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A Look Inside the Colorful World of Erika Barker

Erika Barker is a force to be reckoned with in fashion and beauty photography. Her work is instantly recognizable with her nostalgic yet dramatic portraiture and fearless use of color. The studio is Erika's playground, and we love her experimentations with motion, modifiers, and gels. We're excited to share with you a little on where she gets her inspiration from, how she has grown as a photographer, and also insight on how she achieves her iconic work.

"I would describe my style as a tribute to my love for color palettes of the '60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. I am obsessed with color and how it can trigger old memories, or tap into your emotions. 

I draw inspiration from Stanley Kubrick's use of Practical Lighting, so when I am using strobes on set, I am trying to mimic natural light that might occur in an alley near a window or Rembrandt lighting during golden hour. I know, it's almost an oxymoron to mimic natural light in a studio, especially when you live in NYC. Still, the art of mimicking it gives you a unique look you would not necessarily get if you were shooting the same scene in natural light. Additionally, I find it faster to create a scene rather than hunt for a location and deal with permits."

"My style is unique because I think intuitively or instinctively about how light should be placed and shaped rather than going based on some formula. It's what feels right. I admit, sometimes it does not always work, and I fall flat on my face, but hey, it's art, and you have to explore and be you. The secret sauce to this whole "thinking intuitively" thing is training your brain to see the light the way you would ride a bike or drive a car. It's almost an extension of you. The only way to get to that level is to stare at great works of art, and photography that inspires you. Try doing this before you go to bed every night so you can lock it into your sub-conscience. Rather than thinking about lighting ratios, and emulating that YouTube tutorial you just saw, you will begin to understand what needs to happen on your set naturally."

"What motivates me is watching driven influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk or a vlog from Casey Neistat, where he runs 10 miles at five in the morning and produces rich content daily.

What inspires me is the beautiful work from other Elinchrom artists like Brandi Nicole, Emily Teague, and Kate Woodman. They are young, full of energy and ideas that are unique, and just gorgeous. Outside of Elinchrom artists, I would, of course, say old movies from the 70s and '80s like The Warriors, Blade Runner, and The Shining are inspirations."

"I admit I am guilty of sometimes chasing what is pretty over what tells a story. I think one of the best photographers right now who is a great storyteller is Kate Woodman. When it comes to telling a story, you have to remember it's not about aesthetics alone, but what message you are trying to tell your audience. Sometimes one photo in your editorial series might be incredibly dark, grossly underexposed, but it tells the story much better than someone who is adamant about just making it pretty. I suppose this idea comes from my time as a combat photojournalist. Sometimes, you will take a shot that can change the world, such as Eddie Adams did with the Saigon Execution infamous shot, which is credited for sparking the calls to end the Vietnam War. It was a shot that Eddie was never proud of, but it told a story. While aesthetics are important, it's only a pretty shell. The story at the core is what will make that shot memorable, and that's incredibly difficult to achieve."

"My favorite part of the creative process is when you get that first shot in a session that makes you go wow, and you find your rhythm. Suddenly, you got your makeup artist screaming, "Yassssss," the creative director is going, "Wow!", and the model is smiling from ear to ear. That's when you know the shoot is going to be phenomenal, and you have something truly magical going on. It makes you feel good about you being you!

My second favorite part is sitting down with the creative director and reviewing shots at the end of the shoot. It's just beautiful to get their feedback and listen to how they think. It's a great time to listen, learn, and grow as a photographer."

"What I love about beauty photography is you have more room to experiment with lighting. With fashion photography that is not an editorial, it can be rather bland because you are trying to sell clothing, and sometimes the brand's needs are rather generic. This is why I believe AI, and Augmented reality might be a threat to anyone who solely photographs fashion for a living.

When it comes to lighting beauty, I believe the audience and brands are always hungry for a new creative way to sell their products - using unique lighting and color treatments.

You can look on Instagram and see everything from Pat Mcgrath, who shoots everything with an iPhone, to Tom Ford, who combines moody lighting with Medium Format cameras. In other words, the sky's the limit, and there are no rules. I do caution myself and others not to let ourselves get trapped into being formula photographers known for one thing because once folks are tired of the trend you are shooting, creative directors and brands will be less attracted to you and your style."

"I used to copy other photographers when I first started. I would keep a scrapbook of magazine ads I loved, and write notes on it. Then, one-day, things just snapped in my head, and I started thinking about light more intuitively. I started breaking some of the rules that I learned from books and YouTube tutorials."

"My current go-to gear includes the following:

  • 2 ELC 500s
  • 1 ELC 125
  • 1 Litemotiv 120 CM Diffuser - for covering foundation shoots and skin products.
  • 1 48 degrees High-Performance Reflector - For highlighter, moody shots, and to reveal sparkly products when shot with a grid.
  • One 44CM Soft white Reflector - Typically used for punchy campaigns to show Microtip Eyeliner products.
  • 3 Barn Door Sets - Barn Doors are one of my favorite modifiers for quickly mimicking natural light in an alley or through a window. Adding an Elinchrom's 20 Colour Gel set can enhance the scene giving you a classic Hollywood look.
  • 8 degree and 20-degree grids - Sometimes, as many of my beauty photography friends may know, complicated makeup such as eye shadow, which contains various pigments, and sparkles (Flecks) can quickly become blown out, and it's challenging to get a gauge on what the product looks like. This is why you see many brands using iPhones over DSLR cameras. I found that you can keep the integrity of the product while giving it that classic beauty looks simply by using grids on your reflectors."

The most important investment you are going to make is what you put into your mind. Don't surround yourself with things that bring you down or make you feel negative. We, as artists, must maintain our minds with positive thoughts. I do this with running, eating healthy, and surrounding myself with those who make me smile. It's through positivity that my best ideas come to me, and my work truly shines. If you ever heard the old saying, "You are what you eat," I would say, "You are what your mind takes in."

Currently, we are facing some difficult times, and there are a lot of emotions and negative news that have inspired many to stand up and fight for a better tomorrow. As artists, I think one of the ways we can keep a positive mindset while being a voice that speaks out is using our art to proudly bring awareness to issues of today that will help society as a collective make the world a much better place tomorrow.

Erika’s current lighting kit is:

  • ELC 500 Studio Monolight with TTL, HSS and Smart Pro-Active Cooling

    $899.99More infoAdd to cart

    ELC 500 Studio Monolight with TTL, HSS and Smart Pro-Active Cooling

    EL20619.1.US

    The Elinchrom ELC 500 Studio Monolight is a modern 500 Ws compact built to handle your next adventure reliably and consistently. Featuring TTL with Manual Lock, HSS, Smart Pro-Active Cooling, Auto-On, and direct compatibility with Elinchrom's world-renown light modifiers. Always Prepared The ELCs are ready to go the moment inspiration strikes you. With Auto-On, the unit is always in stand by mode with your previous settings saved, and the onboard TTL speeds up dialing in your next exposure. The Manual Lock function enables a quick switch from TTL to Manual without losing exposure settings for quick adjustments or to explore creative effects. Engineered to Last Every aspect of the ELC 500 has been designed and rigorously tested to deliver maximum reliability and extended lifetime. Elinchrom created the ELCs to last through your next adventure. And the one after. And many after that. Stay Cool Under Pressure With Elinchrom's Smart Pro-Active Cooling, the ELC's learn your shooting style and adapt their cooling cycles around it, never interrupting your creative flow. Plus, their cleverly engineered airflow design and low-noise speed-controlled fan can handle the heaviest of workloads. Explore More As important as a solid studio strobe is, the light modifier is where the real magic happens. The bayonet Quick-Lock system grants you direct access to Elinchrom's world-renown light modifiers. Combined with the ELC's bright, Daylight LED modeling lamp to aid your pre-visualization. The potential to evolve your lighting style is endless. Unlimited Flexibility Your equipment should never limit you. Whether you are experimenting in your living room or working in a large studio, the ELC 500 can acclimate. ELCs can be powered down to 7 Ws so that you can reach your desired depth of field or add only a hint of light. Plus, with HSS, you can freeze motion, overpower ambient light and darken backgrounds. Edit Less, Deliver Faster. Elinchrom's precise colour science and accuracy over the whole power range enables you to deliver professional and consistent results to your clients with less wasted time and money in post-production. Wireless Freedom Never miss a shot with Elinchrom's Skyport radio-frequency system compatible with 7 camera brands. You also get intuitive control of flash settings from your camera and your computer. Even non-Elinchrom units and speedlights can be integrated into the wireless setup via the Elinchrom Skyport Receiver Plus.

    $899.99
    QTY
    Add to cart

  • ELC 125 Studio Monolight with TTL, HSS and Smart Pro-Active Cooling

    $619.99More infoAdd to cart

    ELC 125 Studio Monolight with TTL, HSS and Smart Pro-Active Cooling

    EL20618.1.US

    The Elinchrom ELC 125 Studio Monolight is a modern 125 Ws compact built to handle your next adventure reliably and consistently. Featuring TTL with Manual Lock, HSS, Smart Pro-Active Cooling, Auto-On, and direct compatibility with Elinchrom's world-renown light modifiers. Always Prepared The ELCs are ready to go the moment inspiration strikes you. With Auto-On, the unit is always in stand by mode with your previous settings saved, and the onboard TTL speeds up dialing in your next exposure. The Manual Lock function enables a quick switch from TTL to Manual without losing exposure settings for quick adjustments or to explore creative effects. Engineered to Last Every aspect of the ELC 125 has been designed and rigorously tested to deliver maximum reliability and extended lifetime. Elinchrom created the ELCs to last through your next adventure. And the one after. And many after that. Stay Cool Under Pressure With Elinchrom's Smart Pro-Active Cooling, the ELC's learn your shooting style and adapt their cooling cycles around it, never interrupting your creative flow. Plus, their cleverly engineered airflow design and low-noise speed-controlled fan can handle the heaviest of workloads. Explore More As important as a solid studio strobe is, the light modifier is where the real magic happens. The bayonet Quick-Lock system grants you direct access to Elinchrom's world-renown light modifiers. Combined with the ELC's bright, Daylight LED modeling lamp to aid your pre-visualization. The potential to evolve your lighting style is endless. Unlimited Flexibility Your equipment should never limit you. Whether you are experimenting in your living room or working in a large studio, the ELC 125 can acclimate. ELCs can be powered down to 7 Ws so that you can reach your desired depth of field or add only a hint of light. Plus, with HSS, you can freeze motion, overpower ambient light and darken backgrounds. Edit Less, Deliver Faster. Elinchrom's precise colour science and accuracy over the whole power range enables you to deliver professional and consistent results to your clients with less wasted time and money in post-production. Wireless Freedom Never miss a shot with Elinchrom's Skyport radio-frequency system compatible with 7 camera brands. You also get intuitive control of flash settings from your camera and your computer. Even non-Elinchrom units and speedlights can be integrated into the wireless setup via the Elinchrom Skyport Receiver Plus.

    $619.99
    QTY
    Add to cart

  • Litemotiv Direct Octa 120cm

    $509.00More infoAdd to cart

    Litemotiv Direct Octa 120cm

    EL28004

    This 120cm (48") is the big brother of the Rotalux Deep 100cm (39.37"). However, with 16 rods, a heavy-duty bracket and 30% more light output with this new fabric, the Litemotiv 120cm (48") is the ideal light source.

    The Litemotiv bracket is not included and must be ordered separately!

    $509.00
    QTY
    Add to cart

  • HP Reflector 26cm 48°

    More info

    HP Reflector 26cm 48°

    EL26137

    A bright, high performance reflector, ideal for general sports applications.

  • 44cm Diffuser for Softlite Beauty Dish Reflector

    $19.00More infoAdd to cart

    44cm Diffuser for Softlite Beauty Dish Reflector

    EL26232

    Cloth diffuser for the front of the Softlite Reflectors 44cm (17.32"). Turns them into perfectly round softbox.

    The reflector is not included.

    $19.00
    QTY
    Add to cart

  • Barndoor Set 21 (1x26034+2x26006+2x26009)

    $120.00More infoAdd to cart

    Barndoor Set 21 (1x26034+2x26006+2x26009)

    EL26037

    • 1 Light Shaper Carrier 26034
    • 2 Barndoors 26x16cm (10.23" x 6.29") 26006 
    • 2 Barndoors 21x15cm (8.26" x 5.9")26009 

    $120.00
    QTY
    Add to cart

  • Grid 21cm 8°

    $85.50More infoAdd to cart

    Grid 21cm 8°

    EL26055

    This grid very strongly limits the light spread and offers sharper shadows. 

    Fits only the Standard Reflector 21cm (8.26").

    $85.50
    QTY
    Add to cart

  • Grid 21cm 20°

    $52.50More infoAdd to cart

    Grid 21cm 20°

    EL26053

    This grid strongly limits the light spread and offers sharper shadows. 

    Fits only the Standard Reflector 21cm (8.26").

    $52.50
    QTY
    Add to cart

To see more of Erika’s work and to keep up on her future projects
Find her on Instagram at @erikabarker
or her website https://portfolio.erikabarker.com/

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