The snowboarder soars off the jump, body and board angled down like a dagger. The surfer is cutting into a wave that looks eager to swallow him whole.
There is such life in athletes who are pushing at the edges and photographer Ilanna Barkusky is poised with her camera, craning for the best shot. “I do commercial and editorial action sports photography, specializing in skiing, snowboarding and surfing.”
Barkusky is still in university – third year UBC – but is already being brought in for professional shoots and making a name for herself. She will do her winter studies online, so she can travel for magazine and corporate shoots. “It can be hard to juggle. Sometimes, I’m at a contest and trying to do a school quiz, when the Internet dies.”
It is worth it, though, to be outside in the middle of the action, with her beloved camera. “Some of my friends are up and coming professional athletes, so working with them is really rewarding. If I’m shooting their portraits, I keep it professional, but can also make them laugh and relax.”
In working with exceptional athletes, Barkusky explains, it is important to keep them near their comfort zones, to push their limits but just.
There are some clear differences in photographing skiers versus surfers. “Skiers and snowboarders will come over, look at the shot and keep working until they’ve got the shot they want. With surfing, they are out in the water. Even if you are too, you can’t really communicate in the same way. There is more of a divide.”
Barkusky has had no professional training to bring her to this early success. She didn’t even start getting interested in photography until Grade 11, when she was spending a lot of time skiing at Grouse Mountain whilst also taking a photography class in high school. “I took the camera up, started messing around and realized that I was really passionate about it.”
“I’m self-taught and still learning. I’m a perfectionist, so I’m really hard on myself. I spend so much time looking at my photos, seeing where I can improve.” She is gradually accumulating equipment – a Canon 7D, prime lens, 50mm, telephoto. “I have two wide angle lenses for half-pipe and rails.”
A day at work for the blue-jacketed Barkusky and friends
Once Barkusky had been doing ski and snowboard photos for a while, she decided to combine her camera skills with that other sport she loves: surfing. “Surf photography today is just so insane. They are so involved, swimming in twenty-foot heavy waves. There are so many risks involved.” So far, her surfing shots have primarily been in California and Hawaii.
As she think about her future, Barkusky looks up to established action sports photographers, like Ashley Barker. “She is around here and she is doing amazing stuff. She has so many covers to her name. She’s also moving into the surf industry. It’s a pretty male-dominated field, so it’s great to see a female succeed. It’s inspiring.”
Barkusky plans to take more business courses and would relish the opportunity to pursue this as her life’s work. “I would love to become a full-time professional and make that my life. I have heard from so many people that it’s a roller coaster. I am learning how to handle the ups and downs. I haven’t found anything else in life that gives me that sense of fulfillment and achievement.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos courtesy of Ilanna Barkusky