We’re thoroughly excited to announce Kevin McNeal as the newest member of the Backcountry Journeys photo guide team! It has been some time since we’ve added a photo guide to the family, and we couldn’t be happier to have Kevin.
We certainly need more talented photographers to help guide all of the exciting new trips that we’ve announced here in the past few weeks. Enter Kevin, a Washington State-based landscape photographer who oozes talent (as you can see below), and has years of guiding experience under his belt, as well.
Let’s get to know him!
Hi Kevin, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today, we know that you’re on the road in Oregon right now so we can’t thank you enough for taking the time!
Let’s talk about you for a bit. Can you tell us about yourself? Where did you grow up, things like that?
I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada for most of my life. I enjoyed being outdoors and hiking and getting involved in any sport I could. Vancouver is a beautiful place when it comes to activities. I have always been an extrovert who enjoys being as active as possible. I believe being involved in many social and sporting events set the path for my love of photography and being outdoors.
Have you worked in other areas before becoming a professional photographer?
Before becoming a professional photographer I was working on cruise ships as an assistant cruise director and entertainment stuff. I was fortunate enough to travel all over the world and see stunning places. Cruise ships were how I became addicted to photography. At the time I only had a point and shoot camera and needless to say the images were not very good. I felt that the images did not do justice to the real-life scenarios. I decided I needed to quit cruise ships and become a photographer. I had worked passionately for about 12 months as a hobbyist before I jumped into it professionally. I threw everything into it, and thankfully here I am today.
Can you talk about what kinds of things you’ve done as a professional photographer? Like, have you worked as a photo guide in the past?
I have been working as a photo guide for the last 11 years. It was roughly 14 months after I began photography full-time that I started teaching photo tours all over the Pacific Northwest. I began doing photo tours in the Columbia Gorge, Palouse, Olympic National Park, and the Oregon coast.
I have not stopped leading tours since. Something about doing photo tours and sharing your passion with people really keeps my enthusiasm going. Whether it’s a location close to home or across the world it shares the same aspects in terms of challenges and rewards.
What is it with this particular art form that speaks to you?
In photography, the conditions and elements are always changing. It’s never the same. Every time I get a chance to return to a location, I am presented with something different in terms of challenges and light. I strive to come out of my comfort zone and really push for something new when it comes to creativity. With photography, there is so much room to tell a story that reflects the person taking the photograph. It’s very important that people tell a story whenever taking pictures that speak to the viewer. I always tell people photographing that it’s important to connect with the image and find something about it that moves you. Without this connection, there is nothing invested in the image. Eventually, you create your own identity within your photographs. It’s, for this reason, I enjoy photography more than I ever have. I continue to learn and to still push boundaries every chance I get to be out in nature.
Do you have any hobbies that keep you busy when you aren’t working?
I have several hobbies that help me balance photography. I absolutely love to be outdoors and hike especially during summer with wildflowers. I also enjoy traveling to new places and seeing as much of the world as I can. When it comes to my home life my main passion is music, specifically producing and Dj’ing. I have been DJ’ing professionally for 20 years and enjoy all sorts of music. Like photography, I’ve been fortunate enough to perform all over the world and share my passion with like-minded people. In a sense, music is like photography.
You reside in Washington state now, correct? What took you there? How do you feel about Washington as a landscape photography location? Is it maybe underrated or perhaps overlooked for the diversity of its locations?
I was raised and lived most of my life in Vancouver, Canada. While working on the cruise ships, I met my wife who happened to live in Washington State. Rather than returning home to Canada I moved in with my new wife. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and has been by my side since the beginning. There have been lots of ups and downs in this career but she has never doubted my ability to do this full-time. We spend a lot of time together in nature. When I look back I was fortunate enough that she lived in Washington state. I remember our first date after leaving the cruise ship; she looked at me and said, “how would you like to go to Mount Rainier?” I knew right then she was the one for me.
In terms of photography opportunities in Washington, it doesn’t get much better. I live roughly 3 hours from Olympic National Park and can be on the Oregon coast in four hours. The changing seasons and diversity of the landscape always keep the photographer busy. I believe people are well aware of how many opportunities exist due to the number of photographers we see on social media from the Pacific. Northwest. Many people from all over the world come here to visit and experience some of what Washington state has to offer.
In looking at your website it is clear that you’ve been, and worked, all over the place. Do you have a favorite part of the country/world to photograph, and why?
That is a very tough question to answer because every place has something special about it that challenges me to capture that certain essence. Without a doubt, I love traveling and photographing parts of Europe, especially Italy. There’s something magical about the smaller towns in Italy. The mood and stories are what I try to capture in my photographs. My favorite subject when it comes to photography has to be capturing the Northern Lights. There’s nothing like visiting winter locations like Iceland, Norway, and Alaska.
You mention on your website that stories of how your images are rendered come across in the feelings the images convey. Do you have a favorite image that does that better than others, or can you describe what that means to you and how conveying this story drives your work?
I have one favorite image that seems to resonate with people. The image is from the Olympic National Park from a place called Shi Shi Beach.
I had seen these particular rocks placed in a converging pattern that lead toward the distant sea stacks. Unfortunately, the tide was either too low or too high to capture the vision I was after. It took me several attempts and lots of hiking to capture the right moment. It was the first time I realized in photography that persistence pays off. The journey is more important than the final result. Never give up.
What are you looking forward to most about guiding Backcountry Journeys guests?
Without a doubt, the thing I look most forward to is sharing my passion and knowledge with the Backcountry Journeys guests. It’s invigorating to be surrounded by like-minded people who share the same passion and enthusiasm you do. I look forward to meeting guest and sharing stories and knowledge. One of my favorite aspects of photography is the post-processing. Half the battle is photographing the right moments, the other half is using post-processing to demonstrate how you felt in that moment. Post-processing helps the photographer portray that mood and feeling they had.
Talk to us about your personal gear setup, if you would… The seemingly classic photography argument. Nikon or Canon? Mirrorless or DSLR? Thoughts on all that?
I began my photography career for the first several years using all Canon DSLR equipment. I eventually moved over to the Nikon side because I like the dynamic range that the Nikon D800 was presenting over the Canon 5D Mark III, at that time. I have never looked back from that decision and enjoy using my Nikon gear. But it must be said that it doesn’t matter what gear you use if you have a yearning to learn. That will come through no matter what type of camera you use.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges in landscape photography?
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge in landscape photography these days has to be the number of good photographers there are, especially on social media. It is hard to find new locations and new ways to photograph places with the number of images posted daily on social media. That being said we are seeing photographers who are better than ever, constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity. They are raising the bar and challenging other photographers to raise their expectations.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your career?
The most rewarding aspect of having a photography career is being around people who share the same drive as you. There’s nothing quite like the feeling when you show guests a location they have never seen before and they are speechless. You can see it in their eyes and expression. That’s the best feeling you can get.
Perfectly said, Kevin! We’ll just end it at that.
If you’d like to see Kevin’s work, please visit his website, or follow him @kevinmcneal30 on Instagram.
Kenton Krueger grew up and spent the first 33 years of his life in the corn country of Omaha, Nebraska. After studying aviation at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Aviation Institute, he “conned” his way into the newsroom at the award-winning Omaha World-Herald where for 3+ years he wrote and photographed news articles on a variety of topics such as community events, travel and even mixed martial arts for the sports department. Yet something was missing. While on backpacking trips to Grand Teton and Grand Canyon National Parks in the mid-2000’s he was quick to realize that the wild lands of the western United States stoked a fire in his heart as nothing else could. This realization led to a relocation to Flagstaff, Arizona, and he hasn’t looked back. He has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, a former pilot, newspaper photographer, and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.