You’ll notice in these interviews i never ask about camera equipment or settings. Thats because all cameras are good these days and settings should change almost every shot when you are photographing something as unpredictable as the ocean in ever-changing natural light.
What does really interest me is motivation and mindset. Why someone does what they do and what mindset do they cultivate to continually challenge and improve themselves.
Ren McGann is both self aware and motivated. He has overcome obstacles and come out the other side with a hindsight that continually pushes him to be aware of, and face challenges, rather than look for the easy way out.
Specifically on his photography, he has a clear vision of how he wants to portray the ocean that gives his work a definitive voice.
He is passionate about the artistic principles of photography such as composition, which is refreshing to see in an increasingly saturated wave photography world which can tend to be more prioritised with quick ‘likes’ rather than focusing on creating great imagery start to finish.
Combining all of these elements Ren primarily photographs the notorious off-shore slab waves of Australia’s South-West creating photos that are as beautiful as they are scary, and in my opinion creates some of the best imagery in the country.
You’ll definitely enjoy this one, and as always, if this is your introduction to Ren then all the details to explore his world further are linked at the bottom of the interview.
I was born in Balingup in the middle of the bush, grew up in Freo and lived in Exmouth for 10 years. Now Margaret River is home.
Was photography always the plan or what first made you pick up a camera?
My background is in commercial marine operations, so photography was something that came about from going to The Right for the first time. At the time I was working on a business venture with a friend on a safety device for extreme sports so it kinda started as a way to build our own promotional material and network with athletes. When that business unfortunately ended I was pretty much hooked on the photo game so just dove in head first.
When you are shooting surf how much of it is about the experience of being in that moment vs the final image(s) that come from it?
When I’m shooting anything really its a pretty immersive experience for me. I’m not really thinking about the images, and its a numbers game especially with surf. So if I do a full session out in the surf i’d shoot a few thousand images. Out of that catalogue, realistically there may be 5 images that really stand out. And in post production its a completely different experience where you get to see these images grow into a pieces of art. I really enjoy both for different reasons.
Are you able to put into words the experience of a day shooting The Right when its firing and what the feeling is actually like out there?
It’s pretty intense, and also evolving. I have a different relationship with that wave now than the first time I went there. My first time out there it was this giant mysterious thing, one of the heaviest waves on earth and I got there and it was like 8foot and hardly breaking but I was still soooo frothed to just be seeing it. Now I feel like its just an incredibly humbling experience to be able to sit there and enjoy it for what it is. its almost impossible to put into words, as its just so far out of the normal experience.
You seem to be someone with a good positive mindset who understands personal growth comes from putting yourself outside your comfort zone and challenging yourself to try new things. Can you talk to this in regards to your mindset and do you have any specific practices around it?
I think its something that is really important to embrace, and its something that you only really see the benefit from in hindsight. For me personally I had a lot of crippling health issues in my very early 20’s when I did a form of chemo, and going through that taught me a lot about mental resilience. Certain trauma when viewed in the right way can be the best thing that can happen to you if you are open to learning from the experience. We live very sheltered lives now days, and for me personally if there’s an area in my life that causes discomfort then that’s a pretty clear sign that it needs attention.
As far as practices go, I think the best thing you can do is educate yourself, theres so much good content on podcasts or audio books you can literally learn while driving around. Be open to new ideas and prioritise time for your self to step away from everything to try get a different perspective on your own biases and ideals.
Your imagery makes one of the most daunting and dangerous waves in the world look almost dream like. Is there a certain vision behind the way you want to portray the ocean?
I guess the way a photographer edits their work is in some way a window into the way they view the world. For me the ocean, and especially big waves are just so surreal so I definitely try reflect that in my work.
I read somewhere you were talking about Composition, which I love. I feel a bit like, as surf and wave photography gets more and more popular, there’s a tendency to have so much focus on getting a wave shot that some of the artistic components, especially composition, can be either forgotten about, or not learned in the first place. How does composition play into your photography?
I think if your serious about doing anything then you should learn the principles of what makes that thing good. And it definitely is a saturated market and everyone seems to be running to a finish line that they have no idea where it is. One of the best decisions I made was to forget about everything, what people would think of my work, where it was leading me, what I could get from it. And just focus on improving my own skill set of shooting and editing. I would sit every day and edit just 1 photo -thats it, just focus on that 1 image for no other reason but to edit it the best I could and from this I feel like i’m beginning to understand what feels and looks right in an image. But i’m still learning every day, and composition is probably right up there at the top of the list to get right, its definitely something i’m keen to learn more about.
What does the short term future hold for you. I think I’ve seen you mention video as something you’d like to explore beyond just still images?
Ive got so many ideas running around my mind but top of the list is running workshops to some great locations here in WA. Still toying with a book concept I been playing around with and yep definitely some video work.. and it’s winter so chasing swells.
If you were given a round the world plane ticket tomorrow to take you to 3 spots to photography (waves or not), where would you go?
Number one for sure would be Antartica. That place just looks insane. Iceland I think would be pretty rad, i’ve only herd amazing things, and i’d love to see Teahupoo maxed out to see how it compares to the right.
Any other parting advice for aspiring surf and wave photographers?
There are no cheats. Put in the time learning your craft inside out, especially in post production software like photoshop. It will open up so many more possibilities for your work. And reach out to people to learn from and shoot with. Im more than happy to help anyone.
Dive into Ren’s world further here
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