Tricks of hotel marketing photos

 Images  S Image Fakeouts Fakeout-Marketing-Gran-Bahia  Images  Dominican-Republic Hotels Gran-Bahia-Principe-Punta-Cana Photos Beach-Gran-Bahia-Principe-Punta-Cana-V29604-640
 Images  S Image Fakeouts Fakeout-Hyatt-Dc  Images  Washington-Dc Hotels Hyatt-Regency-Washington-On-Capitol-Hill Photos Street--V730181-640
The Oyster travel review site has a fun section of "Oyster Photo Fakeouts," in which you can compare hotel marketing photos (above left) with real snapshots (above right). Cropping, careful choice in angles, styling and perhaps even shoop result in large pools, serene settings, close landmarks, and mouthwatering buffets that just don't jibe with reality.

Photo Fakeouts (
"'The sexy lady' and other hotel photo tricks" (CNN)


  1. No Photoshop required to make distant landmarks seem close; if it’s visible then a good angle and the right lens choice can make it seem much closer than it is. There’s a *huge* difference between a telephoto lens, a 50mm lens, and a wide angle lens….

  2. I got all nervous about the hotel I’m staying at for my honeymoon next week, so I looked it up, only to discover that, less some seaweed on the beach and a crowded pool, the promo photos and their photos are pretty indistinguishable. Whew!

  3. Also, ever notice how the photos of famous celebrities you get with a telephoto lens from behind the bushes across the street never seem to look as good as the ones in fashion magazines?

  4. People who don’t live in resorts might not be familiar with the concept of the ‘spool’. It’s a really tiny pool with spa jets. It’s advertised in real estate listings as a pool, but the buyer always says, “Is that a….sp….ool?” It seems that hotels have them, too.

    1. I know the two Oahu hotels dinged for their pool sizes, and to be honest I’m surprised (given their small road frontage) to hear they even have pools. They’re not far from the beach; who needs a pool?

  5. Hi there. For five years, I worked for a company that produced and distributed media online for hotels and hotel chains – mostly photos and videos, but also “photomontages” – which basically were slick, effects-heavy slideshows set to music.

    I’ve had to ‘shop out/in people, vehicles, skies, water surfaces – you name it, I’ve done it. I think the craziest job I had to do entailed making a (drained) pool the size of a jacuzzi (set literally in the middle of a parking lot) and surrounded by a rusty, chain-link fence look like someplace you’d want to hang out at.

    I had to laugh when I saw the photo of the pool atop Sofitel LA, as that was one of the properties I worked with – and I recognized the photo. I was asked to make it a night-time shot, complete with starry sky (though I can’t imagine you’d see too many stars over the LA night sky). Here’s a link to the end-product:

    If you’d like to see any of my other hotel photomontages, I have a channel on YouTube – and though I know it’s self-serving, my channel use a few hits – as I’ve been without gainful employment since since September…

    1. I think the craziest job I had to do entailed making a (drained) pool the size of a jacuzzi (set literally in the middle of a parking lot) and surrounded by a rusty, chain-link fence look like someplace you’d want to hang out at.

      That wouldn’t happen to be the Mayflower Inn, would it?

  6. You mean professional marketing & real estate photographers are good at their jobs and can take better, more marketable photos than amateurs taking snapshots? *gasp*

    In other news, cars designed and made by engineers are better than the billy carts made by kids and their fathers.

    1. You mean professional marketing & real estate photographers are good at their jobs and can take better, more marketable photos than amateurs taking snapshots?

      I think what we mean is that they’re guilty of conspiracy to defraud customers.

        1. Changing the color of the sky is marketing. Removing a department store to make it look like there’s a better view is fraud. It’s illegal and it should be prosecuted.

          1. The department store didn’t look like it was removed–the photo looked like it was framed so it wasn’t shown. I guess you could call that fraud, but I don’t really think that example is criminal activity.

  7. Funny thing is, I would have chosen the less crowded beach on the left if it was shown on the promo site.

  8. Aaaaaah, vacation/resort porn. My personal favorite. I spend hours on tripadvisor looking at guest photos. I love this more than fried food and BBC “my shows”. I would love to volunteer my time for free to oyster.

    Just read in “Travel and Leisure” that some hotels/resorts are planning to sue tripadvisor for fraudulent bad reviews. Yeah, good luck with that. If I was TA my counter off/defense would be to personally weed through every stellar review and if even a single one had an ISP address linking back to home offices would have their resort/hotel would have any reviews stricken from their website which is by far worse then any handful of of bad reviews.

    Once again, kudos to my beloved BoingBoing for turning me on to that which gets my pleasure synapses a poppin’ more than Angry Birds.

  9. I was at the Capitol Hyatt this past weekend – honestly the photo with the US Capitol closer looks more accurate then the one with it further. My expectation is the ‘doctored’ photo is an older one, before the glassy neighbor was built, taken with good choice of lens.

  10. I say all of this as a real-estate photographer for full disclosure:

    Every time you take a nice photo, even with no Photoshop work beyond basic processing, you’re balancing accurate representation with marketing and creating an impression, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problems arise when you go too far towards the marketing and too far away from the accurate representation, and for a lot of these photos both the hotels and Oyster are guilty of it. The hotels go too far making a room look good, and Oyster makes it look bad. The reality is somewhere in between. If undoctored, poorly taken photos were “proof” of reality I’d be out of a job. As it stands, I don’t do anything to photos that I consider misrepresents a house, and my photos look a lot better than what the average person would take.

    Granted, some of these are downright awful. In the end, though, the companies that do this (just like the house listings that have high-tension power lines shopped out) are only doing themselves a disservice since the bad press will be worse than a lower first impression. Again, Oyster is guilty here too. Of course a beautiful, serene beach next to a resort will have other people on it. It’s not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes to show it empty.

    1. For real estate agents, there’s a thing called ‘puffing’. It’s perfectly legitimate to say that it’s the prettiest house on the block, because it’s completely subjective. But you only say that it’s the largest house on the block if you’ve checked the assessor’s data for every house on the block.

      There’s nothing wrong with perking up the colors. Cropping is a gray area. If your crop job completely misrepresents the situation, you’d be hard pressed to defend it. Subtracting fixtures and buildings is flat out wrong.

      In real estate, the buyers will see the property in person and can tell if the photos misrepresent it. If you fly to another continent and discover that your hotel room has been grossly misrepresented, it’s a lot harder to walk away from the deal.

  11. I was thinking WTF? until I read the part that they’re from New York and that explained a lot. Seriously, bitching that the sky has clouds in it? The bedding lines aren’t perfectly horizontal? For world travellers that appear to be mighty parochial. What would they do with a beach hut in Phuket?

  12. Some of these are blatant misrepresentations, but that aside, I don’t see anything wrong with taking a picture in the best possible light, during the nicest possible sunset, with the best possible models you could afford in the foreground. What, people are surprised at this? Have they never heard of this thing called advertising? Is an ad that shows a model holding a handbag blatantly misrepresenting the handbag if said bag doesn’t actually make you look like a supermodel? Of course not.

    That said, I had a pretty funny one of my own when I was house hunting. There was a house that was one street over from the place I was currently renting in. My fiancee and I looked at the photo of the outside and thought… wait a minute… there’s something not quite right there. The house next door to it isn’t gray, is it? No, wait, the house next door is in fact bright red with bright blue accents!

    Clearly the sellers thought that having a bright red and blue house next door wouldn’t make a good selling point, so they took the liberty of completely photoshopping and desaturating the house, so that the photo was essentially half a black and white photo.

    When we asked the realtor, she just mumbled something about not having seen the picture.

  13. When reviewing a hotel, peruse Trip Advisor’s guest photos, 100% of the time.

    That said, some of Oyster’s examples were stretches, some were definitely not. In any case, good for them for bringing this shady practice more to light.

  14. Wow, I just checked the “insight” function on my YouTube channel and it seems I got 120+ views after posting that link to my Sofitel LA photomontage… thanks, Boingboingers!

  15. I work at mid level hotel that’s in a big chain. Our corporation decides who takes the photos, and we have NO say in the matter. Personally, at my hotel we hate the tricks with the lenses and cropping, because it does not give potential guests an accurate understanding of our property. Unfortunately, we do what the guys in suits say…

  16. The Hyatt Washington DC is the hotel in ‘In The Loop’ which is described as a hanger for business people, and from which the Capitol can only be seen through the windows of the glass building to its left.

  17. I also agree with you madu1. Oyster is just as manipulative as the hotel photogs just in the opposite direction trying to make everything look bad.

    Here are some of their tricks:

    – Take the photo at high noon with the composition of the many structures complete flat to the camera. No exposure adj and wait to get as many people in the frame as you can.

    – Don’t color balance anything to make sure that any natural warmth in the frame is completely gone on exteriors. I’m not talking about “sweetening”. I’m saying just run-of-the-mill white balance to show what the eye perceives in those situations. On interiors, they let the exposure be over saturated to yellow and blow out the lights in the room.

    – Make sure than some pics have crushed blacks and dark shadow areas just to make it look worse.

    – Use a wide angle in tight areas to make objects look pinched and far away.

    – Use HDR and bracketing and jack up the blended exposures so that it flattens the picture and has too much fill on the interiors.

    – The Jamaican photo. Add a front fill light not a big deal, and shoot at sunset. You could actually see that if it was light in real life that way. Instead oyster takes the photo at 2 pm pointing at the sun for max bad effect.

    The Hyatt photo by Oyster is actually better than the hotel one. Nice…

    These hotel photos aren’t “shopped” any more than white balance/time of day and use of a good lens with good angles. They added lighting at night and shot during off hours, some with most likely models too. Those are the extreme ones..but you see that in everything from Apple products to toilet paper. Why aren’t people pissed off about that?

    Are the Oyster photos “undoctured”? Yes, that’s true, but does undoctored bad photos equal to what you see in real life? No. Unless you have extreme wide angle lenses for eyes, and you cones/rods can’t handle the sudden light transitions so it blows out everything and has a yellow cast in interiors.

    You get my point..Honestly these guys sort of piss me off. They also have an agenda. To be the “watchdog” of the travel industry and get people riled up with their own “raw” photos to create traffic. You can trust us (and stay on our site for adverts and book with us).

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