Almost four years ago I began a new journey in my photography career. At the time I was still bartending part-time and concentrating on building the headshot side of my business, when hospitality photography came and slapped me upside the head. As it goes with most other good things, it all started over a few drinks with a friend, and has spiraled into a full second stream of income from photography.
I’ve been shooting hotels pretty solidly for the last couple years, and along the way I’ve learned a lot from other photographers as well as things learnt by just practicing. Hotel photography can be challenging on a number of levels, and as you work through those challenges you grow pretty quickly. Above is an almost two hour video on my process for retouching one hotel room image.
Most of the hotel work I’ve been doing for the last two years has been at high occupancy hotels, where the dynamics of shooting can change on a dime. Sometimes with the sexier hotels, I get to work in the rooms whenever I want, but more often than not there is an emphasis on getting it done quickly. Now don’t get me wrong, the hotels want me to do a great job so they will work around whatever I need but at the same time, if their occupancy is high and they are blocking off 6, 7 or 8 rooms for me to shoot then it only makes us both look better to get them done before a guest checks in. Today, Trip Advisor is such a powerful tool, that keeping a guest waiting past check in for their room is not always a great idea. So with this in mind, at times I’m forced to work in less than ideal conditions.
Generally, the first day on site I go through and check the rooms and watch the light on the building so I can schedule eastern facing rooms for the afternoon, western facing rooms in the morning, and so on. This way I don’t have a ton of light pouring into the rooms, although that can sometimes look cool in the right space.
For lighting a hotel room, the same principles apply that Mike Kelley teaches on his tutorial, Where Art Meets Architecture. Depending on the space, I use a mix of hot lights and strobes. Often when I’m shooting a hotel I’m there to shoot a ton of other areas as well - not just the rooms. I usually stay a week or more, and shoot everything they have to offer - so efficiency is always a priority for me.
In the video above, I go over a lot of the same techniques that Mike uses but I've added a few other goodies. I go over things like how to use Frequency Separation to even out some lighting issues and stains on the carpet, and how to soften the shadows a bit on the bed. That’s right, you can use frequency separation on a ton of other things besides skin. I started using it on my headshots and portraits a long time ago, and then tried it out on a few hotel shots and was equally impressed with what it could do for building texture. I’ve used it to even out concrete, brick, carpet, upholstery and all kinds of other stuff. Some works better than others, but it’s a great trick to have in the arsenal of retouching techniques. In the exterior shot above I used Frequency Separation to even out the lighting on the brick between the two Hilton logo's. The exterior shot above was 3 1/2 hours worth of retouching with 50+ lighting and adjustment layers. You can see a 10 minute timelapse of the entire retouching process for the exterior shot here.
So if you dare, check out the video above, and also check out Mike Kelley’s tutorial as he does an awesome job of explaining lighting, composition, and all kinds of other fancy stuff.
One note on the video: on the final image that I delivered to the client, I warmed up the view out the window a little from the one that is on the video. As with most things…always wake up the next morning and give it a second look before you send it off.