Michael B. Shane: On The Verge

He shoots in a studio, on location or on the street.

There are similarities between playing music and taking pictures. Both rely on manipulating a mechanical device in a highly technical fashion in order to make art. It’s the perfect left-brain, right-brain combination.

“On the one side is all the creative aspects,” Shane says, “and on the other side, you’re really just talking about physics and figuring out how to control a piece of hardware to make it do what you want to do. With music, you’re trying to make the exact sounds you want to make, and with photography you’re trying to make it capture the exact right amount of light at the right time.”

Shane’s photographic tools are fairly straightforward: high-quality cameras and lenses, and lighting that’s easy to use.

“I’ve been at The Verge for a little over two years,” he says, “and in that time, I’ve done, I think it’s something like over 70 stories—a combination of features and reviews—but I’ve only ever used big studio strobes for one of those. That was our back-to-school guide, for which I used Profotos. It was a really glossy, magazine-style lifestyle guide. Because of what we wanted to achieve, we rented studio space and hired models and hair, makeup, wardrobe. We did the whole thing, we did it for real, right? So for that I got big lights and we did it that way, but every other lit photo that I’ve done has been lit by small flashes.

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.

“It’s amazing what you can do with one small flash and a roll of tinfoil,” Shane says. “You just have to experiment. I’m an experimenter because I still consider myself learning. I’m like an accidental photographer. I think a lot of being a professional photographer is figuring out how to do trial and error in front of other people on other people’s time without ticking them off. If you look at my website, the first two photos that come up are a portrait of Jeff Bezos and a portrait of Robin Wright. Both of those portraits were made in less than three minutes because a lot of times, when we’re doing a story, especially with high-profile people, you often have very little time. With Jeff Bezos, for example, he was literally having a conversation with the editor in chief while I did the photo. You have to be able to go in, set up your lights and make the photo, and you can’t do it in less than three minutes with a bunch of Profotos unless you have three assistants with you. If we’re on location, I’ll have one, if I’m lucky. Maybe an intern is available, or the writer who’s with us at that time is able and willing to hold a light, or something like that.”

The Verge is often characterized as being a technology news site, but that’s really not taking the big view. Says Shane, “We report on everything that’s happening in the world from that [technology] point of view. So, obviously, we review the latest iPhone and we review the latest smart watch, but we also report on what’s happening in Syria, and we report on net neutrality, and we do long-form features about people building doomsday bunkers or, you know, people modifying their bodies and implanting magnets in their fingertips, or online scam artists, things like that. To us, The Verge is really everything that’s happening in the world today from our connected point of view. We think that technology touches everything.”

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