Commercial Real Estate Photography Tip: How to Photograph Hotels

Commercial Real Estate Photography Tip: How to Photograph Hotels

In commercial real estate photography, how to photograph hotels and how to photograph businesses in general, are important skills to have in our virtual tool bag. 

 Selling or leasing commercial properties is only one part of the potential photography jobs involving businesses that we can tap into as professional photographers. In our continuing series of photography tips for commercial properties, we’ll examine some helpful hotel photography tips along with basic interior photography tips.

Motel and hotel photography is a specialty niche of commercial property photography, which is already a specialty niche of real estate photography. You will be well prepared to offer some of the specialty services involved in hotel photography if you have already been shooting real estate listing images for a while.

 Standard procedures of commercial real estate photography are very similar to residential realty work. For instance, capturing images that involve a large range of exposure values by means of HDR (high dynamic range) photography is the same whether in a small house on Oak Street or in a 5 star hotel downtown on Main.

Bracket and merge speeds up the overall workflow of real estate imaging, though it does require a little bit of extra time while shooting. That extra time for capturing a series of shots, though, pales in comparison to the time spent attempting to balance on camera or light stand mounted flash or LED lights in each different room.

HDR is usable for interior views and exterior shots in commercial real estate photography. Many areas outside will be full of different lighting levels, some things in full sunlight, some things lit by skylight, and other parts of the image view are in deep shadow. Plus, bracket and merge HDR allows for some specialty beauty shots we’ll  detail below.

Here is a great tutorial of the Bracket and Merge method and we also found an excellent YouTube video on using HDR in real estate photography.

Among the more vital elements of how to photograph hotels is to have a very specific shot list. A predetermined list of what areas to shoot is important in all real estate photography, but hotel photography has a very specific need concerning this.

The concern in motel and hotel photography is making sure all of the different room types are captured. Also, amenities and any special features require photos. Some chains actually have their own standards of what’s expected, so ask about any published guidelines they can send you. 

Compliance to corporate standards  is essential for completing the job in a way that the client can use and for you to get paid. In several of the corporate standards I've seen, HDR photography is expected, and they will even tell you how many shots and the stops of difference to use for bracket and merge HDR.

If a sign off sheet is included in the corporate standards you’re given, have a couple of copies on hand as you shoot. One will be your worksheet, the other will be what you end up delivering with the images after processing. 

This is how you can speed up your workflow while onsite without losing any required images. It’s a terrible waste of time for you and the client if you have to go back to gather missed shots. That signed off shot list is a good protection for you, too, since you often can’t charge any more fees if the missed photos are your fault. If they neglected to include something, charge accordingly and always be professional in demeanor and tone of voice. 

That shot list is what you use to know what rooms and areas to include. A representation of each different room type is normally included. So if the hotel has a king room and also a king suite with extra furniture or areas, those are two different room types to shoot. The amenities are important as well. Swimming pools, breakfast buffets, fitness centers, and business accommodations all need images.

The hotels have their own labels for these room types, so it’s a good practice to list the room type code along with the room number on the shot list. Including blank frames between rooms or areas also eases the workflow, alternatively you could use a dry erase board, changing room types and numbers between areas and shooting the board before each room type. 

If I seem to be going on a lot about these workflow ideas and shot list protocols, it’s because I’ve learned by the example of others and from some early mistakes I made that these are vital issues to take care of when learning how to photograph hotels and businesses. 

If you have to stay an extra hour onsite to ensure you’ve captured what the business wants, that’s time well spent. Finding out you missed an important area is a workflow killer when you notice it during post processing and you could lose a client if you deliver the job and they have to point it out to you afterwards.

Added value is how you set yourself apart from other photographers competing for these same gigs. Two wonderful added packages for commercial real estate photography are drone views and panoramas, especially the interactive virtual tour style of spherical panoramic imaging.

Offering drone images will require you to have a drone license in the USA, regardless of the size drone you use. That’s because it falls under those same laws of commercial flight registration and safety. Other countries have similar requirements, just look it up online if you’re not sure. We also have several drone articles here on PhotographyTalk covering drone photography tips. 

As an alternative to using a drone, an extension pole and a wireless remote can othen give you enough height for similar views. Be careful when using a 16 to 30 foot extension pole and your valuable camera and lens. Your commercial insurance may cover the equipment costs, but it still stinks to hear your camera crash into the pavement.

Spherical panoramas are quickly becoming a standard addition to commercial real estate photography packages. In the hotel industry, they are an important marketing tool for these businesses. Other businesses are adding these features to their online presence as well. 

The spherical panorama interactive tour is an amazing function for business web pages. It allows viewers of the website to see certain areas and views in 360 degrees. I like to describe it as a version of Google Street View that goes inside the business or hotel. 

As with drone photography, in order to offer this specialty package, you will be required to use some specialty equipment. A high quality fisheye lens, a nodal panorama mount, and a heavy duty tripod are the gear necessary for capturing the panorama. 

Stitching software is how you then create the interactive panorama. Most hotels require that the panoramic RAW images be captured with the HDR bracket and merger method. Using a detailed sign off sheet will help you keep everything organized.

As with residential real estate photography, having the know-how to photograph hotels often means being able to provide a stunning beauty shot, also called the hero shot. Printed flyers or brochures will have this beauty shot as the cover image, online sites will use this for the opening image.

Bracket and merge HDR will help you here, too, since the dynamic range from shadow to highlight detail is usually extremely high when shooting in Golden Hour, Blue Hour, or during twilight. Blue Hour basically covers twilight time periods, but some photographers like to separate the terms for their hero shots.

Oftentimes, the perfect twilight beauty shot is in the early morning, though it really does matter what direction the building faces. I’ve found that being able to stay overnight for the commercial real estate photography shoot is an excellent way to have a nice variety of Golden Hour and Blue Hour images from both twilight periods to choose from for the beauty shot. 

While there is a lot of competition for clients at this level of commercial real estate photography, using your skills as a photographer and as a businessperson should give you the added value these clients are wanting. 

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