Interview: Nick McKeown

A short introduction

I am a keen amateur photographer who is lucky enough to live in the Scottish Highlands on the west coast. As an amateur photographer my free time is of a premium, so holidays and weekends are when I am able to spend time behind the camera. Luckily I have plenty of wildlife locally to keep me busy and winter is my favourite time especially when snow lies on the ground.

Pine Marten (Martes martes)

What are your earliest memories of your passion for nature?

I have always been interested in nature for as long as I can remember and spending time outdoors, whether on a mountain, in a wood or on the coast is important to me because I feel that I have a connection with nature. I joined the Young Ornithologist Club in the RSPB as a young boy and taught myself to identify birds and their bird song and to this day I take great pleasure from watching them and feeding them in my garden.

I have had an interest in photography since my late teens but at first it was landscapes then one day about 12 years ago I bought a small digital SLR camera and started to photograph butterflies and dragonflies and from there birds and mammals, buying different lenses as I needed them. It can be a very expensive hobby but there are a lot of inexpensive but very good lenses out there today and the beauty of digital photography is that if you do not like the image you just have to delete it.

What mammal-related topic has pricked up your ears recently? Can you explain further and whether you think this is relevant to UK mammals and Biodiversity?

Recently it has been decided to give the Beaver full legal protection following trials in several areas in Scotland which is great news since the Beaver is seen as a keystone species in the environment. It was hunted to extinction in the 16th century and should be made welcome and given the necessary protection. There is sometimes a conflict with landowners who claim the beavers flood their land but the benefits outweigh the negatives in that they create ecosystems which lots of other wildlife benefit from.

This is great news since it creates a greater biodiversity. “Rewilding” is a buzz word just now and the Scottish Highlands is a prime candidate for rewilding large areas with talk of a possible re-introduction of the Lynx in trial areas which again will benefit other wildlife by creating a natural balance with predators and prey. Enlightenment is the key and the human race has to learn to live alongside nature otherwise, we risk losing it forever.

Otter (Lutra lutra)

If you had to choose a mammal to photograph which one would it be?

Whilst I am passionate about all wildlife I am drawn to British wildlife and would love to photograph a Scottish Wildcat. It is the one mammal I have never seen in the wild in this country and they are becoming so rare through hybridisation due to domestic cats breeding with them that no one is sure how many true Wildcats there are. They could well be rarer than the Tiger and Lion! Of all the animals I have photographed my favourite is the Otter and I guess if I could only choose one then this would be it.

Pine Marten (Martes martes)

What advice would you give to a junior wildlife photographer?

I think the key to successful wildlife photography is getting to know your subjects extremely well so that you know where and when you can locate them and can also predict their movements. Before I started to photograph wildlife I spent many hours with a pair of binoculars just watching wildlife and learning as much as I could about it, whether it was a Fox, Badger or Otter. You do not have to travel too far and by staying local you can get to know an area very well such as your garden or local park which can provide lots of animals which are already habituated to humans and will allow a closer approach. There are also many nature reserves which provide hides from which to photograph wildlife and the birds and animals are so used to them that they are ignored. Learn and understand the controls of your camera and if there is a local camera club consider joining it. There are also lots of forums on the internet with many experienced photographers who will gladly help you and provide positive criticism for your images and do not be afraid of criticism as it is a path to improvement.  Above all enjoy your photography and make images for you and not to please others. I guarantee you will end up with many treasured memories whether they were captured in camera or not.

Thank you for your time, Nick!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of The Mammal Next Door