>We’ve heard it from countless hoteliers and innkeepers: along with a smart and sensitively-designed website, professional photography is one of the most important investments you can make.  Like many investments with a high (and almost guaranteed) rate of return, it’s not cheap…so here are some thoughts to help you make the most of your photography investment.

1. Look at the big picture: what are your goals? Many innkeepers want to shoot every space in the inn, but sometimes this is not the most prudent course of action. Taking the time to photograph every space often precludes getting a few of those “signature photos”–the ones that become THE images of your inn. Don’t get caught in this trap. Spending valuable time on a ho-hum bathroom or common space means less time developing signature or “killer” shots.

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Lookout Point Inn, AR from the back

2. Speaking of signature shots, how do you identify those?? What makes your inn unique? We find many innkeepers think very literally, but literal images tend to be BORING.Think of concepts to illustrate your unique selling points and bring those to the photographer. Often the best view of a building is from the back. You can’t believe how many properties we’ve shot–NOT featuring the front of the inn–that become their “signature” shot. Perhaps your front porch could become your signature shot? Leave time on the shoot schedule for the photographer’s creative juices to flow and discover unique ways to TELL YOUR STORY.

3. Be like the Boy Scouts: Be prepared! Make sure things are ironed, windows clean, bedding looking great, flowers bought, props ready. If you’re using models, line them up. If you’re doing food, get it ready–get the most beautiful produce and products you can find (go to farmers markets). Deep cleaning is not that important, but neat beds, clean place mats, ironed napkins…these things will show up.

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Couple at Iris Inn, VA

4. Shots featuring people…Some pictures are much more captivating with people in them. When selecting people to use, think “casting”. Think of who your target guest is ( 45 y/o suburban couple, young hip urbanites, seniors, etc…) then cast people they would either relate to or aspire to. Models might be a little younger, skinnier and…less bald…REAL, but not TOO real. We have resources for casting talent or you can cast from your friends, family and staff. Having talent available during the “magic hours” of dawn and dusk is important. One bit of caution: you might not want to feature people on your first shoot as it adds to the shoot time, adds stress and may not be fundamental in delivering your primary marketing message.
Read our blog post about using people here.

5. Linens speak volumes about your property. Bedding can make or break a bedroom shot. This is very important. Have options available for the shoot–you can always return them if you do not use them. If you’ve been thinking of replacing bedding, pillows, etc. DO IT NOW.

6. The forgotten wall: the floor. Seriously, the floor is an important space to consider. An area rug brings unbelievable warmth and interest to an interior photo. We often hear “we’ve got beautiful wall-to-wall carpet”…well, expanses of monochromatic carpet can make for a dull photo. You can always lay a patterned carpet for accent over the wall-to-wall carpet.

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Great flowers ready to arrange found on-property at Woolverton Inn,  NJ

7. Great natural elements or flowers can quickly take a shot from good to awesome. Whatever is native to your area is always best… preferably what’s  growing in your garden! What reflects your style and property best? Are you contemporary or artsy (calla lily or orchid) or uber-romantic and traditional (pale pink roses in a bunch) or country (Queen Anne’s Lace or daisies). If you don’t have these growing on property, purchasing some is a great investment for great pictures. We provide detailed guidance on what to buy on our prop and prep list.

8. Let your website structure drive your shoot list. This is huge! You need a killer shot for each tab of your website, but too many shoot lists focus on literally every space and corner in the inn. Activities, Directions and Dining pages are always overlooked. Common spaces are often over- emphasized (how many of these photos can you actually use?) Meet with your website designer and get a plan of action for photography. A basic layout of a new website is an invaluable tool to help a photographer get the right pictures for your site.

9. Make a shoot list. Include the concepts you want to convey and inform the stylist and photographer. Prioritize the list by “must-haves” and “like-to-haves”. Leave extra time so that the photographer can explore and find hidden gems and unexpected moments. Many of our clients’ favorite shots were NOT on the shoot list but “found” opportunities early in the morning fog, or the sun hitting the stone building just right.

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Signature dish- shot “recipe style” at Inn at Hermannhof, MO

10. Many travelers today “travel on their stomachs”. In this day of social media and recipe sharing, food photos are a very powerful tool. We always recommend at least two hours for food or dining on a 16 hour shoot. Grabbing shots at breakfast time just doesn’t cut it. We will need the attention and cooperation of the chef and most of the dining room in order to light and style great food shots. Having guests actually dining is a really bad idea while the food shoot is going on…we usually schedule mid-day so we have the full attention of the chef and plenty of time. By the way, one of the most requested types of photos by the press are food photos.

11. Your involvement: a delicate balance. Please have the innkeeper or owner reachable and nearby during the shoot. Inefficiencies are created when we cannot locate the decision-maker. Walkie-talkies or cell phones are great tools to keep connected during the shoot. Also, the innkeeper can be too present during the shoot (fewer people “on set” makes it faster and easier for the photographer, and gets better results). This can really slow down the process and also render the product less effective.

12. Keep revenue flowing during the shoot. Yes, an empty inn is great for expediting a photo shoot. But hey, you gotta pay for it! Block very important rooms off, especially if they are view-dependent. If you have rooms you book but would like to shoot, just ask permission from guests and get information on times that work for them. Reward/bribe them with a bottle of wine or a plate of cookies. 99% of guests are “cool” with that and are excited to be part of the process.

13. Your photo shoot should not be thought of as a one time event. Many folks have us out and expect everything to be shot in one fell swoop…professional photos: done! Over-investing initially in photos is not always a great idea. Things change, the marketplace changes. Budget for photos every year and have a photographer on property every two years or so during different seasons. Schedule it far in advance–for example, during certain seasons, we are often booked a year advance.

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View and fireplace rooms take longer to shoot, The Inn at Sunrise Point, ME

14. How long will it take? We usually tell folks to schedule about an hour a room or space so about 7 or 8 a day. A suite with 2 rooms and a photogenic bath could easily take 2 hours. Rooms with views take longer. Properties made up of multiple buildings take longer. Fireplace rooms also take a bit longer. Spacious rooms with clean, crisp decor are usually a little quicker. Unoccupied rooms are faster than occupied rooms.

15. Photograph the photogenic! Some spaces are intrinsically not photogenic. They can be shot, but it takes longer and the result will always be somewhat mediocre. Work in partnership with the photographer to decide what makes sense to shoot. Trust us, we’ve been in your position (we owned an inn), written those checks and have a good idea on what makes sense to shoot, and what does not!


  1. Mark Smith and Matthew Lovette says:

    >Of course you can share this with your clients! Thanks for the kind words – see you guys soon at the next PAII show!

  2. Chatty Patty says:

    >Wow, Mark and Matt, May we use this post when we discuss photos with clients? You nailed what makes a good website great and what makes print piece fabulous!We at InsideOut always look forward to working with your photos because they make us look so good!