Meet Shoestring Warrior Matt McK

Matt McK is a true weekend warrior with a full-time job and a wanderlust spirit. He finds local adventures on the weekends and cashes in on his vacation days to travel across the world.

As a photographer, he plays between film and digital, capturing all beauty that surrounds him, from the old man reading his newspaper to the fog swirling around Half Dome. Get to know the man behind the lens in our interview with Matt below.
When did you discover your passion for photography?

My passion for photography started by accident. When I was a kid I’d play around with disposable cameras and as I grew up I initially bought point & shoot camera to take snapshots of my car. That graduated to taking snapshots of stuff around me which led to learning about photography, composition, taking control of the camera to get exactly what my vision was, etc. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s that I bought my first DSLR (Canon 350D) and found a passion for photography. Things quickly snowballed from there!

What do you love about shooting film photography in the Digital Age?

I like film for a few reasons. First is because it makes you slow down. If the roll only has 36 exposures on it, there are only 36 shots you can take. You can’t machine gun off 1,000 images in an afternoon like you can with a digital camera. Well, I mean, I guess you can, but that would be pretty expensive! I also like trying out different film stocks. With modern day cameras, a Nikon sensor may produce a different ‘look’ than a Canon or Leica or Sony, but the variation isn’t that great. With film one black and white film will be completely different than another. You can use one camera and get 20 different ‘looks’ just by loading a different film. That’s something unique that you simply can’t get from digital.

The smell of darkroom chemicals makes me feel:

While I know I could create a darkroom in my bathroom, I live in a one bedroom apartment and space is at a premium. So my stuff gets sent out to a lab I trust with developing and printing my film.

If you could pass down one camera to your grandchildren, which one would it be, and why?

The one camera I hope to never sell is my Leica MP. I wish I never sold my first M2 because of the history that camera had being 50+ years old and won’t make the same mistake with the MP. Fingers crossed there will still be film available and one day I’ll be able to pass down this relic of a manual film camera to my kids to play with. I bought it new so the history and battle scars it will earn will have been all mine. Leicas are built like tanks and will continue to be a classic camera for generations to come. Being a fully manual camera the only thing you need for it to operate is a roll of film.

How do you balance having a full time job with traveling the world?

If I didn’t have a full-time job I would be travelling a helluva lot more!! Ha! I’m thankful to be in a position where I’m allotted a good amount of vacation time each year and have an understanding boss that allows me to take time off. Still wish I could take a month or so off to really explore certain places, but I’m happy doing a week or two jaunt a few times a year to different parts of the world. Traveling is a great way to recharge my batteries and see just how much the world has to offer. Fingers crossed I can keep up the amount of travelling I’ve been able to do in recent years for a long time to come!

As a photographer, you capture both landscapes and street photography. What draws you to each?

Landscape photography is relatively new to me. I would take pictures of landscapes here and there, but taking shots of what was around me came more natural to me. I like to think I’m ‘documenting my day to day life’ and wouldn’t consider what I do ‘street photography’. I’m not necessarily a fan of that term as its been thrown around so much in recent years and is meaningless for most ‘street’ photographs. The majority of those images don’t tell a story and just because it’s taken on a street and is black and white, people think they’re a street photographer. Hell, even most of my stuff taken on the street never gets shared because it doesn’t tell a story or may have been taken just for me. Lately I’ve been doing a lot more landscape photography, which I enjoy because you don’t have to react as quickly. This holds especially with long exposures, which I’ve really gotten into over the past year or two.

What do you love most about living in Southern California?

Oh wow, where to start!? Living in SoCal is a photographer’s paradise! I can’t think of many other places where you have so many amazing places to shoot within a short drive. Whether it’s nearby along the beaches of Malibu, the weirdness of Venice, the chaos of downtown, or a short drive to San Diego, Joshua Tree, any of the multiple mountain ranges, Mammoth, Yosemite, Sequoia, I mean, the list just goes on and on! Any given weekend I’ll usually pack up and head out of town to go explore somewhere. We’re extremely fortunate to live in such a beautiful state.

What advice do you have for photographers who want to go “back in time” and shoot with film?

Do it! The best thing about film is how cheap it is to get started. You can find a working camera and lens for under $100! It will force you to slow down and think about what you’re shooting because each press of the shutter has a cost to it. But you can easily buy a roll of film, have it developed and scanned for under $20 total.

Where to next?

Depends on what your definition of ‘where to’ is. I’ll be heading back up to Yosemite for the 3rd time this year in a few weeks, hiking Mt Whitney next month, have another trip to Sequoia, up to Napa, a drive up PCH to Big Sur/Santa Cruz/San Francisco, and other small weekend getaways that are in the works. I don’t really consider those trips though, just weekend getaways. My next big trip is two weeks in Cambodia and Vietnam in October. Initially I was trying to do a huge excursion in Southeast Asia covering 6 or 7 countries, but there wasn’t enough time so the trip was narrowed down to these two. Perhaps I’ll be able to squeeze in Thailand toward the end of the year.

The perfect s’more?

Perfect S’more? Slow cooked to a light golden brown outside with a soft/gooey center, softened chocolate (double it up) and fresh graham crackers. Suppose that’s pretty much the basic s’more, but soft and chewy center and a crunchy cracker. Relax around the campfire, wash it down with an ice cold beer, and look up at the stars. Don’t need much more than that for a perfect evening at camp.

Follow Matt’s adventures on Instagram!

Photos © 2015 Matt McK

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