Hdr vs Light Painting vs Cgi

Hello all,
Today i wanted to write this blog post because I was wondering about the future of what represents a good part of our business, hotel photography. The past few months we had the chance to work with hotels across Vietnam and last week I saw an advert of the new Premier Village Resort in Phu Quoc by Sun Group where the 3d renderings of the rooms looked quite amazing for a hotel that is still under construction. The realism of those images made me ponder about the future of hotel photographers.

Here below are some images of the soon to be opened Premier Village in Phu Quoc:

In this article I will talk about the different methods that are currently used to photograph hotels (HDR and Light Painting), the big game changer that is CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and finally we’ll try to answer the question “Is it the end of real estate, architecture and hotel photographers?”.


Personal experience as a hotel photographer?

Every areas, rooms, pieces of furnitures are like a model to me. Where should the light come from to exhibit the best features of that model, is the question I always keep in mind while shooting for hotels. Like every type of photographs, our job is to paint a canvas that will convey a feel, an atmosphere of a space.

Sometimes it can take quite a lot of imagination especially when you are presented a tiny room full of boringness and it’s where that imagination is the key to underline some features of the scene and draw the viewers eyes to something more interesting than the overall space.

Sometimes we have the chance to work with very interesting persons. General managers who have a pin sharp clear picture of what they want. Marketing managers who arrange everything for you to work in the best conditions or even allow the budget for a professional interior designer. When we are lucky enough to work with such persons it certainly makes our work much easier and interesting.

On a personal note, it’s always very pleasing to work with people who know what they want for their hotel because at the end of the day they are the one who will sell their product. In that type of relationship we work and think together to build the image that will make their property look the best for their market and clientèle.


The different methods (HDR and Light Painting)

HDR ( High dynamic Range)

The most commonly used technique for real estate and hotel photography is called HDR (High Dynamic Range). The concept behind this technique is quite easy to understand: Unlike our very powerful human eye, a camera is not able to capture every details in highly contrasted images (lots of shadows and lots of highlights) so we need to compensate with a computer algorithm.

Let’s illustrate this with a type of picture you certainly have already seen : The silhouettes.

SHOT IN PHU QUOC ISLAND, VIETNAM FOR THE BEAUTIFUL CASSIA COTTAGE IN REAL LIFE OUR EYES WOULD BE ABLE TO SEE THE DETAILS IN THE WAITRESS CLOTHING, IN THE BEER LABEL ETC… AND SUCH SILHOUETTE IMAGE REALLY ONLY EXISTS IN PHOTOGRAPHS. IN THIS SITUATION THE CAMERA HAS BEEN SET TO CAPTURE ONLY THE DETAILS IN THE HIGHLIGHTS. (RIPPLES IN THE BRIGHT SEA).

SHOT IN PHU QUOC ISLAND, VIETNAM FOR THE BEAUTIFUL CASSIA COTTAGE

IN REAL LIFE OUR EYES WOULD BE ABLE TO SEE THE DETAILS IN THE WAITRESS CLOTHING, IN THE BEER LABEL ETC… AND SUCH SILHOUETTE IMAGE REALLY ONLY EXISTS IN PHOTOGRAPHS. IN THIS SITUATION THE CAMERA HAS BEEN SET TO CAPTURE ONLY THE DETAILS IN THE HIGHLIGHTS. (RIPPLES IN THE BRIGHT SEA).

 

To give you an even better example of what dynamic range is, here below is an illustration I found online that shows the difference between the human eye and different digital cameras in term of light perception.

CREDIT @PHOTOGRAPHY.TUTSPLUS.COM, NOTE THAT NEWER DIGITAL CAMERAS HAVE AROUND 14  STOPS OF DYNAMIC RANGE. AS YOU CAN SEE IN THIS ILLUSTRATION THE HUMAN EYE CAN REGISTER UP TO 24 STOPS OF DYNAMIC RANGE. (24 LEVELS OF GREYS FROM BLACK TO WHITE). A STANDARD 35MM FULL FRAME CAMERA WILL BE ABLE TO REGISTER AROUND 12 STOPS OF DYNAMIC RANGE. TO SUMMARISE, THE MORE DYNAMIC RANGE THE MORE DETAILS ARE REGISTERED IN THE HIGHLIGHT AND THE SHADOWS RATHER THAN JUST TURNING INTO PURE BLACK OR PURE WHITE.

CREDIT @PHOTOGRAPHY.TUTSPLUS.COM, NOTE THAT NEWER DIGITAL CAMERAS HAVE AROUND 14  STOPS OF DYNAMIC RANGE.

AS YOU CAN SEE IN THIS ILLUSTRATION THE HUMAN EYE CAN REGISTER UP TO 24 STOPS OF DYNAMIC RANGE. (24 LEVELS OF GREYS FROM BLACK TO WHITE). A STANDARD 35MM FULL FRAME CAMERA WILL BE ABLE TO REGISTER AROUND 12 STOPS OF DYNAMIC RANGE. TO SUMMARISE, THE MORE DYNAMIC RANGE THE MORE DETAILS ARE REGISTERED IN THE HIGHLIGHT AND THE SHADOWS RATHER THAN JUST TURNING INTO PURE BLACK OR PURE WHITE.

 

Now that you understand the concept of dynamic range (well, i hope my explanation was good enough), let’s talk about this HDR Technique (High Dynamic Range). Based on what we’ve seen above we need at least 2 images (commonly between 3 to 7) of the same scene with different brightness levels to achieve the 24 stops of dynamic range the human eyes can see.

For our example, here are three shots of one of the bedroom in the presidential suite of the Grand Mercure Danang.

The HDR process is achieved using a computer software or shall I say an algorithm (it can also be done on your smartphone) that will take these 3 images and blend them together keeping only the most details in each of those photographs. Some advanced programs will allow you to adjust this algorithm by choosing how much details you want in the shadows, mid-tones and highlights.

Here below the final image using an HDR program compared to a standard photograph. Note how both the shadows and highlights now appear clearly.

Grand-Mercure-Hdr-lweb.jpg

HDR Personal Opinion

PROS:

  • Takes only 3 to 7 shots of the same scene which translate in less than 5 minutes for the shoot.
  • Only 3 to 5 minutes to post-process an image.
  • The results are often good enough for 80% of our clients

CONS:

  • Weird/Mushy Look.
  • Haloing around transitions between dark to light areas (windows
  • Color rendition is over saturated and tones unrealistic
  • Walls, beds, ceilings and other plain objects seem dirty

The light painting technique

The name is quite self explanatory but let me explain how we do it. First, we choose a base exposure we are happy with.
Most of the time it will be dictated by the brand guidelines of our clients. For example, Novotel Hotels, part of the Accor group usually need their photograph to be on the overexposed side (really bright which gives a feel of purity and happiness). On the other hand there are brands like IHG and their Intercontinental hotels who usually go for a moody, luxury, premium feel.

Let’s get started and here below the base exposure for our example. I liked the moody atmosphere that the direction of the light was bringing in that particular setup. However a lot of areas are way too dark for my taste.

Light-Painting-Base-Exposure.jpg

 

Once the base exposure has been chosen, I try to picture the final photograph in my mind and start lighting the areas I want to highlight. Sometime it can a be a chair, a wall texture or a specific space in the room. By lighting individually each objects, their contrasts and textures come to life without any types of post-processing. See by yourself with the images below straight from the camera.

These are the photographs we will use in our light painting technique to exhibits all the features that appear important/interesting to us.

 

Once all the shots have been captured and the different areas lit, the post processing is quite time consuming since we have to blend manually each images into a single one using photoshop. The great part of doing it manually is that I can choose how much light I want on each object and control the overall feel of the image.

Below is the result of our light painting technique compared to the base image. Note the slight changes that reinforce the overall mood.

Light-Painting-Final.jpg

Light Painting Personal Opinion

PROS:

  • Full control of the lighting you want to achieve in a space.
  • It draws the viewer eyes to the important areas in the scene.
  • The image quality is far superior because the final image is composed of actual photographs rather than some photoshop manipulation. (no alteration in the pixels)
  • big prints are much sharper, crisp and pleasing to the eye.

CONS:

  • It takes a lot of time both during the shooting session and in post-processing.
  • If you forget to illuminate a specific area the overall feel of the image can be compromised.
  • Sometimes it can be hard to balance the different color temperatures (interior tungsten bulbs, natural light from the windows and flash)
  • Clients usually don’t understand what you are doing running around with your lights and might wonder if you know what you are doing.

The Big Game Changer, CGI

Now comes the time to talk about what I believe will be a huge game changer for hotel photographers, CGI (computer generated imagery).
Most of you might not even know it but a lot of pictures you’ve seen from hotels and resorts are not actual photographs. They are renderings from 3d plans created by the architect or interior designers. Nowadays, with the democratisation of very good quality rendering tools, most architects, interior and furniture designers use powerful software to generate an image of what their final product will look like.
Since hotels architects already have the 3d plans of every single of their premises they are just few clicks away to generate perfect pictures of their rooms, restaurants, lobby etc…

Here are some breathtaking example of CGI created by Berga & Gonzalez architects


CGI Personal Opinion

PROS:

  • Everything is flawless (beds with no wrinkles, sofas look like new, no wall discolouration or cracks)
  • Adjustable Lighting conditions (blue sky, sunset, night, lamps light adjustable both in color and intensity)
  • For new hotels the 3d plans already exists so the architect just has to generate the renderings
  • No physical limitations in the camera angles
  • Becoming cheaper than an actual photoshoot with way less logistic and uncontrollable parts (like weather, sun position etc…).

CONS:

  • Some people might notice that it’s a CGI but it’s the same with heavily retouched picture.
  • For hotels who have been established for some time they can hardly get the quality of the CGI we showed you above and the reason is quite easy to understand. If the Hotel has been built more than 5 years ago then the chances are that the architect didn’t have the technology he now has to produce those stunning 3d renderings. For real estate and other architecture the same applies.

Is it the end for hotel photographers?

In two words I’d say “Not Yet” but in the near future it certainly will be… at least for the hotels that will be opening.
Our only chance to sustain this part of our business will be to work on the quality of our images, build a strong relationship with our current clients for them to re-hire us in case of a rebranding or slight changes in their current establishment.
Furthermore, even if they build a new hotel and use these new 3d renderings as photographs we can still try to get booked for some portraits and lifestyle shots… at least for the next 10 years or so before the computers create models giving you this kind of look 😉

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that you’ve learned a thing or two. If you did please feel free to comment below or share it with your friends.

In case you like some of the images we produce and you are not “3d ready” contact us at any time for a quote.

Thank you and have a lovely day