MEET HEATHER

Interview by Fiona Matthias

Heather_Birnie_The_Whittlings_8.jpg

 

When did you first pick up a camera?

Cameras have been a constant in my life. Mum always had her camera when we were out and about. Dad was always videoing or taking stills, and many family members also enjoyed photography. If my memory will stretch far enough, I remember I was given a “my first camera” kit from my parents when I was pretty young. I’m sure “my first camera” brought some important lessons (film is limited, maybe you only need one photo of mum’s plant), however the time that really sticks is walking down my grandparents’ track in Scotland to take photos of Sammy, the miniature horse, with my dad’s digital compact. We already had quite the friendship, and Sammy came right up to say hello and I managed to get some real close-ups of his gentle face. I was 12 years old.

And what did you feel?

Excitement and anticipation—the same feelings I still get now.

What camera do you now use, and what is your favourite lens?

I am currently shooting with my Canon 5D MKIII, along with my trusty 50mm
lens; and when the situation arises, I get out my Bronica SQ-A 120 film camera.

Heather_Birnie_Community_Fridge_026.jpg

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a portrait photographer? How do
you describe yourself?

I guess portrait photographer would be a good way to describe myself (I’ll remember that next time I am scratching around for the right words and end up using way too many). I predominantly photograph people, be that working with artists or with couples at their weddings; I am a real people person and the connections I make with people when we work together is definitely a hugely important part of what I do. I studied Photography for Fashion and Advertising at the University of Wales, Newport, and so I suppose I’ve always had a bit of a commercial edge to my work. After learning lighting and working on big briefs with clients, I’ve found that I get way more of that human connection by working with small creative businesses or creative couples. So that’s what I do now.

Do you see anything different, yet unifying, about the Welsh face?

A tan that can only come from a love of the great outdoors, and cheek!

Heather_Birnie_Vivienne_Rickman_Poole_010.jpg

What shoot—commissioned or your own project—has been the highlight of
your photography to date?

Well firstly, obviously “Jwrnal” is a fantastic project to be working on with Sarah; when I moved west I really had no idea about the rich creative community here in Wales. I had started contacting local businesses to make friends and start making work, and Sarah got in touch and told me of her plans
for “Jwrnal”. Fast forward a year and I’ve met loads of fantastic people, had many brilliant conversations and come home immensely excited to open my photos up on my computer. It’s been a brilliant journey thus far and I am excited to see what else will come of it. Other than “Jwrnal”, back in 2016 I was fortunate enough to be commissioned by L’Offciel Germany for a portrait shoot with writer Anneliese Mackintosh as part of their Heroines feature. I met Anneliese at her home in Cornwall and we walked across the headland and created some portraits together for the feature. Taking L’Officiel’s brief, spending time with Anneliese and seeing the photos we made together go to print was a great experience and I loved every second of it.

Have you had any mentors (and/or heroes) along the way? If so, who were
they, how did they inspire you, and what did they do for you?

I’ve been very lucky to have had some incredible mentors along the way; in the early days my good buddy Daniel Ackerley gave me loads of time for conversations around photography and he even passed along clients when he was already booked. I’ve also been super fortunate to work alongside Rebecca Rees who, like me, works in wedding photography and commercial photography, so she is a really great person to ask questions and generally talk to about the photography world. We work together a lot, and we always have great fun together when we do. The most influential mentors that have helped me along the way have to be Donald Christie, Celia Jackson and Ric Bower; all university tutors and all brought what was needed to the table exactly when it was needed; knowledge, laughter, tough love, harsh critique, praise and a shoulder to cry on. Years after graduating I still remember the lessons they taught me, and I still go to them for advice and friendship. They are a truly special bunch and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to study under them.

How would you describe the qualities of your own work? Is there a way of
summing up your “style”?

My photographic style is natural, un-staged and makes use of natural light. I would far rather go outside with whoever I am photographing, or have them in their natural setting, talk with them and then take some portraits that will give a true reflection of who they are and what they’re about.

Who or what or where would be your dream subject?

I’m just going to throw this one right out there: ever since moving west I have fallen completely in love with everything that’s been created at Fforest. I’d love to get involved, be it shooting any of their fantastic events, spaces or products, but I think I dream the most of shooting a Fforest wedding. A girl can dream!