On Location: Hotel Rooms

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For as long as I can remember I’ve had a fascination with hotels. When I was a child I loved when my family took trips that involved staying in a hotel. It is something about the unknown stories that exist within their walls. Unlike your bedroom in your home, a hotel has been the home for thousands of people in its lifetime. Unlike home you don’t know the story of the night before. Was the person before you happy or sad, hopeful or depressed? Did they stay one night, two, or three? Where they on their way home or was this a stopover in a much longer journey? Even to this day I enjoy staying in hotels. It may seem childish but I think I don’t have to pick up the towels, make the bed, or take-out the trash. I can kick back, read, watch TV, eat in bed, or just go straight to sleep and not worry about anything. Then of course their is room service and having a staff ready to serve you at your convenience. It is like being a millionaire for 24 hours.

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When I started in photography I started using hotel rooms as locations for various shoots. I’ve photographed in very high end rooms that rent for over a $1,000 per night down to roach motels that rent for $30 or less and is so filthy your feet get dirty walking across the carpet barefoot. Each has its advantage in terms of photography, the high end room lends itself well to portraits and fashion, while the low end room provides a film noir feel that lends itself well to dark moody session. Such is the hotel I shot this in. This particular hotel is not necessarily a roach motel. It was however a lower budget hotel with solid white walls. This presented both opportunity and problems.

With all white walls whatever light hits them is going to reflect but the upside is that being white walls I can easily color them in any fashion I want. I decided for this I wanted a set that gave the feel of a cheaper hotel with large red neon lights coming in through the windows. I also wanted my subject to be lost in thought watching the TV. I also wanted a separate light source in the background to act as the light from a tungsten lamp in the room.

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I set my camera’s exposure so that no ambient light from the window or room would affect the exposure.  On the flash with the red gel I placed one red and one dark violet in order to give me the color effect I wanted on the wall behind my model. I wanted light from a TV so I aimed a small strobe at the model zoomed out to the max 105mm with a teal gel. Then to give the color of light from a lamp I placed a strobe with a full CTO orange gel at the sink area near the bathroom to light the back wall and give a small amount of rim light on the model.

I instructed my model to imagine herself in deep thought with the weight of the world resting on her shoulders. I didn’t want a sexual or erotic feel but more of a lonely or isolated feel. We shot for about two hours experimenting with various power level on the lights. The trick with lights with gels is the less power you put through them the more saturated the color is. Even still I had to bump up the saturation in post production to get the final effect I wanted.

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