Interview with National Geographic Photographer David McLain

October 27, 2009 By: timromano

David-Mclain.jpgLast week I had the pleasure of joining my friend and National Geographic photographer David McLain on a photo shoot in west Texas. Needless to say we had some hours to chat between locations in the car and I wanted to pick his brain on everything from his latest piece in National Geographic on the Klamath River (see his gallery here), called Reuniting a River to what he carries around on a typical shoot for the magazine.
TR: How long have you been shooting as a pro? What about for National Geographic?
McLain: 20 years, and for National Geographic I’ve been a regular contributor for seven years.

TR: Who else have you shot for?
McLain: National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Traveler, Skiing, Men’s Journal, Sports Illustrated
TR:What was the toughest part about shooting the story on the Klamath?
McLain: I think it would have to be shooting some of the native Americans for the piece. It was very tough to gain their trust as an outsider…
TR: What do you typically carry around on a shoot for National Geographic?
McLain: Right now I’m shooting Sony bodies and typically carry around two of their A900 pro DSLR’s. As far as lenses I really try and stick to fixed focal lengths… I view a zoom as a last resort to be used only when I’m pinned down in one location.
TR: So what’s in the bag in for a typical shoot in regards to lenses?
McLain: I usually carry Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f1.4, 135mm f/1.8, 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm, 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/2.8…
TR: What about for a commercial shoot for a client?
Mclain: The same for the still photography, but recently I partnered with Jerome Thelia, who has an extensive background in post-production and production in video and film. We’ve started the Merge Group and shoot the RED digital cinema video camera for some pretty unique results.
TR: What’s so special about the RED?
McLain: It’s basically a HD video camera that shoots 4K files and accepts a full range of fixed focal length lenses…In the simplest terms, when you look through it, it’s like looking through a still camera and as a result, really makes sense for our aesthetic.
TR: What’s 4K mean? I’ve heard you can you rip single frames out of RED footage for blown up stills, is this true?
McLain: 4K is 4000 pixels across… We’re basically shooting with a resolution 4-times higher than HDTV. It’s really like shooting a 35mm film movie camera… Yes, we did some tests at National Geographic and blew up single frames from the video that looked great. They were poster sized.
TR: Is there one piece of equipment you can’t live without on a shoot?
Mclain: Hum… Yeah, I would have to say my rolling, carry-on Pelican case. I think the model number is the 1510 or something…
TR: Thanks a ton David.
McLain: No problem…
View more of David’s work here: http://www.davidmclain.com/