Washington, DC Portrait Photography: Portrait of an Architect

Portrait of an Architect

THE MAKING OF A 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.

To view Mark’s portfolio, visit his site here.

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