n this blog post, I discuss my workflow as a hotel photographer in Cyprus and how I went from the photo on the left slider to the photo on the right slider (see below).
I give a complete breakdown on how I prepared and composed the main photo featured in this article, how the shoot itself went down and also the changes I made during post-production. Let’s dive straight in.
Preparing for Hotel Photography in Cyprus
Working as a hotel photographer in Cyprus has many challenges, but with the right preparation it can be very rewarding. I recently had the pleasure of photographing a family hotel in Paphos that had been undergoing some renovation work. One of the major selling points of the hotel was its beautifully shaped pool, and I knew immediately that this photo had to be particularly special. Being on the west side of the island, Paphos is known for its sunsets, so as a hotel photographer I felt it appropriate that the shot was captured during twilight, as this had the potential to provide some of the most atmospheric and captivating lighting conditions, which would also be very flattering for the pool and surrounding buildings. I also felt that the contrast of red and yellows in the sky could provide a beautiful colour contrast to the blue pool. However, this kind of shot would also come with the territory of extensive planning, preparation and editing.
3.15 pm - The Plan
The first thing I did was check the time for sunset on my phone. The perfect low light conditions during this time only last for a few minutes, so everything had to be perfectly planned ahead. On this particular day, the sun was setting at 8.02pm. I wondered whether this was late enough in the day, because I knew some guests might still be using the pool until early in the evening and I knew we would need time to stage the sunbeds around the pool. Thankfully, hotel staff had advised me that the swimming pool was usually vacant by 7pm, as this was when most of the guests headed away for dinner. This gave me and my set designer an hour to prepare for sun down, which although not ideal was enough to get the job done.
With the shoot now penciled in, I could now spend some time planning the rest of the shot. I decided to take a walk around the pool in an attempt to find the best composition (see poorly shot iPhone photos below).
It became immediately apparent to me that the only realistic way to compose the shot was from the very back corner of the pool facing towards the hotel (in the background) with the pool in the foreground. I initially had reservations about this angle as I did not like the very imposing pool rail that was centred in the middle of the shot, but I soon came to accept that I would just have to spend the additional time in post-production editing it out in Photoshop.
The next thing I did was head up to my hotel room and charged my strobe lights. These are a must have tool for a hotel photographer in Cyprus and as I had yet to see the pool at night, I wasn’t sure whether or not the lights around the pool would be sufficient to illuminate the surrounding area in all its glory, so I knew it was best to be prepared for the worst.
I had also kindly requested hotel management to assign a staff member that could help us sweep up the leaves around the pool. It had been a particularly windy day, and although I knew I could edit these out in photoshop, it is always preferable to get it right in the shot. Under normal circumstances this is something I would have done myself, but given the tight turnaround between the pool becoming vacant and sun down, I knew I had to prioritise gear set up and composition.
Finally, I also asked hotel management whether they could ensure that all the bedroom lights were on at some point during the shoot. The time did not matter as much, as I could blend the light in from the bedrooms into the main photo during the edit, as long as I did not move my tripod. This would help to make the shot feel more alive through the suggestion that all the rooms were occupied, which of course would also reflect well on the hotel. I also knew the yellow lights from the rooms would create a pleasant colour contrast with the sky and the pool.
After wrapping up another shot around 7pm, me and my set designer shifted my gear to the pool area and began preparing for the shot. I took the time to perfectly set up my tripod and refined the composition that I had pre-selected earlier during the day. Meanwhile, my partner began staging the sunbeds while the hotel staff cleared the leaves and other items around the pool. Once I finished composing the image, I joined my set designer in moving the sunbeds to stage the shot. To help us with this, I set up a wireless feed from my camera to my partner’s iPad so that we could see from a distance how moving a sunbed or anything else in the pool area would affect the composition. Last but not least, a member of staff went around all the bedrooms turning on all the lights. Thankfully this caused virtually no disruption to guests, as they were all having dinner.
8.02 pm - The shoot
At 8.02 pm I finally took my first shot (unedited photo below), ensuring that I also took several photos at different exposures to be completely safe I wasn’t over or underexposing. I also wanted a longer exposure to have the option of blending in just the pool, as I knew the longer setting on the shutter speed could potentially make the water look more dreamy and smooth.
After taking this shot, a few things became immediately apparent. Firstly, I would absolutely need to use my strobe lights to light paint. That is, to supplement the pool lights to give the photo more life. Secondly, I knew I was going to have to replace the sky in photoshop. Although the light shining on the pool and hotel was soft and pleasant, the sky did not have the spectacular colours that Cyprus is usually known for, particularly on this side of the island. I therefore felt it was both appropriate—and arguably more accurate—to replace the sky so as to give a true representation of the hotel during sunset in Cyprus.
Replacing the sky was something that could be done later, but lighting the pool with my strobes had to be done there and then. What followed was the rather pain-staking process of walking around the pool with my strobe lights, flashing individual areas around the sunbeds and buildings while my partner held an iPad next to me with the live camera feed so I could see how the strobes were affecting the image. The end goal here was to have enough exposures so as to be able to blend enough them together during post-production to create the impression that the surrounding area was lit in an inviting way. However, due to the size of the area, we needed more than 3 hours and 100 exposures to get all the shots we needed. This was completely worth it, as you will soon see (or have already seen, if you saw the main photo of this blog post). Take a look below at one of the unedited exposures where we used additional lighting. At this point in the evening the sun had gone down and it was much darker, but notice how the foreground on the left is brighter than in the previous photo, as well as the light trail on the left hand side left behind by the light painting.
By the time we finished taking all the exposures we needed and packed up, it was now pushing midnight, but we knew the end product would be worth it. However, there was still more hotel photography work to be done.
The next week - Editing Hotel Photography in Cyprus
Several days after the shoot, I was sat in my office going through all the exposures I had taken. I knew I had a big task on my hands, so I knew the first thing I needed to do was to break it down into smaller tasks.
I went through all the photos and culled the ones I felt were of no use. Anything that was poorly exposed or unfocused went into the bin. I then applied a global edit on all the remaining photos where I lifted the shadows and reduced the highlights to create a more flattened image that I could import and take into Photoshop. The plan here was to eventually re-introduce the contrast I had taken out once the edit in Photoshop was finished.
For anyone who has never seen or used photoshop, the software can really feel like wizardry at times. My next task was to choose a base layer from which all other layers would be blended in - see below:
Now that I had chosen my base layer, I slowly needed to go through each frame and “paint” in the strobe lights that I felt were most visually appealing. After going through all those frames and blending the lights in, I ended up with the photo below.
There is of course still a lot of work to be done to the image, but notice how much more inviting and brightly lit the pool area is - particularly in the foreground - suggesting that the hotel facilities around the swimming pool are still very much alive. Small details, such as the palm trees now being lit up also helped to enhance the image.
The next step was to replace the plain blue sky with a sky that was more in keeping with what one might see during Cyprus summer near Paphos. Out of all the changes, this was perhaps the one that had the biggest impact.
Finally, I re-introduced the contrast back into the image while also adding some additional blue hue in the midtones to contrast the yellow lights of the building and red clouds in the sky. I also did an additional pass with the stamp pool, removing more visual ugliness, such as the hand rail in the middle of the pool, the air conditioning units mounted on the hotel walls and the wall of text on the far left hand side on one of the buildings. The final image is what you see below.
I should note that there is small oversight in the final photo, although some may say one that is desirable. You will notice the reflections of the hotel lights in the pool. This is easily avoidable with the use of a polariser, which is another useful tool for any hotel photographer working in Cyprus. Polarisers cut out reflections and therefore have great utility in certain situations. Ironically, I had taken my polariser with me in my bag for this photo, I had just simply overlooked it in the process of considering all the other variables. However, I would not say this has in any way compromised the final result, as I think there is an argument to say that the reflections maintain a sense of realism and also vibrancy. Although a technical tool, the choice to use or not use a polariser can be a creative one.
There is often a misconception around the work involved in photography. While it is true that a photo can be captured in seconds, the work leading up to it and the work that goes into it afterwards is often not, particularly in the case of hotel photography. The shoot I described above took one hour of planning, an hour of set up time, almost 4 hours of shooting on the day and a further 4 hours of post-processing and editing. In other words, it took over an entire working day to capture just a single photo. Indeed, it can take years of training and experience to capture a majestic photo, and it is those qualities and timelines that add up to help capture a single moment in time.
I am reminded of a famous story of Picasso who, while at a Paris market, was approached by a lady. She asked Picasso whether he could do a quick sketch for her. Picasso quickly put something together on a paper napkin, but asked for a million Francs before giving it back. The lady refused, arguing that she shouldn’t have to pay so much for something that only took a few minutes to draw. Picasso retorted that it didn’t take him just a few minutes, but actually 40 years.
If you are looking for a hotel photographer in Cyprus, or if you have any further questions about hotel photography on the island, please contact me.