Hotel photography rules and standards have changed quickly. Previously, any photographer could shoot your hotel. Resolution requirements, brand standards for photography, and images rejected by websites did not exist. Read these 7 tips to ensure your company has adapted to the changing of the times.
Why Should I Care?
Major hotel brands now demand quality and consistency, albeit slightly behind the major OTAs like Expedia and Booking.com. They require more images per room type to better sell (and upsell) various room types. Choosing the right hotel photographer is crucial to telling the best visual online story for your hotel. If the wrong photographer is chosen, shortcomings may include blurry images, no way to target key segments and lower ADR. Successful hotel photography can be achieved when starting with these basic yet crucial steps.
1 – Hire an Architectural Hotel Photographer, Not “People” Photographer
The top of the “professional photographer pyramid” consists of image specialists – those who shoot exclusively for any number of specific areas, such as food, cars, fashion, product, and yes…interiors. The importance of seeking a qualified hotel photographer will provide night and day results versus hiring someone who’s a generalist. Make sure your candidate has steeped experience in lighting and shooting interiors and exteriors – preferably for clients within the hospitality industry. Ask your hotel photographer about how they handle these aspects:
- Proper lighting
- Lens technique
- Visual approach
2 – Know the Brand and OTA Image Standards
Hire those who have a strong understanding of the hospitality industry. Quality of light and process can be useless without the proper composition and understanding of just what content creates the right images for your property. The needs for specific content differs by brand and this lack of knowledge may result in rejected images due to compliance or be subjected to hours of photoshopping and higher costs.
These issues can vary from shooting an incorrect angle, to lens distortion or the addition or subtraction of items within the photo. The brands and OTAs continue to change the rules and vary widely by brand so you have to stay fresh. Know the details related to:
- HOW an image is to be photographed
- WHAT can and cannot be in each photo
- WHO can or cannot (or should or should not) be in the photo
- WHERE the photo should be taken
- WHEN the image should be arranged and taken
Hotel Brand Imagery Standards
Here are some examples of brand specific standards for hotel photography that are unique:
- IHG requires a pad of paper and a pen be bedside for each guest room photo
- Hilton requires for certain brands to have an employee behind the front desk, with certain eye contact and facial expressions
- Marriott requires very specific tonalities and color when shooting various brands.
3 – Lighting
The key to displaying the various parts of your property in an aesthetic manner comes down to a visually pleasing image. The single most important aspect to achieve this is the lighting of that image. Since the era of digital imaging, the options for how an image is created have changed dramatically. Technology has both helped photographers to become better in their lighting technique, and sad to say, sometimes lazy, in its process. There are many who rely on “AUTO” far too much… auto exposures, auto fill , auto-correct help in Photoshop, and of course the far too coarse look of HDR manipulation. Technology should be an assist, not as the final fix of how to light a space.
One premium technique is a layering process in Photoshop. It involves the capturing of a single photo by shooting anywhere from 20-40 exposures from the camera, locked down on a tripod. Each of those exposures is lit with either a “step-exposure” or a photo-flash placed in a specific part of the room. Each angle of light form these exposures creates a piece of the puzzle to create a quality final image. These exposures are then blended by hand within Photoshop itself, a process that can take up to 45 minutes for each final image. This can be laborious to be sure, but the results speak for themselves.
4 – Image Rights
Make sure you understand what each photographer offers regarding ownership and usage of the images. The final photos can be just what you wanted, but it won’t matter if you suddenly discover you’ll have to pay extra for each time you use them. Request in writing that the photographer will provide you with a final usage agreement upon completion of the project. These rights should be unlimited, in perpetuity, in writing. A great number of brands now make this mandatory when submitting images for final consideration. Ask if the photographer will be using the images for their own marketing or photo gallery.
5 – Soft Skills – Flexibility and Communication
The ultimate hope for each company is to establish a positive working relationship with a specific hotel photographer to allow quality and consistency. A photographer who is quality-oriented, competent, organized, and easy to work with (most overlooked!) are all critical. Make sure your photographer has a professional yet friendly demeanor with excellent communication skills. To ensure on-site success, look at these factors and communicate with the photographer before hand:
- Occupancy versus availability of each room type
- Logistical issues with travel and timing of the shoot
- Prep notes that are shared with operations prior to photographer arrival so expectations are clearly set
6 – Timing
When to Book
Loop in the photographer a month or so prior to actually needing to book them. The best talent books up quickly, specifically in the spring and summer months. Try to book the hotel photographer within a few weeks of opening, as most brands really stress having a completed professional photo shoot completed and uploaded within the first month.
When looking to hire a hotel photographer, ask specifically what the turnaround time for the images will be. While many photographers look to have post-production work completed within two weeks of the shoot, some photography providers have been known to take far longer than that. It’s not uncommon for a property to have to wait up to a month or more if the company doesn’t have a firm grasp of their workflow. Discuss up front with the photographer you plan to hire, so everyone’s on the same page regarding timeline of final image delivery.
7 – Proper Prep to Reduce Costs & Stay out Guests’ Way
The most successful hotel shoots are conducted by a hotel photographer that can script the shoot to best take advantage of timing. There’s a careful balancing act that involves minimizing the guest impact, while utilizing the available labor pool at the property. The photographer should work closely with the breakfast host and crew, the maintenance manager, the front desk staff among others, to help pave a path of understanding as to what would be needed.
- Pay attention to unsightly items that may need photo shopping later (signs, cords, un-ironed drapes/bed skirts)
- Clean all public areas and guest rooms thoroughly to clear construction dust
- Ensure landscaping and exterior touch ups are completed prior to the shoot
- Schedule staff to assist with extra breakfast set up and take down
Travel Industry Photos is a preferred vendor and partner of Cogwheel Marketing. As they shoot exclusively for the hospitality industry, they are approved/preferred vendors for all Marriott brands and are approved to shoot for most Hilton (including Tru) & IHG brands. Referral and repeat business from both large and small management companies is what prides Travel Industry Photos as top hotel photographers. Please feel free to visit their website, www.travelindustryphotos.com, and contact them if you have any questions or would like a free estimate for an upcoming project.