Exploring the importance of high-quality imagery for your property, and considerations when hiring a professional for the job.
by JASON LAVANTURE
Whether you are opening up a new location, switching brands or remodeling, professional photography helps prospective guests feel comfortable with your property, even before they set foot in your door.
Now, more than ever, people turn online to review and evaluate their accommodation options. Professional photos and rich media (virtual tours) are a critical marketing tool as consumers simply love to look and book on their computers and mobile devices.
It takes a highly skilled and trained professional photographer to deliver quality images. Making the right decision when choosing a professional photographer or agency will help set your hotel apart from the competition and will ultimately lead to more bookings.
There are several things to keep in mind when choosing a professional photographer. We recommend you consider all of the following before you make your selection.
Is the company you’re choosing insured?
Choosing a company that’s insured is extremely important since you’ll have them on site while you will have guests roaming about. A $1–$2 million insurance policy should be more than enough to cover most instances, but at the very least you’ll want to ensure both the photographer, as well as the agency that you’re paying, is fully insured.
Are they endorsed or an approved supplier by corporate?
Working with a company that is already endorsed by your corporation goes a long way in ensuring you’re going to be satisfied with your photography. Most large corporations work very hard finding and vetting photography vendors that can meet or exceed their brand standards. If you belong to a larger entity, make sure you always start by asking your regional managers or opening specialists who they recommend. For those who don’t have this luxury, it never hurts to ask your potential photographer over the phone who else they’re preferred vendors for. If they have no examples, it’s likely that they’re either very new into hotel photography or they don’t have what it takes to service top brands.
Are they an individual or part of a larger entity?
There’s certainly something to be said about dealing with a local representative. Keeping the dollars in your city and helping promote local businesses, which are also likely to be recommending your hotel, is a great thing. However, when dealing with small entities there is also higher chance problems will arise.
Keep in mind that should something happen, the smaller entities are not always backed. If a family emergency came up during the middle of your shoot that you have already paid for, you might have to wait until their personal situation remedies itself. Choosing a larger organization up front that has several qualified photographers can prevent such circumstances, and you’re likely to not have to deal with as many stumbling blocks along the way.
Are you able to see some of their previous work before making a decision?
Being able to preview photography suppliers’ portfolios helps tremendously in the decision-making process. It’s only fair that you should be able to ask for a few samples of their latest work. This should help you decide not only if they’re going to be able to meet your quality standards, but also their level of experience. When looking at their work, look for things like blown-out windows or fake-looking, over-processed images. If you spot either of these deal breakers, it’s a good sign you should keep looking.
Also, look to see if their images appear to be looking up or down. An experienced photographer knows to keep the camera level to help reduce distortion. Even if the image you are looking at appears to be distortion free, this poor technique could cause problems with other images. Distortion is particularly noticeable on vertical lines. If walls appear to be bowing, it is a red flag.
Another obvious thing to look for is color balance. If a white pillow has a yellow cast, there is a problem. White balance is very important, and if the white areas in an image appear off, the photographer is either lacking knowledge or is lazy in their process.
There are plenty of amazing photographers out there for you to choose from. Don’t settle for less and don’t accept excuses.
Are they in your area or will they be flying or driving someone in?
If you do happen to find a company that will service your account and you’re happy with their quality of work, you should next ask if they’ll be sending in a photographer from your area or if they’ll be sending in someone from elsewhere that will require a flight or a long drive. If you discover it’s the latter, you should know that you’re likely the one footing the bill for that flight or long road trip. Try to find a company that meets your quality standards and has a local representation close by. This will save you from paying huge upfront costs or heavy mileage and travel fees.
How long will it take before you get the product?
Finding an amazing company and getting a good deal is great, but what good are they to you if they won’t be able to deliver your photographs for 30 days or more? The hard work, time and energy that you spent opening your hotel or renovating it is being wasted each day you don’t have professional photos online. Be sure to ask when they can get to your property and how long it will take until the images are in your hands. Time is money!
How long will the photographer be on site?
Once your photographer begins photographing, your staff should be available to assist in ensuring your property is pristine. You’ll need someone to walk around with your photographer and make sure the breakfast area, fitness center, pool area and so on is staged and neatly organized.
Your staff is likely to be fairly distracted during the photography session, but this is your chance to capture your hotel at its best. The last thing you want is for this process to drag on for days. Make sure the photography company can get in and out of your property inside of five or six hours maximum. It can become a burden on your staff and guests, so do your part and ensure your property is prepared.
Do you own the images after the work is finished?
Owning full copyright to the photos you have paid for is vital. You want to be sure you are allowed to use them as you wish down the road. Make sure this is clearly written in your photography contract.
Some photographers out there like to sell you the images at a very low price then charge you for specific uses down the road. Don’t fall into one of these copyright traps. You own the images or bust!
Does the photographer provide a list of things for you staff to address before they show up?
Will your photographer be working with your staff to help make sure rooms are staged properly, or is that entirely up to you? Will they provide you and your staff with some direction as to how to prepare for your shoot?
Fortunately any legitimate hotel photographer or company well-versed in hotel photography should do at least one of the two. Having even a little guidance for you and your staff goes a long way to keep costs low and your property looking great online. Make sure you don’t forget to ask this question before forking out the deposit.
Do they guarantee their work?
Last, but most importantly, we recommend you ask about the service guarantee before paying a deposit. If their service agreement does not allow at least a 30-day review period to allow you to ask for a reshoot or request edits, you should probably look elsewhere.
It never hurts to come right out and ask what percentage of their shoots requires a reshoot annually. If they tell you it never happens, that’s probably not true or you’re about to be their first hotel shoot. ■
Jason LaVanture co-founded RTV and currently serves as the company’s vice president. Since 1999, RTV Inc. has been an industry leading professional photography and virtual tour hosting service. RTV is a preferred, professional photography vendor for Choice Hotels International, G6 Hospitality – Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn. RTV will photograph all independent or name brand hotels (with the exception of Wyndham Hotel Group).
3 important considerations Safety, qualifications and logistics
Ultimately, choosing the right photographer can easily be broken down into three considerations: Safety, qualifications and logistics.
Do you feel safe that if there were to be a serious problem at your facility involving the photographer, they would have the proper insurance coverage, and do you feel your investment is protected by a solid guarantee in the event you are unhappy with the work provided?
Is the photographer qualified to shoot for your brand, and do they provide you with examples of their work that leave you feeling confident they will do a great job?
Are you comfortable with the logistics? This includes the amount of time your staff and property will be occupied with the photo shoot, travel costs that may be passed on to you and the timeframe for the work to be delivered.
If these questions are satisfied in your mind, you can rest assured your investment will be well rewarded.