9 Questions for Ashley Barker
Ashley Barker is a rising star in the world of snowboard photography. Only in her mid-twenties, Ashley already has many magazine covers to her credit and has done work for many of the top companies in the sport. Ashley is not afraid of lighting things up as well. PocketWizard VP, Dave Schmidt, did a Q&A sessions with her to find out what the Whistler, Canada based Barker had to say about her office(which happens to be on the side of a mountain), the gear she uses and how she is setting herself apart in the industry.
1. How long have you been shooting professionally?
I bought my first camera in 2001. But it wasn’t until February of 2008 that I dropped everything and went full time photography.
2. How did you break into the predominantly male dominated world of snowboard photography?
I started shooting with my professional and amateur snowboard friends in Alberta during my first year out of high school. There weren’t many photographers around, so everyone was always looking for a photographer and I was keen. I got better with time and I started meeting more and more people in the industry.
After a couple years, although I had had a good run including a cover shot and an interview in a magazine, I didn’t feel like there was money or a career in it for me. I thought it was time to invest my time and money into other genres and things.
A month later I got a call from the editor of Snowboarder Magazine, Pat Bridges asking if I wanted to go to Japan in less than 48 hours. That single phone call made me realize I wasn’t dreaming big enough, and that I had the opportunity to work with some of the best snowboarders in the world with one of the biggest magazines backing me up and I could make that a real thing. That day ended up being the last day I did other work aside from photography, and its been an amazing journey.
3. Canon or Nikon? Why?
I shoot Canon. The two always seem neck and neck, but the day I bought my first camera, Canon seemed one step ahead, at least that’s what the guy at the camera store believed. Shooting Nikon seems more desirable for me right now with better quality images at higher ISO’s, but to switch all my gear over seems like more money and time then its worth. Besides, at the rate things are advancing, Canon could surpass Nikon quickly.
4. How does lighting play into your work?
Lighting is everything in my work. Whether it’s natural or artificial it’s the main ingredient in any photo. I like introducing artificial light for that extra ‘je-ne-sais-quoi‘. When the weather is dark and snowy, visibility is limited for the riders, so we tend to resort to smaller features to shoot. Smaller features are easier to light and need that extra something to make it interesting, so adding artificial light really gives the photo pop. Most of my favorite shots and covers happen on these types of days.
5. What’s the biggest technical challenge you’ve encountered and how did you overcome it?
10 years ago, I only had the simple PocketWizard Plus II* and they only had 4 channels. At contests you would have 10 photographers all on those same channels triggering each other’s flashes. I ended up putting the antenna of the PW that was connected to my flash upside down in the snow to shorten its triggering range hoping to stop other people further away from me from triggering my flash. The next day I bought some MultiMax® radios with 32 channels to avoid the problem.(editor’s note: The Plus II has been replaced by the Plus® III which has 32 channels.)
6. When shooting snowboarders taking these huge jumps, it seems like it would be easy to miss the shot. What do you do to avoid messing things up?
Yes, often there are trees, rocks, walls, snow, moving objects and other obstacles between me and where I want my flashes to be. In some situations it can take 20 minutes to climb back to where I set up the flashes so I have to make sure I set things up right. I might only get one or two tries at getting the shot and with all the other variables I need to know everything is going to fire. I always use fresh batteries because the cold drains them quicker and long connector cables to get the receiving PW closer and a more direct path to my camera. If I’m lighting up the inside of a building and shooting from the outside I’ll attach a long cable to the wizard to get it to where I can see it.
7. Which PocketWizard radios do you use?
I’ve been using PocketWizards for 11 years. Occasionally I have forgotten them on a shoot so I’ve accumulated more than a dozen over the last decade. I have a few of the older Plus II’s and the new FlexTT5, but the MultiMAX is what I use most often.
8. What sets your work apart?
I like to use flash in the back country. That alone is not something a lot of photographers have the drive or ability to do. Getting your gear to the spot is a lot of work since there are no chair lifts in the back country it usually means snowmobiles and hiking with all the gear.
My subjects are fast moving so you need to have a lot of experience in anticipating when that peak action is going to happen and take a single frame at precisely the right moment. A millisecond difference can make or break a shot and if you miss the shot you might lose your rider’s confidence or even worse your client.
You never know what the conditions are going to be. I’ll bring all the lights and use them when needed if it’s going to result in a better shot than one without flash.
9. What do you enjoy most about being a snowboard photographer? Least?
I enjoy working with my friends, being outside, being creative, traveling, meeting cool new people, working my hardest and promoting a healthy lifestyle. I don’t love freezing (so I move a lot), waiting on weather, and dealing with the financial and politics of things.
I absolutely love what I do. I love the pressure and the work that I have to put in to get the best shot.
All images and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Ashley Barker, all rights reserved; story is © PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.