How to Photograph and Retouch a Hotel Room in 15 Minutes

Last year at my workshop in the Bahamas, my students challenged me to photograph a hotel room in under five minutes. They then wanted to see how fast I could retouch it, and I've decided to do it again, this time capturing it on camera, to show everyone what is possible with only a few minutes on location, a bit of Photoshop knowledge, and of course a lot of practice in the art of previsualization!

While I woudn't condone doing this for one of your paid shoots, one of the biggest complaints I regularly hear about my method of photographing architecture and hotels is that "it just takes too long" and "the client will never wait for me" or "I'm not getting paid to justify all the time." I want to show what is possible if you go in with a plan, move quick, and know how to figure things out in post when you have the right pieces. The hardest thing to grasp about this will probably be the pre-visualzation skills required to know what to light, how to light it, and then how to use those pieces in Photoshop appropriately to get a decent result. And that is what will take years of practice, but having the right tools and knowledge at your disposal will greatly speed up this process.

As I mentioned in the video, while this is a great quick-and-dirty retouching job, all of my high-end architecture work usually involves hours and hours on location, and even more hours in front of the computer, hemming and hawing over retouching, mulling over tiny details, and really digging into a photo to get the best results. However this video brushes over most of the basic tools that I use on a regular basis and should get you following along with the basic processes that I use to create my paid work.

If you're interested in learning more about my methods, be sure to check out Where Art Meets Architecture, the 8-hour tutorial I did with Fstoppers on all things architectural photography, or check out my upcoming architectural photography workshops this May in the Bahamas.  Here are a few other shots that we put together while we were there; everyone gets to follow along and go home with some great portfolio material!

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Michael Kelley ( is a Los Angeles-based architectural and fine art photographer with a background in digital art and sculpture. Using his backgrounds in the arts, he creates images that are surreal and otherworldly, yet lifelike and believable. A frequent traveler, Michael's personal work focuses on the built environment of unique

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Retouching hotel rooms is so hot right now

great tutorial Mike Kelley, thanks for sharing your knowledge! Would you be willing to share that psd file for study too? :)

And one more question if you don't mind :) In daylight situations like this do you change bulbs in the lamps to match white balance? If yes, than what is their color temp and how powerful are they?

Nope, those are just the regular 'ol hotel bulbs! Flash and a high shutter speed takes care of them.

Thanks Mike, was that a hotel towel you use for a scrim, to control the reflection on the coffee table ?

Hey Ken, just a bedsheet.

Note to the Editor of the video, Please please don't raise and lower the background music! It is terribly distracting from what your focusing on. This happens all to often from many editors.

Thanks for sharing your work Mike

I think he was just playing music as he talked. If you listen he actually points out that it goes to silent while the music loads again.

nice video

Great tutorial... it usually takes me few hours...

Epic shot man!!

Looks good. What happened to the other pillow? :)

I have newfound respect for architecture photography! Thank you for sharing this video, it was quite eye-opening and very interesting to see some of those techniques that I would not have thought to do before. While my focus is on fashion photography, some of my favorite editorial images that I've admired have also had great attention to detail when it comes to the location. I will definitely experiment with some of these tricks in the future!

6th avenue heartache? Man I envy your speed with that pen tool Mike!

Since we are not dealing with any finely detailed masking/selections, wouldn't using Lightroom have been a much easier tool to accomplish the same thing, rather than dealing with the archaic and unnecessarily complicated Photoshop and its layers palette?

Edit: To the down voter, why? It's a valid question.

Wait, what? Did you even watch the video?
Please explain how to achieve the same result in Lightroom, it would surely revolutionize my workday....

See my comment to Mo.

The answer is simple: No. LR does not have the capabilities to make hand-blended composites. And calling PS archaic is reason enough to downvote your comment. No hard feelings, eh?

What is the end result of the editing that was done? As far as I saw it simply amounts to the modern equivalent of dodging and burning, something Lightroom is obviously capable of, and much more.

If you know the history of Photoshop, more specifically how it's interface has evolved, or more precisely, not evolved, understand and appreciate the concept of parametric photo editing, like what you see in Lightroom, and understand the meaning of the word archaic, then you could not disagree with me when I say that Photoshop is archaic.

Downvoting anyone's comments, especially one with a valid question, without even explaining why, is the kind of thing one would expect from children. It's certainly not constructive, nor does it add anything to the discussion.

In the spirit of constructive information, I'll give you two reasons why Lighroom can't accomplish this look:

1) We're dealing with multiple ambient and flash exposures that need to be layered by hand. Lightroom can't handle layers.

2) You think this could be accomplished with dodge & burn. This would require a single image which has not only captured the entire dynamic range of the scene (impossible in the example given), but also one in which there is no light bloom around the window due to the high contrast. Again, impossible.

If you need another reason why you were downvoted, it's because you stated that "we are not dealing with any finely detailed masking/selections". This is a clear indicator that you either did not watch the video or don't know what masking means, yet you claimed to know what it means.

Well, you could capture the range in the room with a simple HDR image as the starting point and then continue doing your dodging and burning in Lightroom.

Why wouldn't you respond "in the spirit of constructive information?" My question was an honest and sincere question and yet I got defensiveness and snarkiness in return. Geez.

He's blending multiple layers, with different lighting directions. You can't change the direction of light with "dodging and burning" - at least, not easily. That's why this was done in Photoshop.

And the 1980's version with a Sinar and Ektachrome:

Awesome. I dig the music, too!

@Mike Kelley

So how do you bill the job, is it line item'ed with the post work separate? or per deliverable image?

Do you never have clients or creative directors on location with you? how do you deal with that since quite frankly it looks shoddy until it's composited.

Just interested on how your able to sell such a post driven workflow

Hi Mike.

The part where you mask out the window goes a bit to fast for me. I usually mask out everything using a pen and the wacom tablet. Takes forever and isn't 100% clean. Could you perhaps explain it in text briefly.


Bravo. congrats!

Amazing one awesome ;)

But can you do it under 14 this year?

Wow, thank you so much! I love reading your articles and watching your tutorials, they're so comprehensive and easy to follow.

my only question is at like 2:14 or close to it some magic happens and the mask layer turns to a transparent layer.... ? what did you do to do that?

Hi Mike, thank you so much to share this. My question is about the way you use the flash at the beginning. How do you decide where to point the flash? I mean, do you direct it to emulate the sun? and also, do you just use it on pretty much everything? or do you select the items that need to be lighted? Thank you

great bite sized vid. thanks.

Love how you flew through that room retouch. I think your other video said you normally shoot about 8-12 rooms a day?

Amazing! This technique really brings things to life. I call it make things "pop".