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Travel Photography: Southern Exposure In Charleston, SC

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

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: SOUTHERN EXPOSURE IN CHARLESTON, SC

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This was supposed to be 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.

Now, to Charleston.

 

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Travel Photography: The Manistee Chronicles: Arcadia Bluffs

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: THE MANISTEE CHRONICLES: ARCADIA BLUFFS

A re-posting in honor of the 2015 British Open, the 144th playing of this classic, played in Fife, Scotland on The Old Course at St. Andrews.

Another offering 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 creative struggle. 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.

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Washington DC Portrait Photography: Professional Portraits: Portrait of an Architect

WASHINGTON DC PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY: PROFESSIONAL PORTRAITS: PORTRAIT OF AN ARCHITECT

Neil Colton Photographer

THE MAKING OF A PORTRAIT OF AN ARCHITECT

The call came in while I was enjoying a rare period of quiet. I had set up on our front porch, sorting through images from a recent portrait photography session in Washington, DC where I based as a portrait, lifestyle and travel photographer.

I love porches.

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

 

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Washington DC Portrait Photography: The Black + White Portrait

WASHINGTON DC PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY: THE BLACK + WHITE PORTRAIT

 

Black and white maternity portrait

 

Not that long ago, before the digital SLR became commonplace and saturated color digital images became the norm, there was film. Black and white film. And there was the black and white portrait.

The black and white portrait was once the currency of professional portraiture and 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 darkroom, developing roll after roll of Kodak TMAX 100 and 400 Black + White negative film, the standard teaching tool for 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 the digital camera 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 toy of unsophisticated amateurs is now among the most sophisticated image creating devices ever made.  And they just keep getting better. Along with the improvements in the image quality of DSLRs, and other digital cameras, has been the ever more dramatic improvement, and wide range, 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 Photoshop Lightroom, Nik Silver Effects or one of the many other excellent programs, you choices for black and white portrait conversions have never been better. Color portraits have 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 color portraits simply cannot achieve in the same way. The subject becomes the focus. In the en, that may be what good portraiture is all about.

Full disclosure: black and white portraits are my favorite style of portraiture. I offer framed black and white portraits on traditional photographic papers and fine art black and white portraits on eight different art papers.

For portrait session rates and availability or to schedule a portrait session, contact me today!

Email: neil@coltonphotography.com

Phone/Text: 703-965-9417

Black and white 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

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