McKell grew up in Weymouth and began working as a seaside photographer aged 19. He later studied graphic design at the Exeter College of Art and Design before moving to London in 1979 to work as a designer. He held an exhibition in his own studio in 1984 entitled 'Iain McKell LIVE'. In this event members of the public were invited to witness McKell at work, he photographed members of The Comic Strip and many of the visitors. This was followed in 1985 by an open workshop in The Photographers' Gallery, showing his work and a documentary film about the previous year. The success of these events led McKell to work on advertising campaigns for Smirnoff and Red Stripe.
McKell has been photographing various subcultures since the 1980s, he initially shot skinheads and has since documented various other subcultures, including Punks, Blitz Kids, and Rockabillies. McKell has also spent over ten years befriending and photographing a group of New Age Travellers. The result of this project was the publication of a book and various exhibitions. He also went on to collaborate with Kate Moss for V Magazine as Kate Moss traveled with McKell and spent time with the travelers taking photos. .
In 2012, McKell released his third book, Beautiful Britain, a collection of his photographs between 1970 and 2012.
- Beautiful Britain: Photographs from the 1970s to the Present. Munich: Prestel, 2012. ISBN 3791347012
- The New Gypsies. Munich: Prestel, 2011. ISBN 3791345192
- Fashion Forever: 30 years of subculture. New York, N.Y.: Thames & Hudson, 2004 ISBN 1903781086.
- The New Gypsies, Fashion Space Gallery. London.
- The New Gypsies, Acte 2 Photo. Paris.
- The New Gypsies, Clic Gallery. New York.
- Then & Now, Story Gallery. London.
- Hodkinson, Karen (28 April 2012). "Face of a nation: Iain McKell challenges our notions of beauty with his evocative pictures of the British". London: The Independent.
- Farrelly, Liz. ed., (2004). Fashion Forever : 30 years of subculture. New York, N.Y.: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 1903781086.
- Duffy, Keanan. "5 Minutes with Iain McKell". Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- "Society of Industrial Artists and Designers". Designer. 1985.
- McKell, Iain. Beautiful Britain : photographs from the 1970s to the present. Munich: Prestel. ISBN 3791347012.
- "Ian McKell, Kate and the Gypsies". Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- Casarotto Romer, Luca. "New Gypsy: a journey through an anient culture". Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- Davies, Lucia. "Iain McKell, Beautiful Britain". Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- "Iain Mckell, The New Gypsies". Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- "The new Gypsies, Iain McKell".
- "The New Gypsies by Iain McKell".
- Churchill, Nick. "Cult Classics". Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- Iain McKell's Official Website
- Laneri, Raquel (22 September 2011). "The New Gypsies: Iain McKell's Photos Of A Nomadic British Subculture". Forbes.