I first became acquainted with Rick Souza, our CubiCasa Certified Photographer of the Month, when he responded to our newsletter request for suggestions for improving CubiCasa. Rick lives in Sevenoaks, England, UK, and is a professional architectural and real estate photographer with Madison Brook, a London based property company. He’s been working in the field for over ten years, and using CubiCasa to create floor plans six months (and counting!)
I remembered Rick when he reached out again several months later, to let us know how happy he was that we actually had implemented his suggestions, and gave us additional feedback:
Rick wrote, “I wish I’d tried CubiCasa before as it would have saved me hundreds of hours of my time, but having dined on honeydew and drank the milk of paradise, there’s no way I’m going back to sketching up floor plans the way I used to, haha. I noticed you actually did apply some of the suggestions I sent you, which was great!”
As I emailed Rick a note of thanks for his glowing comments, the reference to honeydew and milk of paradise seemed so familiar to me, and it finally clicked into place in my mind. At the risk of looking silly, I emailed Rick again to see if he was just waiting for me to pick up on the connection to the Rush song Xanadu… And a friendship was born!
It’s a little odd that this would happen, because while Rick fits the Rush fan demographic perfectly, I’m a bit of an outlier. There are not many females who love and follow this band, so this connection is something special. My level of devotion, however, is nothing compared to Rick’s! He’s seen the band in the UK, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia. He flew from Brazil to Canada to catch a couple of shows in 1997, the days before smartphones, using the early internet to arrange transportation via email list/forum, basically hitchhiking with a stranger who came from Detroit, and picking up a Brazilian fan along the way!
Just lately, Rick has been busy with his shoots for Madison Brook, his own personal work, and moving with his family of 5 into a new home.
Thanks Rick, for taking the time to catch up with us here!
Tammy: When did you first decide you wanted to be a photographer? What was your first camera?
Rick: I was always interested in music and visual arts, including photography, but I only started shooting when I came to live in the UK 20 years ago and saved up a little here and was then able to afford my first camera, which was a Canon EOS 300V (Rebel Ti for you guys in America), a little 35mm film camera (that makes me feel like a dinosaur, haha.) I later upgraded to another 35mm film camera before I finally transitioned to digital. For 10 years photography was a hobby, mainly shooting street scenes and landscapes, but while I dreamt of pursuing travel and wildlife photography before realising these were very competitive and expensive fields to break in, at this point I had no idea it would one day become a professional activity. Photography only became a bread winner in 2010-11, initially as a side hustler, shooting for a real estate agency, until I could take it up full time.
Tammy: Who has influenced you most as a photographer?
Rick: In my hobbyist years the likes of Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado, Ansel Adams and Fan Ho, whose works I surely still admire, were great influencers, but specifically in my field of work, I’ve looked up to names like Julius Shulman to mention an early interiors and architecture photographer, and some more contemporary names like Mike Kelly, Scott Hargis, and fellow London based photographers Alex Upton, Mark Hardy and Joas Souza have been a great inspiration.
Tammy: Considering your own work, do you have a favorite photograph? Would you share it here? Why is it your favorite?
Rick: Actually, my favourite couple of photos are not even from my portfolio of my line of work. My current favourite is from a set of travel/street photos and this one, in particular, is of a waiter on his cigarette break on a narrow street of the Barri Gothic in Barcelona in 2006. I just really like the light and atmosphere of it. There are others I quite like from other places I’ve been like China, Morocco, Egypt, Thailand, Laos and Brazil, but this one is probably my current favourite. It might not be technically perfect, but especially when it comes to this genre of photography, it is more about the light, the mood, the moment and the emotion it conveys to the viewer.
Tammy: Would you talk a little bit about how you balance everything – a full time job, your own personal work, and being there for your family?
Rick: For 10 years I was a one-man band trying to pay the household bills with Rick Souza Photo, and It was just too stressful both at busy times and at quiet times, for different reasons, of course, and, as a father of 3, I just had enough of not being able to safely budget and make plans for a family vacation, for example, without being nervous about being able to afford it. In other words, it was feast or famine and I wanted to get off this roller-coaster and enjoy the stability of a permanent job with a regular income, so when I came across the opportunity to start an in-house photo department for Madison Brook, which still allows me shoot for my private clients, I grabbed it by the horns, and it has been a great experience – they’re great to work with, a lovely bunch of people, really, and they seem to be happy with the work I’ve delivered so far. It’s only been 8 months and the company is on the rise and expanding, so hopefully it will be a long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. Shooting full time for a real estate company, it means the last thing I want is to shoot for other real estate clients, so with my own personal work, I am aiming at shooting more for architects, interior designers, home developers, and I want to shoot more for the hospitality industry as well, like bars, hotels, venues, etc. Being there for my family and spending time with my children is vital for me. They’re 6, 8 and 11 and I don’t want to miss these golden days as time flies and next thing you know they’re flying off the nest. I don’t want to spend my old days regretting not having spent more time with them.
Tammy: We’ve just barely touched on the subject of “imposter syndrome”, which I think many of us suffer from as creatives. Would you share a little about how that affects you, and if you have any suggestions for other creatives on how best to handle it?
Rick: Like in other professions, there are mediocre photographers who are commercially successful, just as there are amazing photographers that are a commercial failure. I am probably somewhere in the middle of both aspects. I could, and probably should, have hired or teamed up with someone to help me with my social media, for instance, which is something I fail at, or with networking, which I’m a bit better at, for my social nature, but not enough to secure clients.
If you’re not great on the business side of the thing, which can be more or less difficult, depending on how competitive the market is where you live, it is probably a good idea to leave certain aspects to someone else and let them help you.
Now, when it comes to the “imposter syndrome”, yes, I think it is a pretty “human nature” kind of thing and it happens not only with us creatives, but with all sorts of professional areas too, when you look at other people’s amazing work and think you suck at what you do, that you’ll never be as good as them or achieve the same level of success, and you feel terrible about it. But at the end of the day, if you are where you are, you’re probably not as bad as you think and you should both be grateful for having got there and use those other people’s amazing work as an inspiration.
Tammy: I’m curious to know how your day differs, as a photographer in the UK, from mine in the US. Do you typically have homes that are occupied when you shoot? Are things generally ready for you, or are you expected to help with staging when you arrive? How do you handle a property when it’s been scheduled for photography, but it’s really not ready?
Rick: The perfect day is when I shoot 2-3 homes that are vacant and with access via the concierge, saving me the trip to one of our offices (or other agent’s office) to grab the keys. This, however, is rarely the case. I think roughly half of the jobs I shoot are at occupied properties. It is, of course, a lot easier to work with home sellers, who are naturally interested and usually very good at decluttering and dressing up the place, than with tenants, who, most of the times, can’t be bothered, even though I do send them an email prior to the appointment, kindly asking – and helping – them to tidy up as best as possible. This has become a bit more tricky with the pandemic, as I think most people are not comfortable with a stranger handling their things. And speaking of the pandemic, I wear a face mask at all times. I also, always, even before the pandemic, remove my shoes (must make sure my socks are not embarrassing, ha.) I do take my time to walk around the property asking them to move a few things, if needed, or if the place is vacant, doing it myself, straightening curtains, rugs, fluffing cushions, etc. It has happened more than once, however, that I had to cancel and reschedule a job as the place looked more like a post war zone.
Tammy: What was your first job? And, what was your first photo job?
Rick: Since I arrived in the UK from Brazil over 20 years ago, I have worked all sorts of jobs – as a barman in a pub, selling food in office buildings, as a rickshaw rider, selling beer and burgers in sports events and concerts… among others. But my first photo job only happened 10 years later, and to this day, I can’t believe the clients actually paid for those horrible photos I took. At the time, I had my own catering business, basically a shop on wheels, selling food on several floors of an office building. A friend of mine, who worked at a small real estate agency near where I lived, didn’t know I was a photographer, but knew I was available in the afternoons, as I finished my food round at 1pm, so she asked if I wanted to make some extra cash on the side shooting their properties at £20 a go. I also had to sketch up, measure and finish a floor plan of the property on a floorplanning platform that actually proved to be quite unreliable with their calculations of total floor areas and gave us some problems with home sellers and buyers. I’d shoot 5-8 gigs a week, and that lasted for a year or so. During this time I honed my skills and improved the quality of my work considerably, enough to decide to go full time. I built a website, printed some business cards and A5 flyers and when I gave them notice that I was raising my fees, they didn’t want to pay and I think they found another beginner who agreed to work for peanuts. Luckily, after a couple of months knocking on doors, I landed a huge client, a company with both home developers and real estate agents, so they kept me very busy for a long time. Those were good days.
Tammy: What is the weirdest place or situation where you’ve had a photo shoot?
Rick: There was this one time, back in the days of sketch board and laser, when a client asked me to do a floor plan of the basement of an empty commercial unit in one of the oldest parts of London. London is very old and there’s no shortage of stories of ghosts and haunted buildings. It was winter and this was my last gig of the day, so it was cold and dark. Note, there was no power in the building, so I had to rely on my phone’s torch, and my phone was, you guessed, running low on battery. So, my client lets me in the building, tells me I can just see myself out after I finished and close the door behind me, goes back to his office for a meeting before he goes home for the day….and I’m left alone in this cold, dark and damp basement, with no phone signal and low battery. I finished my assignment and packed up eager to go home but when I tried the door basement door, it didn’t open. Unable able to call for help, I sat on the steps praying for a miracle and it was the longest 30 minutes of my life before the client, unexpectedly, thought he’d come back and check if everything was ok. I really thought I’d be stuck in that basement for who knows how long as the site was vacant. It was weird and scary.
Tammy: Do you create a floor plan for every listing? Is this required for listings in the UK? You’ve mentioned that you did floor plans the traditional way before finding CubiCasa. Can you share how you found us?
Rick: Yes, every listing has a floor plan!
A few years ago, floor plans were not a thing in the UK, and I hear that back in the days, if much, there would be a badly hand sketched layout of the property, probably very inaccurate. For 10 years I sketched up the properties and measured with a laser and in the beginning I would finish it using that platform I mentioned, but after some trouble with home sellers, buyers and agents challenging the total floor area and the calculation methods they used, I decided to fire them and started outsourcing my finished floor plans to an overseas company. They were cheap, reliable, and quick to turn around. I’d heard of CubiCasa before on one of the Facebook groups, so when I was given the task to set up the new in-house photography department for Madison Brook, when it came to decide who to use for our floor plans, and having tried out a few options,
CubiCasa was hands down the best one, so easy to use and producing accurate and beautiful floor plans. I was honestly shocked to finish scanning in 5-6 minutes a 4 bed, 3 floors, Victorian house that would probably take me 1:30 hours to sketch up and measure using my old method. And I must say that CubiCasa’s customer service should be a case study – so prompt, friendly and efficient. I’m really happy with my decision.
Tammy: Are there any resources that you find especially helpful, that you would like to share with other photographers?
Rick: When I started studying photography, back in the film days, and long before Youtube even existed, I would go to the library and second hand shops, and would bring home a bunch of books and magazines, and then I’d sit on the floor in my room and spend hours reading them. Then I’d go out and shoot, practicing what I’d learned. Today, there’s no shortage of resources online – courses and tutorials – to learn photography and photo editing, be it in whatever line of work. For real estate photographers, there’s the PFRE website with tons of information and resources. I’d recommend the Scott Hargis video series and also Mike Kelly’s. Also, Nathan Cool,Rich Baum and Mike Burke (Inside Real Estate Photography) have been good sources for learning useful tricks and techniques in shooting and editing.
Finally, for inspiration as a creative professional, I’d recommend Zack Arias’ book “Q&A”, and also his short film “Transform,” available on Youtube. He’s very down to earth and talks about the human side of creative professionals.
Tammy: Thank you so much, Rick for taking the time to connect with us! I really appreciate your great suggestions for resources – For our readers, Rick’s suggestion to watch “Transform” seems very timely. Zack Arias says in his film, “Winter Always Comes” and I am personally feeling winter right now. If you need a creative reset it’s a great place to start.
If you’d like to reach Rick, you can find him at Rick Souza Photography or Linkedin.