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.

Photo: © Ashley Barker This set-up is two flashes on full power in the middle of the day.  I was trying to get the rest of the scene dark and blue, so I kept the flashes close to the subject. I exposed for the highest settings of the flashes, and 1/320 second using PW MultiMAX radios.    The light you see in the picture is right beside where the riders take off, pointed directly at the camera with a yellow filter.  The second flash is placed 5 feet to my right.  I am shooting with a fisheye lens and the rider is going over my head and slightly to the left where he lands.

Photo: © Ashley Barker
This set-up is two flashes on full power in the middle of the day. I was trying to get the rest of the scene dark and blue, so I kept the flashes close to the subject. I exposed for the highest settings of the flashes, and 1/320 second using PW MultiMAX radios. The light you see in the picture is right beside where the riders take off, pointed directly at the camera with a yellow filter. The second flash is placed 5 feet to my right. I am shooting with a fisheye lens and the rider is going over my head and slightly to the left where he lands.


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.

Photo: © Ashley Barker This was a tough shot to set up.  All the trees around made it hard to find a spot to put the flashes where they would be out of the way of the riders path, hit the subject in the air and still give me dynamic lighting. I had two flashes behind the rider, one on each side of the jump/take off. The third flash is 10 feet to my left uphill, and it's hitting the subject and the trees. The rider’s board is creating a bit of a shadow on his body, but not too much as to miss his face.

Photo: © Ashley Barker
This was a tough shot to set up. All the trees around made it hard to find a spot to put the flashes where they would be out of the way of the riders path, hit the subject in the air and still give me dynamic lighting. I had two flashes behind the rider, one on each side of the jump/take off. The third flash is 10 feet to my left uphill, and it’s hitting the subject and the trees. The rider’s board is creating a bit of a shadow on his body, but not too much as to miss his face.


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.

Photo: © Ashley Barker Here I’m using the FlexTT5 so I could use HyperSync.  Using two AlienBees 1600’s at full power (one behind the jump and the other at the top of hill on the left) I used a sync speed of 1/640 sec.

Photo: © Ashley Barker
Here I’m using the FlexTT5® so I could use HyperSync®. Using two AlienBees 1600’s at full power (one behind the jump and the other at the top of hill on the left) I used a sync speed of 1/640 sec.

 


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.

 

Photo: © Ashley Barker This is another three light set up shot at 1/320 seconds using radios MultiMAX radios.  There is one light ten feet back, directly behind my subject.  This light is brighter than the other lights giving her that little bit of pop and over exposure on the bottom of her jacket.  The other two lights are 120 degrees away from each other on each side of me.  The three light combo allows me to light her entirely, even with her awkward body position.

Photo: © Ashley Barker
This is another three light set up shot at 1/320 seconds using MultiMAX radios. There is one light ten feet back, directly behind my subject. This light is brighter than the other lights giving her that little bit of pop and over exposure on the bottom of her jacket. The other two lights are 120 degrees away from each other on each side of me. The three light combo allows me to light her entirely, even with her awkward body position.

 

Photo: © Ashley Barker This is a two light set up.  Both lights are slightly behind the subject to create that little bit of a shadow on the subject.  I using the MultiMAX radios synced at 1/250.  f.4.5 @100 ISO

Photo: © Ashley Barker
This is a two light set up. Both lights are slightly behind the subject to create that little bit of a shadow on the subject. I’m using the MultiMAX radios synced at 1/250. f.4.5 @100 ISO

 

Photo: © Ashley Barker Here is a three light set up. My first flash is on the far left and has a small, wide reflector covered with a blue filter exposing the blue covered wall.  It is set back from the rider pointed slightly into the camera lens giving the slight blue shadow on the wall in front of the rider. The second light source on the rider is an Elinchrom Ranger with a more direct light reflector.  The final light is in front of the building just out of frame, with a purple filter.

Photo: © Ashley Barker
Here is a three light set up. My first flash is on the far left and has a small, wide reflector covered with a blue filter exposing the blue covered wall. It is set back from the rider pointed slightly into the camera lens giving the slight blue shadow on the wall in front of the rider. The second light source on the rider is an Elinchrom Ranger with a more direct light reflector. The final light is in front of the building just out of frame, with a purple filter.

 

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.

Connect with Ashley on her website, Blog, Twitter or Instagram

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.

 

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One Response to “9 Questions for Ashley Barker”

  1. AC says:

    Sweet. Loved reading this.