5 tips for better hotel photography

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Google "hotel photography" and you'll get over 700 million results. Some 7 billion people walk on this planet every day and chances are that you share your morning trip to the office with at least two hotel photographers. Impressive. On the other side of the spectrum, however, you have the Trivago content team, rejecting hundreds of images every month because, as it states in its blog, sometimes "no image can be less damaging than a bad image." Remember that when uploading a photo of your hotel online, you are the eyes (and the wallet) of your future guests, so don’t take it lightly. Thanks to the last three decades of digital technology, the world of photography has been radically renewed, resulting in countless advantages and innovations: equipment has become lighter and much more flexible and new, previously unimaginable, shooting techniques have been developed. That being said, the goal of a (good) photoshoot is never solely to create good and technically correct photos. This iconic D-Day shot by war photographer Robert Capa, for example, is far from being technically precise but I am pretty sure it will survive the years better than your Instagram feed. This does not mean that you should swim in the mud with bullets flying over your head to get a good shot, but, when it comes to hotels, photography should be able to sell a specific product: your rooms. "Using visuals has had a positive impact in our bookings both directly and throughout other mediums/sites. When several years ago we changed our original site with very limited photos to a new site with some more visual content direct bookings increased 150%." — Monica Goldstein Avinami, marketing services manager, Lancaster House Hotel, Bogotá - Colombia

The professional photography industry has always been very vertical, and still is. When photo equipment was way more expensive and cumbersome than today, photographers rarely got out of their comfort zone. A finger-food buffet is the perfect habitat for a wedding photographer, but someone specialized in wildlife photography could easily feel like a fish out of water: different techniques are applied and different skills are needed. So, over time, look for photographers established in specific areas. And, although from a purely technological point of view today this problem is essentially irrelevant, the experience and knowledge of a specific field continues to play a crucial role in the success (or failure) of a photo shoot. Due to the low-quality image standards needed on the web (lower resolution, high compression, etc.), virtually anyone can take high quality photos with rather cheap cameras or even phones, but these highly-forgiving technology advancements never counterbalance improvisation and naivety. Technology made the life of professional photographers easier, but it also opened the doors for a generation of amateurs that do not know the industry. And, when it comes to commercial photography, this is the perfect recipe for disaster.

Hotel photography, in fact, should not only be “good,” but it should visually describe what the guest is about to buy, and it must convey to him/her the emotion that they will experience during his stay. And if these goals cannot be achieved by technology alone, it is it a great ally to unleash one’s creativity. Back in the days, for example, hotel photographers tended to focus on room details shots rather than getting a full shots of the room. Why? Mainly for two reasons, and none of them related to stylistic choices. First of all, the “field of action" photographers had back then was often very limited. Super-wide-angle lens were rare and expensive, and shooting a hotel room in its entirety was extremely challenging. "Old school hotel photographers often used a trick: they shot the rooms from above, in order to get everything in and be able to get an overall view", said Stefano Pinci, an Italian photographer specialized in luxury hotels, "When I think about it now, I realize it was a stylistic and conceptual aberration, but they really had no other option." Even more importantly, photographers had to artificially lighten the rooms up, using special equipment such as spotlights or flashlights. This was needed in order to balance the internal, artificial light with the natural one coming from the windows, “which usually produces large areas of overexposure, and it’s a drag”, continues Pinci. These pieces of equipment were massive, and prevented photographers to move freely around the room.

With the birth of HDR shooting technique, all those problems have been solved at their roots, allowing photographers to easily balance artificial and natural lights and get full shots of the rooms. Software like Photoshop, moreover, have also made it possible for photographers to edit their work in a more effective way, and fix human errors and virtually any esthetic imperfections of the rooms, such as cracks in the walls, run-down pieces of furniture or unstraightened bed sheets. All these innovations, together with the ability to preview the photos just taken, simplified the photographers' job considerably and gave them the freedom to shoot more (and better) than they used to with the old analog technology. "A good photoshoot allowed us to strengthen our brand identity by creating the right expectations in the customer.” –Mario Pagliari, owner at Hotel San Francesco al Monte, Naples, Italy

Do you remember the Six Million Dollar Man television series’ opening catchphrase? "Gentlemen, we have the technology!” And we do, at least when it comes to photography. But a (good) hotel photo shoot begins way before the photographer even grabs his cutting-edge technology camera. It begins with a meticulous shoot planning. So make sure to hire a pro, who knows the industry (Yeah, I know, everybody has a cousin who’s pretty good with Photoshop and owns an Iphone X, thanks but no, thanks) and follow these 5 tips:

Give the photographer a list of the areas to be shot and explain to him what you are trying to communicate and enhance. Good photographers know a mind jedi trick or two, but it’s unlikely that they can read your mind. Talking to the photographer will help him decide the style to be used, the time of the day to shoot and so on.

Make sure to schedule the photo session with the due care. Try to maximize the time the photographer spends on your hotel to get the best out of the shooting. And, ça va sans dire, avoid high season sessions.

3. THE 15/15 THEORY
Prepare the rooms and all the areas to shoot meticulously. Get rid of everything that can disturb the photographer and take care of all details by physically hiding or removing room imperfections. A simple 15-second action such as hiding an electric cable can save up to 15 minutes on Photoshop. As the photographer will bill you not only for the shooting, but for the post-production editing as well, try to avoid wastes of time (and money).

Be with the photographer during the shooting or make sure that he has someone from the hotel staff with him for the whole duration of the photo shoot. This is crucial as the photographer may be facing unexpected problems (broken lightbulb, stained carpet) that need to be solved on the spot. Moreover, by having you or somebody from your team around, the photographer will be able to understand better your needs, preferences and personal tastes.

A former client once called me with this revolutionary idea to increase his direct booking: "I will upload the worst photos on Booking.com and the best ones on my official website, so clients will book there and I’ll save a ton of commissions." Brand consistency is the new SEO, so make sure that your images reflect your (current) brand. If you launched a new room type and the photographer who made the original shots 10 years ago is unavailable, it could be a good idea to re-shoot the whole hotel instead of creating a Frankenstein-ish gallery made of five different photo shoots. "High quality photographs can make a huge difference to users deciding to book you or a competitor. Images can express the uniqueness and the atmosphere of a property when text and words can’t." – Andrea Spalletti, owner at Villa Spalletti Trivelli, Rome


No matter the angle, the bed pillow on your website always looks like a deflated balloon? You’re not alone. Hotel photographers usually stuff two pillows together in one case to give it that comfy look.

Flowers are the perfect way to lighten a gloomy room up, but baroque floral bouquets are only good for first dates, not for hotel rooms. When in doubt, choose a simple orchid and a modern vase.

Get rid of all not-strictly-necessary equipment and furniture. There's no need to show remote controllers, trash bins or hotel brochures in a photo. Avoid the clutter at all costs.

I don't know about you, but I'd take Carlo Rambaldi's SFX over modern CGI in a heartbeat. Want to save hours of post-production and get that 80's analog vibe in your photos? Use duct tape on the back side of the curtains to make them look straight (and thank me later).

When shooting the bathroom, avoid getting the bowls in the frame. They never look good.