Lighting Challenge: Hotel Room

The finished picture- twenty images combined into one

We’ve all seen them. Pictures of hotel rooms that look so appealing we want to spend a night in one of those comfy beds. We usually don’t give a thought to how the picture was made… or created. But a lot of work goes into lighting rooms to make them so enticing. Photographers have tricks like placing small but powerful little flash units in the lamp bulb sockets, or using high dynamic range (HDR) photography to bring out more detail in the shadows and highlights. I do it a little differently though, and the technique works to great effect.

Last summer I spent several days shooting a couple hotels in Bar Harbor, Maine to advertise them on the web, in brochures and in print. We shot the restaurants, the lobbies, the pools, the beautiful views, the spa and of course, there were several rooms to shoot. Typically, I’d prefer to bring in my portable studio lighting and place several lights around the room and really light it well. But by the end of the week, we were running out of time to do it that way. I had to leave town and the client wanted to get a couple more rooms in before we wrapped up the week’s shooting. There was just no time to unpack the lights and set them up. So I was forced to improvise.

First, I began by choosing the best place to set up my camera and tripod, a spot that would show off the best features of the room- the beds, the balcony and sliding glass doors, not to mention the nice color scheme inspired by the ocean view out the window. In short, it had to look appealing for guests to want to book a few nights.

Then I got out my portable flash, attached it to a small light stand and wired the flash to a radio slave unit that would fire the flash from the camera, from anywhere in the room. I got my client to stand by the camera and take pictures as I moved about the room, using the small flash to light different areas of the room– the dresser, the head boards, the end of the bed, the top of the bedspread, the pillows, etc. I took twenty photos in all. We were done in under seven minutes.

Back in my office, I loaded all twenty images into my computer, made some adjustments in Lightroom, then exported them as one big, layered TIFF file in Photoshop. That’s when the work really began. Each picture showcased a different part of the room that was lit by my flash– the pillows, the carpet, etc. By brushing out everything but the nicely lit areas of each photo, I eventually ended up with a beautifully lit picture of the room. What looks like a single picture of the room is really the best parts of all twenty combined into one.

Would I prefer to shoot rooms this way, in minimal time with lots of post processing afterwards? No, but in this case the situation called for it and I really wanted to get the images done for my client before I had to leave town.

I’d highly recommend staying at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel in Bar Harbor, Maine. Great people and a beautiful place to stay.

Overall shot (no additional lighting). Too many dark areas, bland lighting, view out the window washed out.

Exposed for the window view

Lamps lit

Lighting far bed and headboard

Lighting for corners of beds and carpet

Lighting dark edge of bed, as well as dresser

Lighting edge of far bed

Lighting chair and edge of far bed

Lighting curtains, top of bed and dresser

Lighting front edge of dresser- note slaved flash on stand

Lighting up top of bed

Lighting top of bed

Best of 2016, Part Two

In January I posted some of my favorite images from 2016. Part Two includes jobs I shot for a family of hotels in Maine, magazine photography, luxury apartments, product photography, CEOs and more.

Centegra Health- Huntley Hospital (CEO Mike Eesley and Mike Curran)

Morningside USA- 255 North Addison, Elmhurst

Morningside USA- 255 North Addison, Elmhurst

Lions Clubs International- items for new catalog

Melvin Williams, President of Nicor Gas, for Naperville Magazine

Morton Arboretum Illuminations 2016

Morton Arboretum in Snow, December 2016

Gaurav Issar, CEO of Allant Group, for Naperville Magazine

Chicago Red Stars soccer player, Casey Short, for Naperville Magazine

Northwest Community Hospital/ Wellness Center

Northwest Community Hospital/ Wellness Center

Witham Family Hotels, Bar Harbor, June 2016 (Bar Harbor Inn)

Witham Family Hotels, Bar Harbor, June 2016 (Downtown Bar Harbor at Dusk)

Witham Family Hotels, Bar Harbor, June 2016 (Atlantic Oceanside Hotel)

Professional Athlete, Casey Short

One of my favorite clients is Naperville Magazine, who I’ve been shooting for since 2007. The magazine has a circulation of over 40,000, and is bundled with the Sunday Chicago Tribune. My assignments have included shooting CEOs of multinational corporations, interiors of beautifully renovated homes, working with dozens of models for fashion spreads, shooting in restaurants, colleges and on the streets of downtown Naperville and other Chicagoland locations. It’s been a lot of fun and the variety has been great.

Recently, I photographed one of my favorites shoots for the magazine and this week, it came out as the cover story. In late November, we met up at Toyota Park to do the shooting with Casey Short, who plays defense for the Chicago Red Stars soccer team and has been invited to try out for the USA national team.

Casey couldn’t have been more easy to work with. We had the stadium to ourselves to work in and around, so we shot the cover image in the tunnel leading down to the field. We also used the field as well as the Chicago Fire (men’s soccer team) locker room. Most of the shots were taken using basic lighting– a medium soft box, with natural light allowed to fill in the background– and a Canon 1DX Mark II camera. I used a 70-200 f/2.8 lens for all the pictures except the action shots, which were taken on a 300mm f/2.8 lens.

Best in Show

Last summer I took part in my first fine art photography show in over ten years– the Bar Harbor “Art in the Park” show in Maine. This annual fair at the gateway to Acadia National Park is a showcase for painters and photographers to show and sell their art.

The most popular print at the show- a 40×60″ metal print

I custom printed over forty-five large (16×20 to the large 40×60-inch metal print above) limited edition prints for the show, as well as over 120 open edition 8×10’s, a new Acadia Centennial poster, and sold several copies of my book. It was my first time participating in the show, but the response to my work was very gratifying. The icing on the cake came a few days later when I was surprised to learn my photography had been awarded “Best in Show.” I’ll definitely be back next year to do it all again.

Luxury Apartment Shoot

New lobby at Elmhurst 255

I love shooting interiors and exteriors. There’s an art to making a room look inviting enough that someone would want to live there. Unlike shooting portraits, where you shoot lots of pictures to get a range of expressions, in architectural photography you spend a lot of time setting it up and getting the room looking just right; then you only take a few pictures.

I hooked up with Morningside USA about three or four years ago when they opened a 306-unit complex in my town and I shot all their marketing pictures (see here). A few months ago I shot their newest project, a 192-unit luxury apartment building in Elmhurst.

I always use a medium format camera for these jobs. My smaller D-SLR cameras just don’t cut it for this kind of work. The quality of the finished images is unbeatable, and the dynamic range (the amount of detail you can see in both the shadows and highlights) is superb. The larger file size also gives me more room to tweak the images by straightening out converging verticals and making sure the walls don’t look like they’re leaning in or out (a common problem with all wide angle lenses).

To see how the pictures are used on the client’s website, have a look at Elmhurst 255. And if you’re looking for a great place to live, close to the Metra station and only thirty minutes from downtown, check them out.