Shopping & Arts

Local Book Spotlight: Austin, Texas- A Photographic Portrait

My friend and fellow food blogger, Peter Tsai, is now a published photographer! I am so excited to feature his Austin photo book that launched earlier this week. I interviewed him because I had so many questions about how the project started (3 years ago!), what it entailed, and what it was like to work with a publisher and a writer he never met. Most notable quote from my in-person pre-interview:

“Digital photography is the intersection of technology and art. Now that everything is digital, you have engineering and technical types like myself getting into photography and people who are interested in numbers. But, there’s more to it than math in what makes a good photo.”

Take a look, then buy his book!

1. What is your name, age, where are you from?

My name is Peter Tsai and I’m 30 years old. I was born in a small town called Oak Ridge, TN. I moved to Atlanta, GA when I was 11 and stayed there for college. When I turned 21, I came to Austin and I’ve loved living here ever since.
2. What area did you study and in what industry do you work?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech and got recruited by Dell to do computer programming straight out of school. Over the years I  discovered that I’m more of a people person than a thought, so after a a few job changes within Dell I’m now a technical marketer / blogger / community manager at Dell, working on the website
I did take a couple semesters of the photo degree program at Austin Community College (ACC) as well.  The nationally recognized program is excellent if you have the time to dedicate to going to school.
3. When did you get into photography?
I probably caught the photo bug as a side effect of having the travel bug. I always wanted to take pictures of the places I visited, but I never really had decent camera until my brother got me a nice point and shoot camera for Christmas before a study abroad trip to China in 2000.  While I was there, I went through over 30 rolls of film!
When I started making money in college, I upgraded to a digital camera which allowed me to take infinitely more pictures without the cost of developing film. Since then, my life has included a steady progression of better cameras, more trips abroad, and an ever growing library of digital photos.
4. What do you like best about photography and do you specialize in one type of photography?
I like working in the technology industry but I need a creative outlet outside of work.  Because photography is the intersection of technology and art, and it allows for personal expression, it suits my personality well.  Also, the photography community in Austin is really strong – I’ve made a lot of friends over the years through various meetups and photo groups around town.
I don’t really specialize in one type of photography but my favorite subjects are travel, dance (especially breakdance), and environmental portraiture.  Whenever I can, I like to capture a sense of motion in my photos.
5. What book are you launching (include publisher info- I may have this already)?
My photography book is called “Austin, Texas: A Photographic Portrait” by Twinlights Publishers ( It’s a 128 page, hardback photo book that highlights over 100 attractions around Austin and features 175 of my photos.
6. How did this book project start and how long did it take from start to finish?
This project is a testament to the power of the Internet.  I had been posting a lot of photos of Austin on the Internet since moving here in 2002.  The publisher found these photos I got a call out of the blue asking if I wanted to shoot this book for them. After a portfolio review process and an interview, I was picked to be the sole photographer for the book.I started shooting in late 2008 and was initially supposed to deliver all of my images within 9 months. However, 6 months into project the bad economy put the project on hold.. When the book was picked up again, they gave me an extra 9 months to shoot. After I delivering my final images in August of 2010, the design, editing, captioning, and printing process took another 8 months.
One more interesting fact about the book is that even though the book is a result of lots of teamwork – I never met the writer, editor, designer, or publisher during the entire process.  The Internet, digital imaging, and communication technology made this collaboration possible without the need for anyone to meet face-to-face.
7. What was the biggest challenge(s) creating this book?
The biggest challenge in photographing the book was managing the huge shoot list they gave me.  They wanted about 350 pictures from approximately 120 locations, so finding time to do it all while working another full-time job was a challenge.
From working on the book, I got a lesson in time and project management, having to schedule my weekends in advance based on the location of the sun and the type of shot I wanted to capture for a specific place.  I tried to hit as many locations as I could each weekend to stay on schedule and meet my deadline.  I’m not a morning person, but I found myself waking up at 5:30AM pretty often, then rushing to locations after work to get the right lighting for the shot. Because of the large number of hours you put into a project like this, you really have to enjoy what you are doing.  You also have to realize it’s not all about the money – publishing your first book is most likely not an instant path to fame and fortune, rather it’s a labor of love.
8. What are your favorite pictures/pages featured in the book and why?
I really like the cover image of the Stevie Ray Vagauhn statue with Town Lake, the Lonestar Riverboat, and the Austin skyline in the background.  Originally that wasn’t going to be the cover, but I pushed for this image because it shows things that Austinites care about and tells a story.  I like that the picture shows music, the hike and bike trail, Town Lake, the Texas flag, city hall, and the skyscrapers of downtown in a single shot.  Also, I liked the lighting technique I used in the photo, where I used an off camera flash to illuminate the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. One of the most popular Austin images I’ve taken is on page 12. The image, which also was taken with the aid of off camera lighting, is of the neon sign from MTV’s Real World Austin house in front of the Frost Tower. I’ve sold this image several times, so you might have seen it in publications around town.
9. What can you point out about the book that buyers may not notice at first glance?
Most people will first notice the photos in the book, the captions are excellent and provide a lot of interesting information. Even after living in Austin for so many years and visiting each location in the book, I learned a lot by actually reading the book. The foodies of Austin will appreciate that the book includes several of the most popular restaurants and trailers in town.  I really wanted to include some food spots because food culture is such a part of the city and I wanted to tell the story of Austin from a local point of view. Also, you can find some of my friends & loved ones scattered throughout the book.  Most notable are my parents on page 86 – they are the cute couple holding hands at the Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center.
10. Other than in the book, where can we find your photos?
  • I’ve created a website about the book at, where you can find Austin related blog posts, many of the photos in the book, a hands on video describing the book, and information on where to buy the book.
  • My personal photos, including many travel and dance photos from other projects can be found at
  • Also,  I’m also kind of obsessed with Instagram (my screen name is supertsai), a smartphone sharing app with really cool photo editing function.  Having a smartphone with Instagram on it is like having a very easy to use Photoshop in my pocket wherever I go.

11. Where can we buy your book???

You can buy Austin, Texas: A Photographic Portrait on, Barnes and, at Book People, in Barnes and Noble stores and at local gift shops.  There is a full list here.

*Rebeccammendation: This book makes a great gift for Austinites, graduates, newcomers to Austin, and tourists since it features so many city highlights, including events, museums, and must-see spots.

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