Azalea Rooms CottonExchange 05 M >8 Photo Styling Tips for Guestrooms: Balancing Appeal and Honesty
Cotton Exchange Suite at Azalea Inn in Savannah GA

(Click here to see a larger version of this image…without the numbers.)

Truth be told, Matthew usually writes these posts, but to answer the perennial question “what the heck does MARK do?” I thought I’d dissect a photo from our last shoot to show you how I style a typical guestroom. It’s a balance between keeping it real (i.e. not overselling) and making a room as visually appealing as possible. We do lots of furniture re-arranging and tweaking, but large-scale changes are taboo. The number one comment we hear from Innkeepers after the shoot is “I love how you changed the room–I’m going to keep it that way!” That might be the ultimate compliment.

Azalea FacadePorch 15 S >8 Photo Styling Tips for Guestrooms: Balancing Appeal and Honesty
The Porch at Azalea Inn

A room like this poses special challenges–and opportunities–for the photographer. Many of the challenges can be alleviated with a few styling tricks. In addition, mood is greatly enhanced with the right styling. In this beautiful suite at Azalea Inn and Gardens in Savannah, we added, moved and subtracted our way to a pleasing image, while still honoring what potential guests will see when they arrive. Here’s what I did:

1.) I added a table (actually an upside-down garbage can) in the foreground on which to place the champagne (sorry, ginger ale). When using champagne or white wine, it is best to keep it in the foreground;  it gets lost in the background. Also, when pouring “champagne” for a close up, it is best to use a funnel rather than pouring directly from the bottle, as bubbles tend to stick on the glass, creating a sloppy look which detracts from a clean appearance.

2.) Always turn on the water or the jets when photographing a whirlpool tub to add a sense of life to the photo. In this shot, I opted not to turn on the jets because I liked the serene reflection in the blue water. And the water spout was so nice, it was just the ticket.

3.) Always light the fire in the fireplace, assuming it is a working fireplace. How do you get that soft glowing effect? Matthew says it was accomplished by using a long (about 1/2 second) exposure.

4.) Since the mantle is in the middle-ground rather than the background, I definitely needed to prop it. Because middle-ground is not that close to the camera, the forms need to be “readable”, so it is best to use items for the mantle that are bold, like a great silhouette, candle sticks, books, etc. Avoid numerous small items or dark colors if the mantle itself is dark. In this case, a reindeer provided a great shape and created some interest. (For an ideal silhouette, it could have been moved 4 inches to the left.) Books are used to balance the space; turning the books more towards the camera might have been an improvement. It is always a balance: you want the items to read for the camera, but you also want them to be in a natural state, logical and not completely unreal-looking.

5.) I added a small, but taller round table, because I knew that the tulips would work great next to that window. That particular table, borrowed from another room, was perfect: I love the way the silhouette of the legs plays against the wall. I wanted a tall vase for drama, but the tulips were not long enough, so I dropped a small ramekin inside the vase to elevate the flowers and make them more substantial.

6.)  A throw is added to the chaise lounge, again to add life to the scene. A light colored pillow from the bed brightens the chaise. As we said in an earlier post “Getting Ready for the Photographer” – pillows and accessories can really make an image.

7.)  I tilted the desk towards the camera to add some dimension, and placed more books on top to bridge the gap between the height of the lamp and the desktop. Matthew and I debated removing the desk chair from the room to space in the back of the room, but opted to keep it–a desk without a chair just wasn’t real. It’s always a delicate dance between making a great photo and showing a potential guest what a room looks like, what it actually contains. The shot would be better without the chair, but hey…. the goal here is not to make the perfect picture, but to make the very best picture of THAT SPACE.

8.) The large tropical leaves were picked outside (with permission!) and placed in a vase to add another organic element to the scene. Don’t underestimate the importance of including organic elements when styling a space. They also serve to brighten the otherwise very dark side of the desk, which is too prominent to be so dark next to the white of the tub.

Voila! A very pretty room photo, full of mood…and honestly portrayed. Employing tips like these will make your room photos much more pleasing and add to the experiential feel of a photograph. These simple techniques go a long way in getting a potential guest to say “I want to be THERE!”

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>November has been a crazy month for Jumping Rocks with (literally) coast to coast photo shoots. We apologize for the less frequent posting.

Every now and then, we find ourselves playing God a bit and turning day into night. I thought I’d  share why and how we do it with a recent example from Old Monterey Inn in Monterey,  California.  We love shooting at twilight–it can be very magical, and hide a host of “issues”–but there’s a short window of opportunity and it happens only once a day (at least here on earth). What if you want that twilight look but can’t do it during “the gloaming” (check Wikipedia).

This particular guest room is one of the smaller ones at this fabulous inn but has some super-charming exterior features we wanted to shoot. The private entrance, dutch door and stained glass creates a fantastic first impression for this room and we thought it would help sell the room on the website. We pictured a glowing interior, lighting up the room at twilight…but we had another vital shot planned for the gloaming hour that day. So we had to shoot it mid-day. What to do??

Here is our recipe for getting that evening feeling in broad daylight…

1) We put a powerful strobe inside the guestroom, and covered it with a cinema-style gel (called a CTO gel) that changes the strobe’s color temperature to match interior tungsten lighting. (All strobes are, by design, actually set to match daylight color temperature–much bluer than lamplight.) Adding the gel warmed the color to match the interior light source.

2) We set the White Balance on our digital SLR camera to match that interior light (the “tungsten” setting) and that makes it “go blue” outside. But it still looked a little weird because it is too darn bright outside and does not look like evening. To rectify that, we dropped the shutter speed a couple of stops and BINGO!

Here is the result – shot at 1:00 in the afternoon:

OMI Rooms Chawton 05 Edit >Playing God: Turning Noon into Night
ISO 800 f/6.3 100 second exposure camera set to WB “tungsten” 3200 degrees

Here is the same shot without the “Day into Night” technique:

 MG 5209 >Playing God: Turning Noon into Night
ISO 800 f/6.3 60th second exposure camera set to WB “daylight” 5500 degrees

I like the inviting feel of the “fake-night” shot over the bland day shot. What do you think??

A few caveats and tips….

  • This was a somewhat shady nook, which made “overpowering” the sun easier.
  • Understanding the manual function of  your camera is required
  • Our strobes are powerful…you need that kind of power to kill the daylight.
  • If you are an amateur photographer, learning the basics of color-temperature will really improve you photos, especially if you want to tackle interiors. 
  • The “CTO” warming gel is cheap. It only cost about $7 for a large sheet from a photo supply house

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>When we entered the Inn business in 1999, the general consensus was that larger, pricier rooms booked first and the smaller rooms booked last. With the recession and these challenging economic times, that rule has been turned on its head. Many of you are telling us that your smaller, less expensive rooms are now booking FIRST.

In our last post, we diagrammed how we photographed and styled a small guest room to best effect. We thought we’d elaborate on the small room topic in this post with some decorating tips and best practices to make the most out of a small room.

Before we get to the tips, though, just one bit of advice: invest some money in your smaller rooms. Just because they are small, don’t make them DOUBLY unappealing with drab, uninspired decor and then clutter them up with the leftover, “nobody-wants-it-stuff” from the inn’s basement or attic…Small rooms can be challenging, but making them appealing and precious can really pay off.

1) Think Cruise Ship
Ever taken a cruise? If you notice how they approach laying out a small cabin you can learn a lot. Bedside tables double as dressers, shelves are open, and strategic lighting hidden away in alcoves and nooks. Those gargantuan dressers we encounter in many guest rooms are taking up valuable floor space and are just “storage overkill”. These guests are not living at your inn!

1174495042 Jtivm XL >Making the Most of Those "Small" Rooms at Your Inn
One of the eco-friendly rooms in the earth-ensconced honeycomb rooms at Inn at Honey Run in Ohio.
Note the open shelves, lack of dressers and bedside tables.

2) Focus on the Bed
In a smaller room, the bed becomes more of a focus and is of utmost importance. Upholstered headboards (NO footboards) are one of our very favorite solutions for smaller guest rooms. They are generally more affordable than a traditional headboard/footboard, more comfortable and feel luxurious. Best of all, silhouettes and fabrics can be customized to your inn’s unique style. Splurge on quality bedding–not the “cast-offs” from your other more expensive rooms…Extra sleeping pillows and an enticing bed design (think sculpture) can make a small room feel luxurious.

883580880 Ye7Xu XL >Making the Most of Those "Small" Rooms at Your Inn
The white-on-white color scheme makes this room at The Inn at Sunrise Point look larger.
It’s even carried through to the upholstered headboard. 

3) Go light
As you see in the photo above, lighter colors can “open up” a small room. You can still use bold splashes of color to add character and interest. A room with a slanted ceiling (like the one above) also really benefits from a lack of contrast between the wall and ceiling. You don’t want to “feature” low ceilings. Dark carpet and a light color scheme on the ceiling and walls will really make the room feel tiny. Avoid extreme contrast between the floor, walls and ceiling.

4) Nooks…
Nothing says “country inn” more than an inviting window seat or reading nook.  They can fit into a place where furniture might not, and offer an opportunity to go for a custom feel. They really add color, pattern and interest to a “boxy” room. You can also use the space under the window seat for guests’ suitcases or other storage.

Whitewing RoomsHackney 03 XL >Making the Most of Those "Small" Rooms at Your Inn
Window Seat at Inn at Whitewing Farm in Pennsylvania’s Brandywine valley

5) Add a sense of DRAMA
Smaller rooms can be dull. Try using oversize artwork, dramatic headboard silhouettes, unique lighting or unusual ceiling treatments. Adding elements such as these takes the focus away from size and makes the space more appealing.  

i T47qx7m XL >Making the Most of Those "Small" Rooms at Your Inn
This lamp at The Hotel’ d’Paris in Sete, France added drama and interest. 
820561196 VmmcC XL >Making the Most of Those "Small" Rooms at Your Inn
Dramatic headboard at Mt Merino Manor in Hudson NY  livens up a smaller room
In Conclusion…Pulling It All Together
Guests need places to put their personal belongings. At Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA, their smallest room (below) has plenty of surface space with the built-in side tables, the windowsill and the small desk (not pictured) for guests to use. The bold artwork, built-in furniture and lighting, simple window treatments and low-contrast color scheme all contribute to a perfectly-executed small guest room.
Ledges Room110 01 XL >Making the Most of Those "Small" Rooms at Your Inn
This room at Ledges in Hawley PA is pretty small….but it works!
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Tower Rooms Victorian 01 XL >The Recipe for a Great Interior Photo...Valuable Tips and Techniques
The Victorian Room at Tower Cottage B&B

Earlier this week we photographed Tower Cottage B&B in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. It is a recently and BEAUTIFULLY renovated Victorian, a couple of blocks from the beach. Innkeepers Maureen and Tony have done an exquisite job restoring this mansion and loading it with amenities and special services. Honestly, it is one of the nicest inns we’ve visited on the Jersey Shore. (You won’t find Snookie at this classy inn!)

We get questions all the time from photographers and innkeepers alike inquiring about how we light and put together a typical Jumping Rocks interior photo. Although we do our best to make spaces look NATURAL the process is anything but. Composition, lighting and styling are the main “ingredients”for this recipe and we will cover these points in this post.

MG9677 Edit XL >The Recipe for a Great Interior Photo...Valuable Tips and Techniques
CLICK TO ENLARGE..notes on lighting. Exposure info 1/10 sec @ f 9 400 ISO, 28mm, Canon 5d Mark II

Composition Notes
The rooms at Tower Cottage, in typical Victorian fashion, are not large (but they are beautifully appointed). This room was a challenge as a canopy can make a room seem claustrophobic, especially in a photo. We chose to get closer–and under–the canopy to open up the photo and make it more intimate, inviting and romantic. We also chose to include a peek through to the bathroom, which gives the photo more depth and interest. Another device for creating depth in a photo is a strong foreground/middle ground/background, in this case wine/bedside lamp&flowers/bathroom.
Showing just a part of a small room is a good device for making it more enticing, without being deceptive. In a smaller room, a wide angle view is almost always a BAD idea (see what happens to the bed post in the above photo? Yuck!)

Styling Notes
The innkeeper had several more pillows on this bed–great for comfort and style, but not so great for taking photos. We asked permission to remove some of them. The golden rule in styling is…EDIT! The bed became a little “vast” so Mark added the wine and used a napkin to soften the silver tray.  Both flower arrangements were placed to reinforce the foreground/middleground/background routine,  discussed in the composition notes. The arrangements were designed to match the scale of both the lamp and the bath fixtures. (People often ask why we ask for UN-arranged flowers on our props list–this is why!)

Lighting Notes
To keep the lighting natural and real-looking, our main goal was to balance the ambient lighting conditions with the artificial lights we bring in. We want lamps to glow just enough and windows to emit a natural, pleasant glow. The main light or “key light” in this room is strobe “A” as well as the natural window light. The windows create a soft glow and “A” opens up the shadows  and removes the “gloom” factor from a pure ambient exposure. The key light in the bathroom is a small top-of-camera-type flash bouncing off a wall. Strobe “B” is a strobe fitted with a grid-spot to throw a focused beam on the pillow on the bed. All strobes were set off from a pocket wizard radio control from my camera.

There was some strong direct afternoon sun on the right, so we added a large white reflector to reflect light back on the wine and give a highlight to the right of the front pillow.

We choose to overexpose the windows a bit to white-out the windows, because the view from this window was a house next door. The rule is only show a view if it contributes to the story you are telling. Lastly we added a diffusion panel at the end of the bed to soften the light on foot of the bed.

We have shot literally thousands of guestrooms in the last 7 years, but every room has a different set of problems to solve and features to highlight. This collective experience helps us solve the various challenges we encounter while we are shooting on location.  People ask what we do…the real answer is that we solve visual problems. Hopefully some of these tips will help you if you attempt to shoot your own rooms or improve your photography. It can be a lot of trial and error, but it is a rewarding and valuable talent to have.



Ledges greatroom 05 XL >Green Hotel Concept with a View: Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA
Waterfall view from the Great Room at Ledges Hotel
Ledges w exterior 02 L >Green Hotel Concept with a View: Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA
View of the waterfall … the sound is the best part!

You know, I thought I might be surprised when I saw what the Genzlingers (owners of The Settlers Inn in Hawley, PA as well as The Sayre Mansion in Bethlehem, PA) did with an abandoned glass factory in Hawley…but after working for them a few times in the past, we know what to expect: quality and great taste.

They have truly outdone themselves with Ledges Hotel.  It is quite a departure from nearby Settlers Inn, where everything is steeped in the arts and crafts style. Ledges is a unique boutique hotel, directly below…next to…practically ON TOP of a gorgeous waterfall. It is simply spectacular.
The hotel was designed by renowned architect Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, designers of, among MANY other notable buildings, the coolest Apple stores (the 5th Avenue New York and Louvre, Paris stores, to name but two). The result is a sleek, but comfortable hotel, which maintains much of the great architecture of the original building, including the gorgeous HUGE windows, while making the interior spaces very contemporary. Few places we have seen have been so successful at bringing the outside IN.
Ledges Room103 03 XL >Green Hotel Concept with a View: Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA
Bedrooms feature beautiful custom-made headboards and sleek design
Ledges Room202 Bath 05 XL >Green Hotel Concept with a View: Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA
A bath with a view of the waterfall, bringing the outside in

Ledges Room StandardBath 04 2 X3 >Green Hotel Concept with a View: Ledges Hotel in Hawley, PA

The décor is appropriately modern, fresh and uncluttered. Much of the beautiful furniture is built-in and made from old beams salvaged from the nearby silk mill. Read more about how they creatively incorporated various elements into their green design.
Kudos to the Genzlingers for a great adaptive re-use. Recycle, re-use…renaissance!If you are a member of the press and want to see or use any of the 89 high resolution images from this shoot, just email us  for the password to the Jumping Rocks Media Bank   page for Ledges Hotel. 
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