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"My most memorable would have to be capturing the lightning bolt over the Cincinnati skyline. I remember I was driving around Newport when I saw lightning flashes behind the city and luckily I had my camera and tripod with me. I went to a spot I had picked out over in Covington by the Roebling Bridge and set up my camera to take continuous shots. When I saw that lightning bolt and heard my shutter close shut, I knew I got the shot. I'll never forget that feeling." / Image: Brendan Burkett // Published: 7.29.19
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Local Photographer Brendan Burkett Is the Real Deal Behind the Lens

If you're unfamiliar with the work of Brendan Burkett, you're in for a treat. He's an active Instagram user who's among a handful of local photographers to earn national attention for his work; as recently as late last year, he won the My City by Mimeo Photos contest.

Burkett's subjects, while often found along the river and within the city's center, include everything from street scenes to portraits, drone painting (we'll get to that in a second), and more. Roebling Bridge pictures are a dime a dozen thousand these days, but Burkett's take on familiar subjects—contrasted by fresh faces and peculiar perspectives—make for a body of work that feels original and innovative. Case in point: instead of simply capturing a symmetrical night shot of Music Hall, he launches a drone and begins a long exposure while it encircles the building. The harmony between the drone and DSLR on the ground result in a halo effect above Music Hall without the use of post-production effects. Drone painting, if you will.

That's not the only trick in Burkett's bag, either—and I mean that literally. To circumvent restrictions on tripod and studio light use in the city, he devised a clever way to capture portraits using a backpack. Because of his ingenuity and talent behind the lens, I wanted to ask him a few questions to get to know him a little better. He's our Photographer Spotlight this month.

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Cincinnati Refined: Sum yourself up in a couple of sentences.

Brendan Burkett: Friends and family would describe me as introspective and creative with a bit of a goofy side. I'm an electrical engineer by training, but I'm always coming up with new things to work on, whether it's developing an app, kickstarting a hot sauce brand, or coming up with a new photographic concept.

CR: What got you into photography?

BB: I always enjoyed taking pictures growing up, and it was my grandma Gabby who first recognized that I was good at it. I received a lot of encouragement from my family, and I won a few awards in middle school. My love for photography was invigorated after I moved to Cincinnati. The city, its streets, and people are just so photogenic.

CR: We’ve seen the portable portrait studio you sometimes wear around town. Would you tell us more about that?

BB: Cincinnati, like most major cities, requires a permit to use a tripod or light stand on the ground. I decided to get around this rule by creating a device that allows me to carry my light on my back. I use it to capture very dramatic and unique portraits of people out on the street. You can follow the hashtag #gogogadgetoctobox to see some of the portraits I have taken.

CR: What’s your camera of choice? What’s the one lens you can’t live without?

BB: My camera of choice is my Leica M2 from the 1960s. It's one of the most well-built devices I have ever seen. The lens I could never live without is any decent 50mm prime. I cut my teeth on that focal length.

CR: Do you prefer digital or film? In your opinion, what’s the benefit to each?

BB: I use both digital and film in my photography, but lately I've been using film more often because I really enjoy the process. I'm in a completely different mindset knowing that my shots are limited and I can't see the results right away. I sometimes feel more present in the shooting experience. Plus, with film, the colors you can get without much processing are just amazing.

What I love about digital is that the technology in the cameras and editing software has advanced so far. Things like focus stacking and eye autofocus allow photographers to do things never achievable on film.

CR: Most memorable/favorite experience while shooting?

BB: My most memorable would have to be capturing the lightning bolt over the Cincinnati skyline. I remember I was driving around Newport when I saw lightning flashes behind the city and luckily I had my camera and tripod with me. I went to a spot I had picked out over in Covington by the Roebling Bridge and set up my camera to take continuous shots. When I saw that lightning bolt and heard my shutter close shut, I knew I got the shot. I'll never forget that feeling.

CR: How would you describe your photographic style?

BB: Clean, organized, and colorful. I love simple compositions where everything just fits nicely in the frame. I'm also a fan of strong contrast and bold colors.

CR: What’s at the top of your photography bucket list?

BB: Right now, I really want to travel to the Southwest. I want to capture desert landscapes and old towns. Maybe somewhere in the Sonoran Desert.

CR: Any advice for aspiring photographers?

BB: My main advice is to always keep shooting and to always try to learn new things. You can find out how to do anything on YouTube.

CR: Finally, what’s your motto to live by?

BB: Don't compare yourself to others. Compare the person you were yesterday to the person you are today.

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Before you go, peruse the gallery of Burkett's work above, and give him a follow on Instagram.

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