Few possess the distinctive style of CubaGallery, a designer and photographer from New Zealand who routinely wows us with his Flickr photos. CubaGallery presents the world through a saturated, lush prism of cool blues and warm yellows that transforms the mundane into sumptuous visual delicacies.
His Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials are immensely popular, giving the new photographer an insight into the elements of good design and processing.
According to CubaGallery, his busy schedule means he only has time to shoot when on vacation and in scant free time, making his portfolio even more remarkable.
We’re very excited we can share this interview with the wider Flickr community, and we hope his insights help you as you approach your next composition.
How long have you been taking photos?
I started taking photos back when I trained as a designer years ago. It was part of my degree and has always been a sideline obsession.
What types of photos do you most like to shoot?
Well, I’d love to say I’m a fashion photographer or a cool urban street photographer, but the reality is I just shoot in the “in-between moments.” I don’t really have much free time, so I tend to photograph the things that are around me. I carry my camera with me on business trips and almost any outing or holiday. This approach forces you to be really innovative, you need to think about your environment in a unique way, or you can end up with a lot of cat photos — and yes, my cat has had way too many portraits!
What’s your background in design?
I trained as a designer for four years and have always been drawn to imagery and graphic design. I’m fascinated with composition and finding powerful design elements within imagery. I really consider myself a designer with a camera as opposed to a photographer. I currently head up three design studios across two countries as a creative director, so I really have my hands full. Photography provides me with a fantastic creative release, it allows me to do fun, self-contained, fast-paced creative projects. It keeps me sane.
What are your inspirations for your photographic style?
I have been heavily influenced and mentored by some very talented photographers, but my application of core design principles within a photographic environment is really what helps define my style. For a long time I used to photograph empty scenes, aesthetically beautiful spaces without a person in sight. A friend of mine who was a talented people photographer suggested that I introduce a few people into the scene. He suggested it would be like welcoming a person onto the stage. I think that was great advice, and to me this helped add more of a story and personality to my images.
You use blues and greens in unbelievable ways, is this your dominant color palette? Is there a special attraction to those colors for you?
I really love these colors, possibly it’s an unconscious reference to the New Zealand environment, everything is green here and we are surrounded by a lot of blue ocean! But I do love the depth you can achieve with this palette. It also fulfills my love of moody, cool cinematic film tones.
Flickr has a strong tradition of surfacing EXIF data and giving other photographers a view into your creative approach. Can you tell me why you’ve decided to share so many of your processes with others?
Yes, I have a number of Lightroom Presets and a Lightroom video tutorial, which explain some of my processing techniques. I try and share as much as possible with other that photographers. I think it’s good practice to do this, it can be very time consuming but it also helps me crystallize in my own mind why something works (or why it doesn’t work). I have a before and after blog that is a pretty basic way to show how you can bring an image to life simply with color and good editing; some images just need a bit of encouragement. I think it’s key to remember that processing an image is an extension of the photographers ability to create something special. You can add a certain mood, tone, or personality to your image that will often help communicate the original scene.
How did you get this amazing photo?
This shot was taken a month ago while I was staying on Rarotonga, an island in the South Pacific Ocean. I shot this with my 14-24mm lens in the shallow lagoon water. The sunset reflection almost makes it appear like the dog is walking on top of the water. The wide angle lens really helps add some drama to the cloudy sky and visually leads your eye to the dog. I also love how the lighting shows off some great detail on the dog’s fur. The processing with this image was pretty simple, I just brightened up the overall saturation. The only downside was I dipped my Nikon D800 in the sea while I was shooting it.
What is your favorite part of Flickr?
I have a soft spot for Flickr, I believe it has tuned up my ability to produce a better body of work. I love looking at the overall photostream page along with the stats page. It helps me gauge how well an image has been received. To me seeing a large cross-section of work in one place is a real achievement for a photographer — I believe Flickr has helped me to do this. I have gained a lot from other members, there are some incredibly talented people out there, and it continues to inspire and push me further.
What makes the Flickr community unique?
I think once you spend time on Flickr you realize there is a certain type of enthusiastic personality that comes with the community. It is a very real and passionate group of people who are connected together by their common love of photography. I really like the mixture of work, from enthusiasts through to pro photographers, it’s great. I honestly believe this cross section of talent is fundamental to any great community.
What has been the most interesting interaction you’ve had with another Flickr member or in a Flickr context?
One person emailed me saying they wanted to sell all their possessions and move to New Zealand to be my assistant… Well, I advised them that wouldn’t be wise, but you can’t fault their enthusiasm!
What would you recommend to Flickr members who have just joined the site?
Ummm, that’s easy, just type: http://www.flickr.com/cubagallery
What was your best photographic moment?
I think this shot was a real triumph. I went back to this location five times trying to capture the people in this scene. I’m very proud of the final piece, basically I just saw a shaft of natural light (just for a moment), a puff of smoke, a parting amongst all the people, and in walked a random girl in a cool red beret, just pure luck. I took 6 shots in about 3 seconds before this moment disappeared.
Cuba Gallery Website: http://www.cubagallery.co.nz