Dollar and a Dream: Peter Cirilli

March 13, 2019


has been making a name for himself around the hills of Burlington over the last couple of years as one of the hardest working and most talented photographers in the city. Through a combination of a relentless work ethic and an impressive body of work, Pete's just a few months removed from graduating college and already earning his keep as a professional photographer. From being a contracted photographer for Burton Snowboards to his full time gig at Driven Studio, he's truly living the life that many young photographers dream of. In a profession that's loaded with talent and competition, we thought we'd get in touch with Pete to find out what he attributes his success to.

Image Courtesy of Driven Studio
Alright, so let’s start this thing from the beginning here- how long ago did you start shooting photos?

I started shooting about six years ago. It started my sophomore year of high-school. I was starting to get really bored of just going to school, and going to crew practice every day and wanted to switch things up a little.

What was it that got you started?

I was always involved with some sort of sport whether it was baseball, soccer, snowboarding and skateboarding. There was something about the fast moving subjects that I was really interested in so when I was a sophomore I bought my first point and shoot camera from Target with my Mom. I took that thing everywhere shooting every thing I could think of. It really came in handy when shooting snowboarding and skiing because I could just throw it in my pocket and go. Another year passed in high school and I was working at a grocery store so I could put gas in my truck and it was the summer before my senior year of high school I attended a film making camp at Wesleyan University in CT. That camp flipped a switch in my head and it was game on. I got home after the five weeks and immediately kept on working so I could split a new camera with my dad. By the end of the summer I was shooting with a Canon rebel T1i which ended up lasting me the next 2 years. That winter was when things really got moving. I was shooting snowboarding on the weekends and going to every single basketball game during the week capturing and editing hundreds of photos in one night. Once I started shooting basketball, I started to see a reaction from my photos people starting gravitating towards them and really liking them. That was when I realized I could do this for the rest of my life.

What other photographers do you look up to or follow?

I would say Blotto is easily one of my favorite photographers. He has been through it all and has so many years of experience it’s insane. He is known as Burton’s principal of photography, but he is able to adapt to shoot anything. It is absolutely amazing watching him photograph an event, because he doesn’t stand still. He is always moving around finding a new way to shoot something. And speaking of moving around he is traveling almost all year. Whether he is in new or old places he seems to find a new way to shoot it every time.

How would you define your style of photography?

I don’t really know if I have a style of photography because I shoot such a wide range of subjects. I guess you could say my favorite style is when I am using flashes and really trying to define the subject in a different light. Don’t get me wrong I am all for using natural light when I am able to, but there is something about using flashes that I really like. You are able to take a very flat image and bring it to life, add definition to what ever it is you are shooting. Style is something that can change every time you go out and shoot as well. One day you could really be feeling black and white photography and shoot everything natural light with a higher contrast to create compelling black and white imagery, and other days you really want to focus on lighting the subject perfect so it creates a more defined image.

"I think being bored scares the shit out of me. I don’t like doing nothing."
You’re known around town as someone who is almost always down to shoot. It seems like everyday you’re out shooting something new and then posting the proof to Instagram or Facebook. What motivates you to have such a ridiculous work ethic?

I think being bored scares the shit out of me. I don’t like doing nothing. I am working every day during the week at Driven Studio as a Graphic Designer and Photographer, but my afternoons and nights are pretty free, so I am always trying to shoot something whether it be skateboarding, fishing, biking, anything really, I just need to be occupied. I also think that my parents work ethic has rubbed off on me because they have both been working so hard since they were in high-school, so I feel like I have to follow in their foot steps. People always think I’m working to hard but theres that saying that if you love what you are doing it’s not work, and I absolutely love what I’m doing.

What’s been one of the best or most memorable shoots for you so far?

Shooting the Burton US Open the second time around has been the most memorable shoot for me. I paid my way Junior year of college to the US Open and shot from the sidelines and slept on a friends couch all week, sent the images to a friend at Burton and last year I was hired to shoot the whole week. All access pass to one of the best snowboarding events in the world. I got to shoot with some of the best snowboarders in the world alongside Blotto. Overall the week was one of the best experiences because I got to shoot what I love, and was able to meet and hang out with some of the world’s best.

A friend of ours gave me some insight into your schedule last Winter- it sounded ridiculous. Can you break it down a bit for us?

Last winter was the busiest I have ever been. I was offered to be the contracted photographer for the Burton Qualifiers series. The series consisted of 7 stops all around North America at different mountains where riders would come and compete on a custom built terrain park, and qualify for the finals where there was a cash purse of $10,000. My job was to travel to each stop and photograph the event for the recap. It was a gig that I couldn’t really turn down because when else would I be able to travel around North America and go to all these new mountains all in one winter. The tough part about the situation was school and work…At this point I was enrolled at Champlain College as a full time student in my senior year, while also working at Driven Studio when I wasn’t in class. I had already accepted the job not knowing I would have to fly out on Friday mornings and wouldn’t return until Sunday night. Luckily I was able to work it out with my professor and with work, that I could take Fridays off so I was able to make it to the mountains in time for the event. So after a long week of school and work I would wake up at an ungodly hour Friday mornings to catch a flight out, scope out the set up Friday nights, wake up early again Saturday morning help set up all the branding, shoot all day, edit photos that night then hop on a plane Sunday morning and head home. It was a lot of work and lack of sleep but I wouldn’t trade that winter for anything. I was able to travel, meet so many new friends, come home with some awesome photographs, and still finish out my senior year, and hold onto an amazing job at Driven Studio.

If you had a few words of advice for someone who’s just found their passion for photography, what would they be?

Share your work, and don’t be afraid of critique. Critique helps you and your work grow. You are never going to be able to create an image that everyone loves so embrace the criticism. Use it as fuel to create an even better image the next time.

So here’s a scenario: your buddy just convinced you to hop in the car and go on a two day trip to Montreal with him. You’re not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, but you pack camera bag anyways. What’s in it?

Canon 1dx Mark II, Canon 5D Mark III, 70-200 f/2.8L, 17-40 f/4L, 50 f/1.2L, 40 f/2.8 Pancake, Canon 600 ex-rt Speedlite, Pocketwizard TT1 and TT5, Clik Elite foldable chair, Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod with ball head, Outdoor Tech Kodiak Plus Power Bank, shit ton of snacks, water bottle, and extra batteries.

Describe an average day in the life for you:

Wake up, shower, get dressed, make breakfast for my girlfriend and I, pack lunch, check emails, drive to work at Driven Studio, get off of work, go to the skatepark, meet up with the homies, skate for about 30 minutes, then head out to a street spot or two, stack some photos and clips, go home eat dinner, edit photos, then hit the bed.

Have you been able to turn photography into a living yet?

Partially. In order to turn it into a living, I either need to have enough clients to keep me afloat or work as an in house photographer for a company. Right now I am a designer and photographer, which is awesome because I am learning how the two mediums work together. Like I said before, working at Driven has been awesome because I am able to continue my freelance work while learning more and more about design.

"Share your work, and don’t be afraid of critique. Critique helps you and your work grow."
Way down the road, how do you see photography in your life? Do you hope it becomes your full time career, or would you rather pursue other ventures and let it be purely a passion?

I see photography being the rest of my life. I want to push my photography to the next level every day and shoot everything and if I can get paid for it, even better. I would eventually love to have my own studio where I can shoot studio photography, and also travel for various clients.

So what’s up next for you then?

Right now kind of just letting the rest of summer ride out, trying to shoot as much skating as possible, working on a project with Dan Hopkins, trying to create a little skate movie about Vermont. Then come winter time back to traveling on the weekends with Burton and working at Driven Studio during the week! Pretty pumped to not have homework any more.

Alright, so last question. At last count, you had just under 2,500 followers on Instagram. How many more do you think you’ll need before you can call yourself a successful photographer? (jokes)

Damn, I need to get to at least 10k before I can start saying that.

But on a serious note, I think before Facebook got a hold of Instagram, it was a very powerful tool for photographers because within seconds they could shoot a photo, and upload it for the world to see. I know for a fact it has helped me get exposure, and critique on my work. Even the the algorithm is all messed up now and you see more ads than your friends posts, it is still a pretty useful tool to showcase your work.

Thanks toPeter Cirilli for letting us interview him, as well as all of the photo help he's given us over the last couple of years! Be sure to go follow him on Instagram so he can hit that 10k mark, and keep an eye on Hemetic on Instagram and Facebook to catch our next installment of, "Dollar and a Dream"


Portfolio Site:

Facebook: @PeterCirilliPhotography

Instagram: @petercirilliphotography

All Images Shot By Peter Cirilli Unless Otherwise Noted

Further Reading