Best of 2014 Honoree: Elk Studio

by | Aug 7, 2015 | Best of 2014

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Whether they’re shooting on location or in their daylight-filled Chelsea studio, elk — the moniker for New York-based photographers Erin Kornfeld and Erica Leone — have a style that is highly collaborative and full of fun.


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“We have an affinity for food and beautiful objects,” Kornfeld says. “It was just such a natural fit to see where those things could collide with our portraiture in a playful and seductive way.”

“We really enjoyed integrating an aspect of beauty photography in these works as well,” adds Leone. “We love working with clients who appreciate these mash-ups and collaborating on playful combinations.”

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ASMP: How long have you been in business?

elk/Erin Kornfeld and Erica Leone: Almost five years.

ASMP: How long have you been ASMP members?

EK/EL: Longer than that.

ASMP: What initially prompted you to join ASMP?

EK/EL: Business resources and building community.

ASMP: What do you consider the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?

EK/EL: Those two things!

ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?

EK/EL: Well, our studios have been the venue for the ASMP New York chapter holiday party for the past two years, so our most memorable ASMP relationships have been bonding while hanging Christmas lights.

ASMP: Do you have a favorite ASMP-related story to share?

EK/EL: Probably a fellow ASMP member spray-painting a life-size holiday bush silver in the middle of our studio, minutes before the party started, while jamming to holiday tunes.

ASMP: Which ASMP education/advocacy tools do you find most helpful to your day-to-day business and why?

EK/EL: Copyright and marketing tutorials and Webinars. There’s an amazing range of information from the best in our industry on these two critical topics.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

EK/EL: We love shooting people, both in the studio and on location.

ASMP: What is unique about your approach? What sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

EK/EL: Our collaborative two-person shooting style, the amazing vibe on-set that we create and our straightforward, unassuming approach and style, which really puts our subjects at ease. We are also so fortunate to have built the best possible team of collaborative crewmembers over the years as well!

ASMP: When and how did the two of you meet and decide to work together?

EK/EL: We met at the International Center of Photography and have basically spent every day together ever since.

ASMP: Please describe how you work together, both in terms of process and how you divide up responsibilities.

EK/EL: It’s a really natural process — we’ve gotten to the point where we can easily finish each others sentences (and sometimes we do!) and instinctively know where to hand things off to one another. It’s not a clear division of labor and that’s what we love about it. It’s a really seamless dance that we do, on-set and off.

ASMP: In your working relationship, have there been any trials and tribulations that have helped define how you’d work together or made you stronger as a team?

EK/EL: Yes — finding a commercial studio space in New York!

ASMP: You also run elk rentals, a studio rental space. How long have you operated this business and what were the circumstances for setting it up?

EK/EL: Here’s a link to a PDN Studio Guide article, which gives a really insightful and fun perspective about this.

ASMP: Please describe your studio setup in terms of staffing, outsourcing and the workflow distribution?

EK/EL: We have a full-time studio manager, part-time studio assistants, and interns, freelance crewmembers and both in-house and out-of-house postproduction.

ASMP: You photograph people both in studio and on location. Is one of you better in the studio and the other more adept at photographing on location, or are you equally comfortable in both environments?

EK/EL: We each really love to do it all — the challenge of a constantly changing subject and environment — and we find it even more fun to do it together. We’re both really inspired by ‘70s color photography, and we love to infuse our environmental portraits with these qualities. We also find a great deal of inspiration in our working relationship, both on and off set.

ASMP: You’ve done a lot of work with artists, arts organizations and galleries in the past. How did you build or cultivate this type of client base?

EK/EL: We both have a fine art background and have always gravitated towards this community. We’ve been so lucky to work with these incredible artists and organizations that continually inspire us.

ASMP: In your recent portrait work, models are often photographed with flowers and food. Are there particular clients that you’re seeking to target with this work?

EK/EL: We do have an affinity for food and for beautiful objects. It was just such a natural fit to see where those things could collide with our portraiture in a playful and seductive way. We really enjoyed integrating an aspect of beauty photography into these works as well. We’re seeking clients who appreciate these “mash ups” and who would want to work on more playful combinations with us.

ASMP: Your work is often very playful. Does your studio vibe embody that sensibility?

EK/EL: Thank you! That’s a great compliment. We love what we do and we’re so happy it comes through in our images. Our clients and crew often remark how much fun they have at the end of our shoots — it’s quite contagious!

ASMP: Your Web site mentions that you work with clients from pre-production to shoot through postproduction. Please talk about the types of postproduction work that you do and the equipment and software you use.

EK/EL: Production (pre and post) has become a great strength of ours. So, we’re heavily involved the entire way, giving consistency to our clients’ experience and to the final images as well. Each stage heavily influences the resulting work, so it’s important to be part of the conversation at each juncture, to make sure our vision and the client’s remains intact. Whether it’s liaising between client and postproduction crew or doing it ourselves, our collaborative nature and secret love of process really come through here. But to get down to the techy side: We love Capture One, Pegasus drives and we’re pretty much on a first-name basis at TekServe.

ASMP: You classify the work you submitted for the Best of ASMP as portraits. What qualities do you feel makes for a good portrait?

EK/EL: One of the things we love most about our job is getting to meet such incredible people and hear their stories. For us, it’s during this banter and playful interaction that the moment presents itself.

ASMP: What criteria did you use to choose the models for this project?

EK/EL: We wanted the images to flow as a series and also feel simultaneously like individual discrete works. So we chose Rachael for her ability to transform in each look. Plus she’s a ton of fun on set.

ASMP: Once you have hair and make up and styling done, about how long do you spend lighting and photographing your subjects? How much time do you spend in postproduction?

EK/EL: We spend a lot of time pre-lighting so, once our subject gets on set, it’s about interaction. Postproduction time varies so broadly from project to project. It’s always our goal to get as much as possible on set and keep postproduction to a minimum. Our clients really appreciate this approach.

ASMP: Which formats do you shoot and what equipment do you use? Is natural light your preferred lighting?

EK/EL: Digital SLR and digital medium-format, as well as medium and large-format film. We always focus more on the concept of the shoot and then pick the camera and lighting that gets us there. For portraiture, we tend to mix strobe with daylight to create a really natural feel.

ASMP: Which avenues do you use to promote your work and build awareness?

EK/EL: Print and digital, valuing existing personal relationships and constantly building new ones, and of course online. They all compliment one another and we always think about multiple touches reaching the same audience when we’re reaching out.

ASMP: What is your marketing strategy and who is your target market? Are you using work from this project in your current marketing materials and promo pieces?

EK/EL: We’re using this work in our current marketing! Our marketing strategy is ever evolving and is often based around particular projects. One recurring component is a monthly e-mail, sending out new commercial and personal work, for which we tailor the audience to the image. We’re still big believers in a beautifully printed image and push ourselves to get them in front of folks as well.

ASMP: Do you work with a rep or an advisor to help develop your marketing strategy and build exposure?

EK/EL: We’re so fortunate to have a lot of advisors, mentors and peers in the industry. The relationships are informal and mutually beneficial. The general creative and design start with us and we go out to our community for feedback on how to make it better.

ASMP: Are your Beauty and Flowers portraits an ongoing series? If so, how many portraits do you anticipate in the series? Do you currently have other ideas in mind or in planning stages for your next big project?

EK/EL: It’s part of “People + Things.” This series is a natural evolution of our love for portraiture, our playful nature in the studio and collaboration with other talented artists and clients. Past shoots in this series have included candy, food, nail art, etc. We’ve got some great ideas cooking for the next shoot… Stay tuned!

ASMP: You are both educated as artists. Please talk about your creative process and describe how you collaborate on this.

EK/EL: We’re inspired by a combination of contemporary visual art as well as everyday things we encounter in our lives, such as textures, colors, experiences and, of course, gorgeous light.

ASMP: Do you both work on all assignments as a team or do you sometimes split up and divide the assignments based on your strengths?

EK/EL: We always work together.

ASMP: What is the most important business advice you’ve ever received?

EK/EL: Surround yourself with people who inspire and challenge you.

ASMP: What’s been your most valuable business decision to date?

EK/EL: Teaming up!

ASMP: Has the project generated new clients or markets for your work? Has it given you new visibility with existing or past clients?

EK/EL: It’s so important to always have personal projects in the works — things you are passionate about. It’s what clients enjoy seeing and how they get to know you as an artist. We’ve gotten a great response to the work from existing and past clients as well as some new prospects.

ASMP: You mention that some of your best work comes out of your editorial projects and that you welcome a good challenge.

EK/EL: Our commercial work is where we have definitely earned our producing chops, which has been so helpful on editorial shoots when you need to be scrappy and problem solving. Our editorial work is usually edgier and has more artistic freedom, which then influences our commercial commissions. We do a good mix of editorial and advertising. We were fortunate to get ad work early in our career and the editorial followed. We love doing both!

ASMP: What is the most important advice that you’d give a young photographer starting out now?

EK/EL: Be kind and be professional.

ASMP: Where do you see yourselves in five years time? Have you set any major personal or professional goals for the years ahead?

EK/EL: Doing what we’re doing, but continuing to increase our production value and our client list. We are so fortunate to be part of a great partnership, have a beautiful studio to work in every day and we get to photograph people who we find interesting and inspiring. We’re psyched to still be doing this in five years!