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How to prepare your hotel for a professional photo shoot

In an increasingly visual world, the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” couldn’t be more true when it comes to hotel marketing. When vacationers begin the process of choosing hotel accommodations, many are visiting multiple sources like the hotel website, OTAs, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest before deciding where to book. Travelers often use pictures to see if a hotel matches their desired “look and feel” for a property. This is why photography is extremely vital and should be considered a top priority for hotel marketers.

A study published by Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration studied eye tracking to gain a deeper understanding of what drives online hotel choice during two stages of decision making. During the browsing phase, consumers were mainly fixated on hotel name and price, hardly looking at much else. During the deliberation phase, however, researchers found that “visual behavior changed substantially.”

In this crucial decision-making phase, consumers were more fixated on images and paragraphs of descriptive text. The study also found that images provided by the hotel were sought out more than user-generated images.

That’s why spending the time and resources to ensure that you have thoughtful, well-curated photos of your hotel is worth the extra effort. If you’ve been thinking about booking a photographer to shoot your hotel, we highly recommend it. To make sure the photo shoot is a success, here are some tips on how to best prepare your hotel.

Preparations before the shoot

Preparing shot list for photo shoot

Prepare the creative brief. After you’ve secured the right photographer, there are a few there items you’ll want to check off your to-do list before the shoot date. First, you’ll want to provide as much insights about your property as possible with the contracted photographer. Help the photographer get familiar with the property by providing a creative brief that will serve as a guiding reference point both before and after the photo shoot (when the editing process begins). The brief should include pertinent elements that will help guide the outcome of the visual content. Upwork, a digital platform for Freelancers, summarizes the top ten key elements that should be included in a creative brief such as project summary, objectives, target audience and outline of deliverables.

Share the brand guidelines. You should also consider pulling together any existing brand guidelines or marketing materials for the the photographer to better understand what your hotel is all about and what it stands for. Your brand position should be clearly stated and easily digestible, especially if your hotel is positioned as a lifestyle or boutique brand. As an example, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Panama has prepared an explicit brand guidelines document to illustrate what types of photos are appropriate or inappropriate to use in relation to their brand.

Set a scouting date. The contracted photographer should scout the property a day or two before the shoot. This will help determine the best times of day for the optimum shooting conditions in each space. This will also give the photographer a better timeframe for the shoot. A shoot can take anywhere from a half-day to five days—it depends on what your hotel hopes to accomplish and the budget allocated.

Prep the shot list. To avoid any confusion regarding deliverables, you’ll want to prepare a shot list, which is a full log of all the shots you want to include during the shoot. This will help ensure that the photo shoot is organized, and it will also give the photographer an opportunity to visualize and plan for the outcome of each shot prior to the shoot. You’ll want a good mix of photography—not just room shots but also architectural shots, detail shots, and lifestyle shots. Remember, much of this photography can be used not just for the website but also for social media as well.

Create a call sheet and notify hotel staff. In addition to a shot list, the hotel marketing team may want to prepare a call sheet that lays out the schedule for the shoot, which will come in handy when notifying the hotel staff of the times they can anticipate the photography crew to shoot locations around the hotel.

Define photo rights. Any contracts with the photographer should also include full ownership and publishing rights, including promotional and commercial use. This will prevent any problems later down the line when it comes to using official hotel photos in social media or on the website.

People to consider hiring

It takes a village to make sure your hotel photo shoot runs smoothly. Depending on your hotel’s budget, you may want to consider hiring additional help for the shoot. You can hire them on your own or arrange for the photographer to source these individuals.

Models: Having people in your hotel photos can make them more lively. Do we want photos of a lobby bar with fashionable adults, or a pool with a young kids and parents? You can convey your target demographic through the casting of your models. The cost for models range widely on the level of experience of the model, with day rates ranging from $300 to $2,500. Hotels can also consider using influencers who are used to being in front of a camera. Don’t forget to have model release forms ready for the model’s consent.

Producer: A producer is responsible for making sure the shoot happens without any mishaps. The producer handles pre-production, casting, contracts, consent forms, or anything that needs to happen to make sure the shoot runs smoothly.

Prop stylist: A prop stylist assists the photographer in setting up props and other necessary materials that will form the subject of the photo shoots. They can help make an otherwise bland photo come alive, particularly when it comes to things like detail shots or food shots. Hotels can work with agencies like The Prop Stylist to find the right stylist that can help the photographer achieve the overall vision of the shoot.

Budgets will vary and it may not be possible to hire all of these positions for your shoot. Your team will need to asses which roles are most important to the quality of the photoshoot. What is most important is that the photography showcases the space honestly and reflects how a guest would experience the space once they arrive on property.

Set styling for photo shoot

Prepping your rooms for a photo shot

For your shoot, you’ll want to photograph at least one room type in each category of the hotel’s inventory. These photographs will be used to either populate or update the images on your hotel’s brand website, booking engine, as well as across all other third-party distribution channels, such as OTA websites. When selecting these rooms, try to select rooms that have lots of natural light and a good view from the window (if possible).

Greg Ceo, owner and lead photographer of an NYC-based studio, shares his tops tips on how to prepare your hotel for a photo shoot. Ceo wisely recommends that all rooms and spaces that are going to be photographed should be prepared the night before. This means all guest rooms should be styled the same way, curtains should be steamed and fluffed so they aren’t wrinkled, and items such as trash cans, hair dryers, coffee makers, or anything else that could be considered clutter should be removed.

You’ll also want to remove any technology that may seem dated in the future like newspapers, magazines, books, radios, and computers. Exceptions to this decluttering rule include branded amenities, such as specialty soaps or candles. If your hotel is featuring Dead Clean skincare products in the rooms, for example, be sure to have these items ready and perfectly staged for the photographer.

Beyond the rooms

Remember you are trying to tell the best possible visual story of your hotel property. This doesn’t include only the guestrooms. You will want to incorporate every space of the hotel in your photography collection. Applicable common spaces such as the fitness center, lounge, meeting rooms, rooftop bar, onsite food and beverage, room service, spa, pool, etc. should all be included on your shot list.

If your hotel website has a neighborhood guide or a blog, you may want to consider incorporating a few local attractions or businesses on your shot list to boost your marketing department’s materials.These assets will be also useful when putting together email blasts campaigns.

Storing your photos

It is important to store the final images you receive from the photographer in one dedicated file hosting service. We recommend cloud hosting services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box instead of keeping them on a disc or drive somewhere, so that the photos are easily accessible by your entire hotel team, as well as any other marketing agencies you may work with.

It is also imperative that your team develops a naming system for the photo files. With hundreds of photos coming from one shoot, this will help with the sorting of images and provide the marketing team with easy access to assets not just for the hotel website and online listings, but also social media platforms, Google Business photos, and more. A well-organized photo folder will result in a happy marketing team!

Nate Lane

Nate Lane

Nate Lane is a senior global director of business development, product development, and agency operations with 10+ years of experience driving growth and innovation as an "intrapreneur." He's an avid mountain biker, a coffee and craft beer enthusiast, and a proud family man. Contact him at nate.lane@pegs.com.

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