Washington DC Professional Photographer Neil Colton » Professional Portrait , Lifestyle & Travel Photography by Neil Colton


Neil Colton Photographer


I was set up on our front porch, enjoying a rare quiet moment, sorting through images from a recent portrait photography session in Washington, DC, where I am a portrait and lifestyle photographer. I love porches. I spend as much time on ours as I can.

Looking back, it was likely the reason we built the house.

Spanning nearly the entire width of the facade’ of our Arts + Crafts style home, it’s a simple porch, framed  in crisp white trim boards with a flagstone floor. Defined by white pyramidal columns and a white Shaker style railing and. set against the pale yellow clapboard that wraps the house, it provides a warm and inviting main 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. He had been referred to me by a fellow architect. Mark 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 boxes:  studio setting, studio lighting, black backdrop, bathroom to the right, etc. The result was a generic looking headshot: brightly lit, sharp from front to back, great ear to ear awkward smile.  It had all the charm of a marketing promo for a wedding DJ.

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

Finally, he asked “Are you interested in this project”
I didn’t hesitate.  “Absolutely. 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 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 for the portrait session. Perfect! A week later we met. For his session, 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 texture and an understated elegance to the setting.

We were set. This would be an environmental portrait, created at one of Mark’s projects.

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

On the day of Mark’s portrait session, the outside temperatures were hovering in the upper 90s, with high humidity. 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 in. Really? I thought we had the corner studio! Nope. As these well planned events often go, the studio administrator had never received Mark’s message about our session. They were using the studio we had chosen for the session.  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?

The locations I had scouted on the grounds were OK, in a pinch, but not great. Shade was a problem. There was none. I had found one spot with a decent background, but the backlight in that scene would be so intense I would have to overpower it with strong light on Mark. I was not in love with that option. I kept looking, as we left the studio.

And there it was.

On the way to the great outdoors, where we would fight heat, high humidity and brutal sun, I spotted a small room, just off the exit hallway. It was cluttered, but it had high ceilings, brick walls painted white, a killer tall window and a view of the buildings outside. The daylight streaming in the windows was good, but fading quickly. And so was our time. The studio was filling up fast and we had one hour, or less, to clean the room ( full of furniture and staff gear), set up and get our shots.

No problem.

Mark was a great subject. It started slow, with Mark quite nervous, until Erin, my assistant, decided that he was a Bradley Cooper look alike. Mark was now relaxed and confident. Once I was able to calm Erin down, things went well.

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

To learn more about Mark and view his work, click here.

Portrait of Washington, DC Architect Mark Yoo


For Photographers

In a perfect world, a session like this should be a snap, right? No pun intended. But the world of a professional photographer is rarely a perfect one. Even studio sessions can become a nightmare of the expected. Think failing radio triggers, quirky strobes, malfunctioning equipment, and my personal favorite, the studio air conditioning failing on a 104 degree day. That actually happened to me at my first studio session with a professional model. And the makeup did run.

No matter. As the professional on the job, you must get the shot, whatever the circumstances.

Our clients are often busy professionals, with considerable demands on their time and talent. As portrait photographers, our job is not to make the process of their portraits another stressful event in their day, but to create a stress-free Oasis, where you may just be able to create that one moment, that one click that captures the very best of your client on the day. Whether you are shooting in a studio or on location, your preparation, and your experience, can make the difference between a blown shoot or a compelling image.

Mark doesn’t like being photographed.

He was honest about it. He’s not alone. Unless you’re a in the PR business, or you’re a celebrity, a model or a certified narcissist, being photographed is a stressful event. Something to be avoided, unless absolutely necessary. My method of counteracting that stress is to keep it light, at all times. If something does go wrong, unless it’s a national emergency, the client need never know. Be engaging, be positive, be professional, be confident and be in charge. A dash of humility can also be an endearing and disarming trait.

For this session, I carried a light travel kit: (2) Nikon pro bodies, (3) Nikon SB 900s, (1) 24″ Ezybox softbox and several reflectors. I carry 4 lenses most of time: 24-70 f/2.8, 50 f/1.4, 70-200 f/2.8 VRII and an 85 f/1.4. This covers all of my portrait needs. If I’m doing a travel or landscape shoot, I’ll add a 14-24 f/2.8 to the bag. The Ezybox is mounted to a telescoping pole, held by an assistant. I shoot with my camera in manual mode, most of the time, and set the flashes to manual as well. I chose a 50 f/1.4 for this shot. I could have used the 24-70, but I have been known to drift out wide with that lens and the distortion is no fun in small spaces. I chose f/9 for front to back sharpness and to bring in the background through the window. I adjusted the flash exposure to balance with the ambient daylight.

I had 45 minutes to create at least one image of Mark that would be a ‘keeper’. That 45 minutes included cleaning out the room, which was a working conference room, and restoring it to its original condition after the shoot. In 25 minutes of actual photography, I captured 35 images. You can see the final 3 proofs that made the cut, below. In the final image at the top of the post, you can see the adjustments I made to the final proof in post production. Aside from taking the reflection of the softbox out of the window, fine tuning the light on Marks face and cropping, little had to be done to create the final portrait.

Mark was delighted with the session and with his new portraits. Mission accomplished. Another client satisfied.

Portrait pf Mark Yoo Architect. proof 1.Neil Colton PhotographerNeil Colton Photographer





Black and white maternity portrait


Long before the digital SLR camera became ubiquitous and digital images with saturated colors became the norm, there was film. Photographic film.  Black and white film. And there was the black and white portrait. Dramatic, edgy, engaging and softly beautiful, all at once.

The black and white portrait was once the currency of professional portraiture. The gold standard by which all other images were judged. I was first drawn to photography through the pages of magazines, books and periodicals brimming with powerful black and white images from the best photographers of the their time and, perhaps, anytime; the portrait photography of Gordon Parks, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Irving Penn, Arnold Newman and Richard Avedon; the photojournalism of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau; the artistic and documentary style photography of Eugene Atget, Alfred Stieglitz, Bruce Davidson and Robert Frank.

Much of my first year in photography school was spent in the traditional film darkroom, developing roll after roll of Kodak TMAX 100 and 400 Black + White negative film, the standard teaching tool for emerging photographers at the time. Digital cameras had appeared on the scene by then, but most professional photographers, art schools and schools of photography, scorned their use and considered them to be a passing fad, to be embraced by consumers and amateurs, destined to fade away. So much for that theory.

The digital camera has replaced the film camera as the preferred choice of professional and amateur photographers, alike. What was once considered to be the tool of untrained amateurs is now among the most sophisticated image creating devices ever made.  And they just keep getting better. Along with significant improvements in the image quality of DSLRs, and other digital cameras, has been another development: the dramatic improvement of image editing and post processing software. We now have a mind boggling array of image editing and image manipulating programs from which to choose. The early days of black and white conversion options were basic and primitive; flat and one dimensional, lacking character, depth or interest.

Not so today.

Whether you use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Nik Silver Effects, Capture One or one of the many other excellent programs, your choices for black and white portrait conversions have never been better. Color portraits have certainly earned their place in photography and art, but the power of the black and white portrait remains. Absent color, portraits in black and white have an evocative quality that adds drama and emotion to images that in a way that color portraits simply cannot achieve. The subject becomes the focus. In the end, that may be what truly good portraiture is all about.

I create black and white portraits, framed and unframed, printed on traditional photographic papers or fine art black and white portraits available on eight different types of photographic art papers.

I offer both studio and location portrait sessions. Contact me to schedule a session and, together, we will create art. The art of the black & white portrait.

Email: neil@coltonphotography.com

Phone/Text: 703-965-9417

Portrait of a musician




Black and white portrait of a couple


Black and white portarit of a girl


Black and white portrait of an architect

Neil Colton Photographer


Black and white portrait of a father and newborn son

Balck and white portrait of Marlie in Washington, DCBlack ansd white portrait of a boyBlack and white portrait of Dr. Norman CoatesWashington DC Lifestyle & Engagement Photography



Another in an occasional series about travel and travel photography. This post features Arcadia Bluffs, one of the premier links golf courses in the United States.


Portrait of golgers at sunst at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course in Arcadia MI.


Every photographer experiences a period of struggle, when the creative mojo disappears and, with it, the joy of creating images.

Mine arrived when I made the decision to stop covering weddings, which had dominated my work for years.  On the heels of that oh so sublime moment I was elevated emotionally, but I soon realized that I was also burned out, creatively. Tens of thousands of pictures of brides and their merry maids can do that to a photographer.

So, I took some personal time to recharge my creative batteries and to spend time with friends and family, in beautiful Northern Michigan.  After intense periods of work, with endless deadlines and demanding clients, time away from the camera and clients can be therapeutic. New places and new projects can be a tonic for renewal. Turns out, it was for me. Unlikely as it would seem,  I got my photography 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.”

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. At its highest point, it sits a few hundred feet above Lake Michigan. The views from the elevated tee boxes are simply stunning. It is challenge enough just to play this course, without the pull of amazing vistas to complicate your vision and your swing. I have no complaints, though. I am convinced that in the heart of every amateur golfer lies a belief, however fantastic, that on one day, in one place, all of the hours, days and weeks spent in toil will coalesce into a perfect round.

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

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.

A note about that water color. That blue is real. I kid you not. I capture all images using Neutral setting on my Nikon bodies. For you Nikon shooters that’s a setting below standard. By below, I mean less saturated. Nikon’s Standard setting is still too ramped up for me. The colors seem unnatural and over saturated, with too much pop. I do all of the color work in post (after the image is in my editing software). I actually had to ramp down (reduce saturation) the colors in many of these shots, because they were so powerful. A local resident tried to explain why the lake was sooo blue, but he lost me at kelp.



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

Spend the day with award winning photographer Neil Colton capturing images of some of the most iconic architecture and historic sights in the world. Whether you are a veteran photographer, in search of new content, a visitor to Washington interested in capturing images of city and it’s historic sites or a traveler preparing for a trip, looking for tips on creating great travel photographs, this walking tour and photography workshop is a perfect choice for you.

Neil Colton is a Washington, DC  based professional photographer, who began his photography career as an architectural photographer. He has worked for several of Washington’s leading design firms, photographing award winning architecture.  He has also worked as a photojournalist, a travel photographer and a documentary photographer. Neil’s travel and documentary photography has been published and featured in publications such as The Washington Post, Elan’ Magazine and Professional Photographer. He understands the power, and the craft,  of visual story telling. Working with Neil, you will not only learn about the city and the sites you will visit, but also how to create a photographic story, 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 portfolio of wonderful images of the Icons 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
  • How to create compelling portraits of people on your travels
  • Creating a visual story of your travels
  • Quick and simple post production options
  • Creating a ‘sense of place’ in your work
  • Photographing people on your travels

Sites You Will Photograph

  • The White House
  • The Vietnam War Memorial
  • The Lincoln Memorial
  • The Korean War Memorial
  • The WW II Memorial
  • The Jefferson Memorial
  • The FDR Memorial
  • The Martin Luther King Memorial

Date: Saturday, June 18, 2016

Time: 9am-2:30pm

Cost: $150

Who Should Attend: This workshop is for all photographers interested in travel photography and photographing the people and iconic sites of Washington, DC. The technical instruction is aimed at DSLR camera owners, but all photographers are welcome.

Questions?: Contact Neil Colton for answers to your questions about this workshop.

To see more of Neil’s Travel Photography click here and go to the Travel Portfolio and Facebook here.

Register Here