In Conversation… Kevin McNeal

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, and now residing in Seattle, Kevin McNeal is at a very close proximity to the Great Cascade Mountains with their amazing scenery and vast amounts of potential for landscape photography

This first question might be the toughest of the lot but… why landscape photography?
The reason I love landscape photography so much is because I absolutely love to be outdoors. I like the solitude and quietness you achieve when you are by yourself out in nature. Another reason I enjoy landscape photography is because it is a good reminder of all the stunning locations that I have witnessed so far.

If not landscape photography, what other genre?
I did try wildlife when I first began but just didn’t have the patience or the money for it. Besides, no matter how quiet I tried to be I always made too much noise and scared the wildlife away. I was not too popular with other wildlife photographers.

Abraham-Lake_Canadian-Rockies_Alberta_CanadaLooking at your images, it is obvious that you are in love with landscape photography. Is this love passion or obsession?
I think it is a bit of both. It is the passion that gets me up at 3am to drive all night but the obsession to get better and better. With photography there is always something you can learn and do better the next time. One of the ways I try to get better is by examining the work of other photographers and seeing what they are doing; that makes it so special for me. It is always nice when one’s work is well rewarded and people enjoy it.

Can you recall when you started falling in love with photography?
I fell in love with photography when I was working as an assistant cruise director on a cruise line that was sailing around the world. Up to that point I had not seen much of the world and had been very sheltered. Working on the cruise ship opened my eyes to the stunning beauty that is all around us. I needed to find a way to capture this to show the people back home the things that I had seen. Photography was the medium. The problem was that I had taken all those images on the ship with a point and shoot camera and none of the images came out, so that’s what inspired me to quit the cruise ships and start photography full-time.

Mt.Assissboine_BC_CanadaYou are a resident of the Pacific Northwest. Tell me about the area.
I am originally from Vancouver, Canada but met my wife while working on a cruise ship that went to Alaska. A few months later we were married and, when it came down to deciding whether to live in Vancouver or Seattle, I chose Seattle because of its proximity to the Great Cascade Mountains such as Mount Rainier, Mt St Helens, and Mt Baker. One of the things I love most about the area I live in is the diversity in seasons and variety of colors, from vivid greens, to pink reflected snow, to the mountain wildflowers. And, if I get bored of that, I am only two hours away from the Olympic Peninsula.

You travel all over North America with your wife by your side. Are there any downsides to this?
There is no downside to my wife being with me on my travels. She is my best friend and she is somebody I love being with every minute of the day. She carries an iPad with her wherever we go so she always has something to read or do. Luckily for me she is a very patient girl and finds things to do while I am shooting.

You have been asked to join the International Environment Photographers Association. A few words on this?
It is a big honor for sure. If there is any way or anything I can do to spread the word that our planet is worth saving, I will do it.

Vik_IcelandYour favourite photographer?
For sure, my favorite photographer is Marc Adamus. He pushes all the boundaries of creativity and new levels when it comes to landscape photography. I have never met someone who does more to achieve his dreams and goals than he does. He inspires me everyday to keep pushing myself to new levels. I also look up to the other photographers in my Photo Cascadia group. They all show so many different talents when it comes to landscape photography.

Your favourite image?
When it comes to my favorite image from another photographer that would have to be just about any image from Marc Adamus. His images tell a story and, when you know how much dedication went into each image, it makes it that much more special.

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Your own favourite image?
This next one is one of my all time favorite images.Coastal-Mountains_BC_Canada

What camera gear are you using and why did you choose it?
Currently I am using the Nikon D800 with the Nikon 14-24mm lens. My favourite style of landscape photography is the near-far perspective. Thus the wide-angle lens exaggerates the foreground and really pulls the viewer into the image. Having a wide-angle lens like this allows me the opportunity to really tell a story with my images. Until a few months ago I had always used Canon and really enjoyed using it. The reason I switched to the Nikon system was that I needed more megapixels for clients wanting larger print sizes. The Nikon D800 allowed me to achieve that size. So far I am very happy with the results.

Working as a pro photographer, what are the pros and cons you come against on a daily basis?
Without a doubt the pros to doing this professionally is making your living in nature rather than in an office. The cons are that there are so many good photographers in this business that it can be stressful at times. When it comes to the business of landscape photography there is never enough time. The problem of this business has always been how to separate your time out in the field from time at home and time on social media. Finding that balance has always been tough for me. I enjoy my time in the outdoors so much that business sometimes falls behind.

Death-Valley_CaliforniaBesides Marc Adamus, which other photographers influence and inspire you?
There are so many photographers that influence me and inspire me every day. It is those photographers that continually push me to keep going and getting better and better. The photographers in my group Photo Cascadia are always coming up with stunning work.
Sometimes I don’t feel I can keep up. There is just not enough time in the day to keep up. I find the photographers that you feature in Landscape Photography Magazine of the highest caliber and all of them make up my favorite photographers.

Are you a self-taught photographer?
I am indeed a self-taught photographer. I picked up photography while working on the cruise ship and learned Photoshop at the same time. I started doing photography as an activity on the ships. I would take passengers out on excursions while we were in port and then, during the days at sea, I would teach Photoshop with the images they took on the trips.

Maroon-Bells-Aspen_ColoradoYour favourite location in the Pacific Northwest?
My favorite location has to be Mt Rainier. It has so much diversity from season to season and is always changing in terms of the landscape. There is so much to cover there that it never gets boring. My second favorite is the Palouse in the springtime because of the stunning greens.

Very soon you will be in Tuscany, Italy. I know you love the Palouse, does this trip have anything to do with the location’s similarities with that region?
It is funny that you mention it. This is the very reason that drew me to Tuscany in the first place, the similarity with the Palouse. The green rolling hills and the way the light changes the landscape. This has always been what draws me to both Tuscany and the Palouse.

Steptoe-Butte_The-Palouse_WashingtonYou will be visiting Norway in 2014. Are you planning on photographing the country during the winter months?
My favorite type of landscape photography has always been winter photography. I love shooting sunrises and sunsets in the winter months with fresh snow. Seeing the images that came from Norway during the wintertime was something I fell in love with. To this day I keep a file of all the images that inspire me from there. This is what drives me and allows me to pre-visualize the images, so I am hoping to come away with some images from there. I will also be visiting Finland and Sweden during these coming winter months.

Dream location that you wish to visit at some point in your life?
Some of the dream locations that I hope to visit at some point are any locations that have northern lights and fresh winter snow. I love the way the northern lights reflect on fresh white snow in places such as Iceland, Norway, Yukon, and Alaska during the winter months.

Indian-Henry_Mt-Rainier-NP_WashingtonYou must have a photographic experience that will stay with you forever, can I hear the story?
I have so many stories and I am not sure why they always happen to me but they do. One particular event that happened to me this last month was when I was hiking a fairly lengthy trail and ended up pushing the front of my toes into the hiking boots to the point that my boots filled up with blood. With four miles to go and not being able to walk anymore in my hiking boots, I walked the rest of the way bare-footed. It was very difficult and hard on the feet to walk over the rocks. I became delirious and fatigued from the hike and eventually I passed out and injured my replacement hip in the last half-mile and pulled the hip out of the socket. I spent the following week in bed, not even being able to go to the bathroom without help.

Another funny story happened a few years ago while I was in Hawaii with my wife. We were making our way down a steep cliff to the bottom of a very famous waterfall. Just as I was nearing the bottom of the trail, I slipped and broke my foot in six places. It was at this time that I had noticed I had come across a group of naked people swimming at the base of these falls. As I screamed for my wife to come down and help me she noticed the naked people and refused to help, insisting I only wanted to look at the naked women. Without hesitation she headed back up and assumed I was stalling. Not being able to move, I had to ask for assistance from these women to get me back up the hill, as my wife had left me at the bottom without helping me. I finally made it back up the hill by crawling on my hands and knees for the next two hours. When I finally arrived at the top I was met by my angry wife, who did not believe me about my foot. She only came to believe my story a few days later when we finally saw a doctor and he told my wife that I must have been super brave to crawl back up that hill with my foot broken in six places. Needless to say, I have never let my wife forget that story!

Mono-Lake-_Eastern-Sierras_CaliforniaYou have been teaching workshops for the last couple of years. Are they successful and why?
I love teaching during my workshops, especially to people who are as passionate as I am. It is nice to work in close quarters with people that have the same interests as you. The workshops have been a success over the last few years but, with the amount of workshops now being offered by others, it makes it tougher and tougher every year to raise the bar. Many people run workshops and many have no experience when it comes to landscape photography.

You also teach Adobe Photoshop classes. Any really good tips to share?
There are so many tips when it comes to Photoshop that I would love to share. The most current one that I use is focus stacking and the auto-align. I take three to five images at f/9 and combine them for great depth of field. The results are fantastic, and with a 36-megapixel camera, the finished result mirrors that of medium format. From this point I use layer masks and blending to really highlight the subject. I also like to use the vibrance tool in local adjustments to really draw the viewer’s eye where I want to in the picture. I really try to get most of the image done in Camera Raw so it is less destructive.

Two-Medicine-Lake_Glacier-NP_MontanaYou have been published in several magazines including National Geographic. Are we going to see you writing articles about the locations you visit for Landscape Photography Magazine perhaps?
That would be fantastic. My main goal when shooting landscapes is to enjoy the moment and not worry about whether the image will work or not. At the end of the day I am still getting out in nature and seeing things that most of the world will never see.

Any plans on publishing a book?
I would love to publish a book but I can’t seem to stop myself from getting outdoors. The constant challenge of getting a better image always works at me so I never end up working on the business aspect of it. I love being in nature shooting landscapes so much that I don’t really have a concern whether I make a lot of money, as long as I continue to enjoy what I am doing.

Any regrets so far?
I have no regrets so far and every experience has been an important one. I have always felt that every experience is one to learn from. These days I am learning more than I ever have, especially from the mistakes I make.

Yosemite-NP-In-Winter_CaliforniaIf you could turn back time, what advice would you give to a younger Kevin about photography?
I wish I could go back in time and tell a younger Kevin to start photography as soon as he can, because it is something that will change his whole outlook on life. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was ready at the time to see all the positive aspects of photography. I was too busy chasing girls and traveling the world.

How do you see your photographic future?
You never know what the future of photography will be. With everybody owning a digital camera these days, especially with more and more megapixels and cameras that do all the work for you, I might not have a job in a few years time. So, I am enjoying it while it lasts.

What advice would you give to our readers?
Not to take it too seriously. I see many photographers these days base their success on the images they bring back home and not the experience. For me, it is all about enjoying the moment. There are so many benefits to being out in nature that I can’t ever imagine doing anything different.

Read this article, and many more, in High Definition, inside Issue 30 of Landscape Photography Magazine.

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    Great article, and it’s “all Kevin” – the “Real McNeal”! He is a terrific photographer and a great workshop leader. Of the 3 workshops I’ve attended, I learned more in his workshop than in any of the others by far. Kevin will stretch the boundaries of your photography. Good to see another of his articles!

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