Interview with Neil Burnell

I am a multi-award winning fine art photographer from Devon in the South-West of England. I originally studied Art and Photography at College in the Early 90’s and went into graphic design, but recently I have discovered a love for landscape and fine art Photography. This year I am looking to Exhibit his Mystical Series of Ancient woodland images while also planning other fine art projects.

Interview:

LEMAG: Good morning Neil, thank you very much for finding time to speak to us. You say that you seem to own a DSLR forever, so can you tell us how it all started?

Neil Burnell: Well yes, I have owned one for a long time and even did film photography going back 25+ years at college, but I’ve only really taken it more seriously as a hobby in the last 3-4 years. Before that, I mainly used a DSLR for family photos and fishing in the main, oh and the odd bit of macro.

LEMAG: What made you change your approach to your own photography?

Neil Burnell: It wasn’t until 2014 that I decided to start taking landscapes when I purchased my first tripod, but this was still only something I did when I was visiting the coast to fish. In 2016 I decided to buy some filters and try my hand at LE photography after being inspired by some amazing LE photographers such as Rohan Rielly, Trevor Cotton and Nick Green. I loved playing with this technique and I started to enjoy the images I was making. 

LEMAG: I must of course ask why you focused on long exposure as well rather than on a fast-paced image taking.

Neil Burnell: I love the style of LE, especially minimalistic LE, it’s just something that visually appeals to me and it gives me more chance to be creative with a camera. 

LEMAG: Neil, you have a fair share of landscape and seascape images but you also present quite a number of images taken in the city. Naturally, a question pops up where you and your camera feel most comfortable or if the surroundings does not matter as long as you find an enticing subject.

Neil Burnell: At the moment its still all quite new to me and I’ve not really settled into a specific genre or style. I am hoping the more I learn trying various things will eventually help me to become a better all-round photographer. Another reason I’ve tried to mix things up is to keep things interesting, I find I do get a little bored if I stick with one specific genre. 

LEMAG: Tell us about your influences please. Who do you consider your master?

Neil Burnell: Oh there are so many! I tend to not only look at LE photographers but many genres and styles, if I had to name a few LE photography inspirations I’d go with: Rohan Rielly, Bruce Percy & Jonathan Critchley.

LEMAG: From your own images which one is your favourite?

Neil Burnell: This is a difficult one for me as I tend not to like many of my own images after a period of time. At the moment its actually a woodland shot I’ve taken recently called Empire, but if I had to choose an LE shot it would most likely be Abyss or Stilts. 

LEMAG: And do you have a favourite by other photographer?

Neil Burnell: The image that sticks in my mind is one by Martin Stranka called “Until You Wake Up”. I’m sorry it’s not LE but it’s one of the most stunningly crafted shots I’ve seen. 

LEMAG: My personal favourites by you are Abyss and Destruction – the former for its calm and colour and the latter for making me feel the movement and the feeling of being overpowered by water. Tell us how you captured those images.

Neil Burnell: Abyss was quite an early image for me, I had seen other mirrored images of Shoalstone Pool but not from this particular angle and it was something I wanted to shoot and put a specific style to the image to give it an ethereal feel. It was taken on a misty morning with a little bit of sunlight breaking through, its a pretty simple long exposure, I believe it was a 10 stop + 3stop and was about 4-5mins. I’ve then just mirrored the section in processing and muted the colour to make them more appealing to my eye. Destruction was in much tougher conditions as you can imagine. For this shot I had to position myself high above the pool, but it was so rough I still took the odd soaking! The shot itself was a case of setting the composition and firing a range of shots with an exposure length of 0.5s – 2s then choosing something that was not only just visually appealing, but also represented the conditions at the time. 

LEMAG: Many readers asked for some information on the gear so perhaps you can briefly let the cat out of the bag and say what camera/s and filters you use.

Neil Burnell: At the moment its D810 with various Nikon Lenses, 17-35, 24-70 and 70-200. I also use Kase filters which are excellent if you do any LE in colour as they leave no cast. 

LEMAG: Does being a graphic designer by profession help you shape your photography style?

Neil Burnell: I think so, I’ve tended to always like very minimalistic design work so its natural for me to follow this path with my photography. 

LEMAG: You dwell in Brixham, in English Riviera, a small fishing town in the district of Torbay in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and fishing and tourism are the major industries. What was there around you to make you a photographer?

Neil Burnell: The most obvious answer would be Shoalstone Pool, but in all honesty, there’s not very much other than that for an LE shooter in Brixham. There is also the popular Tree by the Steps in Babbacombe, Torquay and various other well know locations within an hour or two drive. 

LEMAG: Your landscape and seascape images are full of light and rich in detail while your cityscape images are mostly dark and lead the viewer’s eye to one point. How would you explain this different approach?

Neil Burnell: I suppose this is down to how I interpret the scene and what I feel best suits the image. I tend to like lighter tones for my seascapes as they are generally quite minimal, I’ve done a few different styles for city shots and they range in styles but the darker shots do tend to be more impactful and lend themselves to the enclosed spaces. 

LEMAG: Where would you like to go shooting you have not yet been?

Neil Burnell: I’ve not even taken my camera abroad as yet, there are so many places I’d like to visit but at this time in my life it’s just not possible. Ideally places like: Hokkaido, Venice, Iceland etc, basically all the places most LE photographers would love to go!

LEMAG: Do you set up projects and focus on capturing images that would fit the project concept or you just go out with your camera and open mind and shoot whatever appeals to you?

Neil Burnell: I’m actually starting to think more on a project basis at the moment, one which will be from home during the winter months when the days are short, and one which will be more LE based on my local river.

LEMAG: You have won a few significant awards over the course of last few years. Was there one the most valuable to you?

Neil Burnell: Winning the YourView section of Landscape Photographer of the Year with Stilts was definitely the most significant. I remember entering thinking it probably wasn’t the right type of shot for a competition like this so I was absolutely chuffed when it won that section.

LEMAG: And what would you consider your greatest waste of time, photography-wise?

Neil Burnell: I visited Snowdonia last year and although it was a good trip spent with some great people, I was disappointed with my images from this trip. This year we are going again and I’ve put a bit more preparation into the trip this time, I just hope the weather is better. 

LEMAG: Apart from photography do you have any other hobbies? 

Neil Burnell: I’ve always played football right up until this year when I had a really unfortunate accident with my eye which led to a detached retina. unfortunately, I can no longer play contact sports because of it, this has been very tough for me but on the upside, I should hopefully have more time to put towards my Photography. 

LEMAG: Neil, thank you very much again and best of luck with your new projects.

Abyss
Rough pool
Daymark