Imma Barrera: combining science, curiosity and photography to capture the beauty of the night sky

Talented night photographer Imma Barrera talks us through her fascinating work linking her lifelong passion for science, discovery and photography while helping to raise awareness of light pollution along the way.
Can you tell us a little about you and how you got started in photography?

Ever since I was a child nature and its beauty have fascinated me—the colours, textures and shapes; the harmonious and the dramatic; the big living creatures and the tiny microscopic organisms. I was gifted my first camera when I was 8 years old—a Kodak Instamatic—and my first task was documenting the things that would interest me. Some people write diaries, I took pictures.

Joshua and the sky.
Your background is in science and biology, can you tell us a little about your experience in this area and how it has influenced your photography?

Photography has been one of the tools that I used to collect data for my research. I spent countless hours staring through electron and optical microscopes and taking images of viruses and cells. I also dedicated a fair amount of time in the darkroom developing those images to collect sufficient data for statistical analysis. Nowadays, I view photography as a way to document nature but with the artistic touch to connect at a deeper emotional level with the viewer.

What photography equipment do you currently use and what couldn’t you live without?

My selection for gear would have to be the Nikon d750 camera and the Sigma 14-24mm Art Lens, as I cannot imagine not shooting the night skies. That being said, for me, my camera gear would be secondary. In today’s world, where all sort of great cameras are available and people are capturing more images than ever before, I believe what sets an image apart is the post-processing work. By editing, photographers can bring an image closer to how they created it in their minds or experiment with their imagination. For this reason, I would choose post-processing software and Affinity Photo as my top choice for editing. Its versatility and functionality are vital to creating my vision.

Catskills reservoir.
Who have been your biggest influences and inspirations and what is it about them/their work that has influenced you so much?

My list of photographers includes the great masters such as Ansel Adams, and others like Art Wolf, Frans Lanting and Arthur Morris. I was also very impressed by the photos and the stories from Ron Magill. All these photographers and many others have in common their passion for photography and a special connection with nature, something I also feel passionate about. So it’s not surprising they are a source of inspiration and motivation for me.

What is it about nature photography that inspires you so much?

I have always loved to explore and experience new things—getting lost but at the same time connecting with my surroundings. Nature and its beauty have always been a source of fascination to me which is why I became a biologist/scientist with a particular passion for discovery. Photography to me is the perfect way of combining my scientific analytic approach and curiosity to capture what is truly beautiful and inspiring on this planet. Moreover, it’s a never-ending process for learning and creating.

The Barn in Fruita.
You capture a lot of different styles of photography, from macro to landscapes and astrophotography, is it important to you to have variety in your work?

I have been asking this question myself! Supposedly, specialisation in a certain area is the key to success, to be known for a unique style or look. As a scientist, I was very specialised but there was a point in my career where I felt I missed seeing the big picture and I could not even explain to people outside my field what my research was all about. I am certainly a big picture person, even if I can be very detail orientated. Therefore, in my photography, I capture whatever I feel connected to, with a strong emphasis on nature. I love to experiment and I tend to bore easily doing the same things over and over. So, I will look for new projects to push and motivate me. Right now, my main focus is on night photography as a way to raise awareness about light pollution.

Where has been your favourite location to travel to as a photographer?

I love to travel so when I finished my PhD, I decided to treat myself and visit the Galapagos. As a biologist, this trip seemed like a no-brainer. The islands wildlife abundance and proximity to humans had a great impact on me as I had never experienced anything like that before. Those were the days of analog photography, yet I simply could not stop taking pictures. Since then I have always selected places to visit based on how much I wanted to photograph the area.

Milky Way on the rocks.
You took part in the Artist in Residence programme at Capitol Reef National Park, Can you tell us a bit about it and what made you apply?

Capitol Reef is a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park with some of the best night sky viewing opportunities of the western national parks. As part of this designation, staff and volunteers perform ongoing monitoring of night sky conditions throughout the area. The park’s commitment to reducing light pollution and educating the public about the night skies is also demonstrated by offering one annual Artist In Residence programme exclusively dedicated to night photography.

“Capitol Reef’s programme and their goals were exactly what I was looking for to develop my own project”

Capitol Reef’s programme and their goals were exactly what I was looking for to develop my own project to capture and document those inspiring landscapes under the night sky as a way to raise awareness about light pollution. Needless to say, I was delighted to have been selected as the 2019 recipient.

What was day to day life like during your residency?

All Artists in Residence are considered volunteers for the National Park Service and therefore I was able to attend some of the training programmes set up to educate the public about aspects of the park including management, its inhabitants and their history and also about its geological and biological relevance. I was also asked to ‘work’ on my photography 40 hours a week. So I explored the park during the day for areas to photograph at night. Other tasks included a presentation of my work as part of the Evening Programme at the campground amphitheatre. In addition, a second lecture was also hosted by the Entrada Institute, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to preserving and celebrating the natural, historical, and cultural heritage of the Colorado Plateau.

Pectol Pyramid.
What was the focus of the photography you created while on your residency?

Mostly night photography, milky way and star trails. During cloudy days, I would focus on wildlife and landscapes.

What was your most amazing experience whilst being at Capitol Reef?

It may sound cliché but the entire experience was amazing. However, if I were forced to choose, I would say my trip to Cathedral Valley.

Temple of the moon at Capitol Reef National Park.
How do you go about capturing such amazing astrophotography?

My first step would be to visualise a composition that is both appealing and balanced. The next goal would be about the best ways to capture an image with as much detail as possible and with the least amount of digital noise. My last step would be to experiment with Affinity Photo and post-processing to get the ‘look’ and artistic touch I had in mind.

Double Arch.
You also run photography workshops for adults and kids, what inspired you to start offering workshops and what are your best memories of working with your students?

My son wanted to take a photography course a while ago as he wanted to learn more about photography, but most courses we looked into did not really teach about exposure or using a DSLR camera. In addition, I talked to many people who told me they owned DSLRs but felt intimidated by the complexities of the cameras. Therefore, I felt there was a niche that could be easily covered.

It is always a great experience to teach kids. One of my students is now going to college to major in photography, so I am very proud of her and happy for my small contribution to her professional development.

Acadia National Park.
‘To the stars’ at Acadia National Park.
What would your advice be to budding nature and landscape photographers?

My suggestion would be to find a project that inspires and motivates you and focus on it. Aim to learn something new every single day: about photography techniques or post-processing or studying other photographers whose images you find compelling. In other words, look for sources of inspiration and growth.


About the photographer

Born in Barcelona, Imma Barrera is a landscape and nature photographer based in New Jersey, USA. She is a biologist but also a graduate of NY Institute of Photography and has exhibited her photography in a number of galleries worldwide and won several awards.

Her favourite subjects to photograph are landscapes from dusk to dawn, including astrophotography. She was selected as the 2019 Capitol Reef National Park’s Artist-in-Residence for her night sky photography, and was shortlisted in the Landscape category of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards—Professional competition with her series “Under the Night Sky”. In addition, she is the author of “The stars, the moon and the sun (in the NJ/NY area)”.

Imma is also involved in educational programmes about photography and seminars to raise awareness about the need to protect our natural treasures. Her current project involves documenting different features of a few selected American national parks and presenting those images together in the format of a published book.

You can see more of Imma’s incredible photography on her website, Facebook page and Instagram.


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.
Credits & Footnotes

All photography in this article is copyright © of Imma Barrera and used with permission.