My Southland Story: Behind The Camera With James Jubb

Last year James Jubb created a little gem: a video series appropriately called My Southland Story. Its goal is simple. To tell the stories of Southland and why it’s an amazing place to work, live and play. 

He wants the world to know that if you’re willing to work and to fall in love with the landscape and lifestyle, then you too can live the Kiwi Southern Dream. 

James himself has a good yarn to share about how he became one of Southland’s most passionate advocates.

A Match Made In … Milford Sound

James and Mel Jubb have been an item for a long time now. In fact, they met when they were only 20 years old, on the boats at Milford Sound.

Aucklander James was exploring Queenstown when he landed his first-ever photography job. It wasn’t a bad gig, snapping the tourists as they boarded the boats at Milford Sound.

Right away, he fell for Fiordland’s magic vibe, but he found love of a different sort too. Yes, James was smitten the moment he spotted Mel —  a Southland farm lass — who was welcoming the folks on board.

It must have been the real deal because… 

“The skippers wouldn’t let us work the same boats because they said we distracted each other too much.” – Mel


Mel Jubb on a makeshift swing with the sun behind her at Milford Sound.
Mel at Milford Sound. Photo courtesy of Studio Jubb.

So James got a tiny taste of a job he felt passionate about. But when babies came along it was time to get real.

Before he knew it, the Titirangi kid found himself in Invercargill with a house, family and mortgage. But he also began to realise that he’d ended up in one of New Zealand’s coolest and most under-appreciated spots. 


For a while, he did the ‘sensible thing’ and worked at a steady, well-paid Invercargill job. But photography kept calling and one day, James decided he had to take it further.

Business Beginnings

Back to school he went and, still in the film-and-darkroom days, did a two-year photography diploma at S.I.T.  He followed it up with an 18-month post-grad course to learn the financial side of running a business.

By now James and Mel had three kids, so it was seriously time to start earning some money. They opened “Envious Photography” and began with weddings. Straight away, people loved their style and soon James was swamped with up to 40 weddings a year.

Not long after, he landed the Invercargill harness racing contract too. This meant going to the racecourse every Sunday to snap each horse as it crossed the line.

Both jobs were great, but these were “crazy-busy” days and nights. Time after time James would have weddings on Friday and Saturday and then rush to the racing on Sunday.

“I’d be taking photos, we’d come back [to the studio at night]. Mel would be printing photos, cutting them up, framing them — we did everything. 

As well as the weddings there were portraits and commercial contracts to work on during the week.

“He’d be editing photos till the wee small hours. It got to the stage where we never saw him,” Mel says. “He was working 24/7.”

So they made some big calls and decided to give up the weekend work.

Artistic, black and white, head-and-shoulders shot of Mel and James Jubb.
Mel and James Jubb. Photo courtesy of Studio Jubb.

Becoming Studio Jubb

“Envious” was all about beautiful photographs. But Studio Jubb is moving into video and 3D capture as well. James and Mel love that variety and challenge.

One day you can be filming on a boat and the next you’re taking photos of open-bowel surgery for the D.H.B. The diversity … is pretty amazing.” – James

Leaping out of steady lucrative work is a pretty scary thing to do, especially when your income plummets at the start.

James and Mel have actually done it several times now. They want their business to follow their personal passions and dreams. Mind you, it’s not always easy to figure out exactly what those are.

“What do you really love?” their business coach and mentor asked the couple. “What lights your fire?”

When you put it like that, James knew exactly what to say.  After all, he had landed in one of New Zealand’s best-kept-secrets. Now, he had a dream of showing the world how incredible the Southland lifestyle and landscape can be.

The 'My Southland Story' photo of Tom O'Brien mountain biking on Welcome Rock Trails.
Tom O’Brien rides through the pristine high-country environment of Welcome Rock Trails.
Photo courtesy of Studio Jubb and My Southland Story.

James Jubb: Man With A Message

Other people had tried to capture Southland in videos before, but never in the way that James wanted to do it. The powers-that-be were keen on the concept but they weren’t prepared to stump up with funding.

But, all that changed when James walked into the SDC offices and met Louise Pagan. Within 5 minutes she was on board and asking “when can we start?”

My Southland Story has a simple concept: show, don’t tell.

After all, if a still picture paints a thousand words, how much more powerful when it moves as well? Vibrant voices, stunning landscape. They all come to life in video.

You’ll see so much talent and diversity on show in My Southland Story too.

  • Cormac Buchanan — just 12 years old and flying ahead on his racing motorbike.
  • Project Ark —  retirees in Wyndham, preserving the past for people of the future.
  • Saving the environment with the Waituna Creek project
  • Going organic with Kiwi Saffron

Artists … lifestyle… eco-business … charities … sports… the ‘Wonky Donkey’ man…  It seems there are endless opportunities down here.

All You Need Is A Camera, Lapel Mic — Oh And A Drone!

James Jubb sitting in the grass with Logan & Melissa Johnson and filming for My Southland Story.
James chats to Logan and Melissa Johnson of Farm Fresh Milk in Woodlands.
Photo courtesy of Studio Jubb and My Southland Story.

Forget about the latest techno-whiz gear, fluffy mics and cameramen. When he’s filming James turns up with a small bag of tricks.

“My still camera is also my video camera. I can turn up to a job with a tiny wee bag and have everything I need. You can interact with people more because it’s only you doing it,” he says.

Having said that, he admits there’s a bit more gear in the car. Think GoPro, time-lapse camera and a drone for those gorgeous landscape shots.

“Five years ago you’d have to hire helicopters and cameras to get the shot. Now I can just launch the drone.”

He makes it sound so easy, but of course, it’s not.

Imagine getting a drone off a small boat in the middle of Foveaux Strait. Now, picture trying to get it back on.

The boat’s bucking, waves are looming. Getting the shot — that’s not the problem. The drone’s stable once it’s up in the air.

But landing it safely on deck when the wind is blowing a gale and the boat is almost airborne? Now that’s when your stomach does somersaults. Picture the recent job James and Dwane Herbert did for Stabicraft.

“You’re in these rough-as seas and you’re launching this drone off, and following things over it. And then you’ve got to try and get it back and land it. So the boats going like THIS…  and the drone’s going like THAT… and the wind’s blowing. It’s definitely a stressful experience. – James Jubb.

It was incredibly rough — the boat was airborne at times. But the drone stuff from that trip was amazing. You couldn’t do it just from the boat.

Paring Down The Story

Jess Terrill walking on the wet, sandy beach at Riverton during filming of her My Southland Story video.
Jess Terrill of the Southland Surf School at Riverton.
Photo courtesy of Studio Jubb and My Southland Story.

One thing strikes James most about the people he’s filmed so far. They’re all so genuinely humble but get them talking about their passion and the floodgates open. It can take James hours to edit down to the essential message.

So he’s developed a simple strategy for getting to the heart of the story.

“If I had a million dollars, and only gave you one minute to convince me your story’s worth it,” he asks, “what would you say?” 

He’s always looking for “what within their story is the hook that’s going to spark some interest. And, equally important, “what is it about Southland that’s impacted on them?”

James Jubb's photo of flowers in the foreground and a South Sea Artist's Blue Whale mural behind.
South Sea Spray Grafitti Art Festival, Riverton.
Photo courtesy of Studio Jubb and My Southland Story.

The My Southland Message Is Spreading

One thing that keeps James going is the feedback he’s getting from Southland and abroad.

The most common comment seems to be “Wow! Southland is such an amazing place,” chased by “I didn’t even know we had that here!”

The first-ever My Southland Story video gives plenty of hints about the 20+ stories to come in the series.

” I’m 100% proud of what we are achieving and that the message we are trying to portray is actually getting out there.”

James Jubb.

Check It Out

You can see all the videos on My Southland Story’s website. Go ahead and check them out. I’m pretty sure you’ll find your own WOW! moment there.

And Thanks

My Southland Story couldn’t happen without the support of its partners and sponsors: Studio Jubb, the Southland District Council and GWD Holden. Thanks to all for helping James to bring us these stories.

Is This Your First Visit To Time Of My Life

Discover the Who, What and Why of TOML.

Check out my home page here and my behind the scenes story here.

I'd love to hear from you.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.