Hotel Room Photography – Tips from a Professional Hotel Photographer

Hotel Photography

Top Tips from a Professional Hotel Photographer

The challenge with shooting hotel bedrooms – and this will sound obvious – is that there is a great big bed in the way.

This is just one of your challenges as a photographer! Recently, during a chat with a colleague, I realized I’ve shot somewhere in the region of a thousand bedrooms. A thousand!

Interestingly, I can still vividly recall the first one I ever shot, the latest ones, several selected lovely ones, plus a few that were testing although I’m afraid hundreds of others in between are a bit of a blur. There are times that I am on my hands and knees tucking in sheets and straightening pillowcases!

Overall these numerous photo shoots, there are several tips and tricks I’ve found that, hopefully, can help your next professional photo shoot be your most impressive one yet.

Before starting: deal with that hotel bed

Remember what I said about that large bed right in the middle of your photograph? In the majority of cases, it takes up most of the hotel room. Because of that, if your camera is too high – such as when using a wide-angle lens — the bed comes out looking distorted. It’s best to keep the camera quite low and as far back as possible; in fact, I’m often squeezed between the back of the camera and the furthest wall.

Speaking of wide-angle lenses, most clients require those wide shots of the whole bedroom in one picture. These lenses need to be used with caution as they can distort the image in many ways. That’s why, even though there is a level in my camera, I still use a hot shoe spirit level to ensure the lens is straight on and there are no converging verticals. I don’t want to find a problem later when I blow the image up in Photoshop.

But before I even start framing the shot in the camera, I have a look over the bed linen. There is no point in shooting a hotel bedroom unless the linens look good. No, perfect. They should be clean and wrinkle-free. When shooting a hotel sometimes I have help from one of the housekeeping team, but then there are times that I am on my hands and knees tucking in sheets and straightening pillowcases!

Then I always have a good look over the rest of the room to make sure it’s clean and in order, as I don’t want to find a problem later when I blow the image up in Photoshop.

Lighting a hotel room: Pre-shoot VS Photoshop

Although shooting towards a window is invariably the best shot, and you’ll be eager to do so, with the light coming towards the camera some of the room will be in shadow. This is a problem to avoid!

If you were to use an on-camera flash to fill the shadows with light the results would be very unnatural over-lit. I prefer to utilize the natural and available light, then balance it with an off-camera flash to give a warm, inviting mood.

…the advantage of shooting this way is that you don’t have the issue with an over-exposed window.

Like in this challenging shot with big open windows around lots of reflective glass:

Hotel Bedroom

If you didn’t have a flash or any other fill-in light, you could shoot the room from the side of the room where the window is, taking advantage of the light from the window. Of course, the other advantage of shooting this way is that you don’t have the issue with an over-exposed window in the shot . . . but the loss is that then you won’t have the (often spectacular) view through the window. So when taking a shot with the window in the frame, I always take one exposure for the room followed by one for the window, then put them together in Photoshop — this gets you the maximum effect.

Talking of mood and lighting, the colour of the light from the window can be blue, especially in the winter and the lights on the bedside can be quite warm. I use Photoshop to help achieve a balance to the colour, but to give me a starting point I use a grey card (other photographers I know sometimes use a colour chart).

Here’s how a grey card works: after shooting, I take one extra frame with the grey card placed on the bed. Then, when I am back at my desk looking at the image in Photoshop, I know that the grey card is neutral grey, and I can use that as starting point when colour & contrast balancing.

Final hotel photography tips

After I have done the main wide shot, I then change lenses and shoot a more cropped-in shot to tackle details and vignettes. If you’re taking photographs in a hotel they likely have Brand Guidelines which to adhere to; these will say how they want each room shot to look so as to give a consistent look overall to the properties under their brand umbrella.

Always follow these, while adding your skills to make your shoot the best yet under their brand. One last thought — I heard a joke recently:

How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is 100 . . . “1 to change the bulb and 99 to discuss how they would have done it differently”

In some ways, I agree. Every photographer may have a different way of shooting a bedroom; some might say to turn all the lights out or not use a flash at all. We all can try out different ways of doing things and then find what works for us. That’s why I am constantly trying out new techniques to deliver the perfect results at every new hotel.

So, above are just a few ideas that have worked for me on about a thousand different hotel photo shoots — got a favorite tip of your own?

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Art Deco Hotel Bar, Palm Court, South Devon