How Kevin Kubota Developed his Knock-Out Post-Pro Techniques


There are few people in the photography business as dynamic as Kevin Kubota. Decorated from head-to-toe with prestigious awards from industry leaders such as Pop Photo, Nikon and Monte Zucker, Kevin is more than an artist within the community, he’s an influencer. In preparation for his upcoming course, we sat down with Kevin to find out the keys to his post-pro workflow and more.

You’re an award-winning photographer, but photography isn’t your only professional endeavor. What else do you and your wife Clare do?

Our most challenging endeavor right now is raising our two teenage boys! After that, we have always loved our photography industry, and (almost) every facet of it. I love to teach, so naturally I began teaching photography workshops about 13 years ago and that also branched in to developing software and educational products to help photographers do more with less time. I would find myself developing solutions for my own business, which in turn became valuable to other photographers as well. We wanted to have time with our kids and time to spend doing all the fun recreational things we love to do, and that meant spending less time being inefficient in our business. We basically wanted a life outside of work, and found that we weren’t alone in that idea at all.

What’s they key to balancing all of those projects, especially during wedding season?

It’s definitely a balancing act! Setting priorities is really important for both of us. In order to have time with our family, we have to know when to say “No,” and when to close the laptop. Interestingly, we find that when you tell yourself, “I have to be done with this project at 3pm”, and you know you’ll hold yourself to that goal, you tend to work more efficiently. Funny how we can get more done in less time when we have a good reason to do so! I’m also pretty obsessive about automating any process I can and finding more efficient ways to do things. Other than that, having a great team — whether it’s one assistant or a large staff, is vitally important. You have to pick people to work with that you trust and can depend on. I’m pretty luck that way. Being able to delegate tasks naturally follows when you have a great team, and that is critical to growth… and sanity!

Kubota boxing bride-2

When in your career did you really start to dig into Ps and Lr?

I started to get in to Photoshop very early on, about 1992 when the Mac IIvx came out. I was so excited about this computer and it was the first one to have a built-in CD-ROM drive – making it “easy” to get photos on your computer via the Kodak Photo CD! Anyone remember those? I started manipulating my images and knew this was the start of something big, although it took a while for it to catch on. By the time DSLR cameras became readily available, I already had quite a bit of experience with digital imaging using my scanned images, so it was a natural step for me to start educating the wave of photographers who were just entering the arena or converting to digital. Years later, when Lightroom was announced, I jumped on that right away as well, knowing that it would be the next wave in image management and manipulation. I now love and use both programs in my workflow.

What’s the most common mistake photographers make when it comes to their post-pro workflow?

The most common mistake, I think, is simple ignorance. Photographers don’t know how much they can really do (or how to do it) with the software they already own. Whenever I teach my Lightroom workshops, I inevitably have people who say they’re Lightroom “experts” or have been using it for a long time and then I show them a few tips and they say, “I had no idea you could do that! That’s a game-changer!” The other big mistake is that they don’t look at their workflow from a complete system standpoint. They may be great at enhancing their images, but have no system for organization or job tracking. They might be completely organized, but slow to a crawl when they have to make creative adjustments to images. Each piece of the workflow has to make sense, be efficient, and set you up to be efficient in the next stage of the workflow as well. This is what makes a “system” and it doesn’t help when they do certain parts of it differently each time. There needs to be step-by-step consistency.


What’s the worst story you’ve heard about a photographer spending too much time in post-pro?

Oh, I’ve heard many! Probably the biggest waste of time and resources I’ve heard about was a student who used Lightroom simply to rename their files, then they would export them all to .TIFF files, and open each one individually in Photoshop to do basic color corrections, then save each one individually as a .JPG to send to the lab. I about choked. “Do you have a life or family?” I asked, somewhat sarcastically. You can probably guess the answer!

How long did it take you to really figure out your system, especially in regards to presets? Do you still fool around with them or do you have a pretty honed system?

It is still an ongoing process, really. I’m always looking for ways to improve my system or incorporate new technologies or trends. With that said, I am a professional teacher too and it is my job to stay on top of what’s available and what is the potential best use of available software and resources. Photographers who are just working on client jobs all day don’t always have the luxury to experiment and tweak their systems – and that’s probably a good idea most of the time. They should find a good system and stick to it, at least until something significantly better reveals itself. I probably spend more time than the average photographer on honing my systems and effects because that is part of my profession.

What’s your favorite feature in the latest Adobe updates?

I actually think that their move to offer the suite of applications on a subscription and having them integrated with cloud storage and backup was a good move. It ruffled some feathers at first, as anything really new often does, but it makes sense. With a subscription, you help to ensure your users really have no excuse not to update and keep their software current. Supporting old and outdated software is a huge time and money suck for developers and that keeps them from putting resources towards improving their current software offerings. When everyone is on the same page, using the same software, you can operate more efficiently. End users win too because they always have the latest, best version of software without having to consider whether they should upgrade or not. Adobe is just now rolling out cloud storage of images via Creative Cloud as well, which I think could be significant long term as we start to see the Lightroom iApp and the potential of working “virtually” on our images from anywhere, and on any device.

Kubota Lago Maggiore

Why do you teach and what do you learn from teaching?

My parents were both teachers, so I think I inherited that gene, like it or not ☺. Teaching is creative, just like photographing. It is also very rewarding to know you have given someone something that can literally change their life – for the better. One of my favorite moments was at a tradeshow where I was speaking and a couple came up to me afterwards and said, “We wanted to thank you for our new house and two new cars!” I thought maybe it was a joke, but they continued, “We took your workshop and bought your actions last year and it has literally turned our business around so much that we were able to afford a new home and two new cars this year. We can’t thank you enough!”

That kind of thing warms my heart big time! It reminds me of a quote by Guy Kawasaki, “Nothing matters more than knowing what you do matters.” Which, for me, is more valuable than any amount of money.

What’s your favorite CL course that you’ve taught thus far?

Ooh, that’s a tough one! I had such a blast doing my lighting workshop as we ripped through so many different lighting set ups in just a few days – and I had so much fun with the live audience. I love the creativity in creating lighting. On the other hand, my Photographers Ignite program is so unique and inspiring that I come away learning and growing from it as well. It helps that I can tap the creative genius of the other photographers too and I don’t have to do all the work!

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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.