What Happens When a Santa Cruz Photographer Builds His Own Airplane?

Looking at Jeremy Lezin’s famous aerial photographs of Santa Cruz, it’s easy to see why he’s lived here nearly all his life, apart from a brief time spent in Los Angeles for film school.

The photos show the idyllic nature of Santa Cruz in all its glory — though most people who recognize his shots from around town don’t know all the work that goes into them.


Lezin started taking pictures by hanging out the side of his friend’s plane, grasping onto a twenty-pound camera and getting the best shots he could.

Jeremy Lezin FlyingFor a while he co-owned a plane with that same friend, which he would also use for family vacations. After his kids grew up a bit, though, the plane “took a back seat.”

Then one day he read about a plane designed specifically for National Geographic that was used to take pictures of the Congo from above.

“The idea was that it flew ‘low and slow’ and more importantly, had two engines for redundancy,” Lezin says.  “I ordered the first kit in the U.S. outside of the factory.  They hadn’t completed the kit (nor the instructions), so I worked as quickly as the supply of both lasted.  I remember waiting by my fax machine for the next page to be written, so that I could proceed.”

Lezin would work a ten-hour day at Salz Leathers, his family’s old tannery, and then would come home and start working at ten, after his kids had gone to bed.  After a year and a half, a thousand hours of work, and a lot of nights spent working until 2:00 a.m., the plane was finally completed.

Jeremy Lezin Aerial Photography“I loved every minute of it,” Lezin says, “and never want to do it again.”

Lezin says he’s always loved taking pictures of Santa Cruz from the air, and he continues to do so today.

These days, his work can be seen on the walls of Cruz Car Wash, where he has been the owner since 2003, after Salz Leathers went out of business.

“It has become the perfect job for me, because I thoroughly enjoy meeting all of our customers and making it the best customer experience that I can,” Lezin says.  “We’ve attempted to make this more than a car wash.  I am so proud of our entire crew, because they engender the ‘Cruz Car Wash’ spirit of caring for our customers.”

When Lezin was born, the population in Santa Cruz was 20,000 people, and it has grown since then to almost 70,000.  He says both the unchanging parts of Santa Cruz — the ocean, mountains, and climate — as well as the changes that have made it what it is today all make him appreciate living here.

“I think it’s very important to not compare Santa Cruz to ‘then,’” he says.  “Rather, why not compare it to other places now?  There is no other place that I’d rather live.”

 Santa Cruz Aerial Photo

All photos by Jeremy Lezin

About Blair Stenvick

Blair Stenvick is a freelance writer who has lived in Santa Cruz for four years.