How to Identify a Professional Photographer for Luxury Hotel, Resort & Villa Photography

12 Questions to Ask

You're hopefully reading this because you're the owner or manager of a luxury hotel, resort, or villa and are needing very high-quality images to set your property apart from the hordes of competition. And you're wanting to know how to "size" up prospective photographers that you're considering hiring for a professional shoot.

We've come up with a list of 12 basic questions to ask in your interviews. Each of the following questions also includes our recommendation for what a "correct" answer should include.

Taken collectively, these questions should allow you to develop a pretty clear assessment of each prospect, as to whether they're truly a professional, or if in fact, they're simply a wannabe.

Scroll down for specific details...

Category 1: Equipment

This category of questions will give you an idea of someone's commitment to the craft. Someone with just one camera body and one lens is simply not as committed—or as capable for creating high-quality images—as a true professional.

While the following suggested questions and recommended answers are focused on architectural photography, they also apply in general to other types of photography such as lifestyle and food photography.


What is your primary camera and lens for shooting?

Nikon and Canon are the most common professional cameras, so either (or both) answers are good. Generally, for architectural photography, the correct answer for lens is anything that includes "wide angle" or if they answer with the focal length, anything below 35mm is a suitable answer. Also, if in answering this question, they disclose that they have multiple cameras and lenses, that's a good sign as it implies that they can customize their shooting configuration depending on the specific image needs.

LuxViz Answer: We shoot with Nikon professional cameras. We currently have three different Nikon camera bodies and seven lenses.


What other camera equipment do you have and use on your professional shoots?

Answers to look for include tripods, special purpose tripod heads like for shooting 360° panoramas, motion-control equipment and aerial drones. Answers that include computer hardware and software probably indicate that that person has an understanding of the critical role of editing in providing professional photography services. (More about editing below)

LuxViz Answer: We have a large collection of accessories including three, professional-grade carbon fiber tripods; a 360° panorama head; and extensive motion-control equipment for doing complex camera moves for video and timelapse movies; and our own custom aerial drone. Our computer hardware includes two 27" iMacs plus 8 external hard drives for our photographic image library, which currently includes close to one-quarter of a million photos. Our software applications are primarily Adobe products, such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Media Composer. However, we also use very specialized applications for generating our HDR photos (explained below), custom 360° panoramas. These specialized apps include Photomatix Pro, PT Gui Pro and KRPano.


How much money do you have invested in camera equipment?

In general, if someone answers with anything less than $2,000 US, that's not a good sign. On the other hand, any answers greater than $5,000 US reflect a stonger commitment to the craft of professional photography, and also likely indicate that person's success as a professional photographer.

LuxViz Answer: A conservative answer for our current investment would be around $20,000 US. If we slightly modified the question to be what has been the investment over the course of our professional career, it would probably be around $50,000 USD.

Category 2: Experience

This category of questions will give you an idea of someone's experience and success in providing commercial photography services. From the answers about clients, you should be able to tell if this prospect has experience shooting for clients who are in the same market as you, which from an experience perspective, is a good thing.


How long have you been shooting?

Obviously, the longer the period of time given in the answer, the more likely someone truly is a (successful) professional photographer. Any answer less than two or three years is probably a good sign that you should continue in your interviews.

LuxViz Answer: Our experience spans 44 years including the last 15 years as a professional architectural photographer—the first 5 of that in California, and the last 10 years in Bali Indonesia shooting luxury hotels, resorts, and villas.


What types of photography do you do, and which one category contributes the most to your business income?

It's a good sign if someone has experience in multiple areas of photography, as long as their answer to which area contributes the most to their business income is the one you're interested in. Someone whose primary revenue comes from food photography is probably not the best candidate if you're wanting architectural photography.

LuxViz Answer: Over the course of our photographic career, we have shot landscapes, portraits, sensual/fine-art nudes, food and beverage, lifestyle, pre-wedding and wedding, product, and architectural photography. Over the last 15 years of shooting, over 90% of our business income has been from architectural photography.


How many commercial clients have you shot for, and how many are repeat clients that you have shot for on multiple occasions?

The implication behind this question is the answer should only include clients who actually paid for the shoot. And the larger the number for either aspect of this question the better. However, possibly the most important element of this question is the part about repeat clients. The larger the number for that element, the more comfortable you can be about the quality of that prospect's photography services, as well as their relational skills.

LuxViz Answer: Just in the last 10 years in Bali we've shot for around 200 unique clients including the owners and General Managers from some of this region's finest luxury hotel, resort and villa properties. We've also shot for largest and most successful property management and real estate companies in Bali, Lombok, and Sumatra Indonesia. In addition, we have literally dozens of repeat clients who continue to come back to us for their photography needs for their luxury hotels, resorts, and villas.

Category: Knowledge

This category of questions will give you an idea of someone's technical understanding about digital photography, as well as their understanding editing and their skill levels in being able to provide professional editing to compliment their photography services.


Do you use electronic flash units for shooting architectural photography?

This is a trick question in the sense that you're wanting to find someone who very quickly and adamantly says, "no." People who often use flash units typically have a lazy understanding and poor perceptive skills about lighting. Flash generally causes unnatural highlights and also totally unnatural shadows in the photos, which are impossible to "Photoshop out."

LuxViz Answer: No! (See like that, very quickly and adamantly. A longer explanation follows in the next question.)


What is HDR photography, and is it important for architectural photography?

For this question, look for people who very quickly say "yes" about it's importance in architectural photography, and then very skillfully explain what HDR is... in a way that you're able to easily understand. Negative marks go to anyone who has trouble providing a positive answer in a confident and articulate way.

LuxViz Answer: "HDR" stands for "high dynamic range." Dynamic range is a measure of the ability of an imaging system—like our eyes or a camera—to perceive/capture levels of exposure values. A very important thing to note is that our eyes are far superior to even the very best digital cameras, in terms of being able to distinguish levels of exposure values.

HDR Photography involves setting the camera on a sturdy tripod and shooting multiple versions of the exact same view (generally 3–7 photos), each with different exposure settings. All those photographs are then combined using sophisticated editing techniques with the result being an image that shows much greater levels of perceptual detail in the darker shadows, while at the same time showing much greater levels of perceptual details in the brightest highlights.

While someone could shoot this type of scene with flash units to brighten up the interiors, that image will typically look "wrong" as mentioned in the question above with overly bright highlights and unnatural shadows. A professionally-produced HDR image, on the other hand, is going to look totally natural and will be the most accurate digital representation of what someone would have seen with their eyes.

Imagine this scenario: you're having the interiors of your luxury villa photographed, and it's late afternoon with very bright sun outside. In this case let's say that the shot being set up is looking from the back of the living area through some large windows to the exterior pool and garden areas. Your eyes would easily perceive detail even in the darkest areas of the interior space, but at the same time, your eyes would also be able to see details in the brightest areas of the exterior scene.

In technical terms, the measurement of the range of light values between the light level of the darkest interior area and the light level of the brightest area in the exterior scene is referred to as the "Dynamic Range." And in this case the Dynamic Range might be described as 15 EVs (exposure values). You eyes can easily perceive this range of exposure values. However, that range of exposure values is impossible for even top of the line, professional cameras, that might be able to capture/perceive between 8–12 EVs.

Because of this discrepancy between the camera's ability and our eye's ability to perceive ranges of lighting, a single camera photograph of the scenerio we've been using will never be able to show that scene as someone would see with their eyes. Which is why HDR photography is critical in architectural photography, and why we use this technique on just about every shoot we do.

(You might want to check out images 1, 2, 3, 6, 8 or 10 in this example for a visual comparison betweeen what the camera was able to capture in a single exposure, and what the final image looked like, which is what our eyes saw in person. View our "Before & After" Showcase


Is editing important after shooting and why or why not?

For this question you again want someone who quickly and adamantly says "yes." And then they go on to explain that editing is needed for the majority of all digital photographs simply because digital cameras perceive light differently than our eyes do.

LuxViz Answer: Absolutely important! As we described in detail in the "LuxViz answer" to the prior question, digital cameras do not perceive light the same ways that our eyes do.

Therefore, it's the responsibility of the professional photographer to make the adjustments to every client-selected, final photograph as it comes straight from the camera, so that it's transformed into a truly gorgeous image that most accurately and attractively represents what someone would have seen with their eyes.


What types of things need to be edited in photos?

The main categories of adjustments you want to listen for are: exposure balancing, color correction, removing lens distortion, and always performing what's called "sharpening" to the final image.

LuxViz Answer: Our answer would include those categories above, but we would explain why.

Often areas of the scene being photographed show uneven lighting, where the darker areas do not show as much detail as desired. We correct for that by balancing the brightness of the image. Also, the type of lighting in a scene can drastically effect the color rendering that the camera does. (Imagine a photograph of an interior room at night where the photograph takes on a very warm, yellow tint which is how cameras "see" incandescent lighting.) We correct for that tint so that the final images look more like it did to our eyes while we were shooting.

Also, since many architectural shots use wide-angle lenses in order to show the widest view as possible, we correct for the lens distortion that is common those lenses. This distortion shows up as straight lines in the photograph being distorted with straight lines becoming curved lines, especially near the outer edges of the photo frame. We correct for that distortion so that straight lines look straight... like they would to your eyes.

One final area to mention (though there are others), would be the need for "sharpening" all final images before delivering them to the client. Here's why that's important. The way that the image sensor on a digital camera works results in a softening of the contrast between visual lines in the image. So, digital photographs tend to have a "painterly" effect and are not as crisp and sharp as film images would be. We apply a technique called sharpening to make the final images look as crisp, with the appropriate level of contrast, as would have been seen with someone's eyes.


What application(s) do you use for editing?

This is another trick question. Anyone whose first answer is Photoshop should be rejected. This is probably the single, quickest test to differnetiate between true professional photographers... and wannabes. The only correct first answer is Adobe Lightroom, though if they say Lightroom first and then add Photoshop, that's also an acceptable response.

LuxViz Answer: Adobe Lightroom is without question, the primary tool for all truly professional photographers. Using Lightroom, an experienced photographer can make 99% of all the adjustments ever needed for transforming photos straight from the camera into gorgeous and accurate final images for the client. (With that remaining one percent being performed using Photoshop.)

Category 3: Character

To be honest, this category could include many questions, but we're only sharing one, as this list of questions is already quite long!. Character should always be a consideration in selecting someone who is going to be employed for a service. And the question we're including in our list as the last one to ask tried to expose the prospect's personal commitment to quality.


What is the longest amount of time you've spent editing one image, and also please show me the before and after versions of the edit and explain why the editing was so complex?

What you're looking for here is an example image that the prospective photographer says took more than 30 minutes to edit. And that prospect should be able to easily point to areas in the before version which needed correction. Pay close attention to how they speak of the needed corrections. Anyone to speaks about changes needed to be made to the entire photo—and not to individual areas within the photo—is taking short cuts and will not be able to provide the same quality level in the final image as someone who painstakingly adjusts individual areas throughout the photo with the appropriate editing techniques.

LuxViz Answer: Our answer would be to share the following video we produced to document our multi-hour editing effort on a single exterior photograph that we shot at dusk, transforming that photo into a stunning final image for a luxury villa owner in Bali.

We are committed to the absolute highest quality levels possible because our products represent us as persons, and we in turn, represent our God and Savior, Jesus. We are very happy to provide a very long list of clients who will attest that we're not crazy religious fanatics. But who will, instead, confirm that our commitment to quality extends to correcting single pixels within the image, as our deep desire is to do work which would please Jesus.

310 Steps from RAW Camera File to Final Image

While it's a little dated now, here's an 18-minute video that shows how we literally spent hours, performing over 300 individual editing steps, on one RAW photo, to transform it into a stunning, final image for our client.