Wow!! Get ready, because you are about to read an utterly superb interview jam packed with honesty and emotion. Introducing Erika Chambers, a sensitive, modest, inquisitive, passionate and highly creative woman, who is basically drawn to anything infused with meaning. We hope you enjoy what Erika had to say, as much as we did. And if you’re in or around Nashville, and you’re planning a wedding, this is your photographer! She gets it, from beginning to end.. a totally sincere and romantic soul.
Good vibes and endless inspiration,
Preset Shop Team
Who is Erika Chambers?
Well, I certainly wouldn’t define myself as a photographer first. I’ve always been creative, but for most of my life, I expressed myself through music and have been a songwriter for more than ten years. My fascinations with people, how they think, communicate and relate to one another has fueled my passion for songwriting and photography. I’m drawn to anything infused with meaning. Being a person of faith, I believe humans were created in the image of God. I see little glimpses of God when I capture an expression with my camera or invoke emotion through my songs.
Where is home?
Nashville, TN, USA
What is your current state of mind before we continue with the interview?
Well, I’m a bit tired, but still going pretty strong. In the past few days I shot a wedding, a non-profit event, and a ton of paintings and sculptures for some local artists. Staying busy keeps the creativity flowing.
Did you go to school to study photography?
No. It was the last thing on my mind when I was in school.
How long have you been a photographer?
I started using a DSLR two years and two months ago. I started doing photography full time two years ago almost to the day (August 6th). Yes, that means I had been using a DSLR for 2 months when I started doing photography full time. This is not typical, nor would I recommend it to most people.. PLEASE don’t quit your day job until you have another day job.
How would you describe your style?
My style varies, since the majority of my work is for local non-profits (Are they called “charities” in AU?). A typical day can include shoots at event giving school supplies to children in an impoverished neighborhood, a fundraiser full of millionaires, or at a construction site with Habitat for Humanity. And I also typically shoot several weddings a month. The only thing all these kinds of shoots have in common is the presence of human emotion. My goal is to capture genuine human emotion in whatever setting I find myself.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I have a Canon 60d, which I love because of the tilt-swivel display screen. I swivel that screen all the time to see things higher and lower than I can physically go.
What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?
Off camera speedlights on stands. The drama they create in wedding dance pictures NEVER gets old.
If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?
If I could choose ANY lens, I’m sure it would be an L series … but of the ones I own, I get the most use out of my Sigma 30mm 1.4. I have to do group shots all the time. It’s perfect for that, but also works for beautiful portraits and delicate wedding details.
What lighting equipment do you take on a shoot?
Depends on the shoot for sure. I usually take a speedlight (if not multiple) and some transceivers (yongnuo) and stands. I have studio strobes but they rarely leave the house. I like to be as mobile as possible, and it’s amazing what you can do with a couple speedlight’s.
What is your favorite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?
LIGHTROOM. LIGHTROOM. LIGHTROOM.
How important is Photoshop in your final images?
I don’t use Photoshop very often. Just when I want to “liquify” or achieve a really textured look. When I’m working with bands or on more artistic shoots (rather than events) Photoshop is amazing.
What is your most used tool, plug-in, action set etc..?
In Photoshop? Layering with texture and playing with opacity. In Lightroom.. I don’t know if they’re my ‘most used’ but I use the luminosity color sliders a lot.
Cos we just have to ask…!! What is your favorite +PS tool?? And how has it improved workflow time?
I really love the PS Noir collection. The presets create such dramatic, sophisticated-looking images. Some of my favorite wedding photos were processed with Noir. I edit a LOT of images at a time, and I love that when I find a preset I want to use for a whole batch, I can just sync them and adjust the sliders from image to image. And with all the PS collections it looks like I spent a LOT more time editing than I actually did. (That can be our secret, right?)
Are you a MAC or PC fan?
Is this a serious question? Is any photographer not a MAC fan? 😉
Do you plan on buying any new equipment and if so what do you have your eyes on?
I JUST bought a lensbaby. I’ve been wanting one for quite a while and finally saved up enough to justify buying it. I’m planning on using it at a wedding next Saturday, so stay tuned for some pretty cool PS-processed, lensbaby wedding images. They’re going to be epic. I hope.
Can you briefly describe for the readers your photographic workflow after a shoot?
Import everything on the card to Lightroom, then save everything on the card to an external hard drive (that order is sometimes swapped depending on the shoot), then figure out what “look” I’m going for … start playing with various presets on various images and then settle in on what feels right, then go from image to image, syncing the “keepers” with presets and editing with sliders and brushes. My favorite images usually end up in 2-4 versions I can’t choose between.
How do you feel about cropping an image?
I do my best to compose a shot the way I want it “in camera”. But sometimes (especially when shooting events, where time is of the essence) you don’t have time to switch lenses or you need to shoot with a 1.4, but want the focal length of a different lens. There are all kinds of reasons why cropping is necessary. I usually use it as a tool to draw the eye where I want it to go. Sometimes a clever crop makes the whole image speak.
What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such awesome imagery?
I’m usually inspired in the moment… by the personality of the person (people/couple) I’m shooting, the sunlight, and a reflection in a puddle or a window. I don’t usually dream up dramatic, prop-based sets ahead of time. I kind of go with what I’ve got wherever I am. And after the shoot, when I see the images on the screen, they kind of speak to me and tell me where to go from there.
How do you educate yourself to take better photos?
I ask a lot of questions. I try to surround myself with people who are smarter, further along professionally and more creative than I am. I try, really hard, to stay humble and take constructive criticism.
Do you have an assistant/2nd shooter that accompanies you on a shoot?
I usually have two young ladies that accompany me to weddings. They 2nd/3rd shoot and assist. When I’m working with a musician or band, or on a shoot that requires LOT of creativity, I usually bring in Genese from The Lady & Rock, who you all know well. She can do hair/make up/styling/shooting/set prepping/assisting/posing…etc etc. She’s pretty much brilliant. And guess who convinced her to buy a camera? This girl (points at self) 😉
What is your favorite recent image you have shot recently? Can you describe its creation in regards to location, lighting, composition, camera settings etc.
It was a couple during their “first dance” at their wedding reception. The image is completely black except their silhouettes perfectly outlined in light (and one burst of light beside them). You can see the detailed outline of her dress, including a little tuft of tulle at the bottom. You can also see their expressions in the silhouette. And they are so madly happy. I felt completely euphoric after I finished editing that image (using the Noir Collection) As for as the photographic details of the image, the dance was outside and there wasn’t much light. I had a speed light on a stand behind them. I had my ISO set pretty low, so it didn’t capture much other than the silhouette of light outlining them.
Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph?
As silly as it may sound, when I think about the people I would love to photograph, people who have inspired me in some way… musically, intellectually, spiritually…I get really nervous at the thought of doing a shoot with them, and fear I would lose all creativity and forget how to use a camera when I’m around them. I shot one of my musical heroes once, when I was a VERY new photographer, and, looking back at the photos, I don’t think I did her justice. And I was pretty nervous the whole time. I would love the opportunity to do a shoot with my favorite author, Ravi Zacharias.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue photography?
Oh boy. This is a tough one. I would probably ask a lot of questions before giving a ton of advice. I would ask why they want to pursue it, what kind of photography they want to do, how long they’ve been passionate about it and if they want to do it for a living. I would strongly encourage anyone to pursue photography if they want to create art, capture emotion, and preserve invaluable memories. I would not encourage them to pursue it for the money. Just like in music, it’s really hard to make a living. Nashville in particular is a saturated market. I hear from frustrated photographers almost daily that they can’t get work. And a lot of those photographers are very talented and have loads of student loan debt. Think really hard and plan a lot before jumping into photography as a career. Make it a hobby for a while. Then it will be easier to stay in love with it. When you depend on shoots for your next meal, it’s harder to stay in love. Possible, but harder.
Each of us has someone or something, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration?
This is pretty intense. So, about five years ago, my little sister, Aly, got a DSLR and really started getting serious about photography. She started shooting musicians, kids, and fashion… She took almost every opportunity that arose and began to get really creative with her shooting and editing. On multiple occasions, she tried to show me how to use the camera, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I was completely intimidated by technology and convinced that I was incapable of learning how to use her camera. She also tried to teach me how to use Photoshop. I refused to learn that as well. I had a good job and used music as my creative outlet, so I didn’t really see a need to learn photography. In 2010, just a few months after Aly shot her first wedding; she was diagnosed, out of the blue, with stage IV colon cancer. She passed away exactly three months from the day of her diagnosis. Aly was my best friend. I was not only devastated, but felt completely lost without her. I struggled to get through each day at my job. I had emotionally and mentally checked out. A few months after she passed away, I was struck with an overwhelming desire to capture every important moment as they happened. I knew I had to overcome my fear and learn how to use a DSLR. A friend at work let me borrow his Canon t2i for a few weeks. I read the instruction manual and learned as much as I could as quickly as I could. I shot all the time. It was the first time I’d felt passionate about anything in ages. As soon as I started posting photos online, people started booking me for paid shoots. Old friends would drive more than an hour to have me photograph their children. Within two months of picking up a that first camera, I had bought a camera of my own, quit my well-paying, secure job (in the middle of the American recession) and took a low-wage, part time job as a traveling yearbook photographer. During that time I started freelancing for companies, as well as booking weddings and lots of family shoots. By that fall, I was able to quit the yearbook job and I’ve been doing my own work full time ever since. This is definitely not the typical story of how someone becomes a photographer, but it’s my story, and my sister, Aly, is the true basis of my inspiration.
Is there anything you would have done differently during your photographic career?
I would have done a better job following up on leads and calling people who gave me their business card. I think I’ve lost a lot of potentially great contacts by not following up.
If you could be invisible for one day with your camera…
Figure out where Patty Griffin is recording/playing and get some reeeeally great shots.
Something you’re still learning?
How to anticipate and capture moments more quickly…I still miss a lot of them.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photography?
Making the client happy while staying true to my own vision as an artist.
What do you think of the photography industry at the moment and where do you see it in 5 years from now?
I’m excited to see where the technology is headed, but I have some anxiety about my job security. In an age where ‘everybody is a photographer’ because DSLRS are more affordable, it can definitely be disheartening. But you can’t buy taste, talent or an ‘eye’ for photography. Owning a DSLR can’t turn someone into a talented photographer any more than owning a guitar can turn someone into a skilled musician.
A photographer who inspires you?
I might be a little biased, but Genese of The Lady and Rock is one of my best friends and my creative partner. Her work and ideas always inspire me. She’s creative in a way that is otherworldly. I keep hoping some of her creativity will rub off on me. I think it has in some ways. I’m proud to say that I taught her the basics of photography, studio lighting and Lightroom…but then she took it and ran with it so far and so hard. It’s kind of unbelievable.
A website and/or blog you visit often?
It has nothing to do with photography, but everything to do with people and their stories. It inspires me. www.ThisAmericanLife.org
The first photographer that comes to your mind and why?
Jeremy Cowart. He founded Help Portrait. He is constantly reinventing himself as an artist, photographer, ‘idea guy’ and philanthropist. He’s always doing something new and innovative.
The last workshop or seminar you attended and why?
It was actually Jeremy Cowart speaking about how do diversify your business. He warned us about getting stuck in ruts and encouraged us to keep looking around at what’s going on now, and what’s happening next so we can stay relevant.
What is your marketing advice?
I get over 90% of my business by word of mouth. Recommendations are like gold. Be trustworthy, Be personable. Care about your clients. Give them amazing work in a reasonable amount of time. Go above and beyond. Surprise them with a framed print of your favorite image of theirs. Make it impossible to stop saying great things about you.
How important is a kick ass website for your business?
Pretty darned important. Unfortunately mine isn’t up to ‘kick-ass’ standards quite yet, I don’t think.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
This might sound cheesy to some people, but I’ve been a very committed Christian for a long time, and that faith influences every aspect of my life. Every picture I take, every song I write, every interaction I have with people. My passion for life and for people and for photography comes from that faith, that love and that way of looking at the world.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest photography-related fear is ruining someone’s wedding. (Shudder..)
Photography pet hate/hates?
I still get too many blurry pictures of fast people in dark rooms.
Something that is overrated?
Stick-thin models with expressionless faces.
Something you’re saving up for?
Which five words would your friends use to describe you?
Ok, well, I just asked them and got a LOT of different words, but the most consistent ones were: Creative, Loyal, Advocate, Passionate, Insightful. I have really, really nice friends.
What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now?
I’d like to be able to afford to travel more, to do photography in other countries for non-profits and causes I believe in. I’d like to own at least one L series lens. Haha 😉
And the last question, if you had one wish…
That my sister could be here doing photography with me… or at least that she could see how far I’ve come and that I’m doing it all in her honor.
Website: www.erikachambersweddings.com[FYI – The lovely Erika is also in a band called Mercy Child. On the 1st of August they released a video for their single “Closer”. Watch it here and if you dig it, get it here!]