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)

Video Production

The bulk of my work is photography. It’s what I’ve done professionally since 1989. But my clients are surprised when I tell them that I studied video production in college and have a degree in Studio Art/ Photography & Video. I’ve always enjoyed the storytelling aspect of videos– getting a message across through a combination of images and sound. Years ago I really wanted to direct music videos; I loved how they could tell a story and lead you through several different emotions in less than three or four minutes.

But when I finished college in 1989, it was too expensive to break into video on your own, and most editing was done in claustrophobic editing rooms, digitally splicing video tapes into more video tapes. Photography, with its chemical processes and darkrooms seemed much kinder to me at the time…

I shot my first commercial video for one of my photo clients in about 2009. Since then, the work has steadily increased each year. In 2014-15, I stepped into the “big time” when I worked on training video for Bank of America. Last year, I made three videos for a local outreach center that supports single moms, at risk kids and low income families. This was one of those videos, shot for a donors’ fundraising evening…

Piano Lesson

2015 was a very busy year for me; it began slowly, then grew and grew until the end of the year. Over the course of the year, I published my first coffee table book, shot several videos photographed over 250 business executives, several politicians, one billionaire, over twenty-five CEOs, and over fifty college sporting events. In the end, I shot over 35,000 pictures using three different cameras.

Now it’s February and things have slowed down again. I finally have time to reflect on last year. It’s hard to choose your best images from so many choices, but this was one of my favorites.

The client was the Community School of the Arts (CSA), where children of all ages attend music lessons and art classes. On this occasion, we had a little girl and a large piano in a tiny room. There was only enough room for me to stand with my back up against the wall behind the girl; the piano took up almost the entire room. It was a challenge to find a good place to take the picture. In the end, I stood on a chair to get above the girl.

I love the simplicity of this image; her matching blue outfit and ribbon complement the black and white of the keyboard. The CSA used the image as a vertical shot in their promotional catalog.

© Michael Hudson, All Rights Reserved

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.

Screen shot 2015-01-23 at 6.28.57 PM

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 to check out his portfolio or contact him via email.