Pro Venue Photography vs. Non-Pro: What is the Difference?

Mike Penney, a pro photographer, recently took some photos of a $500,000 boat. It was sold sight unseen within 48 hours based on the pictures alone.

Not only that, but it turns out that this boat had been on the market for a year with somebody else’s cell phone photos and nobody would even look at it. “All we had to do,” says Mike “was show people what the boat really looked like.”

Of course, showing people what a boat or a fancy event space or a two million dollar condo really looks like is easier said than done. We had a chat with Mike, a veteran in the industry who has done countless photos for hotels, real estate, and events, as well as large corporate clients like Microsoft and Angie’s List about just what goes into a pro photo, and why if you’re selling anything online that has real value, why hiring a pro may be your best option.

What’s in a pro photo?

I know what you’re thinking. How hard can it be? What makes photos taken by a professional besides the fact that they might have better, more expensive equipment? Can’t you just take your handheld camera, read a few tips from some photography blogs and get something that comes close?

If you think you can, you might want to check out this photo below.

The WAMU Theater Charity Event

WAMU Theatre

What it took to make this photo:

  • This above image of the WAMU theater in Seattle looks like just one picture, but that’s actually misleading. It’s actually more like a combination of five different exposures combined in Photoshop.
  • Each exposure is taken from the same point and captures the detail of the white and blue in the overhead fabric.
  • The tables are actually much darker than the ceiling so a separate exposure was need to capture that.
  • Finally, the floors were painted darker in Photoshop to show a pool of light at each table.

The result is a scene fit for a charity fundraiser event that aimed to raise a million dollars for pediatric hospitals. Not a bad picture for a space that’s essentially a parking garage under a football stadium. Try to do this with a cell phone.

Washington State University Dinner

WSU Alumni Dinner

This photo above was taken for a Washington State University Alumni dinner

What it took to make this photo:

  • This is actually a basketball court… in the dark behind the curtains are rows and rows of seats.
  • This was done with one 15 second long exposure. Except the video screens were cut from another much shorter exposure or they would be pure white.
  • During the 15 second exposure I am painting, with a hand held spot light, the front 3 tables to lighten up the flowers, dishes and chairs.
  • It took several attempts to get everything perfectly exposed and without the work crew showing up. You can still see a couple of ghost workers if you look closely; the long exposure usually renders them transparent.

5th Avenue Theater Event

5th Avenue Theatre

The stage is set up for a dessert service after the annual gala auction. The picture needs to show something of the theatre, of course, yet it has to stop the action of the people in the shot.

What it took to make this photo:

  • The camera iso is set higher than normal at 640
  • f is set to 4.5 for a little depth of focus
  • the shutter is 1/40th of a second
  • the flash is set to under-expose by 1 stop
  • And, of course, you have to hold the camera still. Mike does that AND shoots 3 to 5 shots quickly to make sure he has a good one.

Before You Hire a Pro: Some Things You Can Do Yourself

We’ve established that professional photos really do make a difference when presenting a meeting room or event space, but we know that many of the venue owners who use our site may not be prepared to invest in photos just yet. We asked Mike about this and he offered some tips.

Tip #1: Know Your Customer
“My first question to a lot of people–and you’d be surprised how many people cannot answer this question–is: ‘who are we selling to?” After all someone who wants to do a wedding will have completely different ideas than the corporate event planner.

If we’re after the corporate event planner, for example, then the room needs to be a little bit on the sparse side in terms of decoration with perhaps the idea that you can serve coffee and water. If your photo is marketing toward the the wedding professional, however, you may want to add more colorful decorations.

Tip #2: Remove Junk and Clutter
“A lot of times I see too much junk in the room,” says Mike, “The client doesn’t care about your personal decorating tastes. They’re coming there for a meeting and they’re going to bring what they want to bring.”

Do your best to make your space clean and neat. Be sure to take all wastebaskets, loose power cords, and stacks of paper out of view. Also, make sure that all chairs are at the same level.

Tip #3: Put Something Interesting on the Table
“Some of the better hotels and meeting room places…have their own corporate identity on their writing pads and ballpoint pens. They may even have their own labeled bottled water.” says Mike.

The point is, a lot of meeting rooms look the same. “It’s a lot of beige and brown” says Mike. Putting a vase of flowers in the middle of can really add a lot.

Tip #4: Choose The Right Time of Day
If a room is going to be used in the evening, take the picture in the evening. If the room will be used in the afternoon, then take the picture in the afternoon. You want to present a room in such a way that it feels as though someone can step right in and use it.

Making the Investment

Obviously there’s a lot that goes into venue photography and the above tips will only go so far. If you’re really serious about selling, whether you are renting out your space on eVenues or listing a house on a real estate website, investing in photography can be on the most important things you can do. Great photos that sell require years of skill, experience as well as the right equipment in order to show a venue as it really is. And that’s the name of the game.

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