Please join me in welcoming our Featured Photographer, Peter Lyons!
Interviewing and getting to know our Certified Photographers is definitely a highlight of my work at CubiCasa. I’ve come to know so many amazing photographers through this process, usually through email and sometimes the occasional in person chat or zoom meeting. This interview with Peter feels extra special though, because we actually met in real life at PFRE (now PMRE) 2021, and shared a virtual adventure at Area15, surviving an immersive mission to Mars, along with our friend, Emily Olman of Hopscotch Interactive!
Peter is an architectural and interior photographer in the Bay Area, and clearly a lover of the ocean and anything that travels by water. Let’s catch up with Peter!
Tammy: Hey Peter! It’s so good to talk with you, thank you so much for taking the time to visit!One of the things I notice when I look at your work is that it’s so clean and has a very modern aesthetic. You also do a lot of splitting the frame to show just part of a piece of furniture, which I love, and lots of one point perspective. Are you working primarily with designers, and can you talk a little bit about the differences between a shoot for a designer and a shoot for a real estate agent?
Peter: Great talking with you again, too, Tammy! It was so good to meet you in Vegas last year and I hope to see you again this time around at PMRE.
You are seeing a lot of clean, modern aesthetic on my website because that’s what I most love to shoot, not necessarily because it’s what I shoot the most! The truth is I shoot plenty of ordinary homes, too, and while I will shoot those in a similar way, I still get to curate my own portfolio to try and attract the projects I’d most love to shoot.
I work with all kinds of clients: designers, architects, contractors, and real estate agents. And while I do have Realtors who stay involved with the shoots, looking at the photos on the tethered iPad, those by definition have to move along a lot more quickly than, say, an interior design shoot. With a Realtor, I can typically shoot 35 photos of a 3000 square foot house in about 2.5 hours, while with an interior designer we may spend all day making 12-15 photos. I truly enjoy all my work and all my clients, but if I had to choose, the slow, deliberate process of composing and staging and styling for interior design is so rewarding just because in the end you have photos that are this perfect collaboration of a few creatives working together. I love that.
Tammy: Would you tell us a little about your life with photography? How did you get started? What was your first job? Your worst job, and best? and how did you end up finding this niche? What is your dream assignment?
Peter: Photography was an interest from the time I was about 13, but I didn’t make it my first career, probably in part because I wasn’t aware of viable directions to take it aside from weddings, portraits, and photojournalism. So I came back to it in my mid-30s after working a decade as a photogrammetrist (basically a cartographer) and another six years as a software developer. I spent some time at Rocky Mountain School of Photography exploring options, and wound up in the Bay Area, where I bought a chase boat and started shooting the sailboat racing fleets. That was a cool gig but a very poorly-considered business move. High expenses, scarce income opportunities. I’m glad I did it for a while because I still get a few cool jobs a year from those connections, but it was when that became clear that I pressed myself to seek something more viable. I found it via colleagues Thomas Grubba and Scott Hargis, each of whom had enough content online that I could find them and start to explore real estate and architectural photography.
My first jobs were just basic real estate shoots, nothing crazy. But once I got plugged in, there was a decent bit of work, which allowed me to shoot enough to build my skills. The PFRE Group on Flickr and the other groups on Facebook were a huge help, with all the great people on there who continue to help and inspire me today.
My favorite jobs tend to be the full-day shoots with interior designers, builders, or architects, where I can really slow down and collaborate with my client to get the absolute best possible photos I can make in those spaces. Worst jobs–oh, I’ve shot places that are half burned down, but I’m in and out real quick so I guess they’re easy money.
Tammy: Who is your favorite photographer, or a photographer who inspires you, and why?
Peter: I’m a huge fan of Joe Fletcher. I absolutely love his respect of light and shadow and color temperature, as well as his compositional skills. He has a large portfolio of projects on his website, which I’ll spend an hour or two browsing every now and then to remind me how good this can be. I like that he challenges me sometimes with his creative decisions–he’ll shoot at some shallow oblique angle that I wouldn’t let myself shoot, and it works beautifully. Or he’ll really let an interior read super moody, in a way I wouldn’t expect my clients to be pleased with, yet the way he presents it, it just looks amazing and reminds me to keep moving in that direction in my own work.
Tammy: What is the one piece of gear you cannot do without?
Peter: My CamRanger! I can’t shoot without that thing. I totally rely on being tethered and having the camera beam images to one or two iPads during shoots. A lot of the time by the time the camera is where I want it, I can’t get my head behind it, but even if I could, there’s no replacement for seeing the view so nice and large. I only roughly compose through the viewfinder, then refine using CamRanger. It’s indispensable, too, when collaborating with clients on the set.
Tammy: What books are on your nightstand right now? Are there any books or resources that have been especially helpful to you that you’d like to share with other photographers?
I find I don’t get time to read, but I have tons of time for podcasts and audiobooks. My favorite topically-relevant podcast is 99% Invisible, which covers all things design, including architecture.
In nonfiction books, I love anything and everything by Malcolm Gladwell, and would also highly recommend the autobiographies of Tara Westover: “Educated” and Megan Phelps-Roper: “Unfollow“.
In fiction, “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah seems to always bubble back up to the top position on my favorites list.
Tammy: Peter, did you grow up in the Bay Area? It is clear that you have a deep love for the water, please tell us about your Maritime work!
Peter: I grew up in the midwest (Naperville, Illinois) and developed my love of the water throughout my childhood. So as an adult I eventually found my way close to it. This part of my career is sorta on the line between professional work and personal project. If I don’t make it a deliberate priority I can go too long without focusing on it. When I get really busy with the architecture and real estate shoots that can happen, and I need to remind myself that the personal work is important, too. Happily, even if I don’t make it the priority I should, the jobs do find me, occasionally. A couple months ago I got to fly down to San Diego to shoot aboard tugboats in the harbor for a day. I’d love to land more gigs like that.
Tammy: It’s hard to believe we are coming up on the end of the year. How have things been for you with the changes in the market? Have you made any changes to your business this year, or added services? Have floor plans been beneficial, and what’s your feedback been from your clients?
Peter: It has been a wild few years! And this year was no exception. There have been periods of being slammed busy, and others of being dead quiet. I’ve given up on trying to predict where it’s all going, and just ride it out. But generally business has been good. While I’ve tried in the past to add additional services to my repertoire, I’ve always kept coming back to offering just still photos, and subcontracting to others for other products and services when requested.
CubiCasa floor plans have been a welcome exception. I dragged my feet for quite some time, thinking a floor plan created by a quick scan literally with a smartphone couldn’t possibly be any good. But when I finally saw it demonstrated at the PFRE Conference in 2021, I was converted. Since then I’ve done dozens of these for clients, and honestly, it’s probably the easiest money I make. It’s super quick, amazingly accurate, and definitely meets the needs of my residential real estate clients. Everyone has been super pleased with them, and it’s been especially great for clients who want a floorplan to supplement the photos, but don’t want the experience or cost of a full 3D scan.
Tammy: Thank you again for sharing with us Peter! My last question is, if people would like to reach out or follow you, where can they find you?
Peter: I’m spotty on social media (IG @peterlyonsphoto and @plp_maritime), so the best way to see my work is at peterlyonsphoto.com, and the best way to reach me is via email at email@example.com.