By Jeff McDonald / The BulletinPublished: July 29. 2008 4:00AM PST
What started with a man and his camera in a Southern California garage has evolved into a business that serves photographers around the world.
Kubota Photo Design Inc. springs from the creative work of Kevin Kubota, but Kubota’s more extensive task is managing four companies that constitute his business, which has annual revenues of $2.5 million.
The four firms moved May 23 from a crowded facility in north Bend into a 5,000-square-foot, two-story space in the new Laidlaw Building in downtown Tumalo.
They include Kubota’s own wedding and portrait photography — which he calls Kubota Photo Design — but his focus has shifted from photography to management and spreading the word, and the tools, to produce professional-grade photography.
“All of the businesses are related to serving the professional photographer, except my own photography,” Kubota said. “Other photographers wanted to learn how to do what I do.”
Named one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world in a 2007 issue of American Photo magazine, Kubota also operates three businesses that serve other photographers. They are: Kubota Image Tools, which is the software and workshops department; AsukaBook USA, which is a distribution arm for a Japanese company that prints and binds coffee-table-style books for professional photographers; and Red Boot Design, which provides graphic design services for professional photographers.
Kubota, who owns and operates the businesses with his wife, Clare, moved into the digital photography realm in 1999, when few others were practicing with the new tools in Central Oregon or the world, he said.
But he has capitalized on making the photo-to-print conversion process easier for photographers, many of whom would rather spend less time on the computer and more time in the field, he said.
For professional photographers to stand out in the crowded field, they need to utilize photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, Clare Kubota said.
“A lot of people are already using Photoshop, but doing it the long way,” she said. “Kevin’s thing is finding a faster, more efficient way.”
Kubota Image Tools, which started in 2000, sprang out of Kevin Kubota’s ability to teach photography, use software skills and succeed as a professional photographer, he said.
Using Photoshop, he created what is essentially a cheat sheet for professional photographers about six years ago, he said.
Each package includes 50 actions, or shortcuts, that photographers can use to edit their work, including black and white conversions, color corrections and image correction, Kevin Kubota said.
One of the actions, which illuminates texture on a photo, is called “Enter the Dragon,” he said.
There’s also a “Lord of the Rings” action that is popular among wedding photographers who want to create a soft glow and enhanced color palette in the image, he said.
“Just to shoot something out of the camera is not enough anymore,” Kubota said. “Everybody’s got a digital camera. But these are some of the steps that you’ve got to take to keep your edge as a professional photographer.”
With his success gained through the workshop circuit, Kubota secured distribution rights in 2004 to deliver photo albums for Hiroshima-based Asukanet Co. Ltd, which prints and binds custom coffee-table-style books for professional photographers.
At the facility, employees inspect and ship out albums that were packaged in two overseas plants in Japan. AsukaBook USA distributes completed albums to 8,000 to 11,000 customers per year, Clare Kubota said.
With the success of his partnership with the Japanese company, Kevin Kubota started Red Boot Design in 2006, which creates custom albums for professional photographers. Kubota’s employees design the albums for the photographers, who sell them to their clients.
Q: Explain the demand for your product. What has spurred your company’s growth?
A: With the growth of digital photography, there are a lot more photographers out there. Many who were film users now have to learn computer skills, especially Photoshop techniques. This has created a need for training in this area.
Most professional photographers complain about the amount of time they have to spend at the computer instead of shooting. The goal of all of our products is to help them streamline their work flow and to cut down the time they have to spend in Photoshop.
We also believe in providing top-notch customer service. If you have a great product and excellent service, the word spreads. We believe very strongly in what we do and hopefully that comes through.
Q: What are your future growth expectations? What are some challenges that could make growth difficult?
A: All departments of our company have grown every year since we began. We have several professional photographers around the world who love and use our software products. They have become some of our best sources for sales. As the industry continues to grow, our goal is, of course, to have our companies grow with it. Factors that could slow that down are, of course, the economy and growing competition. We don’t like to think that way, though.
Q: What are some trends in the industry? What is your response to those trends?
A: Increase in the number of photographers starting businesses (and) constant changes in the technology — cameras, software, printers, etc.
These are both a plus for us. The challenge is keeping up with software updates, things can get dated very quickly. It’s going to be a matter of who can stand the test of time.
Jeff McDonald can be reached at 541-383-0323 or at email@example.com.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2008