Saturday, 31 October 2015

POV: Hotel Photography | A Challenge

I had the pleasure to have been asked to photograph the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel whilst on my personal assignment in Hanoi, and I can vouch that hotel photography (or whatever this style of photography is called) is no walk in the seems easy but it's certainly not.

Having  the DNA of a travel-documentary photographer meant that I felt more comfortable having people in most of my photographs. I recalled a ad campaign by Annie Leibovitz for The Peninsula Hotel (Hong Kong and New York City) some years ago, in which she produced monochrome photographs of the hotel's staff, and it was hailed as a huge success in the hospitality industry. That was to be my inspiration.

I doubt if Leibovitz's ad campaign used models for its photographs, but I certainly didn't have to. The Golden Silk Boutique Hotel has a number of photogenic staff members, and they were chuffed at being photographed for the occasion. I wanted to photograph the staff in action as it were, so I was in the dining room for breakfast at 6:00 am just in time to have a few moments with its staff before the influx of guests, and then later on in the bar, rooms and spa.

Hotel photography techniques are obviously similar to photographing interior spaces; wide angles, choice of perspectives, soft lighting, etc...but without the assistance of a room stylist, I had to really focus on the smallest of details. An errant electric cord, an imperfectly made bed corner, a slightly askew towel in the bathroom, bathroom amenities that are not perfectly aligned...even lightbulbs of different warmth...would be amplified in still photographs.

My strategy was to provide the hotel with both static photographs of its rooms, lobby and other facilities as well as some people photographs (such as this above). I don't know yet if the hotel's management will use the latter (in color or monochrome), but I hope it does since it would set it apart from the remaining comparable hotels in Vietnam.

There's no argument that the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel's location, accommodations, price structure, facilities are all important, however the primary reason for my making it my home in Hanoi for the five times I've been there, and intend to return to it during my forthcoming trips, is its staff.

As in most businesses, the human element is key, and I've found the hotel's people to be extremely helpful, friendly and welcoming. I know most of them by name, and chatting with them, I now know a little bit of their personal life, their families, their hobbies, etc. This makes a huge difference in the experience of staying in a hotel for two weeks at a time. When I return from a long day of non-stop shooting, I am always greeted by the hotel's receptionists with a genuine welcome back, curious to know how my day went...and through the internal grapevine, many of them know where I've been.

And that is my reasoning behind making -as much as I could- my hotel photo shoot about its staff. I and possibly many others do not return to the hotel just for the quality of its rooms, facilities, price structure or the fluffiness of its omelets (although that one has a huge impact), but because of its staff.

That's the truth.