How on earth does he get those shots?
After ten years of working on his project, London From the Rooftops, Londoner James Burns has built up a breath-taking body of work, specialising in creating stunning photos for the London cityscape, juxtaposing the iconic buildings we all recognise against the changing weather, light and position of the sun or moon. All from seemingly impossible sky-high locations.
With a deep passion for London and its buildings – the social housing and tower blocks of the 1960s in particular – James was inspired to seek vantage points in some of London’s tallest buildings in order to create his iconic shots. Using technology to predict with great accuracy where the sun and moon would be situated, along with his knowledge of London’s viewpoints, James found himself able to visualise the perfect shot – and then to carry it out.
A landmark work for his career was ‘Red Moon Rising over St Paul’s,’ a shot he had figured out was possible and which, through wide publication, brought much attention to his work. The last five years have seen exhibitions and TV coverage on London Live and BBC and ITV news.
“I’m certainly not the first person to take a picture from up high of the city; however I’m quite sure I was the first person in the city to create a brand name around the concept. People know me as ‘London From the Rooftops’,” he told me when we met up for breakfast at the Early Bird Cafe in Chalk Farm. James’s work has a unique quality which he describes as the capture of “moments of ephemeral beauty, particularly the rising and setting sun and moon.”
Having excelled at film photography (the pre-digital kind, remember that?) at university in the late nineties, James found himself at something of a loose end when his course came to an end, regaining his sense of purpose when he received his first digital camera: “if I don’t create, I stagnate,” he explained. The camera created a eureka moment for him, and he found himself obsessively exploring London by bike, seeking out the best viewpoints for his shots, an obsession which has never abated and, he believes, never will.
“I know this city inside out, and I’ll never tire of it. The sunrises, the interesting weather, the mist and the crystal-clear skies, the seasons and the ever-changing skyline, a patchwork of history and modernity. I was motivated by the immortality of a body of work, by a desire to make a record of the changing landscape of London.”
Primrose Hill has long been a ‘romantic and charming’ inspiration for James who, like many of us, finds solace and peace on the hillside, with its view out across London lifting us up from the sense of being ‘ants on the streets.’ James has taken some of his shots from the high floors of the Chalcots tower blocks on Adelaide Road. And he even shared a few of his particular insights for budding local photographers. According to James, May, June and July are particularly good months for catching the moon in position above the iconic buildings of the Primrose Hill view, and keeping an eye on the full moon dates and the weather forecasts will give the best chance of a beautiful shot. Well, we can try…
See more of James’s work here:
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