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

When the President Comes to Town… and Needs a Photographer

The Family Photo

The Family Photo

A few months ago the Irish Consulate in Chicago called me, wanting to know if I’d be interested in photographing the president of Ireland, Michael Higgins, on his visit to the city. Without missing a beat, I said yes and got the details. A few weeks later, after being checked out by the Secret Service and Irish security, my son (in his first job as my assistant) and I found ourselves in the Drake Hotel, ready to photograph 300-500 guests, all eager to shake the president’s hand and have their picture taken with him.

Waiting for the President and Mrs Higgins to arrive for the family photo

Waiting for the President and Mrs Higgins to arrive for the family photo

First off, we had to photograph President Higgins with some local family members in a group picture. Then there were dignitaries to meet the president, finally followed by ninety minutes of ‘grip and grins’. As the official photographer, I could ask the Secret Service guy assigned to me to move other ‘photographers’ out of the way, though in practice, half the people were looking anywhere but at me, the president included. It was chaotic to say the least.

Secret Service not looking conspicuous at all. My son David is in the front, fitting in well.

Secret Service not looking conspicuous at all. My son David is in the front, fitting in well.

A few well known people stopped by, including Cardinal Francis George and one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters and her husband (who wouldn’t look at my camera no matter how many pictures I took).

Cardinal Francis George stops by for a few laughs with the President.

Cardinal Francis George stops by for a few laughs with the President.

I was told the woman on the left is one of Muhammad Ali's daughters.

I was told the woman on the left is one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters.

After it was over, I set up a website where everyone could download their pictures for free (it was included in my shooting fee), or pay for prints, which many did.

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David handed out cards to everyone who had their picture taken.

David handed out cards to everyone who had their picture taken.

I’ve photographed several presidents and world leaders, but this was the most enjoyable. President Higgins was a down to earth, affable chap who never seemed to tire of all the attention and adulation. If it was an American president or politician, it would’ve been stressful and frustrating beyond belief, but this was more like photographing your grandpa and his mates. Makes me want to go back to visit Ireland again now.

One of the Secret Service guys

One of the Secret Service guys

President Michael D Higgins of Ireland, Drake Hotel, Chicago, May 12, 2014

Lisa Madigan representing Chicago politics

Lisa Madigan (in blue), representing Chicago politics

In the end, David and I got to pose with the President too. Photo by Shane O'Neill/  Fennell Photography (Dublin)

In the end, David and I got to pose with the President too. Photo by Shane O’Neill/ Fennell Photography (Dublin)

 

The Adventures of Mike’s Camera is the blog of freelance photographer, Mike Hudson. He is available for commercial photography assignments– marketing, corporate, editorial, annual reports, lifestyle, web page photography, and events. His clients have included many regional and national magazines and newspapers, several healthcare providers, colleges, hotels, architectural firms, small businesses and more. Visit MichaelHudsonPhotography.com to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.

 

 

Lighting is Everything

[This post was originally written about five years ago for my first photo blog]

I was asked by a new commercial client today if it’ll be necessary to set up lights for a shoot we’re doing. I know the location will be bright enough to shoot without any additional lights, but I responded that we may use them anyway. Here’s why…

IMG_6981b

Photography literally means ‘drawing with light’. Think about it– without light, whatever you’re taking a picture of won’t be visible. As a photographer, I’m always faced with decisions about how to photograph a particular subject. Should I use available light, or light with my portable strobes (variable power flashes)? How will the light fall on my subject? Will they be backlit? How will I light up the background so it doesn’t go dark? If I’m using available light, will the color be weird due to mixed sources (all lighting emits different colors- tungsten light bulbs are yellow, fluorescents can be green or light yellow, and halogens defy normal colors)? Will the available light complement my subject, or should I use supplemental lighting to define my subject?

A while ago I did a shoot for a client that went on the cover of a magazine. This was an important shot, probably seen by 100,000- 150,000 people, and the cover sets the tone of the magazine. Put a bland picture on the cover and people may not even open the magazine. Put a quality picture on the front and readers will associate that quality with the organization producing the magazine. I wanted it to look really sharp and draw attention to the woman who was the cover model. Bland lighting wasn’t going to cut it. In the end I used three lights– two on the woman and one bounced off the ceiling, lighting up the colorful background. It took more time to set up and shoot the picture, but the effort was justified by the final result.

Morris Hospital HealthSource Magazine Cover Shoot- Dawn Dike (Stroke Patient), Lisbon, Illinois

And that brings me to my point. The magazine client and I have been working together for many years and we almost always use additional lighting. Another client of mine has a tight budget (ok, all my clients do…) and wants to squeeze the most out of my time while we’re shooting together. We rarely use my lights, often moving quickly from shot to shot without time to think about making things look any better. Basically, we’re shooting snapshots with little thought about lighting. There are times this works ok, but most times, unfortunately, the pictures don’t look like anything special. Image is everything, and for better or worse, people will judge your business by the image you portray. If the images of your business are classy, well executed and eye catching, your customers will look at your business that way too. There are times when I won’t want to use additional lighting and natural light can sometimes be perfect for the job, but for the best quality, take the time to create your images, don’t just let them appear.

The first picture was used for placement, to see where the subject would stand and how the background would appear; the second shows the effects of additional lighting. BTW, extra space above her head and around the edges was purposefully planned for the magazine masthead and additional copy.

© Michael Hudson, All Rights Reserved

The final magazine cover

 

The Adventures of Mike’s Camera is the blog of freelance photographer, Mike Hudson. He is available for commercial photography assignments– marketing, corporate, editorial, annual reports, lifestyle, web page photography, and events. His clients have included many regional and national magazines and newspapers, several healthcare providers, colleges, hotels, architectural firms, small businesses and more. Visit MichaelHudsonPhotography.com to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.

 

 

Adrenaline Rush

The Assignment:

One of my top hospital clients was looking for an image to go on a billboard. They were promoting their Emergency Department and wanted a good shot of an ambulance speeding down the road.

the finished picture

the finished picture

How I Made it Work:

Right away, we had this image of an ambulance driving right towards the camera, lights flashing, cars pulled over to the side of the road. To accomplish this, I would need to be in a lead car, shooting back at the ambulance. My client brought along her car, which had a sun roof that opened all the way. We chose a fairly busy street to drive down, and met up with the ambulance drivers in a parking lot off the main road to go over the details.

After briefing the drivers and making sure we were all on the same page, I got in the client’s car, stood on her front passenger seat and poked my head and arms out of the open sun roof. I turned around and leaned on the back of her roof, facing toward the back of the car. I admit to feeling a bit nervous as we pulled into the road, with me poking out of the car… and an ambulance driving a few yards behind us. Since we would need all the lights flashing and cars to pull over, they had the sirens on full blast too. It was surreal being in front of an ambulance, which was chasing me down the road. It felt wrong not to pull over.

We did several runs back and forth down the street, as well as shooting the ambulance from the side of the road, passing by the camera. In the end, the picture they ran on the billboard was one of the side views. But I really liked the head-on view, so I re-worked the picture to give it more action and drama.

Initially, I had in my mind a picture of a sharp ambulance, with the road blurring past, like you see above. But because I was shooting from a moving vehicle, I couldn’t slow my shutter speed down enough to get the blur I wanted (see the original unedited picture below). Instead, I shot with a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, and added the motion blur later in post production.

Uncropped, unedited version of the same image

Uncropped, unedited version of the same image

There aren’t many people who can say they’ve been ‘chased’ by an ambulance, but it was a real rush, and one of my more memorable shoots from the last few years.

 

The Adventures of Mike’s Camera is the blog of freelance photographer, Mike Hudson. He is available for commercial photography assignments– marketing, corporate, editorial, annual reports, lifestyle, web page photography, and events. His clients have included many regional and national magazines and newspapers, several healthcare providers, colleges, hotels, architectural firms, small businesses and more. Visit MichaelHudsonPhotography.com to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.

 

Photographing Princess Diana and the Royal Family, Part One

When I was fifteen years old and living in England (where my father had been transferred for work), the Queen of England drove through our town on a cold, grey afternoon. I brought along my Super-8 movie camera, and as her Rolls Royce slowly drove down Park Street, I ran alongside the car, stopping at gaps in the crowd to point my camera at the Queen, in the hopes of getting some good footage. In the end, I got one single frame of the Queen’s face, out of hundreds I shot. But I was hooked on the adrenaline rush.

Queen Elizabeth, London, 1986

Queen Elizabeth, London, 1986

A few years later, I was going to college in Chicago, returning home for the summer breaks. I couldn’t get a summer job and spent most of the time bored with nothing to do. But one day when I found out that Prince Charles and Princess Diana were going to be at a polo match a few miles away, I packed my camera bag and drove over to see them. Surprisingly, I was able to get some really nice, closeup pictures, and had fun doing it. I had finally found something to occupy my summer, and practice my photography at the same time.

Diana and Charles, Cardiff, Wales, 1987

Diana and Charles, Cardiff, Wales, 1987

Unlike ‘common’ celebrities, the royals were special. No matter what they did or how old they were, their ‘star power’ never faded. Musicians and movie stars come and go, and the vast majority are forgotten, but the royals are a part of British history. I knew if I got some good pictures, they would always be valuable and of interest.

That summer (1986) was significant in the life of the Royal Family. The Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, was getting married to Sarah Ferguson, and news of the wedding was in the papers and on TV every day. I’d met a few fellow royal-watchers at other events, and together we made plans to scout out a good vantage point to see the wedding, and spent the night on the streets holding down our spot along the processional route.

The wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, London, July 23 1986

The wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, London, July 23 1986

I’ll save the details about shooting the wedding for a separate blog post, but suffice it to say that I got hooked on getting good photographs of the Royal Family– all of them, young and old, mega-famous and virtually unknown– as well as the celebrities and royal “culture” that followed their every move, and spent two whole summers and part of a third doing it.

The next summer (1987), I had an agreement to shoot for one of the most prestigious photo agencies in Britain; it was only months later that I found out my pictures were no good to them unless I sent them immediately after each event, which they neglected to tell me at the start of summer. The story has a happy ending now though, as I still have all my pictures, instead of them gathering dust in a London office.

Princess Diana, Kew Gardens, London, July 1987

Princess Diana, Kew Gardens, London, July 1987

I stopped photographing the royals when I finished college and stayed in the States permanently. I had taken thousands of photos of everyone from the Queen (35 times), Princess Diana (52 times), Princes William and Harry, Prince Charles, on down to Princess Michael, the Duke of Gloucester and Lady Marina Ogilvy (google them if you’re interested). On top of that, I was able to see and photograph events and people that most of us only see on television: I attended several international film premieres, photographed many of the leading celebrities of the late 1980’s, shot at Princess Anne’s home in Gloucestershire, watched Prince Charles play numerous games of polo (I still have a couple polo balls he used), stood with Prince Andrew as he watched his new wife ride in a steeplechase, and met Princess Diana twice. I also saw her marriage to Charles fall apart, and photographed their strained kisses and awkward body language on many occasions.

Princess Diana presenting Prince Charles with prize, Cartier Polo Tournament, Smith's Lawn, Berkshire, July 1988

Princess Diana presenting Prince Charles with prize, Cartier Polo Tournament, Smith’s Lawn, Berkshire, July 1988

In the end though, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about photography. Patience was a big one– sometimes it took 6-8 hours of waiting just to get my pictures, and twenty-four hours in the case of the wedding. But I also learned to expose film correctly or I’d end up with nothing to show for my efforts. As a photographer, it was good to cut my teeth on film; most photographers who have come up in the digital age rely on software to get the picture looking right after it’s been shot. It’s hard to imagine taking a picture now without looking at the LCD screen and checking your work right away, but back then, you just had to wait– usually days or weeks to see your pictures. I also learned to think fast while shooting. Unlike the professional press photographers, I didn’t have access to the press pens in the choice locations. But I learned to pre-visualize my photos and figured out where the best spots would be when the car would pull up and one of the royals would step out. And I learned to recognize their cars, their drivers, and their detectives (plainclothes policemen assigned to the royals), so that I could anticipate what was about to happen. All in all, the things I learned on the streets those summers were better than all the classroom lessons I learned in college, and I still use those skills in my job today.

Princess Diana, Brixton, London, July 1987

Princess Diana, Brixton, London, July 1987

Finally, I learned that the royals were just people too. Sure, they had fame and fortune and glamour, but in the end, it didn’t buy them real happiness, and I came to see them just as ordinary people leading extraordinary lives. But it was a golden age to follow them. A few years later, most of their marriages had broken up, and less than ten years later, Princess Diana was dead. Today, security is far tighter and in this digital age where everyone has a smart phone and photography is instant, things just aren’t the same. But I’ve still got all my pictures, and lots of great memories.

Princess Diana at James Bond film premiere, Leicester Square, London, June 1987

Princess Diana at James Bond film premiere, Leicester Square, London, June 1987

 

 

The Adventures of Mike’s Camera is the blog of freelance photographer, Mike Hudson. He is available for commercial photography assignments– marketing, corporate, editorial, annual reports, lifestyle, web page photography, and events. His clients have included many regional and national magazines and newspapers, several healthcare providers, colleges, hotels, architectural firms, small businesses and more. Visit MichaelHudsonPhotography.com to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.