How To Photograph Your Hotel With A Smartphone

At Travel Tripper, helping hotels fill their rooms with happy customers is one of our top priorities. The images you put out there on the web and on social media can greatly impact how people feel about your hotel. That’s why it’s critical to make the most of the pictures you take of your hotel.

We notice a lot of hotels are using smartphones to shoot photos these days. It makes sense. It’s a fast, economical way to shoot and share images of your hotel. But we think hotels can do a better job at using some fast and free apps and photo techniques to get even nicer results—and help people connect with your hotel even more.

So to teach you how, I shot some photos of the Boston Park Plaza hotel with my iPhone 6. I didn’t use any fancy equipment or expensive apps. We just wanted to show you some tricks for making your smartphone photos even better.

Have any questions or tips of your own? Leave them in the comments!

Best Use of this Guide

My goals of photographing the Boston Park Plaza were to get a handful of nice exterior shots. These will be good general purpose shots for their website or social media.

The following guide was created with that purpose in mind. Photography is a very deep topic, so impossible to cover every aspect in one guide. But if you have any requests for other photo issues, let us know in the comments!

Schedule Your Shoot

MUCH of your results will be due to good preparation. And since I was traveling to Boston for the day, I especially wanted to be sure my time wouldn’t be wasted.

How to determine the best time of day

The natural sunlight is your best friend for exterior shots. Some basic rules:

  • Choose the time of day when the sun is most facing the front of your hotel
  • Avoid mid-day lighting when the sun is high in the sky. Try to find your “golden hour“!

You may know how your hotel is situated according to the sun, but you can always check Google Maps too – which is exactly what I did for the Boston Park Plaza:

Since this hotel’s front entrance faces northwest:

  • The afternoon is the best time of day, when the sun is in the west
  • It shouldn’t be too late, otherwise shadows from the surrounding buildings will fall onto the hotel

So I chose 2 p.m. since the sun was setting around 6:40 p.m. This gave about a 1-2 hour window where the sun would fall on the front of the building, but not be causing too many shadows from other buildings.

The best weather for exterior photos

Clear blue skies are best. A few clouds are ok, but you’ll want to avoid days with too many clouds or that “hazy” look. This can give a very dull look to your photos, which is hard to fix with editing. A blue sky can provide the perfect backdrop.

You may want to avoid leftover weather elements like puddles or snow (unless you need some seasonal shots).

Plan Your Vantage Points

Get access to nearby buildings

Depending on your hotel, the best shot might not be from the street. It might be from the roof or window of a nearby building. I highly recommend getting access to a nearby building and checking it out. That’s exactly what I did, and you’ll see some of the results below.

Plan to remove obstructions

Aside from some construction, luckily the Boston Park Plaza has a pretty unobstructed view to the front of their building:

Your hotel might have moveable obstructions, in which case I would recommend:

  • Asking valet and other services to move out of the way for a few minutes
  • Move extraneous items like trash cans
  • Plan to have the parking spots or car area empty for a few minutes

Schedule this all ahead of time, to limit any disruptions and get your shots quickly and easily!

The Boston Park Plaza is a pretty busy hotel in the middle of a busy city, but I was still able to get some good shots without moving anything ahead of time, so certainly not a requirement.

Tips for Shooting the Photos of Your Hotel

Phew! That was a lot of planning. But it’s worth it. Now we finally get to shoot!

Camera settings

As mentioned, I was using an iPhone 6 with iOS 8. Your phone setting are likely similar.

  • HDR — Set to “auto.” This will help the camera compensate for difficult lighting situations automatically.
  • Flash — Just don’t use flash 🙂
  • Square vs. Rectangular — I recommend defaulting to rectangular. This will generally look best for average shots (it can be harder getting nice square compositions) and you can always crop it square after the fact.
  • Zoom — With the camera in the iPhone 6 I actually recommend playing with this and zooming in 25%-33% of the way. I’ll explain more why below.

Shooting and composition tips

So you’re ready—you’ve got your location, you’ve planned, you have camera settings. Here’s how to actually shoot!

Take a LOT of shots

Every professional photographer’s dirty secret? They shoot a TON of photos. For instance a professional architectural photographer might take 100-200 shots to get the best few they would actually use.

Guess how many I took at the Boston Park Plaza? 50? 100? 200??

Nope. 243!

That’s right, it may be a bit excessive, but it ensures you don’t waste your time.

Shoot from a variety of angles 

Every hotel is different. Without knowing your specific hotel’s size, dimensions, features, surrounding landscape, it’s impossible to give you an exact formula. To cover all bases, be sure to include:

Shots dead front and center — one of mine, unedited:

Offset from the corners on the left and/or  right — one of mine, unedited:

Extreme offset angles from the far right and left — one of mine, unedited (unfortunately the scaffolding makes this shot tough to actually use):

Shoot from a distance and zoom in 

This is huge trick when shooting with the iPhone 6 (and probably many other smartphone cameras). You can actually get a more professional look by zooming in a little.

I probably wouldn’t use the above photo because of the scaffolding, but can you see how just zooming in a bit gives it a professional look?

Why? It gives an appearance of depth – something very important when shooting buildings, because your subject is at a fixed distance – the viewer will feel like they’re peering into your world.

Shoot from a variety of distances 

Although you’ll probably get your best shots standing back and zooming in, I’d encourage you to experiment with distance (in addition to side to side). This is especially good for your extra detail shots.

Definitely try standing right underneath your hotel and getting a good “lookup” shot – here’s an unedited example of one of mine:

Also notice the pleasant light and shading. This is only achieved during “golden hours”.

Include foreground objects to create depth

In addition to simply shooting at distances, you can include objects close to you in the foreground to give a better sense of space and depth.

Notice the fountain, bushes, tree, cars, and then hotel, all adding many layers of depth to the photo. Look for foreground objects you can include in your shots and place them at the edges of your composition.

Leave headroom and extra space

When shooting buildings, it’s very hard to get a perfectly level and straight image. So you’ll be adjusting and cropping the shots when you edit. To compensate, leave some extra room where you know you’re going to be cropping it off.

Include other elements for context

In addition to being sure your hotel is in frame, you can include other things for context.

People — be patient and wait for the right moment with some people walking in/out of the hotel or passing by.

It can show a human touch, scale and context. Probably not a perfect shot because of the scaffolding, though. I’m also using the zoom effect in the above picture.

Hotel Signage – you most likely have a sign or awning at your front entrance. It’s great to include these for extra branding (or bragging rights in this case!)

Surrounding Buildings – depending on how your hotel is situated, you may be able to get some shots with other buildings or landmarks in view (for example, maybe you’re in NYC and can get the Empire State Building in the background)

Here’s an example of one of the shots taken from the roof:

Take rooftop shots from other buildings 

Speaking of rooftops… remember how I suggested getting access to nearby buildings? That’s so you can see if shots from their windows or roof give you a good view.

I personally liked the shot used above; it was the best one from the roof across the street.

Use the Rule of Thirds

A common “composition” in art and photography is to use the rule of thirds. Wikipedia has a great explanation here. Essentially, you’re lining up the main object or lines on imaginary lines dividing the photo into nine sections:

Notice above:

  • The flag is offset from the center
  • The leaves “frame” the photo in the top horizontal 3rd area
  • The lower floor of the building (windows with the arches etc) take up the lower 3rd

You don’t have to be mathematically precise with the rule of thirds, but it’s a great concept to keep in mind if trying to improve your compositions and make them more pleasing!

Use symmetry

You can also attempt to make your shot perfectly symmetrical. This conveys a sense of security and strength. You could be perfectly mathematical, but again, just showing you the content – as it’s a composition you can look for that you know will look great:

The above shot would have great symmetry once straightened and cropped. It pretty tough to take a perfectly symmetrical shot with an iPhone (unless you have a special tri-pod), so editing is a must.

You often see leading lines in shots with symmetry (notice the roof beams in the above shot leading your eye to the back of the room). They don’t always have to go front to back, but are often present in symmetrical shots.

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So hopefully you’ve found the above tricks helpful. You should now have a ton of raw photos to choose from back in the editing room.

Editing Your Hotel Photos

How to choose the best photos

I find one of the hardest parts of the process is choosing from your raw photos. If you’re like me, you have more than 200 photos to choose from.

My biggest tip? Even though you’ll edit these on your phone, upload them to your computer so you can view them on the big screen. This is the easiest way I find to choose your favorite photos.

Here’s some things to look for:

  • Balanced Lighting — It can be tough to fix areas that are too dark or too light in your photos. Try to choose one that looks balanced for lighting
  • In Focus — It’s impossible to use a photo that’s not in focus. Most smartphones are good at auto focus, but sometimes things go awry here.
  • Gut Reaction — Sometimes you can sit there and judge a photo, but often you’ll have a “gut” reaction. A certain photo just hits you. Listen to this! Others will likely have that reaction too.
  • No Extraneous Objects — You can remove objects in Photoshop, but we’re not getting that sophisticated. Choose a photo that doesn’t have anything extraneous.

Other than that, you can fix almost anything else with editing Apps.

Here’s the photo I chose as one of my exterior shots, which I will walk through my edits for you:

What I liked:

  • The sun light is sweeping nicely across the image
  • The tree leaves are illuminated, and a nice touch in the foreground
  • I can tell we’ll be able to straighten it
  • The hotel name is present on the sign
  • There’s a nice reflection in the windows
  • I can tell with some contrast etc it will really come to life
  • I can picture it looking nice on their website, or as a background of a social media profile

Straightening Your Photo

I can show you how to make your photo “sparkle” but the biggest factor for an exterior building is having a straight photo. Your weapon of choice for this? An App called SKRWT. It will help you straighten just about any photo.

Here’s my adjusted version:

It’s really *more* than just straightening, it’s actually correcting distortions and perspectives too. SKRWT has a great video tutorial here.

Again, I don’t advise you skip this step if you want the best looking photos from your smartphone!

Making adjustments and bringing it to life 

Once you have a nice straight and cropped photo, you can then enhance it. My tools of choice for this are either Snapseed or Instagram’s tools (which have gotten quite good). Here’s the things I recommend playing around with:

Contrast and Levels — This will really help bring your photo to life. I often push the contrast to a limit, just before it seems too unnatural.

The trick I’m showing you here, is to use Snapseed’s built in Histogram. The basic idea is to adjust your levels to fill in the entire spectrum of lights, mids and darks.

You’re usually going to increase contrast a bit, and I find myself usually adding shadows and sometimes adding a touch of highlights.

Adding “Life” — (This is my own term.) You can also make a photo seem more alive with a “Drama” effect (Snapseed) or Lux (Instagram). They don’t actually do the same thing, but I find myself using either one depending on where I edit the photo.

Experiment with the levels of either of these settings. You don’t want it to look too much like an effect, but just enough so the photo really comes alive.

Here’s what a small touch of “drama” in Snapseed does to the above photo:

(Important: Snapseed removes -40 saturation by default on the drama effect. Be sure to add this back in.)

Saturation — Sometimes adding contrast and “life” can over saturate the colors. If your photo looks a little overwhelming color-wise, don’t be afraid to pull out some saturation. However, I noticed the iPhone 6 tended to under-saturate in some cases.

I didn’t find myself de-saturating the above photo this time.

Temperature — (Sometimes called “warmth”) this adjusts the mix of cold blue colors vs warm yellow colors. You can also make your photo and hotel seem more warm and inviting by increasing warmth (but not too much so it doesn’t look unnatural). Since this was a 90-degree sunny day, I didn’t find myself adding warmth either. I’d recommend avoiding a cold look, unless that fits your hotel’s branding.

Vignette — A vignette can help tie together a “flat” looking photo and get it a sense of cohesiveness. For this example, I did think it needed a little vignette to keep the eye’s focus on the middle of the photo, and add some shading to the outside:

That’s it! Remember, it’s NOT about using every effect possible, but rather knowing the right ones to use!

If you have other choice editors, they all pretty much have the same editing options. For some tutorials, check these out:

Reveal: The Final Picture

As a reminder, here is the original photo again with no edits:

And here it is – my finished edit for the above photo:

I think it would work well on their website or in social media profiles.

Here are a few more final / edited versions of some of the photos:

 

 

Need More Tips?

We hope this guide helps you take better photos of your hotel, and helps you fill those rooms! Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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