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Shooting in Hotels

By MidgePhoto, written 1535680618.

Helmut Newton's remark that women do not live in front of white paper and his preference for shooting in smart hotel rooms gave one reason.

Why?

Studios are excellent in many ways, but real and existing rooms offer lots of sets and have a narrative plausibility. One of them might fit the artistic requirement for a particular shoot. Costs, geography, and convenience are other respectable reasons. A hotel is neutral ground (which neither the model nor the photographer's home is), and has slight and distant supervision. 

A touring model may well book a room overnight or longer. One option is to book a rather nice large room, and beside sleeping in it and preparing to meet the coming day, offer availability in it for shoots, intending to at least defray the cost of the room.  This perhaps works best in or near a sizeable town. 

A photographer may also be touring, or away on other business, and mix a shoot with it, or perhaps repeatedly use a local hotel in daytime[0] or take it overnight.

Types of location

As well as individual hotel rooms it is worth also considering: suites, AirBnB, B&Bs, and studios made like hotels [4]. In addition, hotels and pubs have function rooms, and hiring one for a declared shoot (of rather larger size and complication than one to one in a room) is a slightly different topic. 

Some hotels will hire out their rooms by the hour. Of the ones we might like to use, boutique hotels tend to be aware of photographers. You will probably not be allowed to use the bath/shower or have the model get into the bed because they would have to get the room cleaned again. Boutique hotels may only do this in the quiet seasons. Some few hotels actually present themselves as studios, either occasionally or whenever they are not fully occupied.

For example: 

  South House Retreat, Near Dorchester, Dorset: South House

  Hotel de Vie:  http://www.hoteldevie.com/ 

Other hotels or houses may be booked in their entirety among several photographers as a shared location and used much as for any other party or corporate away day.  A slightly different topic. 

 For example: The Old Rectory (near Bridport, Dorset) or Studland Bay House (also in Dorset) each  are a scene of several shoots by groups from PurplePort. 

It is helpful if you have seen the actual room before finally booking or accepting it, since some look better in their photographs than in reality. On the other hand, that's also the business you are in. Geography may limit your options, and the question of whether to book into the same room every month with a different person visiting is not absolutely simple to answer.

Abroad

Life is simpler near home. Laws and customs may be severely different in some other countries, and local knowledge and research are desirable. Contemplating how you return your images to home may also be worthwhile - some customs barriers might be better passed with the camera cards sanitised, in both directions.

To tell or not to Tell?

On the whole, nobody cares. Large corporate chains, if approached through their head office, are likely to say "no" by reflex - this may not apply if you are shooting for Vogue, or even Playboy.  The receptionist might be interested, but is unlikely to be troubled. A general view seems to be "don't tell, don't ask". Good hotels are very helpful to good guests [2]. Lying is probably a bad idea. Including hotel branding material in a shot is tactless and may lead to upset.  Tagging the hotel is also potentially troublesome, especially if the model works there.

Check In

Bring in a bag, perhaps two bags. Bringing in the whole studio lighting set, C-stands and wind-machine in one go seems unwise [3]. Check in and shortly afterwards go back for the rest. If an eyebrow is raised, the explanation that it is unwise to leave it in the car or that your insurance requires you not to is both plausible and probably true. Indeed, it is good advice. 

Artemis Fauna's four-suitcase packing list [1] for touring probably looks less unusual with a model than with most photographers.

Dress

You probably should. If it is a business hotel, then look as if you are doing business. If it is a country house then dressing as if you might be involved in some country life seems better than a black t-shirt and cargo shorts. And boutique hotels may expect hipsters. 

Undressed photography in the corridors has been practised by David Bailey (the real one) and others, but at the very least it should be carefully done out of consideration for other guests, and later photographers and models. Whereas in the rooms, well that's part of the point, isn't it.  

Check Out

If you breach explicit conditions on use of rooms, or are unfortunate enough to upset the manager, then you might be ejected quite suddenly.  Make sure you have transport or some other retreat plan available. 

If (as is usual) all has gone to plan and you have completed your shoot, and have a home to go to, you can check out early, leaving the model or photographer to enjoy the facilities. Or you use the facilities yourself. If you are staying on someone else's tab then draining the minibar and leaving breakages would be ...bad.

Equipment

Packing lightly seems sensible. A second body and flash give resilience, but the first probably won't fail, and you can work around lighting problems. Turn the beeping down, avoid flashing under the door and perhaps through the windows, eschew smoke, and generally be discreet.

Police reports, interest, and questions

In general, police are sensible. They are not troubled by people who are not criminals, so long as they are not also arseholes. If the ins and outs of a room excite interest, be ready to show that you are not acting unlawfully and discuss that lawful activity.

References and credits

[0] For instance via https://www.dayuse.com/ or https://www.between9and5.com/, but many hotels are used to people booking a room to bath and change between work and events.

[1] A Model's tips for UK Tours. Fauna, A.: https://purpleport.com/articles/25/a-model-s-tips-for-uk-tours-1/

[2]  DJ200 "once 'fessed up to the receptionist at a lovely hotel in Doncaster, and then asked if she had a step ladder that I could borrow. She duly produced one for me. But, mostly, in, out, job done."

[3] Although monsignorphotographic who shoots head shot sets (amongst others) checks in " ... first with a small bag then ferry the other stuff in after, lights, backdrop roll and stand, stool...."

[4] E.g. https://purpleport.com/portfolio/towerbridgepenthouse/

Colin Adams on boutique hotels near Gosport. GJP, Nigel68 suggested specific hotels.

Many others made specific points.

In 2017-18 these hotels were mentioned:

  • Blunsdon house hotel Swindon
  • The suites at the Village hotel in Swindon offer good natural light
  • https://www.aviatorbytag.com reported very popular, near Farnham in Farnborough

ChrisD3 offered these links a little while earlier