Hotel & Real Estate PhotographyArchitecture / Lodges & Hotels / Real Estate
Outdoor Photo FEATURE: Explore the ins and outs of hotel & real estate photography with Colin Stephenson
Please tell us about yourself?
My name is Colin Stephenson and I am a Fine Art and Photography Specialist. It was an incredible opportunity to complete a Fine Art and Photography double major at Nelson Mandela University (PE Tech). Photography has always been a passion of mine and was a directly applicable skill that I could use to start earning a living while I was still studying. After graduating I was hired as an assistant by a great Cape Town photographer, Johan Wilke. We worked together shooting all genres – speedo catalogues, interiors, recipe books you name it, we captured it. My career could not have started any better, the experience I gleaned in this environment shaped my learning and set me on the path to success.
How did you train your eye to photograph unique angles?
The secret is to shoot often and include a combination of angles, testing them systematically. I spend a lot of time reading and researching experiences of my peers who are on a similar quest. I continuously analyse how I shoot and refine my methodology so that I can approach any job with confidence.
What is the importance of a clean look?
When you look at an image your brain very quickly processes the composition and the detail in the image. Clutter or poor composition causes the brain to lose focus, but clean and simple composition, strong lines and the natural rule of thirds, draws the eye and the mind into the image to linger a little longer.
How do you choose which photo you want to showcase?
I look for images with a strong simple composition that incorporate the key elements of artistic and technical proficiency. An image that will feel timeless.
What is your golden rule for interior photography?
When you compose your shot, keep it simple, include strong lines and use the rule of thirds whenever possible. Keep the camera height low and wear knee pads if you have to. I’m a tall guy and I spend a lot of time shooting low so this is really important for me.
Do you have a different approach for photographing hotels, properties and real estate?
Real Estate Photography is generally much quicker as the client only needs 25 shots and they work on a much tighter budget. It can be tricky as sometimes the properties are poorly prepared and quite difficult to make appealing images from.
Hotels are generally presented at their best by the clients so offer a better chance to produce good images.
I ensure that I take a good amount of time to isolate the best aspects of a property to shoot exceptional images.
How do you use light to improve your photographs?
I love natural light which means I need to shoot when the individual location is at its best for each situation. I use a tripod and long exposure shots to capture the full scene. I also use HDR through multiple exposures and bracketing regularly to produce a wider range of light in the image to look as natural as possible. If necessary, I supplement the images with a bounce flash to fill key areas or highlight features.
What photography equipment do you use and what is the purpose of each item?
I use a good heavy duty tripod. It is the best investment for bracketing and for long exposures. I also have a great quality wide angle lens and a sharp medium length lens.
The wide angle lens is 14mm to 24mm for overview shots with minimal distortion and the sharp medium length lens is 24mm-70mm for tight shots. I work with Nikon’s nested set of gold series lenses.
Which tools do you use to edit?
I use Adobe Lightroom and really feel that it is the best non-destructive tool on offer. HDR is a useful tool but you must use it judicially so as to retain some play of the quality of light and dark. Auto, cellphone camera HDR can be quite nauseating if over cooked.
It is important that the client understands that they need to present you with a home or property in the best possible condition. When a client says, “but can’t you just make it look good in Photoshop?” you lose the authenticity of the shot and it feels like you’re telling a lie. Photoshop is not there to clean windows and dry up water spills. A good property will offer you the opportunity to create great images. This is actually one of the hardest aspects of property photography: you can’t paint lipstick on a pig and hope it will look good, you have to just keep shooting until you get a well prepared home or hotel, and then smash it out of the park.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Ansel Adams, the world’s most famous landscape photographer, often quoted Louis Pasteur and said “Chance favours the prepared mind.” His point was that photographs like Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico and Clearing Winter Storm weren’t lucky accidents; he was able to capture those moments because he had honed his eye and his photographic technique, and was able to apply those skills when he went out to make images.
I have always loved shooting Black and white images. It helps you simplify your image. Exclude movement and colour and see if you still have an image. If not, look again and recompose the shot until it is there, you must simplify what you include.
I love my work and that is the key – love what you do and do what you love.
Contact Colin Stephenson and let me customise a package for your business to deliver consistent and professional photography.
To discuss your requirements contact Colin Stephenson, 072 601 0985