Jen Burnett aka @jenburnett on Instagram and Twitter is a hospitality marketing communications pro and mobile photographer enthusiast from Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in a number of juried exhibitions including the Community Collective Photography Showcase (Washington, DC , September 2016), Instant Storyteller mobile photography at The Polaroid Museum, Las Vegas (Apr 2014-current); Exposed DC/InstantDC Fall Preview where she was a third place show winner; and #LightDarkMatters for the Tate and Institute of Physics.
Jen’s work has been featured in many on and offline publications and blogs such as: Thrillist, Ludique, D/City Style, Famous DC, Shootermag (USA), Mobiography and Washingtonian magazine to name a few.
Jen has a beautiful eye for good composition which she uses to capture some stunning urban architecture, interiors and geometric patterns.
In this interview Jen talks about her introduction to iPhone photography, about her approach to composition and what inspires her about urban architecture, staircases and the world around her.
How did you first discover iPhone photography?
I downloaded Instagram in October of 2010, around the time when the app was first launched. At the time I had an iPhone 3GS so I wasn’t too active that first year with taking photos and posting on the app. But by the following year, with my iPhone 4s in hand, it quickly became my go-to camera. I am now shooting with the iPhone 7.
What drives and inspires your interest in iPhone photography?
I have been a hobbyist/fan of art and architecture for many years and also love to take photographs when I travel. This has informed my work and inspired me to keep shooting and keep improving. iPhone photography also gets me out exploring in my own city again with a whole new eye. Exploring new places also sparks my creativity as well as seeing the beautiful in the everyday and being able to capture that moment and share it wherever I may be. It is quite special. It’s been said often – but for good reason – the best camera is the one that is always with you.
Urban architecture and staircases feature heavily in your photos. What is it about these subjects that fascinate you?
In addition to having a deep interest in architecture, my eye is instinctively drawn to geometry and shapes. In addition, I like to explore the human experience as it relates to space and light, and the built environment around us.
Tell us about your approach to the way you compose your photos. Do you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share with others looking to take better photos?
I think it’s always good to start with the basics of composition. For me it was all about learning ‘the rules’ of photography, rule of thirds, symmetry and light – and then knowing when to break the rules. I’m naturally attracted to symmetry but I also like the tension found in asymmetrical compositions. Also, the small iPhone screen almost forces one to rely more so on leading lines to draw the viewer in. So, use compositional elements and light to create depth and perspective. Ultimately, for me photography is the study of light.
I recommend photographers – novices and pros alike – scour through photo books, and study the works of photographers, painters, and filmmakers you admire. Whatever your genre, you’ll start to notice how much light plays in making an image. Also, many photos can be improved by getting down low and close, and by isolating your subject. Finally, before you hit that button, ask yourself, “What is my intention with this photo? What do I want to say?”.
Finding your voice is one of the hardest aspects of being an artist. Humans communicated visually thousands of years before text. It’s powerful when it’s done well.
What apps do you use and is there a process or methodology that you apply to your post production editing?
I use the native camera on the iPhone to shoot. Sometimes I do a quick edit with the native Photos app, but more often than not I am using VSCO from everything involved in tuning an image to applying filters. Snapseed is the supporting app for me and I use it typically for transforming and other edits outside of filters. Even when I use a filter I typically dial it way down. I also convert to greyscale a lot as I love black and white. I am also starting to play with Filmborn but have yet to do a deep dive into it.
You are the moderator for a couple of Instagram groups @stairwalkers and @blackandwhitedc, tell us about these groups and what you look for in photos that are featured on them.
I was so excited when I was asked to join the @Stairwalkers team as a moderator because I love architecture and our interaction with the built environment. Stairs are utilitarian, but they can have such a strong geometry to them and make such an impact, with a wide range in design and era. I look for Stairwalker photos that highlight beautiful and unique stairs, and is a superbly composed image, which may range from intense colors, to pure clean monochrome to dramatic black and white. I’m more attracted to a minimalist aesthetic personally, but there have been some outstandingly beautiful photos of stairs that are highly decorative as well. Interesting angles and a masterful use of light, a well-placed person (or interesting partial view) and strong geometric lines – whether spiral, triangular, curved or straight, are ones I love the most.
I happily became involved in @blackandwhitedc when the original founder of the hub had to hand it over due to time constraints. I love Washington, D.C. and I love black and white photography so it was a perfect match for me. We have such incredible talent here in DC – photographers who excel in lifestyle, street, architecture and portraits. It’s a pleasure to scroll through the tag and see the variety that DC has to offer, beyond the usual monuments and iconic views (which are just as beautiful and thrilling to see!).
Do you have any interesting photographic projects or stories that have influenced your photographic journey that would would like to share?
I am truly grateful to have this creative outlet and to be able to share this experience with so many other talented and all-around great people. I will never forget the photographers I have met along the way and the places I have explored. I am lucky that I get to look through photos and relive those moments many times over. I am always looking to the next adventure around the corner.
Tell us about three of your favourite photos and the story behind them?
I See You
For one of my favorite DC photos, I’m going way back to November of 2013 to the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. The building was designed by architect I.M. Pei and these stairs in the atrium of this wonderful structure are so much fun to shoot! The subtle patterns on the stone, the geometric layering of the various levels of the stairs and the tiny person, who is looking at me as if to say “I see you with your camera, taking a photo of me!”. The travertine stone and the atrium as a whole takes on so many different looks depending on the light. On a sunny afternoon, light streams in through a multitude of ceiling skylights and creates so many interesting shadows and patterns. On a cloudy day, the softer diffused light makes the space look completely different. No one day here is the exactly the same as the next and it’s one of the many reasons why I always love to shoot here.
This was taken in NYC on one of my many trips to the city. One of my Instagram friends, Charlie (@chasread), met up with us briefly to shoot a frequently photographed and ‘grammed staircase (at Barney’s department store in Chelsea). We only had about 30 minutes here, but it was a lot of fun. In this particular shot, I was standing on the ground floor shooting up, and Charlie had his arm out with iPhone in hand. I loved the spiral and how it looked from below, and how the ceiling looks like open sky. Plus, shooting with Charlie is always special!
Let’s start at the beginning
This was taken on my first trip to Chicago – a dream for me to finally visit this incredible city! The curving staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago is another popular spot on Instagram, but I enjoy the challenge of taking something that is so well-known and familiar and making it my own. I like that I caught this moment, a couple just about to walk up the stairs – sort of the beginning of a journey. I also liked the angle that I shot from, that it was just a little different than what I’d been used to seeing of these stairs.