McLean began his obsession with photography in 1976, when he traded in his guitar for a camera. He had been playing since the '50s, when he worked in a coal mine during the day and played with his band at night. After leaving the mine and traveling around the UK with his band for several years, McLean returned to school and soon began a job as an accountant, still playing music on the side. But, in 1976, he discovered photography and quickly became obsessed. He toiled away with his accountant job for years afterward, though, and finally gave up the job to take on photography and writing full-time in the early 1990s, after the publisher of Pro Photo, a UK photography magazine approached him to write a monthly column, making him realize that he might be able to make a career out of photography. McLean has solely focused on the art side of photography since then, eschewing the corporate aspects of the business.