Photographing Models in Motels

I like motels because they represent a type of freedom. They are disposable habitats that you enjoy and leave behind. Of course I don’t like having to pay for them. Maybe I can get some Motels to host me in exchange for taking romantic pics of their establishment. The thing is, I would wanna do it my way, with colored lighting and accentuating the features of the Motel that aren’t exactly typical commercially marketable. But art is marketable. Well as the very least, I’ll have them sign a property release so I can make money off the pics. Let’s move on.

Her Motel Room

Jennifer was staying in a long term motel and it was very small but had all the things you need to have a good life and get on to the next step in the journey. She made it her own space and surrounded herself with her few possessions, mostly books. She’s smart and she enjoyed my request to play The Smiths during our first vignette. We blacked out the world’s ugliest curtain that came with the room and set up lights. She already had string lights running all over the walls. She had made this her own magical special place. She needs her own space. She’s a thinker and I could relate.

models in motels with blue and purple light


This was a new term for me. I saw in her instagram that she relates closely with the sentiments of Anarcho-Veganism and when she spoke her truth, it felt genuine. I can’t say I can fully relate to all of it but it’s still new to me. But I have learned that animal rights and human rights go hand in hand with this school of thought. She had a lot of other interesting things to talk about that resonated deeply with me and compassionately showed me that some of my own fears around what others think about me shouldn’t determine my actions or hinder me from being my own genuine self. I appreciated her for this.

My Lenses

I had a cheap lens and a more upper mid lens for this shoot. The cheap one handled the wide shots. That’s a 24mm full frame lens on a full frame Canon 5D mkiii. The closeups like shown below are a 50mm 1.4 USM Canon lens. I love this lens. I bought it when I was shooting for Amazon/Zappos in Louisville, KY. They provided the cameras and lenses but I happened to buy it while on that job because I was making money and the first thing I do with money is buy cool stuff. But the wide shots were wish a very cheap lens, but it does a great job so I use it.

The Lighting

I must say I had fun with the lighting. Here’s the thing. I used all hard light. It’s very rare for a model to take hard light and not look all fucked up and not need a lot of editing. I don’t edit. I light and compose, and I wait for the right model. I could never edit so many images as I have posted in these articles. So I’m really grateful to work with Jennifer because every angle of light works with her so well.

I used cheap colored RGB LED lights from Amazon. (buy them here to help me make money)
I use a more pro LED Panel for my key light: (Amazon link here)
And 3 or 4 light stands like this

The Story

Lately I’ve been really annoyed looking as some of my old shots where I didn’t have enough space around the models. The shots didn’t give enough context and meaning to the situation. The context is what can make an image interesting and tell a story. The mind will always look for meaning, and if you give it things to work with, it will stay busy and get more involved with an image. So I’ve been paying more attention to how I frame up my images, to the point that I’ll set up a shot for quite a while before doing any shooting, until the larger background and greater space is all in place and the largest crop is established. I call these establishing shots.

The Location

Every location has a story. Stick to the story I say. Explore the location and move through it asking the meaning of the relationship of the location with the subject of the story. It’s ok to manufacture ideal scenarios to depict some romantic qualities, as far as my own style goes. I can’t wait around for 3 days for something to happen. Even news photojournalism will often recreate aspects of a story. Besides, it’s fun. Have fun and make something interesting that feels genuine. I’m primarily making art, and secondarily telling pieces and parts of a story that will usually ultimately remain a mystery.

The Composition

Everything comes together to make the composition. You have to use your instinct to guide you along with the basic rules and questions that have to be answered. It’s a bit of opportunism and a bit of design. It isn’t ever easy.

In Closing

We used every part of the motel-studio apartment except the closet. I was beat mentally and physically by the time we got finished with this final set in the bathroom. It was pretty ridiculous and comical at this point. I’m happy with all the experimentation and creative collaboration that was had this day.


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