Liban Yusuf is a Canadian graphic designer turned photographer. He goes over what prompted the change, as well as the overlaps he sees between the two fields, in his interview. Additionally, he shares a lot of insight from the extensive street photography he’s done in Havana, Cuba. Over several trips Liban has covered many dimensions of the dynamic, vivid city, and has built strong bonds with Cuban artists. He supports the Cuban art community by bring back art supplies (canvas, paint, brushes) on each of his visits.
Here’s Liban Yusuf:
Where do you live, and how did you get there?
I live in Toronto, Canada. I’m of Somali origins and immigrated to Canada back in the late 80’s.
I see you were previously a graphic designer; what led to you transitioning from graphic design to photography, and what did you have to do to make the transition successfully?
I booked a trip to Peru and bought a little camera. That’s how it all started. That was the first time I was shooting with purpose. I was a beginner and most of my shots weren’t good at all. But I liked a couple that turned out really well. That gave me the fervor to continue doing it.
As I shot more I found that I was keeping more shots. The percentage of good shots were increasing so I knew I was on the right path. Plus I just loved photography shortly after. It didn’t take long.
I also found that all my design training was actually helping me a lot because I knew about the rules of composition way before I bought my first camera. I already knew things like the rule of thirds and it had been drilled into my brain way before I looked through a viewfinder.
The transition between graphic design and photography was a very seamless one.
Your photos all have a very consistent look, so how did you find or develop your unique style?
At the beginning I was shooting a lot of day shots. Then I shot a couple of night shoots that I liked. Night photography was a difficult challenge for me at the beginning. But as time went I realized that my night photography was increasing bit by bit. My percentage of long exposure photography was increasing. Until one day I realized that about 90% of my shoots are now at night. It was a slow transition that I wasn’t even doing on purpose. It was just a form of photography that slowly crept up on me and I started loving.
The best advice I wanna give to new photographers is, shoot what you like and your unique style will develop by itself. You don’t have to go out of your way to try and develop a unique style. It will come by itself and it will naturally follow what you love shooting. So my advice is just shoot what you like and have fun!
What’s the most effort you’ve ever put into a single photo, and what was the outcome?
I really don’t put too much effort in shooting. I just like to put my eyes in the viewfinder piece and try to get the correct composition for the scene. I then fiddle around with the settings until I find the correct exposure.
Since you take a lot of long exposures, what is something unique about doing long exposure photography that surprised you?
One unique thing is that it removes people from the shot. When I shoot a 30 second exposure and there are people walking around in the scene and in front of the camera, what happens is because it’s a super long exposure they don’t appear in the photo at all or if they do, they appear as slight ghosts which I really like.
Who are your favorite other photographers, or artists, and what draws you to their work?
I love many of the classic photographers. I also like a lot of contemporary photographers that post on 500px. Too many to name names.