Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a landscape or wildlife photographer? On a rather chilly morning we met with talented landscape photographer and filmmaker Joe Burn on location at Saltburn, the North East Coast of Yorkshire to find out what life as a photographer is really like.
Where did you study?
At the University of Cumbria on a photography and filmmaking course based around wildlife. With most of the projects we were given the option to work with either photography or film. I already had a lot of experience in photography prior to the degree, so the main reason for studying was to learn more about filmmaking.
How long do you have to wait for the perfect shot?
For the absolute perfect shot, it can be years! For a time, I was obsessed with photographing the night sky. Despite not knowing a great deal about the study of astronomy there’s something about the beauty of the night sky that never fails to amaze me when I’m out there in the field, gazing up into the dark, twinkling abyss. And to think, if our eyes could see anywhere near as much detail as a camera sensor can pick up just how breathtakingly stunning that spectacle would be.
I was camping at Robin Hoods Bay when I saw the Milky Way for the first time. I took my first photographs which were ok but nothing special compared to some of the photos I’d seen. I wanted my work to be as good as theirs! I researched different equipment and techniques and practiced to try to improve my shots. For over a year I tried to perfect my photos of the Milky Way but with slow progress. However, a few months on I was in the Scottish Highlands. The weather had been awful with constant cloud cover, but on the last night there was a break in the clouds followed by a gorgeous sunset. As it began to get dark I stopped at Ardvreck castle to admire the stars. All of the conditions seemed to come together. There was no clouds, no light pollution, no moon and I could also see the rare blue shaft of Zodiacal Light on the horizon. It was the perfect scene, and the practise payed off. I had finally captured the shot I had been dreaming of for over a year.
One thing we’ve always struggled with is using a long exposure. Any tips?
I use a filter on the front of the lens called a neutral density filter which blocks out most of the light coming into the camera. This allows you to leave the shutter open for longer. You can pay a lot of money for these glass filters ensuring no colour cast. However you can pick up fairly cheap ones. I shoot in RAW format so I can edit the white balance on the computer easily. Problem solved!
What makes a photo special to you?
I see a lot of photos of iconic landmarks but the thing that makes one photo stand out from the rest is when the elements really come together to create a scene only Mother Nature could conjure up, never to be repeated. For me that’s what makes a photo special. It’s less about the skill of the photographer and more about patience, and being at the right place at the right time with the right conditions.
If you could give one tip to budding photographers and filmmakers, what would it be?
Get out as much as you can and practice your technical abilities with the equipment you have. Go out in the day, the night, in rain, wind and snow so that when you find yourself in that situation again with a good scene, you know what settings to use and you won’t miss it. Sometimes you’ve got to be quick to be able to capture the moment.
For more of Joe’s work please click here