We took a million hotel photos: here’s what we learned

When it comes to your hotel’s presence across all online channels, photography is undoubtedly one of the most important elements to optimising traffic and conversion.

TripAdvisor found in 2016 that 86 percent of travellers consider a hotel’s photos vital to their final decision to book an accommodation.

But, it’s not just the presence of photos or the amount of photos.

“Hotel photography is first and foremost about storytelling,” according to Tambourine’s creative director Stephany Bermudez.

“We don’t take great pictures… we MAKE great pictures.”

In the last few years alone, we’ve taken more than a million pictures for our clients. 99 percent never get published… what are the commonalities behind the great images that can make or break your property?

Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. Don’t: Undervalue skilled, hotel-specific photography

Here at Tambourine, we’ve seen a lot of different quality levels of hotel photography, and from our view, no matter what your budget, hiring the right professional to do the work is the most critical part of the operation.

Stephany Bermudez (left) and her team on set during a hotel photo/video shoot

“Photography is expensive, but it’s an investment,” says Bermudez. “When you do a high-quality shoot, your return on investment is huge because it can last you several years, and it is so much more effective than a budget shoot.

“Today’s hotel photographers are thinking specifically about the online environment, the mobile-first approach, and how to construct and capture the story of your hotel that connects with your guests.

“An amateur or photographer with a different specialty isn’t going to have that insight or perspective.”

2. Do: Hire separate “specialists” for architecture vs lifestyle

Based on our experience, there are two very distinct types of hotel photograph: informational and inspirational.

Informational, or architectural, photographs are very technically precise. They show the customer what the hotel looks like with shots of the rooms, the lobby, pool, exterior, and other amenities.

Inspirational photographs, on the other hand, are more about the hotel’s story – what does the place feel like? What is the vibe? 

These photos might be a roll of towels placed in a certain way, the cappuccino set up, or a group of people enjoying the pool.

“The biggest mistake hotels make is to hire the same photographer for everything,” says Bermudez. “An architectural photographer won’t be the best lifestyle photographer and vice versa.” 

She also notes, “Some hotels also make the mistake of hiring the local wedding photographer, or a real estate photographer. That doesn’t usually work either because they have a very specific skill set that doesn’t necessarily translate to either of these two disciplines.” 

3. Don’t: Use amateur models for lifestyle shots

One serious mistake hotel marketers make, according to Bermudez, is to use employees for lifestyle shots. “Authenticity is important, but it doesn’t always work,” she says. “Professional models are experts in knowing how to move, how to swim, and how to create that moment that will sell the experience of your hotel to your customers.” 

Professional models – even kids – know how to move comfortably with the camera on…

Of course, whether or not a hotel decides to use models is the defining line between a small budget shoot and an investment. “Once you decide to use models, then you need to hire makeup and hair artists, wardrobe specialists, and more. That’s where it starts to get expensive,” says Bermudez.

Not all hotels can afford to invest in a photo shoot at this level. In this case, finding a highly skilled lifestyle photographer is even more important. 

“The right photographer can create those lifestyle moments with a plate of cookies and the right light.

If you’re not going to hire professional models, it’s usually best not to fake it with amateurs. The results are pretty bad more often than not,” she says.

Lighting is everything: Tambourine created this image of Azul, the rooftop bar at Hotel Hugo NYC

4. Do: Shoot video and photos simultaneously

“Once you’ve decided to invest in models and their associated costs, we highly recommend doing a combo shoot of stills and video,” says Bermudez. “You will walk away with a lot more content for your money this way.” 

However, she cautions, it’s important to consider video production teams and photographers that already have a working relationship. “If you hire a video production company and photographer that don’t know each other, they may not work together very well,” she says. 

5. Do: Hire a stylist

Ideally, hotels should prioritise hiring a stylist, according to Bermudez’s experience. A stylist is someone who comes in and preps the hotel for the photoshoot. “Having a great stylist that knows how to prep hotel beds is a huge distinguishing factor between lower budget and high-end shoots,”she says.

“You don’t realise how much goes into bed prep. A stylist will bring their own pillows, steam the sheets, add batting to the duvets, and really go edge-to-edge to build the ideal picture of your hotel.”

For smaller budgets, Bermudez says that housekeeping can be coached on how to prep a bed. “It’s not as efficient, and while we can do a lot of work in post-production, the results are never as good as a natural photograph,” she says.

6. Do: Use natural light

Even things as seemingly mundane as making the bed can significantly affect results: Zemi Beach Anguilla

“If you have lamps turned on in the room during a daytime shoot, you give the impression of a dark room,” says Bermudez. “Every guest wants a bright, fresh, airy room.

“We can give that impression with even the smallest window. Let the natural light pour in and we’ll brighten it with the right exposure,” she adds.

Stephany notes that if you want to shoot the room at night with the lamps on, it has to be done at dusk before the sky turns black.

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