From the Petronas Towers in Malaysia to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, many marvelous modern works of architecture are instantly recognizable.

But most people never get the chance to see them — at least, in person.

That's where Ema Peter comes in. As an architectural photographer, her job is to shoot images that enable people to explore new spaces without ever actually stepping foot in them.

And she says it's not easy.


This Google-inspired 'sculpture' that Ema Peter photographed was taken at a TEDx conference in Vancouver (Ema Peter)

Humble beginnings

"At the end of the day there's a lot of art to it," she told host Jason D'Souza on CBC's North by Northwest. "Although I would never call myself an artist."

Peter says shooting architecture is far trickier than it looks — between managing lighting, framing each shot, and deciding which lens will bring out her desired texture, there's a lot that goes into each photograph.

The quality of her work, however, speaks on its own. Her images have won numerous awards, and have been featured in the New York Times, Wired, and Architectural Digest.


A worker walks in front of Spiderman's web at a Sony studio office in Vancouver. (Ema Peter)

But despite all her success, the photographer comes from humble beginnings.

She was born in Bulgaria, where her family often struggled to make ends meet. Her father was a cameraman in the film industry and she often had to travel with him, sleeping in the back of trucks full of gear.

She says those countless days spent watching her dad on the field are what inspired her to explore the lens.

"I was seeing how magic was created," she said. "I got my first camera when I was six years old ... and I [eventually] applied to study photography."

Ema Peter

Ema Peter joined CBC Radio One's North by Northwest with stand-in host Jason D'Souza. (CBC)

'You need to be fearless'

Now an accomplished photographer, Peter says her job takes her across the globe, often braving the roofs of tall skyscrapers just to get that perfect shot.

"Behind a camera, I can control and I can really just enjoy. And that kind of adrenaline rush — it's the biggest drug. You can't get this from anything else," she said. "You need to be fearless."


Peter says she loves to incorporate the human element into her photos. (Ema Peter)

She says the goal is to make even the most lifeless scenes stand out — but she loves capturing people in her frames.

"You can combine architecture with the human element in the shot — that's kind of my key goal in life."

And while she spends most of her time peering through a lens, she still reflects on where she came from.

"My dad told me 'you will never make money with this job.' And now, I'm actually paying his rent!"

Dance hall

Peter says including humans in her frames helps her establish the scope of the setting. (Ema Peter)

With files from CBC's North by Northwest