The Interview: Adam Barker
I first met Adam Barker on the slopes of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah a couple of years ago. Barker was working his day job, which is marketing & media manager for Ski Salt Lake, a part of the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. And in the course of a day or two negotiating the steeps of Solitude — or rather, following him as he took off like a rocket into the powder at Honeycomb Canyon — I learned that he also took photos. Fair enough. Then I saw some examples of his work, and then a few more, and I was knocked out. It’s too easy to say that at 28, he’s been drinking the same Western water that inspired Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell and a handful of others. But look at the photos and judge for yourself. He’s clearly shooting at a very high level. A Utah native, Barker grew up in the heart of the Wasatch Mountain range, but he’s not exactly a provincial. As a kid, he spent a year in Riyadh while his father completed a fellowship at the King Kahled Eye Hospital. As a young man, he had a two year stint in Italy that left him fluent in Italian. But if you watch him ski or use a fly rod, he’s pure Utah. And his photos express his passion for the mountains and his early love of travel. I caught up with him at home in Utah.
It’s tough to say by whom or what I was influenced in my younger years, as I was more of a free spirit simply trying to understand the medium for myself. As my understanding and respect for photography grew, I began to pay more attention to some of the more influential scenic photographers of past and present. I began to dissect their images and try to understand what it was that made them so successful in capturing spectacular images. I would certainly say that Ansel Adams’ imagery held me captive. I couldn’t look away when I saw his images. Everything about them made me want to BE him. I’ve also been greatly influenced by the style of legendary wilderness photographer David Muench. His emphasis on engaging foregrounds appealed to me greatly, as the majority of his images take the viewer on a two-dimensional journey through his lens. Beyond photographers, I am moved on a daily basis by the spectacular scenery that is my backyard. The Wasatch Mountains are overwhelmingly beautiful, mysterious, inviting and haunting all at once. My photographic goal was and is to represent the beauty and majesty of nature and, ultimately, to inspire one to go and experience it for themselves. This goal was certainly inspired by the Wasatch.
When did you first become interested in photography?
It seems I actually became aware of photography at a very young age, but I didn’t really take an interest in photography until a basic photography class in high school. That class sparked my initial desire to explore this great medium.
What was your first camera?
My first (real) camera was a Canon FTB handed down to me by my father. Despite the fact that I felt I was wearing a tank around my neck, it really helped me to understand proper exposure at an early age, being essentially fully manual.
What are some of your own favorite images?
You know that’s like asking a parent to choose his favorite kid, right? If I had to choose three, I would have to say the following:
Happy Hour at Reynolds Flats, taken in Big Cottonwood Canyon (home to some of the greatest skiing anywhere!) this image conveys warmth during a rather cold period of the year in Utah. The pink and orange hues of the sunset were unbelievably intense on this particular evening, and for me, the foreground reflection was the element that elevated this image from good to spectacular.
I made this image very recently, but it’s such a classic location and vista, I knew it would be an instant favorite. It’s quite intimidating to stand in the same place as the late Ansel Adams. To even imagine capturing images as dynamic and engaging as his seems foolish, but one can always aspire. This image is my aspiration.
This image emanates Western grandeur. The dramatic clouds, the piercing ridge line of Antelope Island, the snow-capped Oquirrh mountains in the background and the silvery reflection in the Great Salt Lake all combine to create a harmonious duo-tone symphony for the eyes. It will undoubtedly remain a classic in my eyes for the rest of my career.
Alright, being a skier, I can’t help but add one of my favorite skiing images.
When composing this image, I wanted the viewer to feel as though they were a spectator on this pleasant winter afternoon standing at the edge of this cliff, peeking through the tree boughs. Soft light and a unique perspective were key in making this image not only action-packed, but inviting as well.
How do you get your photos? I know of your athletic prowess, which can take you to mountain tops, but what else do you do to get "the" shot?
In short, I do whatever it takes plain and simple. There are so many talented photographers today, that you really have to be willing to make sacrifices to get that one keeper. Certainly one of the biggest sacrifices is sleep, as sunrise is one of the best times to shoot pictures, and it always seems to come sooner than expected. I actually look forward to inclement weather, because I know that a) the less-committed photogs have opted to seek comfort indoors and b) when the weather clears, there’s bound to be some spectacular light show or otherwise. There’s nothing like waiting out a storm and being rewarded. I always try to scout locations first and understand which times of day will be best to shoot at that particular place. I also always try to have a plan B, in case the weather changes or conditions aren’t optimal at that location. This is still just a part-time profession for me right now, and my time to shoot is more limited than I would prefer. It’s vital that I use every opportunity for photography to its fullest.
And what kind of equipment do you use now?
I currently shoot a Canon EOS 5D (digital SLR) for most all my scenic and travel imagery. For action/adventure, I use a Canon EOS 40D.
Digital versus film – the verdict?
I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, as there are many out there that know far more than I, but I will say that it’s tough to beat digital these days. Digital has taken over in nearly every field of photography from scenic to fashion to action sports to architectural and studio work. I believe there’s something to be said for that. Image quality is excellent, the digital darkroom is limitless, and high-quality cameras are becoming more affordable and user-friendly every year.
I believe, however, that the greatest advantage to digital is the ability to learn the ropes of photography at such a quick pace. One can learn proper exposure by checking their digital histogram, one can examine and improve composition by referencing their lcd screen and with virtually no cost associated with clicking the shutter, one can shoot till their index finger hurts allowing for endless creative exploration and improvement.
Who are your photography heroes?
Other than those mentioned above, I have a great respect and admiration for photographers like James Kay, Tom Till, Tim Fitzharris and Thomas Mangelsen. Perhaps lesser known, but no less influential are Dave and Deborah Scanlan. Their travel imagery is absolutely awesome.
Where would you like to go to shoot?
Where wouldn’t I like to shoot??? There are so many places that call out to me. Tops on the list are Alaska, Antarctica, Asia and many of the National Parks here in the U.S.
It’s pretty tough to keep me out of the mountains. I have an unhealthy obsession with skiing and fly-fishing. I also love to mountain bike, hike, play soccer and waterski. When they’ll put up with me, I enjoy spending time with my wife Muranda and 11-month old son. Ashton.
To see more of Adam Barker’s work, go to adambarkerphotography.com