Tim McKenna is a true legend and ultimate professional in the photography world and to have him give his time to answer some questions for me is a genuine privilege that I don’t take for granted.
The greatest skill you can have is to be a learner and when someone of Tims calibre shares his insights, I study and absorb every single word.
He is the only person so far, when i’ve asked the question “was photography always the plan?” that responded with a definitive YES.
Tim was born to be behind the lens and has created an enviable career showcasing his vision across an incredible array of subject matter well beyond just waves and surfing.
Born in Australia and then spending a lot of his life in France, Tim now lives in his adopted home of Tahiti which he considers the perfect mix of both worlds.
McKenna has arguably the worlds most photogenic wave basically on his doorstep and his incredible Teahupoo imagery is second to none.
“stepping out of ones comfort zone is such a basic element for a healthy life” - A philosophy Tim has lived to create a career and life many dream of, but few take the leap of faith, and put in the hard work, required to achieve.
This one is super enjoyable! Please meet (or learn more about) Tim McKenna
My hometown is Paea a little village at the most western tip of the island of Tahiti .
I am a few meters from the lagoon and reef pass. Halfway between Papeete and Teahupoo.
Was photography always the plan or what first made you pick up a camera?
Photography was always my plan.
I started when I was about 15 years old with my mum’s camera. However, I wasn’t sure how to be able to make a living with surfing and action sports, so I had a back up plan to be a French teacher in Australia. I did a BA at Queensland University just in case. I was lucky that the industry boosted as soon as I quit my studies.
You were born in Australia, have lived a lot of your earlier years in France and are now based in Tahiti – What is it specifically for you about Tahiti that you love?
Tahiti is the perfect mix of Australia and France. The relaxed, nature based, island lifestyle of Australia with many of the good qualities of France and the French lifestyle. Tahiti is the perfect studio and I feel inspired everyday. The ocean is a never ending source of joy and motivation.
How did you get started in your professional career as a photographer? Was there a lot of putting yourself out there and knockbacks? Was there a specific moment or job you would now recall as your break into the industry?
I worked as an assistant in Los Angeles and Paris but I soon found out that the top commercial and fashion photographers could not teach me the images I wanted to produce. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted. When I started I fell upon this catalogue from a French sportswear company called Oxbow. They would sponsor a friend of mine. It was a a beautiful book like publication with a subtle mix of action shots of board riding sports and also fashion and nature images. I liked the variety and moved back to France to try and become their photographer. A year later I was one of their main photographers and collaborated for 17 straight years with the company. I sure had some knock backs - like getting all my gear ripped off twice, accidents , losing friends or going to court to protect your rights. A Photography career is not a walk in the park.
How much of your shooting is work related and do you have much of a chance to just explore and shoot with no agenda
Now that I have a family I am often in a place where I don’t necessarily have to shoot, I’m just cruising. However it’s hard to not pop out a camera when the nature puts on a show. I always have a camera handy in case those special moments happen. I use my iPhone a lot also.
If Teahupoo is on, are you always there?
I try to , but these last few years I have been exploring other options also. I have seen Teahupoo in all it’s glory in uncrowded situations so sometimes it’s a little frustrating to see what it has become.
I am not too stressed if I miss a session anymore.
Outside of Tahiti, what has been your favourite wave to shoot? (that is well known enough to mention)
I think Hollow trees in the Mentawaii is special. Peahi on Maui is also a mind blowing wave. I also love all the waves up in the Tuamotu archipelago.
If you wake up tomorrow morning and have to choose perfect Teahupoo or swimming with whales – which one do you choose?
Probably swimming with whales. Not much compares to thrill of connecting with those gentle giants. This year I actually saw a whale a few meters from the Teahupoo channel while shooting flawless 10 foot waves.
What makes a good surf image?
An image that conveys a feeling or sensation. An image that can transport you, make you daydream with it’s perfection or because it is striking, scary or moody. It must be technically perfect with good light and composition.
Is there anywhere you haven’t been yet, that you would still love to shoot?
Patagonia , Greenland, Antartica , Papua New Guinea. Some parts of Africa , the list goes on…
Any advice for aspiring photographers looking to evolve their passion into a viable income or career?
Find a niche. Push for excellence and know how to market yourself and run a profitable business. Do things that others are not doing and work hard at it. Be original, creative and look into new markets and new technologies. When you are out in the field analyze the light and the situations. Be patient, very patient and try and anticipate where the good shots are going to happen. Enjoy yourself and connect with nature.
Dive into Tim’s world further here
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