Create a shot list of “Must Have” images that you need for your website, collateral, and advertising needs. Branded hotels should refer to their photography brand standards. Please note that OTA sites such as Expedia have requirements for the number of photographs per space that may exceed your hotel brand standards.
From the shot list, you now have a sense of how many shots are of architecture and interiors and how many are other genres: food, people/lifestyle, or aerial.
Different types of photography are needed for different hotel types. An Upscale hotel will typically require faster, less expensive photography and post production than a Luxury property. For example, at Upscale, many photographers will take between 10 to 15 shots a day whereas at the Luxury level the numbers are between 5 to 8, with much greater care taken to set up the shots and much more work in post production.
The Pierre, A Taj Hotel, New York, NY
With your shot list in hand, and an idea of your budget and the type of photography you need, your search for a photographer should now focus on the strengths of the photographer. At the Luxury hotel level, some photographers specialize in only one area: architecture, food, lifestyle (working with models), or drone aerial. Some photographers (like our studio) can do everything, and video too.
Get a recommendation from other DOSMs or GMs who have great photography on their hotel websites. If you search online for a photographer, take note of the types of work on their websites.
Once you narrow your choice of photographer to 2 or 3, you now have several questions to ask each photographer:
Photographer: Confirm that the photographer you are calling will be the one doing the photo shoot and that the work is not farmed out to a photographer you do not know. If it is another photographer, ask to see a portfolio of work that they have specifically shot.
Shoot Dates: Is the photographer available during the dates you would like to do the photo shoot?
Pricing: After sharing the shot list with the photographer, ask how they will price the job - Per day? Per image? Are expenses included or extra? Is retouching (editing) included? If so, how many rounds of editing and what will they adjust in the images? Is the photographer charging travel expenses? (Note: Your property should expect to provide food and lodging, though not alcohol, free of charge when the photographer and her crew are on property. If you do not serve food at your hotel, expect a per diem charge for food on the photographer’s invoice.)
Crew: How many crew members will be necessary to produce the shoot and are any specialists recommended, such as a prop stylist? Some photographers go on jobs alone or with a skilled photo assistant, but larger jobs can require many additional crew members.
Time Needed: How long will each shot take? 45 minutes to an hour and a half is best for Luxury images. Upscale images can often be shot faster – approximately 20 – 30 minutes shoot time each.
Prep: We communicate extensively with our clients before we arrive on property in order to create a detailed production schedule and be ready to shoot upon arrival. Issues we discuss might include, for example: Can hotel staff stand in as models or do we need to cast professionals? Can the hotel chef style food or do we have the budget for a professional food stylist? Will hotel staff be available to iron sheets and tablecloths, set tables, etc.? What time are restaurants open to guests and when is the most convenient time to shoot them? The list goes on and on and differs for each shoot. The main question is - will your photographer spend the time with you prior to the shoot to create a detailed production schedule?
Scouting: Ideally we like to arrive on property a day early to scout for the best light at different times of the day for each shot, and we highly recommend this.
File Format: Does the photographer shoot with high-end digital cameras and do they shoot RAW files, not jpeg files? RAW files allow photographers to get better image quality from images and you will get better results. Shooting jpeg in camera is not a professional practice. See my list at the bottom of this article on high resolution cameras.
Gear: Does the photographer have lenses to shoot architecture in tight spaces and keep building lines square in exterior and interior shots? Tilt / Shift lenses are recommended.
Usage: What rights will you have to the images? You don’t really need a transfer of copyright to have full control over the photographs. If you want to be able to use the images for all purposes for 5 years, let the photographer know that and he or she can write a license that reflects this usage. In addition, most photographers will want to be able to use the images for social media or to promote their own business.
Retouching: Is retouching (high end Photoshop work sometimes referred to as “editing”) included in the price? If so, how much retouching does the photographer do and is there a point where you will be charged? For example, can the photographer make the outside scenes from windows in rooms visible? Can the photographer make beds wrinkle free? Are they able to make a cloudy sky blue if photographing in bad weather?
Delivery: When will final images be ready and how will you receive the final images and what sizes will you get? Receiving final images a day or two after the photo shoot is complete means that professional Photoshop work was not done. You should expect delivery of your final images 2 to 4 weeks after the photo shoot. We guarantee delivery in 16 business days.
If you are satisfied with the answers from each photographer you can proceed to the estimating process. Professional photography rates for hotel and resort work can run from $1,500 to $7,500 per day, depending upon the quality, but what does the estimate include and is it tailored to your specific needs?
First of all, make sure that each photographer has answered the questions listed above about possible hidden charges for pre-production, scouting, gear, retouching, image delivery, additional crew members, and usage. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples.
For basic architectural imagery, most photographers will charge a flat day rate or project rate plus travel but a larger, higher-end job could include some or all of these extras. If your job does, make sure you know what you’ll be paying for them:
Video - Prices for video vary greatly based on length, editing requirements, and audio. Short clips of your meeting rooms will of course be priced lower than a 20 second website masthead video which will again be less than a full 2 minute tour of your property.
Drone Aerial Photography - There are strict FAA regulations that require a commercial drone pilot be licensed. Shooting in some areas will require official clearance from your local airport. If you’re adding drone photography, make sure your photographer is licensed and gets needed clearances.
Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve, Puerto Rico
Prop Stylist and Props - What props do you have on property? What do you need to buy? What do your brand standards allow? Often your DOSM can be responsible for things like ordering extra flowers, getting room service items, or coordinating with vendors to set up a faux banquet, but for the highest quality shoots you will want a professional prop stylist to take responsibility for setting up your spaces.
Food Stylist – Your chef and bartender will usually be responsible for attractive plating/preparation, but if you have the budget for it, a professional food stylist will use tricks of the trade to take this imagery to a higher level.
Lifestyle Models – Do you plan to use staff members, friends of the property, or professional models for your lifestyle images? Are there brand rules about using amateur models? Expect to pay $1,000-$3,000 per day if you are hiring professional models and to cover their travel and meals on property as well.
Wardrobe Stylist and Clothing - Models can sometimes provide their own clothing, but you will be limited by what they bring. A wardrobe stylist guarantees you get the right look.
Hair and Make-up Artist - For the highest quality lifestyle imagery, you will want professional hair and make-up, though if you’re on a tight budget, models can do their own. If your property includes a spa, you may have a staff member who can fill this role.
Travel Expenses - Some photographers and additional crew members will just charge you their actual costs, whether it’s airfare or mileage, and some will also include a travel fee and a per diem for travel days. Some will waive travel fees for a large job. Make sure you know the full expenses that you will be responsible for.
Producer – For smaller shoots, the photographer or someone on your staff can fulfill this role, but for a large, multi-day shoot, especially one including video or lifestyle, you may want a professional producer to oversee all the moving pieces and keep to schedule.
Pre-Production Fee – Does your photographer charge extra for the days he/she is working on the photo shoot before arriving on property?
Food and Lodging – If your property is open and has a full kitchen, you should expect to provide the crew with lodging and all meals. Otherwise, you’ll need to provide a per diem so that crew members can get their own. Local per diem rates can be found online. It should be understood that you are NOT providing alcohol.
After you get all the estimates in hand, compare them carefully. Consider making your own spreadsheet and entering each charge so you can compare the charges of each photographer and make sure one photographer is not forgetting something that you discussed with another photographer as being important. For example, if a photographer has one price for video, but no price for editing the 2 minute B-roll you requested, contact them to double check that the editing is included. Also, some photographers do not own their own photography gear and will charge a rental fee for the gear. Other photographers have everything they need or may just need to rent an extra lens or two, and include the gear in their base price.
Once you decide on a photographer, they may request an advance against their expenses to get the production rolling. This should be evident in the estimate, but you may want to discuss this beforehand with the photographer. Some photographers will request to be paid in full before they deliver all the final images.
Canon EOS-1D X MKIII
Canon 5D MKIV
Canon 5D MKIII
Canon 6D MKII
Sony a7R IV
Greg Ceo is a professional hotel and resort photographer based in Brooklyn, NY and Savannah, GA. He has worked on an episode of Hotel Impossible and written for Lodging Magazine. He has shot for Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Omni, Starwood, Wyndham, and boutique hotel properties around the world. See more of his work at www.gregceostudio.com.
Grand Hyatt: Atlanta Buckhead
Hyatt Regency: Grand Reserve Coco Beach, PR; Boston; Cambridge; Boston Harbor; Columbus; Minneapolis; Savannah; Wichita; Lost Pines, TX
Hyatt Centric: 39th and 5th New York; Faneuil Hall Boston; Key West
Hyatt House: Augusta; Mount Pleasant; Nashville at Vanderbilt University; Orlando at Universal; Charleston; Charlotte Center City; Sumter
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The New Yorker
La Costa Resort and Spa
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InterContinential New York Times Square
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Even: New York Midtown East
Bucuti and Tara Beach Resort, Aruba
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Breckenridge Grand Vacations, Grand Colorado on Peak 8, CO
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The Mayfair at Coconut Grove, FL
The Redford, NYC
Journey East Hampton, NY
The Glen House Hotel at Mount Washington, NH
Ashworth by the Sea, Hampton Beach, NH
Palmer House Resort, Manchester, VT
Inn at Harbor Hill Marina, Niantic, CT
Inn at Middletown, CT
Historic Hotel Bethlehem, PA
Star Suites, Vero Beach, FL
River Street Inn, Savannah, GA
Hotel Ignacio, St Louis, MO
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