Chris McKeown is a talented geologist and photographer from Scotland. After buying a professional camera during a trip to Singapore, he fell in love with everything photography had to offer.
Chris' portfolio is filled with breathtaking photographs of various countries, including New Zealand. In this interview, he talks about the challenges he faces as an artist, his work-related travels, how New Zealand inspires him, and much more.
Please enjoy this interview!
Chris McKeown at the interview with NZPhotographer, Wellington
What do you find most challenging about taking photos of nature?
Finding the time. I have a family and kids and just getting out there and doing it is a bit of a problem. I don’t think the actual photography itself is as challenging as just getting the time to do it! I enjoy it. I like the technical challenge of it – the lenses and understanding the light etc. I try to capture a feeling in landscapes – and New Zealand gives me that chance because it has lots of great landscapes, but there is also a lot happening in the foreground that you can capture. Wildlife is really cool and I like taking photos of wildlife too.
What equipment do you use?
The first camera I bought was a Samsung point-and-shoot in Singapore and it took really good photos, but was a bit basic. Out of all cameras that come out of Samsung, the NX1 is the top of the line, or at least it was until they stopped making them!! I’m thinking at some stage maybe the Sony NEX-7, as I’m not a big fan of heavy cameras. But for portability I’ve got the Fuji X100T - third generation Fuji. I love it because it is so portable and I can take it everywhere.
In your portfolio you have some photos from Singapore and other countries – do you travel a lot?
I do. I travel a lot for work so mainly it is Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, America, the UK. Singapore is great if you love taking photographs of buildings and butterflies or flowers and Jakarta for street photography and traffic.
Do you take your camera with you all the time?
I try to. I often take my Fuji mainly because I’m obsessive about taking only carry-on luggage.
Is there anything you wish every photographer knew?
Well I think about the mechanics of photography. I bought a camera without knowing anything about it and I bought a book – electronic book by guy called Tony Northrup. He and his wife do these online video tutorials and it was bloody great because it teaches you about aperture, photography, all the basics.
Also not every photo needs to be shared. There are so many images online now and not all photographers realise that you need to curate what you share. People really connect with good photographs. Instagram changed the way it used to be as well. It just means that people you like - their content is actually lost somewhere in the feed.
You are a geologist, what made you start taking photographs?
I realised that I’ve always taken photos of landscapes, but I just didn’t think about it. My first field trip was to the place called Ardnamurchan Point– most western point in Scotland, it was in 1987. I’m from Glasgow and this trip made me realise how beautiful Scotland is. I traveled a lot around the world as a geologist – I’ve been to Oman, Amsterdam, Huston, you name it – any oil and gas town pretty much. Then I moved to NZ in 2002 and was just stunned by it. I’ve always taken photographs of landscapes, but about 6 years ago I started being a bit more serious about it. I think I was in Singapore and I wanted to buy a real camera and I only had a point-and-shoot camera (a decent one by the way– Fuji or Panasonic something), so I bought Samsung NX1000 and the quality of images just blew me away, I thought “Oh My God! This is amazing!” and I think the access to the landscapes is really important. I didn’t realise how beautiful Scotland is until that field trip.
What is the best photography-related advice you have been given?
I sort of picked things up from people. Don’t be afraid of manual, try aperture modes, don’t be afraid of trying to understand your camera.
How has living in NZ inspired you as an artist?
Just how beautiful it is! Have you been to Hobbiton? It is a shire! (Laughing I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan!)
What do you love most about being a photographer in NZ?
What I love about New Zealand is how easy it is to get to places. You can be anywhere –in a vineyard, on a ski slope, in a forest, by the sea – easily, within an hour (sometimes one-hour flight). The access to beautiful landscapes – I don’t know any other country in the world where you’d have that great range of landscapes so easily. In Scotland, for example, everything is quite remote – you would be walking for days! I don’t think I’d be so interested in photography if I stayed in Scotland or lived in London, for example.
Which photographers have influenced you the most?
Ansel Adams. He took large glass plate photographs of the national parks of the US in 1920s, I think it was an archive project, but when you see them – it is just unbelievable! And then there is a guy Colin Prior who takes landscapes photography of different places in Scotland and around the world.
There are great photographers in New Zealand like, for example, Mark Gee – he is another hero, he works for Weta Digital. He is the guy who took the photo of the moon rising above the Mount Victoria – it is truly amazing. Other great names will be Deb, Rach Stewart, Laurie Winter and Talman.
Oriental Bay Fountain