What makes a photo go viral–beyond the silly, the ridiculous and the tricky? We’re talking about a viral photo in the context of the hospitality and travel marketplace. Over the years, a few of our photos have done just that–but how did it happen? Let’s talk about a few social platforms other than Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter. Those big-name tools are important, but very often other niche sites provide better traction. Believe it or not, when we looked at our own web analytics, we discovered that almost all of the traffic to our blog and website comes from these viral photos! And, we learned that Pinterest sends us much more traffic than Facebook…wow. Here are a few tips and insights from our experiences:

Case One: Food

1) Great food photos and accompanying recipes get fantastic traction! 30% of the most pinned photos last year on pinterest were food photos. Be sure to get great, crisp photos of your top culinary creations, and then post those photos with the recipe on your blog. Also, think seasonal, colorful, simple to prepare and PHOTOGENIC. Get some in-process shots as well; oftentimes those are more interesting than the finished product. Keep the composition clean and simple, lots of open space. Keep in mind that many sites require a square crop of the image and this should be considered when composing the photo. foodgawker.com is the big player in this arena and you can get serious attention IF they accept your submission–their selections are highly-curated and it’s competitive, but the big boys of the internet and giant corporate bloggers cruise this site for content and re-post. It’s easier to get accepted to tastespotting.com–less traffic, but it can drive hoards of people to your blog.

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Swiss Woods’ tomato recipe–a viral phenomenon

The Parmesan Heirloom Tomato recipe from Swiss Woods Inn, which was posted on our blog about a year ago went crazy viral. It all started with our blog and the simple, totally seasonal recipe (it was August, peak tomato season). We posted it on foodgawker.com and it was then picked up by buzzfeed.com for a piece on seasonal September recipes. buzzfeed.com is a specialist viral web content site with over 100 million unique visitors a month!! foodgawker.com delivered 2000 views to our Swiss Woods blog post and the syndication to buzzfeed.com delivered another 15,ooo unique visits to that post within a year. The recipe also went nuts on pinterest with 1100 repins of the recipe. I talked to Swiss Woods’ owner Deb Mosimann shortly after the buzzfeed.com repost; she reported that she had a huge surge in Facebook likes on her page during this period. So cool!

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Display example from foodgawker.com with some Jumping Rocks submissions. Inn names are imbedded in the captions for maximum exposure

Case Two: Inn Travel

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Couple at The Swag Country Inn…one of our most re-pinned photos on pinterest

This photo is our second most re-pinned photo from pinterest at over 500 re-pins. It’s on dozens of “places I want to visit” pinterest boards. This one was not picked up from our blog or the Jumping Rocks pinterest board but pinned by someone from our website, from the “Our Clients” page. We had installed a pinterest button on the page and that’s where it all started. Why this photo?? One thing you see in viral travel photos is destinations of high drama or mood. The Swag fits this description perfectly, as they are located over 5000 feet up in The Smoky Mountains with world-class views, amenities and architecture. Also, the view and time of day are perfect, and including people helps viewers relate to the image and conjure up a personal fantasy. Note that the people are unidentifiable; this is important. It’s not about them, but about the experience. Aspirational images like this one make great viral photos. Other images that play very well on pinterest are the private outdoor showers of The Swag. Why?? These also are unusual amenities that take an ordinary vacation into the extraordinary. It’s a fantasy made real.

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Outdoor showers at The Swag are super popular re-pins on pinterest

Another place to post your photos to create viral traffic is dwellinggawker.com. dwellinggawker is a sister-site to foodgawker. dewellinggawker is like its sister site but focuses on architecture, homes and remarkable spaces and places. The same rules we mentioned above for foodgawker apply here as well. You’ll find less traffic on this site, but still good click-throughs. One of our more popular posts on this site was Iris Inn’s new cabins “Treehouses for Adults” . Why? For one thing, treehouse vacations are smoking-hot right now.  Also, the great mountain view in the photo makes this photo exotic and exciting. Finally, contemporary architecture is super-popular right now. This picture drove about 1000 visits to the blog post we wrote about the project. Heide and Dave called recently and said they have booked rooms directly as a result of this post! Hey–that’s the goal!

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Coolest accommodations at Iris Inn in Virginia. This photo was posted on dwellinggawker and drove direct reservations to the Inn as a result

Case Three: Special Event Travel Mary Jo Brink and Michael Salmon of the Hartstone Inn in Camden, Maine run a fabulous inn and recently started offering cooking classes and travel experiences in Italy, France and Spain. We were lucky enough to tag along and document their Tuscany trip a couple of years ago. They rent an entire villa for the event. When we arrived, we were taken by the amazing view from the room. We quickly set up some lights and shot an picture of the room with the view. A few months later, I posted this image on 500px.com, a very popular social media site for super high-quality imagery. Getting noticed on this site is very difficult. The picture I uploaded was picked up as an “Editors Choice” and quickly gathered 1000 “likes”. 2000 people started following us on the site and the picture has had over 10,000 views. Why? Are we seeing a theme?? VIEWS. The Tuscan vacation fantasy. This photo is loaded with emotion and mood. Also, it’s just an interesting photo; the room is out of focus and the view is sharp. A photographic treatment like this creates a dreamy, other-worldly feeling. This photo was also posted on Google Plus and played very well there as well. See more pictures from our shoot from the cooking school vacation. 

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Shot from Hartstone Inn’s European Foodie Adventures’ accommodation in Tuscany. This photo went viral on 500px.com

Summing it up… to create viral photo content in the hospitality and travel industry:

  • Photograph your seasonal, beautiful and SIMPLE recipes (the blogosphere is just like traditional press–they roll with the seasons!)


  • Get great photos. Hire a pro if you can. Come up with clear concepts for a viral photo and communicate those concepts to him/her


  • Understand the guidelines and preferences of sites that can help your photos go viral




  • VIEWS…It’s really about the view. Find a photographer who understands how to get a killer view shot. (We are damn good at that, BTW.)


  • Celebrate those unusual amenities such as outdoor showers, stargazer platforms, tree houses or noteworthy adventures  


  • Use people as props to help the viewer relate the photo and create scale


  • Employ unusual camera techniques such as super wide angle, or extreme vertical (great for pinterest), or selective focus seen in the Tuscany shot


  • Use your blog as starting point for spinning off your viral photos. Make that blog beautiful!
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We recently returned from a photo shoot at L’Auberge Provencale (our 6th or 7th time?) and afterwards, Mark was compelled to write a “love letter” to owners Celeste and Alain, who spearhead the constant evolution of this fabulous inn.  Here is that letter, along with some pictures from the shoot, featuring the stunning cuisine of Chef Joseph Watters. But gorgeous food still has to taste great…and it does. After the shoot, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a spectacular meal, which we will never forget. 

Dear Celeste and Alain,

Since our recent shoot there, I’ve been thinking about you two—mainly reflecting on what makes shooting there so deeply rewarding—and successful. The fact is that we get great shots there because the key to the best shots is invested collaboration. Starting with your preparation for the shoot, Celeste, your involvement brings ideas that are always innovative, focused and seemingly infinite. Watching you and your amazing new chef, Joseph, respecting each other’s talents and perspectives, while moving towards a shared vision, was truly inspirational. It’s so obvious that you really care; it’s just in your DNA.

Even more impressive, that level of care is reflected in every aspect of L’Auberge Provencale. Even after 30 years there, you continue to realize your vision–always evolving, adding, renewing and improving. Recently you embarked on a mission to completely rebrand the restaurant—new name, new website, new everything! Your newest project—completely redesigning the restaurant space, adding a new bar, expanding outdoor dining and building a spectacular new top-of-the-line kitchen—is no little plan. You simply don’t know the term.

The phenomenon that is Alain and Celeste is only fully appreciated when witnessing it like we do: first-hand and behind the scenes. I know that after a few years in the business, there is a tendency towards complacency—it’s understandable. What is more difficult to understand is how one could continue to be so inspired, so eager to embrace change and so energetic in implementing big changes.

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Prep table for shoot at L’Auberge food shoot

I remember the first time we were there working. I was blown away by the consistent and DETAILED execution of your Provencale theme throughout the inn—the fabrics, the ochre walls, the tile, the artwork, the gardens, the staff—and my personal favorite: the fact that you all answer the phone in FRENCH! I love it.

I’ve come to realize that the quality of what you deliver is actually derived from the incredible respect you have for your guests. The basic assumption is that your guests will appreciate the 6 varieties of house-baked bread at dinner, that the tile in their bathroom is authentic hand-painted tile from Provence, and that the fabrics and colors surrounding them are all truly Provencale. You assume that they will be somehow moved by the care that goes into every plate, every room, and every space. And I think they are.

The sad fact is that this level of commitment is rare. And nowadays, with hotels co-opting every creative idea they can from the inn world, and lodging properties becoming more and more alike, you are doing what makes this industry relevant—you are offering something they cannot. You have a unique vision, and the creativity, the taste and the spark to bring it to life. And you do all of these things with great humor and grace.

So I guess this is a love letter…or at the very least a fan letter. Call it what you will, I am a fan and I am in love…with L’Auberge Provencale and with your dedication, diligence, and creative vision, all of which are necessary to create an inn as remarkable as yours. Keep up the great work. Keep growing, both as a business and as people. As your vision continually evolves into  perfection, we are all more enriched for it.



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Your dinner begins with this amuse bouche…you immediately know this will be an extraordinary dinner


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The Creamsicle dessert…both beautiful and delicious, inside and out


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Gargouillou, a composed array of different fresh vegetables, prepared various ways with colorful sauce pairings


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Some of the great product Chef Waters uses: Hen of the Woods mushroom


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The exotic Hen of the Woods mushroom (seen above) is transformed into what L’Auberge is calling “Chicken of the Woods”. The texture and taste bear an uncanny resemblance to chicken–perhaps the best chicken you’ve ever eaten!


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L’Auberge calls this table-side-prepared soup, “Breaking Tradition”. It features parmesan, vegetables, burnt onion, royal trumpets and bok choy. The broth percolating with fresh herbs creates a wonderful aroma that fills the dining room


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After the broth is infused with the herbs table-side, it is poured over the vegetables


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The server presenting the 6 varieties of house-made bread La Table Provencale, the restaurant at L’Auberge Provencale

Check out the current menu at L’Auberge Provencale’s restaurant, La Table Provencale



After an inn-filled, 2-week shooting trip through New England, we ended up shooting at one of our favorite places: Squam Lake Inn in Holderness, NH. We have been working with owners Rae and Cindy and their remarkable team for several years. It’s been exciting to see them grow and change…while doing everything perfectly in the meantime. Over the last 4 years, they have upgraded and expanded their restaurant, renovated and redecorated guest rooms and bought the local general store with an ultra-luxe lakeside vacation rental above. These gals are dynamos at all things retail–their new Squam Lake Marketplace is just another jewel in their crown of successes. I particularly loved their branded “home” t-shirts with the Squam Lake silhouette, but seriously, that is just one of the things that made Mark keep asking “how do you do everything so…perfectly???” And, yes, Mark (who once started crying in Dean and Deluca in NYC because everything was “so beautiful”) really did tear up when describing to Cindy how inspired he was at their achievements.

What really makes the whole thing sing is the indescribably warm-yet efficient-staff, the completely natural sense of hospitality and the overall vibe they have created and nurtured. It’s worth visiting the place just to soak up the vibe. And if you do, be sure to dine at the restaurant and order the fried chicken…and here’s the most important piece of advice: order the ice cream sandwiches.

Honestly, there are too many cool things to mention in one blog post…stay tuned. Mark says he could write a book…


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Macaroon ICE CREAM SANDWICH from Squam Lake Inn and Marketplace with coffee chocolate chip and sea-salted caramel ice cream (SEE RECIPE AT END OF POST)


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Lakeside vacation rental at Squam Lake Inn, located above The Marketplace, where they sell the ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

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The vacation rental has a dock right on Little Squam Lake–great for paddle-boarding or kayaking, AFTER EATING AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH


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The restaurant at Squam Lake Inn, where you can also get (guess what?) an ICE CREAM SANDWICH!


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Refreshed guest rooms at Squam Lake Inn…the new decor is clean and crisp with a ecclectic and whimsical twist



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Isaiah, Sarah and Taylor: part of the unforgettable team at The Squam Lake Marketplace, home of the ICE CREAM SANDWICHES


Coconut Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwiches from Squam Lake Inn & Squam Lake MarketPlace


We use local ice cream for these incredible treats from Sandwich Creamery located on the north end of Squam Lake in Sandwich, NH, www.sandwichcreamery.com. Our customers favorite ice cream flavors that complement the coconut macaroons are: Coffee Kisses (chocolate chip), Black Raspberry Chip and Caramel Sea Salt.

The other cool thing about these cookies is they are gluten free!

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Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwiches


1  can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk

1  TBL  good vanilla extract

1/2 tsp    kosher salt

4 cups sweetened coconut, shredded


In a standing mixer or by hand, combine all ingredients.  Cover bowl and store in a refrigerator for at least one hour so that the ingredients can combine.  Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Line sheet pans with parchment paper.


To form consistent cookies, use a scoop (I use a 1 oz. scoop) to drop onto the cookie sheet.  Spread out dough into an evenly flat circle using your fingertips.  Bake the cookies for 6-8 minutes and rotate.   They may need another 3-10 minutes depending on your oven (convection ovens bake faster).  Check often.  They should be a dark brown in color, which indicates the coconut has caramelized.


Allow the cookies to cool completely.   Remove the macaroons from the sheet pans and place into an 11”x13” or similar pan or container that will fit into your freezer.  You can stack the cookies between layers of wax or parchment paper.  Allow to freeze thoroughly.


To assemble, work quickly with the frozen cookies and ice cream.    Hand scoop the ice cream onto the cookie and pack it down by placing the second frozen cookie on top and pressing down firmly without pushing ice cream out the sides.  Cookies should have 1-1/4” to 1-1/12” of ice cream in the middle.   Immediately place assembled ice cream sandwiches into the freezer.   I wrap mine with wax paper sheets to protect them.

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Mint Julip, Inn at Woodhaven, Louisville KY


We are working in California* today, but since it is Derby Day, we are reminded of those great Mint Juleps we photographed (and gladly drank!) with Marsha, the innkeeper at Inn at Woodhaven a couple of years ago. Here is a recipe for for this classic drink if you are celebrating today:

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) club soda
  • 2 heaping teaspoons superfine sugar or simple syrup
  • 15 fresh mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) high-quality whiskey or bourbon
  • 2 cups crushed ice

Stir together club soda and sugar in a julep cup, until sugar just begins to dissolve. Add mint leaves and–this is very important–using a muddler or back of large spoon, gently press leaves into the liquid until bruised but not completely crushed. Add your booze of choice, then fill cup with crushed ice and stir briefly. Add mint sprigs and a short straw and head out to the verandah!

*Home of “California Chrome”, favored to win today, by the way…





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We recently did an “update shoot” for one of our favorite inns, the grand Saratoga Arms, in downtown in Saratoga Springs, NY. Innkeepers and Owners of this family-run business, Amy and Kathleen Smith, have made some really smart updates to this property, carefully blending the traditional style with an updated new look. Because we’ve been shooting for them for years, we have some SaratogaArms Exterior%20%286%29 S Great Ideas for Blending Traditional and Contemporary Styles from Saratoga Armsinteresting before and after shots showing the decor changes. Instead of tearing out all of the classic (and pricey!) wallpaper and discarding great-quality furnishings, they made more modest changes that make a huge impact—all without breaking the budget.

The big changes they DID make:

  • * They eliminated many large armoires  which had previously held televisions, replacing them with contemporary wood pieces with a dual function: they contain a refrigerator and provide ample clothing storage (with a great top surface to boot!)
  • * Wall mounted flat screen TVs throughout
  • * They chose all-white bedding, a more contemporary pillow styling, and reused the old traditional custom bedspread as a pop of color and pattern at the foot of the bed. It just happens this whole look is super photogenic and clean!

Smaller Changes:

  • * Some wallpaper removal and fresh paint
  • * Many new lamps with a more contemporary flair
  • * Some smaller, more updated chairs in some rooms in solid white or bold colors

We did our part in styling, lighting and composing the photos to make them feel more 2014 and less 1999. It was a joint effort for sure!


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In Room 201, they painted the walls this fresh green color, along with the other changes mentioned above; this was our favorite!


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This room is on the lower level and has a lower ceiling than the upper level rooms. The color and furnishing make it bright and cheerful

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The simple white style bedding and pillows make the traditional wallpaper less busy, more restful and more contemporary.

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Girlfriends enjoying a drink in the newly redecorated parlor-turned-lounge

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Before and after of Room 218. Just the bedding changed yet it feels so much brighter.

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Dramatic before and after of Room 205. The bedding and light fixtures have changed…and the patterned loveseat was replaced with 2 re-purposed solid chairs.

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In Room 303, Amy and Kathleen simply added new lamps, the white bedding and contemporary style chairs.

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They also brought a fresh look to their breakfast offerings–cleaner and more modern presentation. These Lemon Ricotta cakes are TO DIE FOR


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