In Category: ‘Photo and Lighting Notes’

Over the years, we have accumulated a stack of emails from customers touting the business increases they’ve received from their new photos. It seems like the folks that have the biggest “bumps” in occupancy and revenue from a photo investment are properties with views–that is, views which were previously not captured or poorly depicted. It is clear that if you are lucky enough to a have a property with views from a guest room, you simply must get great photos to sell those rooms. View shots from inside of a room really require the assistance of a professional, as they require a great deal of skill, lighting and know-how.

Over the past 12 years, we have become specialists in capturing views. It wasn’t a plan, but just happened over hundreds of shoots. It is not a “convenient” niche for a photographer; sometime we curse this speciality, to be totally honest! Why?? Because great view shots (especially interior shots featuring a view outside) require a multitude of conditions coming together perfectly, many of which are out of our control: weather, season, time of day, window/glass construction and lots of PATIENCE. It’s also less convenient for the property owner as rooms must be blocked-out longer to account for uncertainty of weather, etc. Windows need to be impeccably clean and maintained since they are really featured. But the pay-off is big with great photos!

We’ve just added  a new gallery in our portfolio featuring “Views”- check it out here


So, how do we get great view shots from a room interior? What are the secrets?

Photoshop or Lighting??

As with most photography questions, 95% of the time lighting is the answer. Using high-powered off-camera flashes is our preferred method. The reason interior view shots are so difficult for the amateur is that there is a great disparity/contrast between the interior light and the exterior light. Using interior artificial lighting can help balance that scene so that the contrast is reduced, mimicking how your eye sees the scene. We often use Photoshop to remove unwanted reflections (often from our flashes). High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique is another way to mitigate contrast and get a view shot. HDR is basically blending several images of different exposures in a post-production tool such as Photoshop to create an image with less contrast. Unfortunately, this technique tends to yield much less natural-looking images that do not “ring true” and can feel a bit flat. We also use high-powered lighting to get great porch shots; this really makes the porch view SING!

Holualoa Breakfast 02 X2 Sharing our Secrets: How to Get Those Amazing Inside Out View Photos

Without high-powered flashes, it would be impossible to light the rich, dark wood interior while keeping the contrast balanced in the bright Hawaiian light. This is from Holualoa Inn.

Lucilles Room6 02 X2 Sharing our Secrets: How to Get Those Amazing Inside Out View Photos

High-powered off-camera flash creates a natural-looking balance between the inside and outside at Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn in Georgia.


What is the best way to compose a view shot?

One of the inherent problems with photographing a room with a view is that the best picture of a room RARELY meshes with the best view out the windows. You need a descriptive, wide shot to show the room on your website or booking engine, but if the room has a great view you’ll need a shot that captures that view. These are typically very different shots. When we are trying to capture a killer view, we start with the view, and then work the room around it by adapting the angle or moving/arranging furniture. These less literally descriptive shots that are selling the view are typically shot with a much less wide lens. For example, for a descriptive wide shot of a room one might use a wide angle (i.e. 28mm focal length), while a view shot would be more successful at 50mm or higher, because this greater focal length visually helps to bring the view IN.   This is one of the most important elements of a great view shot: get tight, don’t use a wide angle lens!

LedgesDu0 1024x338 Sharing our Secrets: How to Get Those Amazing Inside Out View Photos

The best shot of the common space at Ledges Hotel shows the beautiful fireplace and grand high ceiling. But that shot will never showcase the all-important waterfall view. To do that, you need to build the shot around THE VIEW…NOT the room

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A guest room view of the Atlantic Ocean from Block Island Inn in Rhode Island. Composing the shot tight, along with a straight-on view accentuates the view.


What time of day, season and weather are best for view shots?

All of these elements greatly affect a view shot, in a big way! Waterfront properties usually require a clear day, since water is reflecting the sky and you want it to be BLUE. Typically you’ll want the sun behind the camera to capture a less washed-out look. Unlike water, mountains and greenery can be more forgiving with time of day and weather. Wooded scenes can be stunning on a cloudy day. Usually shooting at high noon is a big no-no, but the season and geographical location play a great role in this. For example, in November we can get great view shots at high-noon in some locations. One of our favorite times of day to shoot a view is at daybreak or sunset. The light is softer and more colorful and you can get moody shots that really conjure up emotion and a “moment in time”. Usually you’ll find that we try to provide some variety in what we deliver to our customers, often providing some daytime views and some sunset/sunrise views.

Blair Hill Common Restaurant 2 X2 Sharing our Secrets: How to Get Those Amazing Inside Out View Photos

A sunset view over Moosehead Lake was the perfect backdrop for the mood, colors and decor of the dining room at Blair Hill Inn, Maine

SeaRock R JRSuite17 3 X2 Sharing our Secrets: How to Get Those Amazing Inside Out View Photos

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean was a perfect time to shoot this guest room at Sea Rock Inn in Mendocino, California. The bright colors of the sunset are a great counterpoint to the red leather chairs.

What props are good for view shot?

Think bold silhouettes as you gather props for views, such as binoculars, wine bottles, botanicals with interesting shapes, a human figure or a coffee cup. Keep the props simple; the star of a view photo is THE VIEW

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The strong silhouette of the calla lilies works well with the misty morning view from Lookout Point Lakeside Inn in Arkansas



Views: A Checklist for Getting Ready for the Photoshoot

  1. Be ready! Prepare a day early if you can. We may be able to change arrival date if weather is better a day earlier. Be ready early and be flexible.
  2. Clean windows well and remove screens. Photographers are expensive window washers…and we end up washing many windows!
  3. Blinds and window treatments should be in good condition as they are “framing” the view
  4. If you are lodging the photographer, put  them in your best “view” room. (I know this sounds like a ploy, but it’s really not!) Believe me, you will want them to have access at all times of day and night to get that “signature” view shot.
  5. In general, block your rooms with views for a longer period than you need to, in order to account for time of day and weather issues.
  6. Be prepared for 5:30am or 9:00pm shoots. Basically give photographer access to rooms and props on a 24-hour basis.
  7. Invite an attractive repeat guest (who has mid-week flexibility) to return to the inn for free during the shoot, in exchange for letting us photograph them on balconies with views. Make them aware it could be a very early or late photo shoot. We have had great success with this. People provide context and interest for view shots.


Port d Hiver Rooms Windward 11 X2 Sharing our Secrets: How to Get Those Amazing Inside Out View Photos

Port D’Hiver Inn in Florida brought in return guests for our shoot. They enjoyed a complimentary stay and we had great models at various times of day (which was key!)





In case you haven’t noticed, food is HOT!  And if you own an inn, bed and breakfast or hotel where food is an important part of the experience, you need great pictures to entice potential guests and to let them know what to expect. It’s still shocking to us how many bed and breakfast websites have no pictures of breakfast! Keep in mind that breakfast is a big differentiator between a traditional B and B and a hotel or vacation rental. If you are doing it, FLAUNT IT! Perhaps one of the reasons innkeepers avoid breakfast pictures is that they can be difficult to style, compose, light and shoot. But believe it or not, you can get great photos with a simple smartphone camera these days. We hope this post inspires you to take a few food shots of your own.

Follow us on Instagram (“jumpingrocksphoto” is the username) to see what we are shooting on our iPhone (lots of food!) or visit the professional food photography gallery on our website  for more inspiration.


1) Focus First on Your Intention

Whenever we are on a photo shoot involving food, we first try to clarify what type of food photos a property needs. On your website, you should strive to capture WHERE breakfast is served (i.e. a porch, individual tables, group dining), WHAT is served (your culinary style, close-up shots), and HOW (“in process” shots of food, or food being prepared in kitchen). A successful photo should have a clear purpose and intent, well before you snap the shutter. In this post, we will primarily focus on the “WHAT” type of photo.

Lucilles Breakfast 04 XL Awesome Food Photos with ANY Camera: 11 Tips

WHERE the food is served, at Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn, GA

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WHAT will be served. Close-up of food at Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn, GA

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HOW is the food prepared. Food in process at Abeja Inn, WA

2) Keep it Simple

Keep the food and the propping simple. Stay away from heavily-patterned plates, placemats and colors or textures that “fight” with the food. The goal is to highlight the food and make the viewer’s mouth water…and get them to book a room! The viewer should be able to easily relate to the food; more recognizable dishes are best. Stay away from casseroles (what is this, breakfast or dinner??) , soufflés (they FALL!) or overly-complicated dishes that require a long verbal description to tell the story.

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Keeping it simple at Glasbern Inn, PA. It is what it is! Note the play of shapes: triangles, lines and circles.

3) Turn off that Flash and Find a Window!

Great photos of ANY kind are all about light, so first turn off all incandescent lights and use natural light. Our favorite set-up for any type of camera is window light backlighting the food and using mirrors and white foam-core boards to reflect light into the scene. Pick a bright window with direct exposure, then diffuse it with vellum or window sheers, wax paper, parchment paper or even get creative with lace! Set up a table in front of the window and get a couple of white boards to reflect that window light back onto the food. Get a small make-up mirror or wrap a brick in foil and use that to help open up the shadows on the dark side of the food. You’ll notice you are shooting into the light (what photographers call “backlighting”). Backlighting is key to bringing out the texture, dimension and color of food. Also try side-lighting, where the window is to the right or left of the camera. As you get more experienced, you can experiment with more direct light on the food. This is tricky, but it can be beautiful.

Check out this illustration (from above) for a back lighting set-up:



IMG 0298 Awesome Food Photos with ANY Camera: 11 Tips

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The breakfast table at Crisanver House Inn, VT. This is an example of direct lighting – tricky but beautiful when it works. We used a very thin piece of silk on the window to cut down on the highlights and control contrast.



4) Props and Background

Remember this type of shot is all about the food. But a few well placed props can provide context or make it more visually appealing. For a breakfast shot, we often use coffee or tea and/or juice, some silverware and a napkin. You can use these elements on the edge of the frame just to warm up the shot. Do you do a menued breakfast?? If so, add the menu just coming into the frame. Think about contrast: too many darks and lights outside of the food will detract from the food itself. Again–this shot is all about the food! Keep bright color and contrast in the frame to a minimum. Keep in mind your background as well–it does not have to be a white tablecloth. We have been known to shoot on wood floors, slate, tile, or black felt. Dark plates can be a beautiful and moody background for some foods, especially darker or jewel-toned food (roasted plum anyone?)

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Menu with Berry Shortcake at Lookout Point Inn, AR


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Roasted plums at Brampton Inn, MD. Keeping the background mid-toned rather than white brings out the great jewel-tones in this dish

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This pizza and beer sampler at The Inn at Turkey Hill was shot on the wood floor of the old barn in which the the restaurant is housed. The wood tones work beautifully with the amber beer colors and toasted pizza crust.

5) Compose It

Great composition is about engaging the viewer and keeping the eye moving through the photo. Use color repetition throughout the scene (red peppers and a red napkin) and shapes (round sunny-side-up egg with triangular toast points) to create interest and harmony. Don’t be afraid to crop a part of the plate off and get closer! Shoot from the diner’s perspective. Try shooting from above. Getting on a step ladder and shooting down at a table-scape works great for many dishes.


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One of Gayle’s amazing quiches from Eden Vale Inn, CA. This is a great study in contrasting shapes and color repetition.

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The granola parfait at Sea Rock Inn, CA. This is a close up element from their buffet. One parfait would be boring, but three makes the composition engaging because of repeating colors and shapes.


6) Food Styling…with Style

Styling can make or break a good food photo! When you create food for a food shoot, every step from cooking the food to assembling the plate should be in service of telling the story of this plate. If you are shooting an omelet, construct that omelet in a way that the viewer can tell what kind of omelet it is without a caption. One of the biggest mistakes we see is innkeepers over-garnishing (powdered sugar, parsley, sauces) so that you cannot even tell what the food is. A minamalist  approach is best. One trick we employ often is accentuating the three dimensional aspect of a dish by stacking it a little higher than you would normally serve it. Also, always add sauce and garnish at the table at the last minute and keep an eye out for wilting herbs. You could write a book on food styling, but wait–it’s been done! Our favorite book on the subject is by Delores Custer called “Food Styling”. Matthew took a class with Delores a few years ago; she is a genius and this book is interesting to any foodie.

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This egg baked in a cup at Beechmont Inn, PA was completely reconstructed for the camera to tell the story of the dish and highlight each element.

7) iPhone or Fancy Camera?

As much as we hate to say it, these days you can honestly get great photos with a smartphone. The newer models of the iPhone shoot quite well in low light conditions, they have built in features like image stabilization and High Dynamic Range (HDR) and also have good color representation. Will you get better photos with a fancier camera? Yes, but you must know how to operate the camera to get those photos. If you put a $1000 DSLR in automatic and shoot away, the results will honestly only be marginally better than with a smartphone. Understanding the manual controls and lens selections of a DSLR unlocks many of its strengths. The latest version of the iPhone operating system even has a slider to control exposure, which we use all the time. Also remember–most smart phones have a feature to select focus by touching the screen. Be sure to do this or the food might be out of focus, while the background is in focus.

Food demo 1024x354 Awesome Food Photos with ANY Camera: 11 Tips

These were shot with the diagram in tip #3, using side lighting . Can you tell which photo is the iPhone shot? The left is from a professional DSLR and the right from a older model iPhone, the 3S.


Here is a gallery of some iPhone food shots we’ve done over the years….



8) Add a Sense of Life!

What takes a food photo from great to awesome?? A sense of life, a captured moment or a movement. In food photos, you can get that through steam coming off a plate, an action shot of a sauce being poured, or a hand flipping an omelet. A chef’s hand, adding a garnish, also can add a sense of life and captured moment.

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A lemon soufflé getting a hit of powdered sugar from the chef at Goodstone Inn and Spa, VA. The black background makes the sugar really pop!

9) Selective Focus

Selective focus is a technique where one portion of the image is in focus while the background falls out of focus. It’s a great way to simplify the image and draw the viewer to a particular part of the image. It’s easy to achieve with a DSLR camera and a lens with a low aperture, but not really possible with a smartphone camera. The good news is you can achieve that same effect with some of the special smart-phone apps out there. Yes–there’s an app for that.

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iphone photo with selective focus technique added via iPhone app “Camera+” filter called “depth of field”. It simulates look from a high-end DSLR

10) Apps and Such

Speaking of apps, if you are shooting with a smartphone, you can use one of the many camera apps to tweak exposure, color and clarity. Our hands-down favorite is Camera+, ($2.99) available for iPhone only. Camera+ allows you to shoot in manual mode, changing many of the settings that are “baked in” to the native camera app in the iPhone. You can also do lots of tweaking to make your pictures pop. AND, they have that filter called “Depth of Field” that simulates the selective focus technique we mentioned in tip 8. Instagram, free for iPhone or Android has some great editing tools including “Tilt Shift” which mimics selective focus. Be careful not to overdo it with filters though; the food should look natural!

11) Inspiration

To shoot great food, you need great recipes. Eight Broads in the Kitchen, a collective of innkeeper-cooks just released a beautiful new cookbook with tons of fabulous recipes and photos (many from us, including the cover!) Believe it or not, the cookbook even includes one of Matthew’s own recipes for Buttermilk Biscuits, which we made at our inn, The Woolverton Inn. Another book that was just released which we LOVE for breakfast recipes is Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets  and Recipes from our Kitchen. Huckleberry is one of our favorite breakfast spots in the country, in Santa Monica, California. This is a great book with creative and inspiring breakfast ideas.

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Cover of the new Eight Broads cookbook

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Wonderful creative recipes from one of our favorite breakfast spots in California

















Jack Hollingsworth, a professional photographer and iPhone photography advocate made this informational video about shooting food with a smartphone. Check it out for more information:





We have been busy (when not out shooting!) the last couple weeks preparing for our presentation on Tuesday January 29th at 2:15 pm at the Innkeeping Show in Las Vegas. Here is a description of our presentation:

Learn from the Experts: Do-it-Yourself Guide to Shooting Exteriors and Gardens
Every savvy innkeeper knows the power of photography to the bottom line. Learn secrets from the experts on how to get terrific shots—the kind that make people say, “I want to be THERE!” This workshop will provide specific techniques—using ANY camera—for composing, styling and lighting your own photographs to make your property stand out on your home page, internet directories and booking engines.

This is a sort-of-follow-up to the presentation we did a few years ago on Do-It-Yourself Food Photography at the conference in Charleston.

Just last week we were shooting at The Garden Gables Inn in Lenox, MA (a really beautiful inn) and while scouting for angles, Mark snapped a quick shot with his iPhone that illustrates how you can get darn-good photos with a VERY simple camera, if you have the right time of day, perspective and some basic know-how.

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Images captured with a professional level camera and specialty tilt-shift lenses


Here’s Mark’s iPhone image:

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Mark’s iPhone image of the same subject

Not a bad, eh? You can do this with just a few simple tools. Great exterior pictures are less about all the right equipment and more about time of day, light and composition. IPhones are not great in low-light, not not too bad either. I see far worse pictures on the pages of sites like Sorry, but its true!

OK, we did cheat a little bit in our pro image. Those tire tracks in the snow were really distracting, so we removed them in post-production before we delivered the image to our client.

Hope to see anyone who attends the show at our presentation. It should be fun and informative.

>blogafter >Rainy Day Solutions in Arkansas
 MG 5392 >Rainy Day Solutions in Arkansas

Clients often ask “what if it rains on my shoot??” Great question. After flying us out to your location, sometimes waiting for us for up to a year, it may seem like a disaster in the making. We’ve encountered dozens of situations like this over the years and we typically overcome the situation through creative lighting and exposure.

Last week we were in Hot Springs, Arkansas working at Hilltop Manor. The inn has a dynamite front porch and beautiful grounds. With a very tight schedule, we had a very small window in which to shoot the front porch – and it was raining with no end in sight. Strobe to the rescue!
We almost always light a porch shot anyway, but this one was a bit trickier because of the gloomy weather and the fact that we could not put our lights outside of the porch due to the rain.
We overcame the gloom by placing one strobe with a 20 degree grid spot off camera right, creating sun-like texture on the beautiful stonework. We had another grid spot on a strobe at camera right creating highlights on the chair seats. Camera left was a strobe firing into an umbrella, lighting up the left hand side of the shot and filling in shadows. All lights were gelled with a filter to emulate morning sun: Rosco Cinegel #3410 Filter – RoscoSun 1/8 CTO.

Propping and styling also played a role in perking up the scene. The evening before, Mark had asked the innkeeper to buy some red napkins – they make for a wonderful and “sunny” counterpoint to the green outside. The porch was also completely re-ordered and re-designed to create this shot to create a pleasant cadence of tables flanking the stone columns.

In post-production (using Photoshop) I used the contrast, vibrancy and selective saturation tools to make the background feel less gloomy.

Presto! From “Stormy Weather” to “Let the Sun Shine In”!