© 2012 Mario Madau

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Anatomy of Hotel and Resort Photography; A guide. Episode 7

Episode 7;      Lighting – Chapter 2


The topic of lighting the interiors and exteriors of hotels and resorts is a very large one. Every photographer does it differently, they use different equipment, and the images work out.  There really isn’t a “best” way of doing lighting, or the “best” lights to use, it all depends on your personal preferences.  What I will do here is explain how I do it in a general way.  Most of the time when I’m lighting scenes,  my decisions of what to do come from the inside, kind of like from my unconscious.  I see the scene, I know what the client is wanting, then I  just get the answers.  These answers are, most of the time, punctuated with bouts of serendipity where the sun comes out at the right time, or the stars, or a cloud when I need it.  It’s almost as if there is some one guiding me.  I know, I know, shades of  “Yoda.”


In the last chapter I wrote about colour temperature and how  incredibly important it is when you are shooting interiors and exteriors.  If you have a multitude of different coloured lights, the image will look horrible. I mentioned that when I encounter compact flourescents, I swap them out for regular incandescent bulbs.  So really what I try to do is make sure that all the lights in the room are of the same(or close) colour temperature. For example,  if a room has lots of windows, and daylight is streaming in, I will convert my lights to daylight colour temperature so the match the light coming in.  There are various ways of doing this


Photographic lighting fixtures.


All of use are familiar with flash on cameras.  We use flash when there isn’t enough light in the image.  We also know that this type of light is not flattering and can cause deep shadows. Professional photographers use as similar type of flash, but on a larger scale, and usually not on the camera.  They are called “strobes.”  The science behind how a flash works is to lengthy to get into here.  Basically, a glass tube is filled with argon gas, and when it gets an electrical charge, the gas produces the flash.


Here is my preferred choice; the Speedotron strobe unit with fan cooled head.  Thus unit packs a punch and comes in a variety of power setting.  The flash tube shows the glass tube that contains Argon gas.  Once charged, the gas emits light in a very fast pulse. With this light in front of a reflector, it produces a powerful light for a split second.  The configuration and the quality of the light tends to be flat and mushy and very hard to control for interior photographic use.  Don't get me wrong, I have used these lights to great effect, but prefer fresnel lights.

Strobe lighting is very powerful and has been used to make some of the most incredible photographs.  Creative use of these strobe units can light almost any subject.  I personally have been using Speedotrons for many years.   They are rugged and have never failed me.  These daylight balanced lights work very effectively outdoors when I am photographing lifestyles or when I need  fill in shadows on buildings.  Many photographers use these powerful flash units when they shoot interiors. I have done this over the years and was never satisfied for one simple reason.  The light that these strobes produce is flat.  Yes you can get a nice shot using strobes for interiors, but the images looks flat.  All that you end up doing is “illuminating” the interior rather than “lighting” it.  So why is this?  Personally, I think that the main drawback with strobes is the design of the bulb and the reflector it’s in.  Once the strobe goes off,  it creates a “mushy” white light that is applied over the whole scene, thereby, flattening it.  There are all kinds of gimmicks used to prevent this, but you are still starting off with a mushy light.   Don’t get me wrong.  I love these lights, but they can’t be used for everything.  And I have been known to combine strobe lights with other types of lights when the situation called for it.


This is an Arri 300 watt fresnel light. Notice the round lens that the light has to pass through.  The light can be spotted or flooded out simply by turning a knob at the back.  The barn doors are used to further modify the light.  The bulb configuration, the reflector is sits in and the lens all contribute to a very sharp and focusable light beam.

My preferred lights of choice for shooting interiors are “Fresnel” lights.  Most of us have seen these types of light used in the movie industry.  They come in all kinds of sizes and shapes.  The main difference between strobes and fresnels, is that fresnels have lens that actually shape the light. A Fresnel is a round piece of carved glass that is designed to shape the light into a narrow (spot) or a flood (wide one) pattern.  The light is actually harder and can be manipulated and shaped via the use of barn-doors.  Fresnel light is crisper and you can spot and widen the beam when you choose.  So with a few of these lights, you can create a very romantic feel in the room. The barn doors can be used to shape the light even further.  So in essence, you have way more control of light emanating from fresnels than you do with strobes.


In this guestroom, I have deployed 10 individual 300 watt fresnel lens with varying degrees of manipulation.  You would not believe this just by looking at the shot, but it's true.  The room has a very romantic feel to it.  The use of pools of light  leads your eyes into the shot.

The main source of light here was mainly from the windows.  I use some strobe lighting as fill light only.  This is a nice shot that shows what flat lighting looks like.  Sometimes flat lighting can be used to great effect.

This shot of a resort exterior shows the use of multiple fresnel lights set up in varying degrees of spot and flood.

Fresnel lights are usually rated at 3200 degrees Kelvin.  This is normally interior lighting temperature without daylight coming in from the outside. They can be adjusted to match most colour temperatures via the use of colour conversion gels.  If you want to soften the light they you can put soft-diffusion material over the lens.  Fresnels are extremely versatile. The great thing about Arri(and other makes) fresnels, is that I can use them anywhere in the world. All that has to be done is to change the bulbs(from 120 to 200 volts) and get the particular electrical plug for that country.  I love these guys.    

Anatomy of Hotel and Resort Photography; A guide. Episode 6

Anatomy of Hotel and Resort Photography;  A guide.


Episode 6;      Lighting – Chapter 1


Lighting for photography is always challenging and in the next few chapters we will look at why.  To start off, I think that we should look at what is light, what is it made of and how it works.

I believe that we take light for granted.  Light is always there during the day and not there at night.  We always see the effects of light.  We have also seen how it moves around.  Issac Newton in the 1600’s postulated that light was made up of particles or waves and left others to confirm this.  A Dutch physicist, Christian Huygens, didn’t agree with Newton and postulated that light was made up of waves and not particles.  Since Newton was so popular then, it took another 100 years before the wave theory was accepted.  To this day you are either in one camp or the other and sometimes in both.

According to the particle theory, reflection on light is very straightforward.  Light when it hits a mirror, arrives there as a stream of tiny particles, then bounces of the mirror’s surface.  According to the wave theory,  a light source gives off light waves that spread out in all directions.  If these waves hit a mirror, they reflect according to the angle of impact.

I’ve often wondered why light can’t be both particles and waves.  We will let the scholars figure this one out. I am however, always looking at what light does and how it does it. I’m always looking at the effect of light coming in a window and how it affects the room, the furniture, the carpets and even how it warms my dog that’s lying on the floor.

Light is absolutely spectacular and can be created, controlled and modified.

Okay, lets talk about the colour of light, or colour theory.


When we look a light we normally see it as white light.  However the opposite is true.

Light is a mixture of all the colours in the rainbow, basically the full spectrum. – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.  The reason why we see things in colour is because they are reflecting that colour and absorbing the rest.  An apple is green since it reflects green and absorbs all the other colours.  An orange is orange since it reflects orange and absorbs all the other colours. 

White light shone through a glass prism separates into its component colours.

Why is this important to hotel and resort photography?  We will have to check out the Kelvin temperature scale. Lord Kelvin in 1848 figured out that each colour had a certain temperature that could be measured.  His theories have become extremely important in the fields of photography, lighting, videography, publishing, astrophysics, etc.  The colour temperature of light is the temperature of an ideal black body radiator that radiates light of comparable hue to that of the light source. Okay, kind of confusing.  Simply put, colour temperatures over 5000K are called cool colours(blueish white) , while lower colour temperatures  (2700-3000k) are called warm colours .

The image on the left has the proper colour temperature while the one on the right does not.

In photography, the term colour temperature can be used interchangeably with “white balance.”  White balance allows for the remapping of colour values to simulate variations in ambient colour temperature.  Most digital cameras provide presets simulating ambient values such as,  sunny, cloudy, tungsten, flash, etc.,  Some cameras you can enter the white balance number you like, such as 3200k(the colour of a regular tungsten bulb) or 5600k ( the colour of daylight).


In both of these shots you can see incandescent colour, daylight, colour and even a little fluorescent colour. Therefore, the colours of the table,  chair,  plant, etc., is off.

I have simplified the concept so that we can look at how it affects our photography.

When I photograph an interior, I try to make all the light sources – wall sconces, table lamps, daylight coming in the windows – the same colour temperature by changing the light bulbs or by using conversion gels.  I usually convert all the light sources to true 3200K, which when the camera is properly white balanced, the image comes out the right colour.  Let’s say I don’t do this.  One lamp might have a fluorescent light bulb in it (which produces the most ghastly yellowish-green colour) and another has a regular tungsten bulb, then the interior will have competing light colour temperatures.  The furniture, drapes, carpet will not show as the proper colours they are.   One area of the will look greenish-yellow, while the other areas will look normal.  This can be a real problem so has to be considered before taking the shot.

This ceiling light has fluorescent lights in it and is very difficult to get a pleasing colour temperature out of it.  I would change these to regular incandescent(tungsten) bulbs.

Here you can see how the colour of daylight(bluish) affects the colour of the wooden wall>

Knowing the basics of colour theory you can be creative in its use as well.  The following restaurant shot in Mexico shows that with proper knowledge of the theory and proper use of lighting a pleasing balance between daylight and incandescent(tungsten) light can be found.

Anatomy of Hotel and Resort Photography; A guide. Episode 5

Episode 5;      Composition



Composition is by definition;

The combination of distinct parts or elements to form a whole. Arrangement of artistic parts so as to form a unified whole.There are lots of books written on Composition but here are a few rules of thumb that you can follow to improve the way you compose shots or evaluate them.

Point of interest

The Rule of Thirds concept.  This concept can be considered "old school," but it is still in use by all visual artists.  The Rule of Thirds was first theorized by John Thomas Smith in 1797.  In his book "Remarks On Rural Scenerey," Smith writes about the balance of dark and light in a painting.  "...Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture;  One should be principal, and the rest sub-ordinate."  Basically, the Rule of Thirds means that you break up the image in thirds(imagine hopscotch lines going through the image) and make sure that the main point of interest is not in the centre of the shot.  You compose the image to guide the viewer to look at certain points first, then they can look around in the image.  

In this shot, the Little Blue Heron is not in the centre of the image

You can see that the water trail is not in the centre of the shot.

The Use of Lines

When shooting architecture, the use of lines is very important.  Lines, if used properly will force the viewer to look at the image the way you want them too.  You use straight or curved lines to guide the viewer to where you think the “heart” of the image is. 


 Here your are forced to look along the curved highway first

I used the spectacular vertical columns to guide the viewer down to see the man in the pools.  The spa pool was important, not the columns.

What is important to show?

When shooting interiors for example, you have to find the “heart” of the image.  What is it about the room that sings?   You can always just photograph furniture against a fireplace or window, but does this tell the story of the room?   I don’t think so.  A bunch of furniture, even if it’s nice furniture, can be done anywhere and may not represent the room.  I’m always searching for the “heart “of a room and what story does it have to tell.

 Nice shot of a chair and window.  What does this say of the interior?  Okay, so it was shot in Mexico.

In this shot the most important thing was the view.  So it takes up more of the shot that the table.

Lensing and Angle

Lensing is always very important.  Most of the time when shooting large exteriors and interiors, you will need to use a wide angle lens – 14mm to 28mm.  Most lens though will curve walls and straight lines due to their optics. I always use what’s called “rectilinear” lens which help to eliminate the curved walls and lines. Extreme wide lens like fisheyes should not be used since they really throw the image out of wack.

 I used a super wide lens here and shot from a low angle.  You can see how the buildings are wacked out. 


Patterns and Shapes

Does the image have unique patterns and shapes that will help in composing the shot?

 There are lots of interesting shapes and patterns here to look at. It's also interesting that the street in shadow kind of forces you to look down it at the bell tower.  So, sometimes you can use darkness(instead of light) to guide the viewer to where you want them to look first.


Foreground Elements

The use of foreground elements will always help your compositions.

Here the green foliage adds to the shot making it look more inviting. 


One final thing I think is really important in composition is the “COOL” factor.  Does the way you’ve composed the shot feel  “Cool”,  feel right?  Composition is a personal journey and the feeling that you got it right takes time.  So feel free to train yourself to get better at composing shots.  If you’re not a photographer, at least now you have a few tools to evaluate the images you see.  You either like them or not.  If you can quantify this feeling, then you are on your way.