Good Photography: Essential Marketing Tool
©Sandy Soule, BedandBreakfast.com
Good photography is the basis for an effective Internet presence, from your
website to your listings on Internet directories to coverage on your local
tourism or B&B association. It’s equally important for getting media
attention and creating effective printed collateral. Your website visitors
will quickly move on if they’re not immediately “wowed” by your photos.
Email newsletters, blogs, and postcards are equally strengthened by the
quality of your pictures. Compelling photography produces reservations—just
ask any innkeeper who’s made the switch. Similarly, media coverage is
greatly enhanced by compelling photography.
Five photo fallacies
Let’s hear from the pros
Five photo fallacies:
Many innkeepers are unconvinced
of the importance of investing in good photography. Let’s examine some of
these innkeeper fallacies.
Fallacy #1: I know my pictures don’t do my
inn justice, but I would rather have my guests be pleasantly surprised when
For every guest that exclaims: “Your inn is so much nicer than it looks on
your website!” there are probably five or 10 others who didn’t book because
your rooms looked drab, dark, and/or depressing. Take a careful look at your
photos as they appear on the Internet. Are they in focus and correctly
exposed? Are they big and bright or are they a tiny thumbnail lost in a sea
of unread text? Remember: your pictures are a reflection of the quality of
your property. The better their quality – in terms of focus, definition and
clarity – the better your look-to-book ratio will be. Check your web stats
for your “bounce” or “click-away” rate for a rough idea of how many people
landed on your site and left in a hurry. You want photos that allow
prospective guests to project themselves into the room.
Fallacy #2: My rooms just don’t photograph
The best way to get great photos of your inn is to use experienced
professional photographers who can show you samples of their work, both
online and in print. Visit the websites of their clients to get a feel for
the kind of photography that generates reservations, and study the photos to
understand what’s possible at your B&B. If using a pro is not an option, or
until you can schedule a pro to shoot your inn, consider these tips:
- For best results, always use digital photos; you can instantly review them
and fix what needs changing.
- Turn on all the lights in the room; add supplemental lights if needed.
Most professionals recommend turning off your flash.
- Take pictures at different times of the day, then select the images that
show off the room in the best light.
- If photographing bathrooms, fill the tubs with water or bubble bath to
make them more inviting.
- Always show the fireplaces with a fire burning, even if you just need to
light some crumpled newspapers to get the shot.
- If you are not able to get a great photograph of an entire room, or your
whole inn, concentrate on smaller interesting features.
- Shoot guestrooms from different angles, not just a straight shot of the
- Copy the pros and do a little staging, from fresh flowers to wine and
chocolates, to other touches that guests enjoy at your inn.
- Take a careful look at the photos on the websites of other inns, and pay
attention to what works and what doesn't. Apply these lessons to your own
Photos still not up to par? Perhaps photography is not the entire problem!
Time to deep clean each room and scrub every window, then freshen your décor
with new curtains, bedspreads, lamps, paint and/or wallpaper. Use fresh
flowers, not artificial ones. If you can't see the forest for the trees, cut
The wide angle lens makes the room appear larger than it is and
|After: Taking pictures of a room in pieces
shows a true representation. (Jumping Rocks)
Fallacy #3: All I need to show are photos of
a couple of guest rooms.
You’ll need an excellent exterior photo, shot during different seasons, plus
small and large-size photos of common areas and every guest room (yes,
guests want to see where they’ll be sleeping, so each room should be
photographed and displayed on your website). Don’t forget shots of your
dining room and the beautifully presented meals; as B&Bs, breakfast is half
of our name, so entice potential guests with mouth-watering photos of food
they never get at home. It’s also a good idea to offer shots of area
activities, to remind guests that one night is not enough to fully enjoy
your B&B. Remember, travelers generally pick a destination first and lodging
second, so make sure the photos convey that message. Photos are often
available from local tourist offices to use on your site; remember to
highlight different seasons of the year.
Potential guests want to see the grounds, the common areas, the inn's
exterior, the innkeepers, and even the pets. Stay focused on the guest's
point of view. A close-up image of a garden flower is beautiful but
irrelevant. If the inn's gardens are a highlight, then take a photograph of
the garden, with a garden chair and a book open on the seat in the
foreground, with a glass of iced tea ready to be sipped. Use photos to tell
intriguing stories; guests will want to find out more, and the media will
too. Whether it’s a newspaper, magazine, TV or online story, your pitches
utilizing good photography will always get more attention than words alone.
Fallacy #4: Once I get pictures online, I
can forget them.
If you put your pictures online a few years ago, you need to update the old
shots and add some new ones. Did you redecorate the honeymoon suite?
Landscape the swimming pool area? Add a whirlpool tub? Get a new puppy?
These marketing features can only bring you new guests if people know about
Older websites used thumbnail photos to minimize download time for dial-up
users. With almost all travelers on high-speed connections, larger photos
are fine; guests can then click through to a detailed page with several
photos of the same room. Include rate information, a description of the
room's amenities, and a Book Now button so folks can make a reservation --
which is, after all, the point!
Fallacy #5: I can use my Internet photos
Nope. Photos that are posted on your website are low-resolution (smaller
files intended to load quickly). For reproduction in newspapers, magazines,
and other print applications, it’s best to have .jpg files that are a
minimum of 300 dots per inch (dpi). If you’re not sure of your photo’s size,
open the photo, put your mouse over the image and right click it. You’ll see
a menu; click Properties to see the photo size. Most high-res photos are at
least 1200 x 1600 pixels. It’s important that you have high resolution
photos easily available on your computer, so that you can supply them to the
media on a moment’s notice.
Debbie Reynolds of
Rocky Mountain Lodge & Cabins,
in Cascade, CO, had three
unsatisfactory photo experiences before finding someone who could do the job
right. Here’s what she recommends asking the photographers you are
- Check their portfolios. Not just hard copy pictures, but the photos on
their own website as well as their clients’ sites.
- B&B references: Ask if they've shot other B&Bs, both indoors and
outdoors. Get references and check out those websites; call the innkeepers
and ask about their experience with the photographer.
- Lighting and gear: Do they have the proper cameras, lenses, and lighting
to do the job right? (Our walls, ceilings and floors are primarily wood. It
soaks up the light and is a photographic challenge.) Can they photograph the
view through the window? Although you probably won’t have the technical
expertise to evaluate their equipment, be sure to discuss it, so you get a
feeling for their approach and experience.
- Who owns the photos? How will the pictures be given to you? Will you get
all the high resolution pictures on a CD with release of rights given
exclusively to you? Will the pictures be raw or edited? If they're edited,
make sure you get the raw pictures as well.
- Get a written quote. Any extra costs for editing? Is satisfaction
guaranteed? If a picture doesn't turn out for some reason or another, are
they willing to come back and reshoot? Will there be extra costs for this?
- Work with your photographer. The photographer may have great suggestions
to enhance the results. If there's something you specifically want
photographed, be sure it’s on the shot list.
- Be prepared in advance for special shots. If you want food pictures, make
sure you have your food ready ahead of time, beautifully plated. If you want
romantic pictures, have the wine, champagne, glasses, roses, chocolates,
candles, and flowers ready and available. Get a prop list from your
photographer in advance.
- Be available to the photographers while they are shooting. They may need
something extra and will need you to hunt it down.
- Ask about staging. Modest amounts of staging enhance your photos by
helping to create the scene for prospective guests. Ask the photographers
how they handle it.
- Be gracious but firm. Photographers are human, just like innkeepers. We
can’t expect perfection; we can expect a quality final product at the end.
- You get what you pay for. It cost me a lot of money to get quality
pictures, but well worth it in the long run. I spent about $2,000 previously
for pictures of poor quality that I couldn't use.
Let’s hear from the pros:
When you are asked to photograph a B&B, what are your requirements, charges,
rights usages, expectations, etc.?
- Most photographers charge daily and half-day rates, with additional costs
for travel, food, lodging (generally supplied by B&B), and any props
purchased by the photographer. Some charge by the room, with a minimum
number of rooms to be shot. Get the details in advance, so that you can make
fair comparisons when considering quotes from several sources.
- Rights are generally owned by the innkeepers for use in all advertising
promotion, etc. Photographers also retain rights to use photos for their own
marketing. Situations where the photographers retain all the rights rarely
have happy outcomes.
- The amount of staging and styling done by photographers varies
extensively, and may be reflected in their fees. Be sure to discuss this
with each photographer to get the results you want. Don’t bring in furniture
that’s not usually found in a room, and don’t go overboard in repositioning
the decor, unless you make the change permanent. If you don’t serve
breakfast in bed, don’t include it in a photo; if you don’t permit candles,
don’t show them. Otherwise, guests may be upset because your advertising is
- Photographers have different approaches to lighting. Ask them about their
style, but more important than their techniques is the outcome.
“Charges are discussed in advance; we then send an invoice for approval,
requesting a signature to seal the deal. We never ask for any money in
advance; invoices are based on 30-day terms unless other arrangements have
been made.” (Dan Horn)
“Satisfaction is guaranteed; if they don't like what I've done, they don't
have to pay. I select and edit the photos and provide a CD with full sized,
edited pictures, which they may use as they see fit. I'll give them a pretty
good selection to choose from. I ask for attribution when possible. Under
accepted copyright law, as the photographer, I retain the right to use the
photographs as well the innkeepers.” (Peter Scherman)
“When setting up shots, we often rearrange furniture; about 75% of the time
the innkeeper decides to keep it that way!” (Matthew Lovette & Mark Smith)
“Be sure you have a firm grip on rights the photographer is granting you.
Can you use them on brochures, postcards and in the media without paying
additional royalties in the future?” (Matthew Lovette & Mark Smith)
“Shooting an inn can take several days. I photograph each room according to
the incoming sunlight (east-facing rooms in the morning; west-facing rooms
in the afternoon) and use a fair amount of space to set up my lighting.
Because of this, guests staying at the inn while I’m taking pictures may be
inconvenienced. I advise innkeepers to take my presence into consideration
when accepting reservations when I’ll be doing the photo shoot.” (Robert
How should the innkeeper prepare for your visit?
- Guest rooms must be open, clean, and ready to shoot.
“Take the extra special care to get rooms ready before the photographer
arrives. Press those bedspreads and clean those windows. I can't tell you
how many times we've asked for Windex…” (Dawn Hagin & Adam Policky)
“Clean, clean, and clean some more. The camera doesn't lie; it picks up
every little stain, dust, and any imperfections.” (Dan Horn)
- Get a prop list from the photographer in advance, and make sure that you
have all the suggested extras.
“During the photo shoot, keep interruptions to a minimum. Every room on the
shot list must be open, clean, and ready to shoot; all the props I’ve
recommended should be readily available. Making extra trips to a B&B is
costly and inconvenient for all. Anything that innkeepers can do to allow me
to focus on photography is good for everyone. This includes food trips and
more importantly, clean up. A photographer often has to have to move
furnishings to get the perfect shot; to save time and money, it’s better if
the innkeepers can put rooms back together.” (Christian Giannelli)
“Have 25- and 40-watt light bulbs on hand. Higher wattages like 75- and
100-watt bulbs are great for reading in bed, but for photography, the lower
wattages help to create a mood and can help to balance bright outdoor light
-- we bring our own, but it is nice to have extra.” (Dawn Hagin & Adam
“I only do minor staging to correct odd perspectives or improve composition,
but I'm not shooting for a magazine. The goal is to show the rooms and
common areas to prospective guests (or prospective buyers). Generally, I
prefer to be left alone, with the innkeeper available in case I need
something.” (Peter Scherman)
“Prepare a complete shot list of what you want to accomplish, and discuss it
with the photographer. Prioritize from the most important shots to the
least. Many people have great expectations but don't realize what goes into
setting up a room or how long it takes to check every detail of a shot
before we shoot the final image. Time is of the essence.” (Dan Horn)
What improves the odds of a successful experience for both innkeeper and
“I believe that good communication is vital for a working relationship. It
is important to know what an innkeeper expects out of me before I start
shooting and it also good for them to know what can realistically be
achieved.” (Christian Giannelli)
“Innkeepers should have a vision of what they want to achieve during the
photo shoot. We are delighted to discuss their goals, brainstorm ideas, and
expectations – it is then is up to us to exceed their expectations. Once we
begin a shoot, we are grateful when innkeepers allow us to do our job as
professionals.” (Dan Horn)
“We love working closely with innkeepers to create the photos that best
represent the experience that guest expect.” (Carolyn & Roby LaPorte)
What advice would you give to innkeepers when they are selecting a
Start by checking out photographers’ websites and portfolios. Be sure to
click through to see their inn portfolios. If you like what you see, call
the innkeepers and ask for comments and recommendations. Some questions to
- Would you recommend these photographers?
- Have you seen an increase in reservations as the result of adding the new
photos to your website?
- If you need new shots, would you ask these photographers to return?
- If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
“Many great nature or portrait photographers are not experienced or equipped
to shoot interiors. Interior and architectural photography is a specialty.
Keep in mind: rooms with lots of natural wood or painted in dark, enveloping
colors are difficult to photograph. You’ll need an experienced pro for good
results. Styling is key for shooting small guest rooms without misleading
potential guests.” (Matthew Lovette)
“Quality and diversity of portfolio shots are most obviously indicative of a
good photographer, but a photographer's personality is also integral to a
satisfactory relationship. Ask questions and be proactive. Innkeepers should
be able to rely on their photographer for website upkeep, seasonal shots,
etc.” (Christian Giannelli)
“When selecting a photographer, make sure that the photographer understands
that the objective is to create pleasing images of the spaces guests may
occupy, evoking a feeling of the place.” (Peter Scherman)
“Ask how long the photographers have been in business, and if they are
insured. Many inns have heirloom antiques and art work. We are insured and
carry a $5 million policy for our own piece of mind and our clients.” (Dan
“Your photos need to create a mood, inspire the viewer, and encourage them
to select your inn. You can spend a lot on a website, but if you don’t have
the photos to support it, you have wasted your money.” (Carolyn & Roby
What advice would you share with amateur photographers?
If you can’t afford to pay a pro, or have to wait several months before a
photographer can visit your inn, here’s some great advice from Matthew
Lovette and Mark Smith of Jumping Rocks Photography for taking pictures with
your own digital camera:
- Buy or borrow a simple tripod.
- Level the camera and avoid tilting the view down or up.
- Turn off the flash. Natural light, supplemental artificial light, varied
exposures, and photo editing software produce better results.
- Shoot at different exposures. (Many cameras have plus/minus buttons to
control exposure.) Generally, brighter images work better. Potential guests
respond to light and bright and colorful!
- If you don’t know what white balance is, read your camera instruction
book. Shoot a series of the same shot in different white balance: tungsten,
daylight, cloudy, and auto; select the one that shows your inn at its best.
- For rooms with a view, be sure to photograph the vista guests will enjoy
from the room or the porch and label it as such. If possible, frame the shot
with a portion of the window frame or porch railing.
- Ask your guests to share their photos of your inn and their area
adventures to use on your website in an online guest photo gallery.
- Shoot lots of pictures. Film is “free” when you shoot digital!
And more from Robert Chiasson and Dominique Lavigueur:
- Select each room’s best feature and make it a key element of your
- Better to take two or three close-ups of a room than a single distorted
one with an extreme wide angle lens. A few vertical shots add variety to
- Avoid shooting a room from an angle where a window faces the camera. The
intense exterior light from the window will trick the camera’s light meter
into taking the wrong exposure and result in a very dark shot. Increasing
the exposure allows the camera to better record the room’s details but the
window will be overexposed. Shoot from an angle where the window is less
obvious to minimize the problem.
- If the room is small with pale walls, you can achieve a reasonably good
photo using a [detached] flash aimed at the ceiling. The bounced light
creates a more evenly lit scene.
|Before: Out of focus and blah.
|After: Shows the guests where they'll be sleeping as well
as other comforts in the room. (Jumping Rocks)
Thanks to the photographers who lent their advice, experience, and expertise
in the writing of this article. They are listed below alphabetically by
company name. For an extensive list of photographers who include inn
photography as an area of expertise, please email
If you’d like to recommend a photographer, please let us know as well.
Christian Giannelli Photography
Matthew Lovette & Mark Smith
Jumping Rocks, Inc.
Robert Chiasson & Dominique Lavigueur
Moka & Pyjama
Saint-Irénée, Quebec, Canada
Dawn Hagin & Adam Policky
Eureka Springs, AR
The B&B Team, Inc.
Scottsville, VA 24590
Carolyn & Roby LaPorte
San Clemente, CA
*Services combine photography with website design.
This Month's Sponsor
Gift Card Reseller Program
Could you use some extra cash? Sign up for the gift card reseller
program, and make 10% on each sale! There is no cost to
click here for details. If you'd like to receive a free reseller kit, contact us at 800-462-2632 or
"I love how easy and flexible the gift cards
are. What a great gift." Sarma M.
What’s better than
three month’s free membership? How about six months? Or a whole year? Refer
fellow innkeepers to BedandBreakfast.com, and if they join at the Silver
level or above, your membership will be extended by three months for
each B&B that signs up. If four B&Bs sign up, your membership is free
for a year! For details,
log in to your Home Base and click
Referral Program under Free Member
Benefits, or call 800-GO-B-AND-B (800-462-2632).
Online Trade Show
Visit our vendor members!
Click here to view our Online Trade Show.
Are you a vendor?
Click here to get featured!
Featured Property and
Inn of the Month auctions are easy, affordable and effective ways to drive
traffic to your website.
To update your entry, check your traffic statistics, and renew your membership,
please log in
with your property ID and password. Don't like your password? Once you're
logged in, click "Membership," select "Change Password," and choose another that's easier to remember.
"I am happy to report that we have had several enquiries from your site, and
one guest who is staying for five nights, so our membership cost has been
covered. Thanks for your help!" Caitlin Adair, Sanctuary, Putney, VT
Inns for Sale
Innkeepers' Info Center
info? You’ll find lots of educational
articles on our site for your convenience.