Warren Keelan - Photographer
When and where did you start surfing?
I rode my first surfboard when I was about 12. I remember it being an old Mark Richards single fin my father kept under the house for years. That was a long time ago now and I'd give anything to own that big old purple beast again. The very first time I stood up on a board was at my home town of Warilla, on the NSW South Coast, Australia.
What is it that you love about surfing and the ocean?
A question like this is hard to put into just a few words, but I guess it's that sense of freedom you get from being in the ocean. Whether you are with your mates or just by yourself, you can really lose yourself in the waves - nothing really comes close. I don't really get to surf as much as I used to, as I now spend more time behind a lens, but I still get that same feeling from being in the water when the elements align and the ocean is turning it on.
Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?
One of the best sessions I had was at a reef break called Redsands, on the NSW South Coast. It was about 20 years ago, so crowds weren't an issue. There was only myself and about 5 other wave riders in the line-up, scoring perfect wave after wave for five hours or so until we had to paddle in from sheer exhaustion. I'll never forget that day, but there's been plenty of others, especially those since I have had my camera.
How did you first get into photography?
I dabbled in film photography for a brief time back in the day, but it wasn't until years on while I was designing and building websites did I realise I wanted to get back into it. My introduction to digital photography was through fishing photojournalism of all things and I was writing and shooting for various publications. During this time I gained an appreciation of landscape photography and enjoyed shooting scapes from the comfort of the land. Soon after, I purchased my first water housing and delved into ocean photography - capturing landscapes from within the ocean.
When did you first realise that you wanted to pursue it as a career?
I have always had an interest in art and creating, both sonically and visually. So I guess after my stint as a musician I saw photography as a means to express myself visually. I began printing my captures soon after and I took the nervous step into framing and exhibiting my work, and I was stoked to see a few pieces began to sell along the way. During that time I also developed an online gallery and store and started sharing more of my pictures on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Twelve months had passed and I found myself spending more time with my photography than in my other lines of work. I guess it was from this point I thought seriously about making a career out of creating images. in 2013 an opportunity then presented itself to open a small gallery in my home town of Wollongong and I have been operating here now for over two years.
What kind of things influence the work that you do?
I have a number of influences including other photographers of all genres, but generally I just like to experiment and create images. The ocean is an amazing living element that is always changing. I love the challenge of finding different ways to look at it, especially how water behaves when combined with energy and sunlight.
How did you go about making a name for yourself in such a competitive market?
I feel like I'm very new to the world of photography, and I love the fact that I am still learning every day, but I always say nothing good comes easy. Hard work, dedication, long hours and having a strong passion for what you do is essential to make anything work. I come from a web design / developer background so I had a bit of knowledge in how social media works, and it also helped with creating a presence with my website and other online channels. I joined my local business chamber and tourism hubs and have been attending and supporting many local business functions, fund raisers, school and community events since I opened my store. I feel it's very important to give back to those who support you along the way. In regards to my work, I really enjoy shooting waves and landscapes, but many of my images are quite abstract and it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I guess that bit of difference can help getting recognised in a way. The internet is over saturated with pictures of waves, and with the introduction of those small silver and black boxes, it means anyone can get into the ocean and create images. However I still believe there's a need for photographic art and expression through this medium and I am constantly being inspired by passionate humans with cameras. If you are true to yourself and believe in what you do, people will find a way to help you.
I have also been lucky to have won International awards for my images and the resulting media can be very helpful in getting people to see your art. Oh, and I'm also very lucky to have 100% support from my amazing wife, this goes a long way when you turn your passion into a career. At the end of the day, you can't expect to be successful by sitting behind a computer. You need to put it all on the line, get out and work your ass off for it. I made the decision to risk it all in order to follow something I love and I am still working at it.
What is some of your favourite gear that you're using at the moment?
My go to lens for much of my land based work is Canon's 24-70mm 2.8. I've owned this lens for 4 years now and it still performs as well as it did day one. For my ocean photography I have a great relationship with my Canon 70-200mm IS II 2.8 lens. I am really enjoying the ridiculous clarity of this glass especially when creating slow shutter motion images. Another lens I enjoy using is the good old Canon 50mm 1.4. It's light, easy to use and for the price it's hard to beat. I recently had a custom Matty Smith 12" dome port made for my water housing and have been working on a range of over/under pictures with the help of a hand-held flash. This set-up is great when the swell backs off and water cleans up.
You have travelled to some pretty amazing places, do you have a favourite location/s to shoot?
I'm pretty fortunate to have travelled to some great locations, but there's always another one being added to the already long list I want to visit. However, the South East Aussie Coast has some of the best beaches and reef breaks in the world, and it's hard to leave when they are on fire. I grew up surfing many of my local waves, so now when it's on, I'm out there documenting it with a camera. Last year I spent some time exploring the coral reef fringes of Lady Elliott Island in Queensland and made some of my best images there. The sea life up there is amazing and it's easy to fill cards with images of turtles and other reef inhabitants. I hope to get back up that way soon to create more images.
What about in terms of your images, are there any shots or sequences that you have taken that stand out as your favourite or hold a particular importance to you?
I'm constantly thinking of new ways to see the ocean and experimenting with perspectives, movement and time, but I guess the ones that mean the most to me are the images I conceived in my mind before I captured them in a photo. My favourite underwater image would be one I titled 'Silver Helix', and is a vortex I shot on a Canon 5DMKII and 15mm Fisheye lens in 2013 which won first place in the International Photography Awards. For me this shot is an example that you don't need a million frames per second to create something that you feel is a successful shot. Another image I consider important to me is a shot I named 'The Great Beyond'. I captured this at a time where I was going through some personal drama, and it reminds me to keep pushing, looking further at the grand picture. I have also been working on a series of slow shutter images, of both large and small waves. I find this style of photography to be very therapeutic and rewarding especially when the conditions are perfect.
What is it that you love about your job?
The greatest thing about my ‘job’ is that it’s also my passion. I get to do what I love almost every day, and when I’m not doing it, I’m thinking about doing it. With so many aspects of photography it doesn’t really get boring for me. I try not to narrow my work to a single genre or style and that allows me to experiment with my ideas. There’s always a new angle or perspective to discover and that keeps my motivation at a healthy level. I also love the freedom I get from being a photographer, something of which I don’t ever take for granted.
I’m very fortunate to be able to showcase my pictures not only via the internet but through my store in Wollongong and I’m always extremely humbled when someone wants to purchase and hang one of my pieces in their home. I’m my own boss! What could be better?
If you could photograph anything or anybody in the world, what/ who would it be?
I live in one of the best places in the world. We have about 27 beaches on the South Coast alone, and they all boast something unique to shoot almost daily. However, there’s a few locations I’d like to photograph including the aquatic creature-filled exotic waters of Moorea, Tahiti, explore more of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and its many inhabitants, the various sharks, turtles, lava lakes and amazing waves of the Hawaiian Islands and the whale sharks of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia to mention a few. My bucket list is pretty extensive but it keeps me in a state of anticipation.
Where can we find you online?
Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on May 18, 2015
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