Photographing a Summer Home with Zach Hyman
Summer's go-to photographer for upstate properties, self-taught Zach Hyman's artistic practice focuses on identity and the distortion and reimagining of everyday objects and natural environments. Working between the Catskills and NYC, Zach's commercial work spans a wide range from set-stills on Sesame Street to still-life and fine art documentation to commercial interiors. Having perfectly captured the upstate Summer home aesthetic on multiple occasions, we wanted to chat more with Zach about what the world of Summer looks like through his camera lens.
You're a Brooklynite who decided to make the move to the Catskills! What made you decide to take your work upstate, and what do you love about the area?
As a kid, I moved all over– from California, to Texas, to Pennsylvania. I attended acting school at North Carolina School of the Arts for conservatory acting training, leaving about halfway through for NYC to pursue a career as an artist and photographer. I had been in Brooklyn since 2007 and had family on the east coast; my grandparents live in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania and I had always loved visiting for the quiet surroundings, and to explore and photograph nature. They were trying to sell their house in early 2019, and my wife and I had just signed a lease on a photo studio. I made some solid attempts at convincing family members to keep the home in the family, but sadly to no avail. At the end of 2019, I was wrapping up a solo show in Mexico City, where my wife is from, and coming back fresh into 2020 raising our one-year-old daughter. At this point, we were happily renting a large photography studio in east Williamsburg in which we found success. However, I've shot stills on Sesame Street for the past 13 years, and had just finished the season when the pandemic hit, essentially bringing my work to a halt and forcing us to close up the studio. With lots of caution and care, we had daily trips with our rapidly-growing one-year-old to Brooklyn's many parks; there was one moment watching my daughter happily and freely enjoy the fresh air and greenery in Prospect Park that was the final push I needed to make the move. Having toyed with the idea of leaving the city for quite some time, my wife and I began the process of putting offers in on multiple homes– a process that came with many bidding wars, lots of pressure, and overall chaos, no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic. Finally, we found a house that didn’t seem to have much interest…funny enough, I think it was because of the photography that was used in the listing. We went up and saw it and that’s where we’ve been for a little over two years now.
"I love being able to walk out of my door and sense nature in every way, and for our family to be in touch with that part of our world."
We do like it though! I don’t think my decision necessarily had to do with my work– in fact, that might've actually been the one thing holding me back all that time. But after a little over two years of being up here, I’ve been able to find a substantial amount of work near and around the Catskills, including my work with Summer. I still travel back into the city frequently for clients; it’s a two-hour drive that you quickly get used to, and there are a number of other transportation options. My personal work has taken on a number of new and interesting shapes that comes more naturally and with less distraction. I love being able to walk out of my door and sense nature in every way, and for our family to be in touch with that part of our world. I very quickly took up gardening the first summer season we had, and in my eyes I’m very good at it and committed to it. I love the way being here makes you think about your inner and outer world, and pushes you to really consider your impact on your surroundings and on others both near and far. I’m also never bored– between working, our family, working on our house, gardening in the summer, and firewood management in the winter, we've got a lot going on! The City was overwhelming to me when I was living there, but now when I’m back for work or extended visits I'm able to fully appreciate it and enjoy being there very much.
How did you first hear about Summer, and how did you know we'd be a good fit for you and your photography?
I was recommended to Summer by Ninze Chen from Long Weekend, who has become an upstate friend of mine and with whom I've shot for her store, Long Weekend, in Livingston Manor. I have a pretty diverse portfolio, but I have shot a lot of interiors for Diptyque, installation images, and fine art documentation for galleries and a number of hotels for their websites and occasional advertisements. I knew Summer would be a good fit for my work because of the more editorial aesthetic, as opposed to standard wide-corner shots that are seen on nearly every generic listings website.
"I knew Summer would be a good fit for my work because of the more editorial aesthetic, as opposed to standard wide-corner shots that are seen on nearly every generic listings website."
From your point of view, what makes the Summer home aesthetic unique? Do you approach photographing Summer properties differently than other homes you photograph?
I think what makes the homes within the Summer network unique is the obvious focus on truly investing in the aesthetics of each property; Summer is thoughtful about who they hire in terms of contractors, designers, stylists, and photographers who they know will help them achieve the level of buildout and overall feel for which they're aiming. My aim is to photograph Summer’s homes as if I had the pride of living there, and to give the best-and-truest version of how it might feel to live or stay in the space. There there are moments in my own home that I love photographing– certain areas and times of day, reflections, light play, objects, and more–, and since a lot of these homes are yet to be lived in, there are focal points and moments that have already been assessed and highlighted by Summer’s team.
"My aim is to photograph Summer’s homes as if I had the pride of living there, and to give the best-and-truest version of how it might feel to live or stay in the space."
What are some of the most important elements to consider when photographing a home for short-term rental listings?
If staging, styling, and design are overlooked, photographing a space becomes much more challenging and a lot less interesting to look at. Lighting is always a challenge, because you never know what kind of natural light will exist on the shoot day. I do bring additional lighting on shoots, but in an ideal world I really love to mix artificial and natural light.
Zach Hyman is an artist and photographer living in the Western Catskills with his wife, daughter, cat and dog. His artistic practice focuses on identity and the distortion and re-imagining of everyday objects and natural environments. Working between the Catskills and NYC his commercial work spans a wide range from set-stills on Sesame Street to still-life and fine art documentation to commercial interiors. He is self taught with the help of some very important mentors. Follow along with Zach's latest work on Instagram.
Have more questions for Zach or the Summer team? Drop us a line anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.