From Country Holiday Lets

Despicable and delightful  vacation rental cottage photos

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This is not one of my best efforts, perhaps, because it is written with the uncertainty of someone still learning. Hoping it is better than ‘The Curates Egg’, i.e: good in parts, I decided to plough on and publish.

Recent years have seen a decline in the importance of star ratings.  15 years ago, all you had to go on was a single photo, if you were lucky; today, 24 or more photos are common.  These trump the opinions of inspectors assuming, of course, that ‘what you see is what you get’.

The let at The Long Mynd is a good example of this: The Old Stables

Modern cameras are incredible bits of kit. They are robust, have no film or developing costs and, as long as you are reasonably careful, appear to go on for ever.  My two digital cameras have been used to take over 8,000 pictures and, except for the need to keep an eye on the deterioration of rechargeable batteries, they simply will not die.

The summerhouse rotates to follow the sun.  The little dog barked happily at its own reflection, elated by the sheer novelty of it all.

Getting pictures right is not just taking them well.  They need to be managed; that means careful planning as well as taking good, useful and atmospheric pictures. 

There are standard shots that most people expect when selecting cottages to visit.  It is essential to get these right.  The first rule is to take pictures of every room in the holiday let.  People are wising up; if you miss out a room, the immediate suspicion is that it’s not up to standard; that there is a reason why it has been omitted.  The simple solution is to sort out the room and, then, take the picture.  There’s no point in kidding yourself by pretending you can get away with such a banal and obvious deception.

I mention this because, amongst those holiday cottages that do not make the grade, it is far from uncommon when making improvement suggestions for owners to say: “but you don’t have to take a picture of that room.”  They are out of step with modern times.  This sort deception is history; don’t even think about it.

Cliché shots also include atmosphere shots.  These are important because many people find it pleasant to be prompted to imagine how lovely it will be when they stay at the cottage.  Although a picture of a bottle of wine and a few glasses glinting in the sun may appear super obvious, it makes the atmosphere and softens the presentation by adding the promise of relaxation and the exclusion of the rush and stress of life that makes holidays so valuable.

Eardisland in the Sunshine



 Turning round, something seemed to be clambering up the tree. Poor light. I will return when it is in full sun and remove that bit or iron railing.

The formula we use is to work through the cottage featuring pictures following the walk round. Thus, en-suites are next to pictures of their bedrooms, kitchens next to dining rooms or lounges and so on.  

It is tempting to do a movie of the property.  These are of questionable value because people tend to only look at the movie after a decision has been made.  However, for large vacation rental lets, a movie can be useful where the final rental decision is to be taken by several people.  In general, movies do not pay their way.  Ironically, once the decision to rent has been made, the movie often gets the attention you wish it had before the booking was made.

Stick to stills if you can and try to make sure they are good.  It can be an idea, if using a slide show, to intersperse the walk around pictures with outside shots of the garden or close area, so softening the presentation, adding atmosphere and selling the cottage and area in one package.  It is a common mistake to forget that guests are buying a holiday not a tenancy.

Anticipation is an important part of a holiday… in this respect, the movie is a good extra, but in terms of return on investment the movie tends to be far less significant than if the money were spend on really good stills and a good presentation.

The technical aspect is something that I learnt through trial and error.  However, there are some very good simple tricks that can radically short cut learning time.  It is well worth seeking out advice.  It took me several months to learn how to take shot over the top of doors of bathrooms where otherwise I would appear in mirrors.  Taking shots of small rooms holding the camera up high is another simple alternative.  There are dozens of tricks. 

Some mid range cameras work better outside where others do better inside.  My outside camera loses definition in low light where the inside camera does not do quite so well outside.  This is a bit irritating as I find myself lugging around 2 and, sometimes, 3 cameras with all the extras such as batteries, cases, lens caps, etc:.

My first camera
The outside camera

It is worth experimenting with every setting to see what they do and what you can do with them. Surprisingly, many owners never do this, preferring to stick to a couple and putting up with an artificial and unnecessarily poor quality of picture. Doing this takes a bit of time, but it is vastly easier, now, than once it was when the cost of such experiments in terms of film and developing was significant.

If you have only a few cottages to photograph or just one, you have a distinct advantage. Sometimes, I have to do two photo sessions in one day, often taking 300 or so pictures.  The necessary speed to get the job done, catch the best of the light and, sometimes, the leaping around can take it out of you.  But this also reduces the opportunity to use any special lighting, to take pictures when the natural light is at its best and to spend a bit of time planning pictures.


You can get some quite good effects with basic cameras: this one was, sadly, no use for the business.  I had to perch it on a medieval buttress and wait for what seemed like hours for the exposure.  A low light lens would have been useful.

The process of making sure all the necessary shots are done makes things much easier.  Then, you can do the optional shots which can be used in between the information shots to connect the cottage to its situation and to help create the impression of a holiday destination not to be missed.

Photographs should be refreshed as often as practical.  They are the single most important selling item and time, care and money should be lavished on them.  Getting them wrong is costly.  Getting them right pays off.  Do not fall into the common trap of spending more on the nuts and bolts of your web site whilst putting up with compromise second best photographs.

If you have to, go out and buy a camera that will get the results you need.  It may cost you $400 or more but, assuming you take care buying the right one, it will pay back handsomely.

As for me, I am still under pressure to buy another camera… but the thought of having to learn how it all works is a bit daunting.  As is so often the case, it’s easy dishing out the medicine, but taking your own advise is quite another matter.  I am going to have to face this challenge, sooner or later.

The light is all.  Blue sky shots are worth several bookings a year. If you do a good job, paying for an inspector becomes far less necessary.  The money saved could go well towards a decent camera, all by itself.

I do hope this is useful. Taking pictures is an intensely personal matter; getting it right can be quite difficult.  However, if you are technically not that great, but get the subject of the pictures right, you are well on the way.  

‘Despicable’ is for those who drive business to you. You want ‘delightful’.

The view from Little Gem

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I blame the camera

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Yes, it did make an appearance so I quickly rang up one of our smaller cottage owners to ask permission to take some more photographs. In my haste, of course, I dialled the wrong number, such was the urgency.

Their August is busy but there was a day clear and the light was perfect. The occupy 2 cottages have not had such a good year in our area so it is particularly important to get good pictures up on site as soon as practical.

Leaping into the battered Peugot travelled five miles to the Black and White picture village. These villages are remains of a vernacular architecture which was once common in many parts of the UK. It survived in this area, partly, because history by-passed for about 350 years. I find black and white rather garish, not least, because it is a Victorian creation.

Many timbered houses were, originally, lime rendered. The Victorians took off the render and applied black which was often a free by-product from the local gasworks. I have spent many days removing this from the timbers on our house in Leominster. For some strange reason, there has been a fashion to paint black on internal timbers.. in already fairly dark houses, this Victorian fashion makes interiors even darker.

Taking photographs of black and white interiors can be very difficult. Even before you start the sheer fussiness of the painted structure does not help. Then people often add flowery cushions, olde worldie accessories.

The good news was that the place I was visiting did not have black beams in its interior… and the location is close to the heart of a well known Black and White village. It was the best of both worlds.

The usual need to some rearrangements of the furniture had to be arranged and the owners were patient over this. You tend to get that special look from owners when they spy you shunting bits around, removing brightly coloured but practical table cloths, putting the loo lid down, removing washing up bottles, sponges etc from sinks and making other tweaks ready for the photos. They scan the altered room and you see them making a conscious, and deeply appreciated, effort to just let the photo man get on with doing his job.


Sometimes, the problem can be much more extreme.

I went to one let that need urgent decluttering. It was new to the market and much of the clutter belonged to recently departed and deeply loved parents. However, business had to be done. So making apology for what was to come, 30 minutes of quite intense work saw a table groaning with this and that out of photo shot on the patio. Back into the house the camera was brought into action.

At the end, I said to the owner that I was to put everything back as it was guessing, fortunately I was correct, that he may choose another alternative. Sure enough, he decided to put nearly all the groaning table stuff into storage. In parting, I apologised and said it was rather like stepping on someones grave. He, very kindly, said that perhaps this (in my opinion rather brutal) decluttering had helped.

The photos were not that good and I blame the camera… of course, the real reason was, I think, that the emotions and other hidden sensitivities, certainly, did not help.

Returning to the small let, I took the photos and then started on the exterior and area. The sun then decided to to AWOL but, in an irritating way, teased by ducking and diving between the clouds. Hurried shots to get the light are nearly always second best. Even worse, these shots have a much greater tendency to be blurred.

What creates a good shot is as much to do with the state of the photographer as the camera. Although you do need a good basic standard of camera to get usable pictures, a steady hand and calm emotions are absolutely essential. Sensitivity is a friend as well as an enemy. Good and interesting composition benefits enormously from sensitivity but that same ally can turn into an enemy because you can, equally, be easily upset which feeds straight through to wretched pictures.

The photographer and the camera are, as it were, all one picture taking device. Making sure the creature that pushes the button is in good form and sufficiently highly specified as the bit of technology it handles is all part of the job. If anything is to be blamed, it’s nearly always the combined apparatus.

After about an hour or so, running around chasing the light, I got back into my car and went home. On the way back the exhaust pipe fell off which seemed to put the cherry on the cake.

Ah well. Another day. Although far from my best, at least the pictures were useful.

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