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

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.

Downtown Naperville

I’ve worked with the Downtown Naperville (Illinois) Alliance for several years– Naperville is a great place to shop, eat out or just hang out. The downtown area always seems to be expanding and in 2015, a new block of stores opened. The owner of the new construction, as well as the Downtown Naperville Alliance, needed updated photos to show off the new areas.


Main Street Promenade, Naperville

I chose to shoot the pictures in the dusk when their would be light left in the sky but the street lights would be on, creating a nice ambiance. There’s a small window in which to shoot; the sky will only be that nice, rich blue for a short time before it goes black. Despite the relaxed atmosphere of the pictures, it was a rushed shoot, trying to get as many buildings photographed before nightfall. In the end, I had to return the next morning to get the final shots.

I used a Pentax 645 medium format camera- my current favorite– for this job. The large, 51-megapixel sensor produces beautiful, large files, with much more dynamic range, and are easier to edit afterwards compared to files from a traditional D-SLR. I used Adobe Lightroom to correct the converging verticals and bring back some color from the original RAW files; each image needed extensive post production work.

Main Street Promenade, Naperville

The Chicago Project

Skyscrapers, downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

Skyline in Squares

I’ve lived about twenty-five miles west of Chicago for over two decades; until three or four years ago, I rarely went into the city unless I had to for work. Given the choice, I’d rather be somewhere deep in the woods, hiking on a mountainside, or down by the coast. I didn’t like the noise, the traffic and the endless construction. About that time, I randomly picked up a book about Richard Nickel, a Chicago photographer who worked tirelessly to salvage some of the city’s historic architecture that was scheduled for demolition during urban renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s (he eventually died in an accident attempting to salvage some of the Stock Exchange Building from the wrecking ball in 1972). His story and prints inspired me and it started me realizing what world-class architecture we have here. The Chicago Project was born.

Chicago Architecture, seen from parking garages near North Wells Street and the Chicago River

Glass & Steel, North Wells Street

The Chicago Project is my ongoing project to photograph the architecture and feel of Chicago. I don’t know how long I’ll keep working on it– maybe three or four years, maybe decades. My goal is to mount some gallery exhibits, as well as make prints available for purchase. To date, I’ve already sold several prints that now hang on office walls as well as in personal collections. If you’re interested in prices and sizes, email me here.

Rather than just photographing a record of Chicago architecture, I’ve tried to create unique, artistic views of the city. In particular, I’ve mainly concentrated on the interplay between the buildings– the way they reflect their surroundings in their windows, often creating abstract shapes and colors, and the unique features of many different buildings. I work both in color and black and white, depending on what’s appropriate for the subject matter.



Chicago is world famous for its skyscrapers; the ten-story Home Insurance Building (1885) is widely considered the world’s first. Since those early days, hundreds more have risen along the skyline, including the iconic Willis Tower (Sears Tower), the John Hancock Building and the Aqua building.



Chicago cityscapes, downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

Carbide and Carbon Building, Michigan Avenue

Chicago cityscapes, from McCormick Place, Illinois, USA

Windows within Windows, McCormick Place

Skyscrapers, downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

Luxury Condos Reflecting Luxury Condos

Skyscraper (333 West Wacker Drive), downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

Merchandise Mart Reflected in Nuveen Building

The John Hancock Center, downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

Convergence (John Hancock Center)

Skyscrapers, downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

LaSalle Street

Wacker Drive– 40x60-inch print hanging in corporate office (2014)

Wacker Drive– 40×60-inch print hanging in corporate office (2014)


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 to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.


Recent Work… Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- InteriorsRecently I was asked to photograph interiors for a new, $60-million dollar luxury apartment development going up in my town. The six story building is hard to miss– three hundred 1, 2 and 3-bedroom apartments surrounding a large outdoor patio and pool area. The pictures will be used in promotional materials– in print, on the web, and in their social media sites.

We had to shoot everything all in one day, and also work around the construction crews working feverishly to get the first units done before their deadline. Added to that, there were only two model units open, so we had to shoot those in between showings to prospective renters. It made for a full, but very productive day of shooting.

I started by arriving early and shooting the lobby (main pic above), which is the centerpiece of the development. I don’t like to use supplemental lighting any more than I have to, but I needed to light some of the furniture, which was looking too dark. I didn’t just want to shoot in HDR (high dynamic range) and leave it at that, though in the end, it became a mixture of an HDR image combined with specifically lit elements.

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

The actual view out the windows- cars, piles of rubble, advertising banner, etc. Note the strobe lighting the furniture on the right. This was retouched out of the final image.

Because construction was still underway, there was all kinds of garbage out the lobby windows- mounds of gravel, tractors and other construction related items. In the end, I had to return a couple days later and shoot some trees and sidewalks from around the complex, then replace the views out the windows with those.

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

Model apartment, with computer-generated apartments added to the courtyard view

It got even harder when I needed to add some better views out the windows of the apartments themselves. I couldn’t just add trees because the units were two or three stories up. In the end, I got computer renderings from the architects, of what the view was going to be like, and pasted those in the windows.

I think I spent about two full days after the shoot to get all the high resolution images done. The client has since used them on their website and is getting great feedback from their Facebook page.

Since then, I’ve gone back two or three times to shoot exteriors as the outside of the building nears completion.

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

Common area lounge

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

Common area lounge

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

Common area lounge panorama

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors


Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

Fitness room

Wheaton 121 Luxury Apartments- Interiors

Sales area


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 to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.