Creating and Capturing the Gothic Essence Through Photography – An Interview with Heather Burns

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Photo by Heather Burns

Heather Burns is a creative artist and photographer, based in Derbyshire. Her stunning imagery showcases a gothic undertone, exploring the duality of beauty and darkness. Heather is also a Triple Master Craftsman, Judge and Panel Member with the Guild of Photographers, as well as a Volunteer Co-ordinator and Digital Retoucher for Remember My Baby. Her images push the boundaries of traditional photography, with multiple layers and intricacies contained in each shot. I spoke with Heather to find out more about her fascinating work.

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Photo by Heather Burns

What got you into photography?

My husband was a professional musician for many years, and we were at a ‘band’ BBQ when one of our friends showed us some of his photography on his iPad. They were beautiful landscapes of the Peak District, and I was blown away by how incredible they were. I thought at the time if I could create something half as good, I would be delighted! As the evening went along, he showed me some of his gig photography as he had been a roadie for a number of bands including Thin Lizzy and I knew at that very moment that was what I really wanted to do!  

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Photo by Heather Burns

Your work has a very particular ‘feel’ to it and there’s a clear gothic inspiration. What made you interested in this type of photography? 

I spent many years photographing bands, and it was a natural progression for me to move into promo work for musicians such as posters / portraits and CD covers. I loved the creative element of adding layers and textures to my images so my subjects would stand out from the crowd.  

Over time my passion for this creative work took over from the live gig photography, and I found myself exploring new dimensions from my imagination for my landscape, wildlife and portrait images, incorporating many different layers and textures to bring them to life. 

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Photo by Heather Burns

How do you create your particular look?

It’s predominantly post-production. If I’m shooting landscapes, I’ll try and shoot on a very grey, flat day so I don’t have to worry about shadows. Then I might, for example, add in a sky I’ve shot or add gradients. I can add in a photograph of the moon and then add a gradient to create a realistic shaft of light. It’s the same with people in the studio – I always shoot them on a plain background and then overlay things. Every element of my images is a photograph that I’ve shot myself, so if I don’t have it, I’ll go out and shoot it. I shoot a lot of incidental images – doors, gateways, walls, patterns, wood so I can overlay and build up images.

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Photo by Heather Burns

What kind of influences do you draw inspiration from?

I think its fair to say I love all things Gothic and draw my influences from all around me. There’s nothing better than a cosy night in front of the TV with a Hammer Horror Film, trying to fathom the brilliant mind of Sherlock Holmes, or been drawn into the dark secrets of Victorian London at the turn of the century.

My most favourite film is HG Wells’ Time Machine. I love the sequence where the Time Traveler is sat in his plush velvet chair, looking at the fashions in the shop window opposite his house change as he moves through the eras. 

When we are on our own travels, my husband and I often try to imagine who has walked on the same paths that we are on at that moment in time. This may be beautiful woodland, historic buildings, or ancient ruins. When I am back home and looking at my photographs from the day, the ideas start to form for how the images may evolve to capture what had been running through our own imaginations at the time. 

We also enjoy the creative and social aspect of Steampunk which is a subgenre of science fiction that incorporates retrofuturistic technology and aesthetics inspired by, but not limited to, 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the Victorian era where a lot of my images are derived from. 

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Photo by Heather Burns

Do you have any favourite photographers or creative influences that have informed your photographic style, and why?

There are a lot of photographers who’s work I admire greatly, they are a wide cross section of genres including K9, ICM, Mono and Portraits. 

However, whilst I admire others’ work, I find I am influenced a great deal by filmography especially on dramas such as Peaky Blinders, Carnival Row and Ripper Street where the sets and costumes are incredible and brought to live by beautiful lighting and very clever filming. Films and TV have the ability to make you laugh, cry, be shocked or feel warm and fuzzy, and I always want my images to do the same. 

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Photo by Heather Burns

What kit do you shoot with and what’s your favourite bit of kit?

I shoot all my portraits with a Nikon D810 and a 24–70mm lens, it works for me! I love the clarity this combination gives me along with the sharpness. The large file sizes give me capability, if I should need it, without losing quality. They also allow me to edit in very fine detail, which is important when I am looking to incorporate additional images and textures together.

I have a small Nikon Z fc mirrorless camera for walking about and shooting events, which more often than not has a 28mm prime lens sat on it. It is incredibly lightweight so is always with me and, while it may not be quite as sharp or quite as dynamic as the full frame, I absolutely love it for creating my surreal landscapes and cityscapes. With the exception of my portraits nearly all my creative images are taken with this little pocket rocket. 

Digital cameras are workhorses. I had two of the same model and bizarrely loved one, but not the other! Sadly my favourite died a death a few months ago after nine years and the autofocus has gone. However, this means I can use it for my Lensbaby lenses, mainly shooting still life. People struggle to get round that softness you can get with a Lensbaby – I love the look and feel of them, but they’re not for everyone. All of my Lensbaby images have some sharpness in them. They’re a play lens that you can have fun with. 

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Photo by Heather Burns

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve currently got several band promo shoots lined up and have several album covers due to be released imminently. I’m also busy on the lecture circuit hoping to inspire others to have a go at some creative photography and look at exploring combining images. This includes some very simple image and texture combinations to more complex edits.

I’m always working on personal projects; these may be looking at styling, lighting or photographing people and still life, which I’ve found to be fabulous for wet afternoons when you are stuck in the house.

I’m busy with the Guild of Photographers as a judge and mentor, an organisation who have been instrumental in nurturing and encouraging me to get to where I am today. For the last 6 years, I’ve also been a volunteer coordinator and retoucher for Remember My Baby. The charity offers a free gift of baby remembrance photography to UK parents, experiencing the loss of their baby before, during or shortly after birth. It’s so rewarding to be able to give my time to those when they need you the most.

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Photo by Heather Burns

What would you say is your goal with your photography?

I want to carry on learning as much as I can, keep the passion alive and help others to release their inner creativity!

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Photo by Heather Burns

As a female photographer, do you feel that you face any particular challenges? Do you feel that the industry is favourable towards women, or would you like to see any changes?

I’m very lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people who don’t care who you are, what you look like or what you are wearing. A shared passion (in my case photography, steampunk, music, film and history) brings people together without prejudice. I always have the best of times with the best of friends. 

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Photo by Heather Burns

What advice would you give to budding photographers?

Create images to please yourself, if others like them that’s a bonus! 

Create your signature style by developing an individual look and feel to your images. This always comes from within not from emulating others so embrace the things you love in life.

Keep the passion alive, try new ideas, set yourself projects to push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

You can view more of Heather’s work on her website, and follow her on Instagram and Facebook

Photographer Heather Burns
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