Family Matters

Meet Robbie, James and Taylah Hunter — the family behind Suburbia photo studio & Hunter Studio creative agency.

Meet Robbie, James and Taylah Hunter — the family behind Suburbia photo studio & Hunter Studio creative agency.

It’s funny how problems often lead to opportunities.

“Our client base for commercial work was growing steadily, and the little shooting space in James and Taylah’s house just wasn’t going to cut it anymore,” says Robbie Hunter, one third of Hunter Studio — a creative agency with a focus on commercial photography and video. “We were shooting upstairs in my lounge,” addsJames, Robbie’s brother. “People had no idea where our work was coming from! We didn’t have the luxury of hiring photography studios, like we did in Auckland or Australia, so eventually we set out to find our own space.”

They scored a doozy. In March 2019, Robbie, James and James’ wife Taylah took over the lease on a dusty warehouse in suburban Papamoa, and over the course of three months, transformed it into the beautiful photography studio and creative space now known as Suburbia. “It quickly became an incredible content creation hub, not only for us but for some of the Bay’s top photographers and videographers, who’ve hired Suburbia for their own private work,” says James. It’s safe to say local creatives have been hanging out for a space like this for some time. But let’s go back to the beginning for a moment…

Local roots

James and Robbie grew up in rural Oropi. They both attended Tauranga Intermediate and Boys’ College before flying the coop to follow their passions.

“After high school, I spent a few years in Sydney learning to take photos while selling cameras,” says Robbie (who’s Hunter Studio’s Director of Photography). “I then moved to Wellington to study photography at Massey University, before moving to Auckland where my career really kicked off.”

Robbie started freelancing, then got an in-house gig with one of New Zealand’s largest shoe retailers. “I enjoy the technical side of photography more than anything — I love getting deep into the nitty gritty of technical lighting. I’m obsessed with getting every element just right.”

James (Hunter Studio’s Creative Director) also went to Massey. “I studied visual communication design, which taught me a lot about the creative process, how to learn from failure and what it looks like to be confident as a designer. Taylah and I then moved to Melbourne for two years. It was great to experience big city life.”

One Team, Two Brands

By July 2018, the Hunters had all made their way home to Tauranga. With James, Taylah and Robbie now living the same city for the first time in years, the stars aligned and Hunter Studio was born. “Tauranga is the place we all wanted to be long term,” says James. “We knew it was a city of opportunity, plus we now live 800 metres from the beach — you can’t get much better than that!”

“The city isn’t just growing in size,” adds Robbie. “Tauranga’s also becoming rich in culture and innovation. We saw a huge opportunity to jump on this movement by launching an independent agency of problem solvers.”

Creatives Robbie and James say they’re lucky to have Taylah’s financial skills, too.“Taylah’s our accountant — she spends most of her time telling Robbie not to spend more money on equipment!” says James. “As with any family dynamic, there are ups and downs, but we’re good at respecting each other’s leadership in our own areas of expertise.”

The trio’s combination of skills saw Hunter Studio grow rapidly. Nine months after launching, the team had outgrown James’ and Taylah’s ‘lounge office’ — which brings us to the launch of Suburbia.

“It was a long three months of building, floor sanding, painting and driving around on a scissor lift,” Robbie recalls. “We had to juggle client work with fitting out the warehouse, which was tough, but we were lucky to have the help of friends and family along the way.”

The fact they didn’t get around to hosting a launch party for about six months is a good indication of how in-demand the space became in a very short timeframe! “Suburbia was initially set up as an office studio space for ourselves, but the equipment list grew to the point where it could be used as a commercial photography studio for more than just our own work,” says James.

Community Over Competition

“Our main point of difference is that we encourage other photographers to use the space,” says Robbie. “There’s a lot of work out there and we can’t do it all ourselves, plus we want to support the creative community here in Tauranga. We want to help people level up, to get better at their craft, to get better clients and to get better results. We’ve invested in state-of-the-art equipment and we want it to be used — it’s no good to anyone sitting on a shelf!”

As well as offering a creative space and top quality equipment, the team recently started dabbling in workshops. “We hosted a portrait workshop in January,” says Robbie. “It was fun creating beautiful images and teaching people how to use the gear. We’ll definitely do more workshops in the future, they’re a great way to connect with others with the same passion.

“As freelancers, we’re used to working in our own little bubble (especially now!), but we’ve been blown away by the creative community in the Bay who are quietly working away at their craft. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with so many creatives who want to see this city known for innovation and expression.”

The Hunters’ commitment to collaboration and fresh ideas means they get real results for their clients, too. And we all know how important creative marketing is to stand out from the crowds… especially in the strange COVID-19 era we’re currently navigating. “We take creative problems and develop solutions that best fits the business and its goals,” says James. “This looks different for everybody and we honestly thrive off the endless possibilities.”

“The creative industries have had a massive shakeup with COVID-19,” adds Robbie. “Jobs and bookings have been cancelled, but now isn’t the time to sit still — now’s a time where we can all try to be agile in what we do and be looking for new opportunities. If we can look out for one another and collaborate, we’ll be able to come out of this together — hopefully stronger.”

A range of Bay of Plenty creatives utilise Suburbia to shoot their work.


Story by Laura Tuck