Maybe the number one advice in photography, or in any other place for that matter, is to trust your intuition. We all have it and it is a very powerful tool.
But, in order to steer our minds the right way, preventing us from too many often frustrating trial and error situations, we have to collect information that has, hopefully, been proven to work.
Tapping into the knowledge that is out there plus a good amount of experimentation is key.
Since it is clear what the content of the photographs is going to be and why those pictures are needed, namely to present your own or your clients hotel in an inviting way, it is much easier to focus on the important things.
Get some inspiration and build Your visual vocabulary
Before starting out, have a look around the internet, thumb through magazines and books and get to know what’s out there and what might suit your needs. Don’t be discouraged by the enormous amount of photographs available at Your fingertips. The one thing that will bring you clarity, whether You are a photographer that is starting out or a hotelier wanting to have a go at photography yourself, is to actually grab the camera and take the photographs. One way or the other, you will have to invest money (to hire a photographer) or time (if you want to take the pictures yourself).
Taking photographs of any building is a great chance to rediscover a place and can be a great motivation to fall in love with a building all over again.
However, a great deal of experience is needed to successfully apply many of the techniques you may see online or in print. And the most daunting might be the use of flashes. So right of the bat, lets shed some light onto this and also how you may go about it with just a camera on a tripod.
Available Light or Additional Lighting
In architectural photography (if the client is the architect himself), photographing interiors with the available light (daylight and/or existing interior lighting) is often very welcome or even the only way to go.
But, if You decide that Your photographic career-path will lead mainly to hotel/interior photography, as opposed to doing work for architects and/or editorials for magazines (that work often with available light), getting used to artificial light is indeed very important and can not only add greatly to the atmosphere in the picture but can sometimes prove to be necessary.
One way around it has been the use of HDR (High Dynamic Range imaging). Often frowned upon, this now digital technique has been applied for a long time. And it can, unless you plan to create some extreme imagery, produce delicate, close to life impressions of interiors. It is surely too big of a topic to cover here. Aspiring photographers will be quite familiar with it. If not, have a look at it. The success of it very much depends on how strong it is applied. But if You are not very proficient in digital retouching and have to rely mainly on “creating the photo in camera”, no worries.
And this is where a good camera comes in very handy.
A Good Camera
Surely, it is true that You can make a great photograph with any camera, and a pro or talented enthusiast will use the abilities and character of any camera to his advantage. But modern digital cameras have a trump card that can be played by pro’s and non-pro’s alike. Namely the quickly advancing capabilities of their sensors – especially the ones in mirror-reflex cameras. And whoever has a digital camera most likely has some version of Photoshop or Lightroom at hand.
Compared to the earlier digital cameras and some of the pocket-type digital cameras available now, modern sensors allow for much greater adjustments when opening a RAW-File in either Photoshop or Lightroom. Especially the highlights and shadows can be adjusted greatly to even out the values of the image. Plus, it can create a very modern look that will suit many types of hotels.
And if, for whatever reason, You are not at all versed in digital retouching, break no sweat, You can still get great images. A look at the next section “Available Light” may be encouraging. If, however, You are an aspiring hotel photographer that wants or needs to apply artificial light, especially flashes, but haven’t had much experience with flash photography, make sure You have some practice under Your belt before heading out to photograph for a client.
Do the practicing in your spare time and build a good portfolio. Getting to know new equipment and techniques while on location and the clock ticking is a bit adventurous to say the least. You might get lucky, but the time and concentration needed to figure out unfamiliar equipment and what it does might be better invested in capturing additional photographs and highlights of the hotel that might otherwise be overlooked. Of course, if you photograph your own hotel, its an altogether different story.
Its the basis on which to work on.
Many stunning photographs of interiors have been made with the available light only!
Knowledge about digital retouching might transform your pictures greatly. Learning how to see and capture the available light might actually call onto the artist inside yourself much more than dealing with lots of technical equipment. Instead of bringing a lot of things with you into the room, its actually the room that will provide you with most of the tools you need to make a great photo.
Once You developed a feeling for the natural light that is available, the additional use of artificial light will become much more approachable and You will most likely see that it oftentimes takes very little of it to add to or to complete a photograph.
Again, trust your intuition. Even if you have scouted the internet and have come across imagery that you would like to produce, keep in mind that you might already be a genius at something that you haven’t even considered yet. A look at the internet might be a great motivation. But it can also be very confusing and make you forget the things that you are already good at.
So, as a starting-out photographer, just to be safe, get to know what the hotelier would like to have. If his wishes seem technically out of reach (or out of budget), show him what you can do with some of your past or even personal works.
The other way around, if you are the hotelier, have a look at the photographers work or at least have a talk with him to agree on something that works for both. Certainly, some larger hotels and especially hotel-chains do often have a specific look to their images and need a photographer who can hit the mark with his work. On the other hand, many smaller and cozy places very often allow a much more intimate and personal approach.
Dealing with harsh contrasts
One reason lots of people shy away from photographing interiors is the strong value changes between the lit and shadowy areas.
Modern cameras can handle this pretty good to some extent as mentioned above. But if the contrasts are too much (light coming from the windows versus the dark areas), either keep the windows out of frame or draw the curtains or lower the shades. In any case, turn on the interior lights. It will not only lighten the interior a bit more, but also add to the atmosphere. And unless the room has a fantastic view, having the window as a dominant feature may not be that important. Focus on the room itself.
If the windows must be visible, consider the time of day. The early mornings or evenings have softer light. Also consider photographing on a cloudy day. It might not sound convincing, but the calmness of the grey daylight will make the light coming from the lamps on the walls or bedside tables very inviting and warm. That way, your room will come to life and be the star.
Choice of lens / Show as much as possible
A wide angle lens will definitely come in handy. Although it may be important to focus on details inside the hotel as well as outside, for the most part You want to show as much as possible in a single image, whether it be the indoors or outdoors.
The less-is-more approach doesn’t entirely apply here.
The reason: when looking at a photograph, viewers can process information very quickly. We are trying to convince people to come and actually visit the photographed space. The less-is-more approach doesn’t entirely apply here. Showing as much as possible in a single shot will come across as honest and will give the viewer a chance to look around and get a feeling for the place. A slight distortion due to the extreme angles of a super-wide lens might be questionable in many peoples minds, but if You compose the contents of the image well, it can work beautifully.
Choose Your point of view
Don’t shy away from taking as many trial shots as you need to determine where to place Your camera. Sometimes the photographer and the always tripod-mounted camera might end up in the most awkward place, usually as far back as possible, to take the desired photograph. Checking Your perspective and set-up on the screen or even a laptop is smart. Oftentimes the impression we get by looking through the viewfinder may not be what will ultimately be seen on a larger screen.
Rearrange the furniture
Once You have found the spot that will work best, start to think more like a stage designer or graphic designer. In fact, type of work is less about “taking” photographs and more about “making” photographs. You are completely in charge, especially on the interior, of how the final photograph is going to look like.
This type of work is less about “taking” photographs and more about “making” photographs.
Unless You are photographing a hotel room where, usually due to lack of space, the furnishings are built in and cannot be moved, feel free to arrange some of the items. This is not intended to make the room appear much different than in real life, but to make the photograph more coherent.
Due to the wide angle of the lens, it may be necessary to place chairs, lamps and tables in the most questionable ways and at the strangest angles to make them appear correct or harmonious in the picture and keep the overall image in balance. It is a little bit like those 3D-looking drawings or paintings that only look correct from one specific point of view. In our case, its the camera.
A portable flash
A portable flash linked to the camera and usually held by an assistant, might be of great help to brighten up or add interesting touches to the image. But you might be surprised how finished and convincing a photograph looks once it is composed very well.
So if you want or even must use additional lights, first, consider the right time of day and maybe see what you can get done with moving around some of the lamps that are already in the room. Since your camera is fixed on a tripod, and triggered with a remote or cable, you can even have someone assist you in moving things around while you are in the “directors chair”.
Camera height and angle
There is no rule on what will work for you. But the right height of the camera (always sitting on a tripod) can have a massive, oftentimes underestimated effect on the outcome of the picture. So try it out.
Set your camera lower to the ground than usual and maybe keep the lens just above the height of the tables. It is natural to look down onto the surfaces of beds and tables. Plus, lowering the height of the camera position will reduce the visual impact of many perspective lines and create a calmer impression while still showing all the surfaces.
Of course there are exceptions, no one should keep an artist from trying out things. Many unusual angles can work great and sometimes offer views that can otherwise not be seen. Try out things and don’t shy away from photographing something you like exactly as you see it standing there. Many pictures that might not work by themselves, but they may be a star when either entirely or partly used in the right media.
Consider what format You are taking the pictures for
In addition to choosing how much you want to show in a single image, it will not only help but may be a great inspiration to know how the images are ultimately going to be used.
The choice of website layout, the format of the brochure and other mediums in which Your pictures are going to be shown to prospective customers, can all be a great source of inspiration.
Of course, a good photograph will work in many places, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. First and foremost, in most cases, it has to look great on your website. And even more so than other mediums, a screen on a laptop or tablet in your hand can be like a space within a space. Especially nowadays with clever designs that offer a wide range of possibilities with full-width or even full-screen presentation. And don’t forget that its always ok to crop Your images or show just part of them.
Cropping a wide-angle photograph on the top and bottom can have a great effect. Many distortions will be out-of-frame and the picture will become more calm. Also, our peripheral perception is very natural. Just think of viewing a 70mm presentation at the cinema. Even without 3D, the impression is very three-dimensional.
Sharpness all the way
If a wide-angle lens is used, the sharpness will usually be very even throughout the picture. If you decide for a shorter, more normal lens ranging something from the 30’s to the 50’s for example, the picture will look more natural and calm right from the beginning, which can be the preferred choice in some cases. But the shorter the lens, the shorter the depth of field (more blur in the areas that are not focused on).
This can be pretty, but in hotel photography it is usually avoided unless used for a specific purpose. Remember, a prospective customer wants to look around the room and discover it by himself. A shallow depth of field, indoors as well as outdoors, might distract more than it might add to the experience. Of course there are exceptions.
Keeping large areas out of focus might even give the impression that something needs to be hidden.
Try to keep your images sharp from front to back unless You are focusing on a smaller, specific object. A wineglass comes to mind, or the room keys. But in general, keeping large areas out of focus might even give the impression that something needs to be hidden.
Outside the hotel room
There is much more freedom outside the hotel room. You can roam more and try more angles. Still, keep in mind to get as much information onto the pictures as possible and try to create images that will create spaces on the website or in the brochure. If you really have a lot to show, like big gardens, pools, terraces and what not, feel free to get as much into a single shot as possible. It might look crowded at first, but depending on how you use and crop the picture ultimately will have a massive effect. Try it out. Go big and give the prospective customers something to look at. And once you got the totals in cam, its time to go closer and show the separate places and items.
Don’t try to make things look better than they really are and don’t try to hide stuff.
If, however, Your hotel is not in such an attractive location, don’t try to make things look better than they really are and don’t try to hide stuff. But instead move the camera closer to the entrance for example and show what your establishment has to offer.
As mentioned, finding the right ideas on how to photograph your place can help to rediscover or even redefine the strengths and personality of what it actually is that you offer the customers. All the work of building, furnishing and running a hotel is condensed onto a small number of pictures that will ultimately sell it – something both the hotelier as well as the photographer have to be aware of.
Agree on a shot list
How many pictures need to be taken really depends on either the size of the hotel, the variety of rooms or the budget.
If the budget is small, focus on the important aspects and create the above mentioned establishing shots. For example, a photograph of the exterior of the hotel, the entrance, breakfast room and, of course, the rooms themselves. But this decision is very much up to the hotelier. So make sure You mutually agreed and signed off on a list that states clearly what will be photographed.
A famous architect who I neither met or worked before, assigned me a while back to photograph his newest building. The responsibility was huge as the equally huge building was a milestone in the architect’s career. So the pressure was on. To my surprise then, after signing all the paperwork and agreeing on what will have to be photographed, I received a message from the architect who hoped that I would “have a lot of fun” taking the pictures.
This proved to be the single most important aspect of the whole assignment. I trusted myself and was motivated to throw at the assignment whatever I had to offer. The pressure was still there, but it felt more like a great opportunity to take great photographs.
The photographs then went on to secure the building a first prize at the World Architecture Festival.
Therefore… whatever you do, have fun doing it!