Luxury Hotel Photography: Seduction of the Senses

Luxury hotel photography is an art unto itself. While lifestyle photographers like Mark DeLong can make luxury hotel photographs look effortless, being a great commercial hotel photographer not only takes years of training, but also the skills to understand what it takes to visually tempt someone to buy into an entire luxury experience.

If you want to understand how to start on the road to being a professional hotel photographer, or at least, understand how the pros do it, read on.

Advertising Campaign for Hilton Hotels

Advertising Campaign for Hilton Hotels

Professional Hotel Photography — Making Magic for a Luxury Audience

When it comes to a luxury hotel, there are certain features that guests expect — a sinfully comfortable bed, an indulgent spa, a cool, clear pool, etc. That means when you’re photographing these features as a hotel photographer, your goal is not to simply explain that these things exist. Your goal is to evoke a feeling so powerful that the guest puts themselves in that environment.

You want to capture:

1. The Little Details

You want to create a yearning for what’s in that photograph. That means a general shot showing the entire feature isn’t as important as an intimate detail that will stick in the viewer’s mind long after they’ve stopped looking at the photo.

If you’re shooting photos for the spa, images of hot stones drawing the tension away from a guest’s sore muscles, or simply a shot that conveys tranquility, like some exotic flowers or a small koi pond, may do the trick. If you’re shooting a pool, you just want to show the water — or at most one human subject that your viewer can substitute themselves for. You’re trying to convey the things people seek out in a luxury pool — cool, clear water and open space for them to spread out and relax. Anything fighting that image doesn’t need to be in the shot.

Advertising Campaign for Marriott Rewards

Advertising Campaign for Marriott Rewards

2. The Staff

Getting some great shots of the staff in action can be an element of luxury hotel photography that really sets your hotel apart. When you’re a luxury hotel, the message you are trying to send to guests about the staff is that they will always be on hand when you need them and be practically invisible when you don’t. That’s what you have to convey when taking staff shots as a professional hotel photographer.

You want happy, smiling staff doing their jobs in such a way that keeps the focus on the hotel itself and what it delivers to the guests. Don’t forget to secure releases from the staff members you’re using in your pictures, and if there’s any photo that doesn’t show a staff member as having a great time serving the hotel and its guests, don’t use it.

Rebranding Campaign for Caruso

Rebranding Campaign for Caruso

3. The Exterior

Even though your guests will be spending most of the time inside the hotel and will want to see what luxuries are in store within, don’t discount the importance of great exterior shots of your hotel, especially as the lead in to your brochure or web page. First impressions are important, and how a hotel looks on the outside sends a message to visitors as to what they can expect when they stay there, so don’t short yourself on the great exterior shots when setting up your shot list.

When shooting the exterior of the hotel, before even setting up the shot, you should be asking yourself what is visually interesting about this building? Does it have a unique shape? Is it unusually tall or wide? Does it have old-world charm or an ultra-modern sensibility? Whatever you determine makes this building special and sets it apart should be the focus of your exterior shots.

Be sure to shoot at different times of day to see how that affects the structure you are photographing. Remember, the building is not going to move, meaning you can use longer shutter speeds, so you don’t have to worry about typical lighting concerns. Use a wide-angle lens and make sure your lines are straight. If the name or brand of the hotel is displayed prominently on the exterior, you want to make sure to capture that in at least some of the exterior shots.

Advertising Campaign for Lowes Hotels

Advertising Campaign for Lowes Hotels

Additional Images to Add to the List

When doing a luxury hotel photography shoot for marketing purposes, there are a number of locations you want to be sure to get good shots of. A complete shot list ensures people who are looking at the portfolio will get a full feel for the hotel and what it offers, and won’t be left with lingering questions that they won’t bother following through with your hotel to answer.

Some of these shots we’ve already discussed. You want to get the pool. You want to get the spa, if there is one. In fact, you want to get at least one shot of every notable feature of the hotel, like the business center, fitness center, any bars and restaurants, a garden, the courtyard and so forth. The exterior, both during the day and at night, is also a critical aspect to capture. However, there are some additional shots you also want to make sure to get into that portfolio as well. For example:

  • Hotel Lobby/Entrance. You want to make sure you get the lobby or reception area, since this will be a way to welcome potential guests to your hotel, just as the actual lobby will welcome them when they arrive. There can be a few guests in this shot as long as it is not too cluttered, as this will add authenticity. Remember, smiling, helpful-looking, happy-looking staff are a must, too.

  • Guest Rooms. You’ll want to be sure to get at least one shot of each type of room, such as a suite, one King, two queen and so on.

  • Meeting Spaces. If there’s a ballroom, convention space or meeting space, you’ll want to get that, too. In fact, an added touch can be to stage the ballroom for its different potential functions and get shots of each one to widen your potential guest base.

Once you’ve covered all these areas, any parts of the hotel that you find visually interesting are areas you should attempt to capture photographically. As long as there’s sufficient time, it’s better to have a bunch of shots you don’t end up using than miss a bunch of opportunities because of shots you didn’t take.

Advertising Campaign for Hilton Hotels

Advertising Campaign for Hilton Hotels

The Difference Between DIY and Hiring a Professional Commercial Hotel Photographer

Some hotel managers or those in charge of marketing for the hotel may balk at luxury hotel photographer prices and decide that they don’t need to pay for a professional hotel photographer. They may look at pictures that appear in the marketing materials of other hotels and decide, “Well, anyone can do that.” The fact that modern technology and computer programs like Photoshop has made many aspects of technical photography accessible to the layperson makes it tempting to think you can do everything yourself.

The fact is, though, that skill in professional hotel photography makes a difference. Professional hotel photographers don’t just snap a bunch of shots and decide they’ll color and light correct in editing. They know how to frame a shot, how to set the camera to get the best results and how to edit photographs so they look authentic and inviting, rather than staged and altered.

If you try taking luxury hotel photographs yourself, or hiring someone on your existing staff to do it, you may be able to tell the difference between your photographs and ones created by professional hotel photographers like Mark DeLong. You and your guests may not even realize it, but the compositions created by the pros will simply draw their eye better and for longer, and they are more likely to entice guests to book a stay.

“Good enough” photographs may be fine for a local motel, but a luxury hotel needs to show something to its potential clients that is a cut above, and that is where professional hotel photography comes in.

If you’re interested in using the techniques and tips mentioned above to explore luxury hotel photography and try to get to a level matching the pros, by all means you should. The world can always use more great photographers and great pictures. But until you get there, you can’t leave your hotel’s fate in the hands of anyone but an experienced, acclaimed commercial hotel photographer who knows how to get you the shot you want — the shot that will make people look at your hotel and say, “I have to be there.”