7 Tips for Hotel Photography
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Hotels are great. Seriously. As someone that spent most of their childhood being dragged along on family camping trips, I cannot rave enough about hotels. There are no mosquitoes. Rainstorms won’t keep you up all night. You don’t need a flashlight to get to the bathroom. It’s lovely.
As a photographer, hotels are also great businesses to work with. You rarely need a stylist because they’re already beautiful. They seem to always have everything you could ever need like ladders and napkins and random decorations. There are a few aspects of hotel photography that can be a bit tricky but nothing insurmountable. Below are some of the things I’ve learned to maximize hotel shoots.
Coordinate ahead of time
Considering that it’s incredibly easy to get ahold of someone at hotel at almost any hour, you have very few excuses not to get in touch ahead of time and coordinate. Most of the time, I coordinate photo shoots for editorial reasons but occasionally I reach out because I think a hotel is particularly beautiful and would photograph well and I think I can find editorial placement for it later (which is beneficial for me and the hotel). This isn’t so strange and uncommon so I was baffled when I was researching Austin hotels and stumbled across a review from a blogger that snuck into a suite to photograph it for a post and then got booted out.
To photograph a hotel, just get in touch and ask. If a hotel lists a PR contact, start there. If they don’t, call the front desk and explain that you’d like to come in to take some photos and ask if they can direct you to the appropriate person. From there try to structure a clear ask. Explain who you are, what publication or project you’d like to take the photos for, how long you think it will take and which parts of the hotel you’d like access to. Provide days and times that would work. Sometimes, you’ll need to follow up a few times.
When I worked for a restaurant group a while back, I would occasionally field these sorts of requests and I always found it maddening when they were structured in such a way that placed all the logistical onus on me. It can feel a bit awkward to be direct, or perhaps that’s just my Midwestern niceness getting in the way, but being direct and clear is really helpful when coordinating a shoot. If you’re asking to take photos for your blog or social media, be courteous and provide helpful bits of information about follower count and previous places that you’ve photographed. Plus make clear if you’ll post or send photos that the hotel can use. That makes it easier for them to make a decision.
Be prepared for tight spaces
Once you’ve got everything arranged, be prepared for a wide range of spaces that have a whole variety of elements that will make them difficult to photograph. Personally I find hotel bathrooms to be incredibly tricky to photograph. They’re tight. They often don’t have good natural light. They usually have loads of reflective surfaces. A while back I put together a list of tips for improving interior photography but I’ll be totally frank and admit that I have not quite figured out how to tackle hotel bathrooms, especially when they’re small. The best I can say is that you should set up your shot on a tripod, give it a delay and get out the room to avoid reflections. To a certain degree, I think there is no perfect answer. It’s always a slight compromise. On one bright note, many publications don’t ask for bathroom photos so sometimes you can skip over them.
Control the light
One of my frequent go to moves when I have taken a photo in terrible light is to make it a black and white image. That isn’t really an option with hotel images. Perhaps that should be my trademark move though. Anyway, at the moment no one wants black and white hotel photos. So far, I’ve found that the best route around tricky lighting is to take one photo with the lights off and one photo with the lights on, both of the images should be shot of a tripod and then photo merge them. This way you can figure out the light in post processing and bring in some of the yellow light from lamps and overhead fixtures but balance it with the cooler natural light.
Get a mixture of images
Looking at a set of 30 images shot at the same focal length and the same distance to the subject gets boring. A photo set always feels incomplete if there isn’t same variety. Personally, I have found it helpful to ask if any of the items or materials have special back stories as I’m walking around a hotel. Those items are generally great for detail shots. Lobbies and good window views usually make for great images that add more depth to your overall photo set.
Double check before photographing guests
Each place seems to have it’s own specific policy towards photographing people in hotels. Some hotels don’t mind, some discourage it but aren’t particularly strict and a sometimes it’s a total no go. On a side note, I’ve found that hotels in Asia seem to be particularly strict about not photographing guests. Anyway, ask ahead of time if they have a policy. It can occasionally get a little difficult when you’re shooting for a publication that wants the space to feel full and lively but the hotel doesn’t want you to photograph people. You’ll probably end up irking someone and that’s just an unfortunate reality in that situation. Do your best.
Keep in mind the client
With food photography, there’s sort of a narrow window of what clients want. They basically all want the food to look good and the photo to be beautiful. Occasionally a commercial food photography shoot gets a little specific but really the range isn’t so large. Interestingly the same is definitely not true for hotel photos. With food, I often feel that I can shoot one restaurant for multiple purposes without much hassle. With hotels, I always need to shoot for the specific client. Sometimes clients want lifestyle images. Sometimes they want architectural style interior photography. You always want to have a clear sense of what the client is looking for and shoot to that.
So I think there is occasionally a bit of danger in doing too much photography research because you can end up too heavily swayed by the images you come across in your research. For hotel photography, I generally disregard that and do quite a bit of research. It’s important to have distinct images and in a space where you aren’t staging and there’s only so much space it can be hard to walk away with something that looks unique. I try to make sure that I’m not getting the exact same shots that every other photographer has already gotten. Sometimes that means finding a different space in the hotel to focus on and sometimes that simply means looking for a distinct angle.