Michael B. Shane: On The Verge

Like many great photographers, Michael B. Shane entered adulthood on an entirely different career path. He was a classical musician with a master’s degree in music and a full-time job playing the clarinet.

Robin Wright

“I first started taking pictures when I was on tour with the Cleveland Orchestra,” he says. “Sometimes, you end up with a lot of free time. You’re in Europe, you don’t want to hide in your hotel room practicing, so what do you do? You go out and you wander around. I had a camera; that’s how I got started.

“One of the pivotal things that I did,” Shane explains, “was a 365 project, where every day for a year I had to take a self-portrait. This was before I had learned anything about lighting, so it was all ambient light, really straightforward stuff. In terms of making pictures before I really understood light and lighting, it was probably an incredibly important formative experience. Just forcing myself to be creative and make a photo every day, with what in hindsight was obviously very limited gear and technology, was a really wonderful exercise. That was 2009. I was a baby then. I knew nothing.”

Today, Shane knows a little something about photography. As director of operations for The Verge—a website covering the intersection of technology, science, art and culture—his job isn’t specifically photographic. But as director of operations for the low-budget startup, Shane often takes the reins to create something out of nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but certainly nothing much. Just a camera and a flash and a whole lot of newfound know-how. He learned photography the new old-fashioned way.

“Everything I learned about taking pictures I learned on the Internet,” he says, “and through practicing; a lot of trial and error. It’s kind of ridiculous, if we’re being honest. For off-camera lighting, all of my foundational knowledge is from David Hobby, who runs the Strobist website, and Joe McNally, who does a lot of stuff online. These guys have provided a tremendous amount of accessible knowledge for free, which is mind-blowing.”

Learning photography online is really no more mind-blowing than a musician landing a job in photography by responding to a Tweet.

“I saw a random Tweet,” Shane says, “that the editor in chief of The Verge was looking for an assistant, and at that point my options were basically to continue to work part-time, do some photography when it comes, and freelance as a musician in the city and see what happens, or get a doctorate. I didn’t want to get a doctorate because I didn’t want to teach music in college. The other thing that I’ve always been really passionate about was technology, which is why I think photography has always made so much sense for me, because it’s sort of the perfect combination of nerdiness and gadgets and technology and creativity and artistry and making something. And I’ve always found that balance, that combination, really gratifying and interesting.”

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