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Shoot the Bloggers: John E. McIntyre

One of the best things about spending 20 years in newspapers is getting to work with people like copy editor John E. McIntyre. He worked at The Sun for 23 years, including 14 years as head of the copy desk.

John was the last line of defense against errors -- or outright stupidity -- getting into print. And that line of defense was well-fortified.

It was not at all unusual to get a midnight call from the copy desk, beginning with, " We have a little question about something in your caption..."

And more often than not, it was your sleepy butt they were saving.

Who Needs a Cpy Desk, Anyway?

As the newspaper industry continues to implode, they now have to make do without luxuries such as copy desk chiefs. I'm not sure what the fat-cutters will go after next -- electricity in the newsroom? Reporters' pads and pencils?

If you've watched the last year of The Wire on TV, you already know the mantra: "We simply must learn to do more with less…"

David Simon, the creator of The Wire, was a Baltimore Sun reporter. And that association makes me very proud. As fas as I am concerned, that show was the all-time high water mark for TV.

Since leaving The Sun last April, John McIntyre has since passed on to the other side.

Oh, he's still very much alive. By "the other side," I mean that his current duties now include blogging. And if you come from newspapers or enjoy language or just like guys with a wry sense of humor who wear bow ties, you'll definitely want to check out his site.

I caught up with John again as part of a new portrait project on bloggers.

Shoot the Bloggers

The blogger series is one of three projects I have for 2010. At this point I am working locally, with the idea of expanding the scope later as the project gains a little momentum.

Throughout, I hope to write about it here not only in terms of the lighting details but also the process and logistics of the project itself.

Why bloggers? Lots of reasons.

As a group, they are on the vanguard of a huge disruption in the traditional media model. As the Fourth Estate disintegrates, is being replaced a new form of news gathering which has proved better in some ways, and worse in others.

No one knows exactly how the transition is going to turn out. But a lot of bloggers are already out there, taking risks and blazing new trails.

In my experience, bloggers have proven to be an interesting group of people. To blog successfully you have to be self-motivated, persistent, have a focus to your knowledge and be somewhat of an entrepreneur.

And, obviously, I have foot in the door with the industry. Which always helps when trying to get access and referrals.

The project is at present self-assigned. I have several ideas for partners, funding and eventual uses for the photos. But as for now the series is in the chicken-or-egg stage, and I am absolutely fine with that.

If I have learned anything in the last three years it that taking a chance on a cool idea can come back at you in a good way.

Christening the Photo Cave

John was one of the very first people to be shot in my new studio, which sits at the corner of my L-shaped office. It is a sitting studio (low ceiling) and my only background so far is a big square of blank wall painted dark gray.

In a way, that height limitation is useful. Working without tall ceilings means that any lighting technique I use in my studio can be brought to nearly any location. (At least, that is the positive spin I am putting on it for myself.)

This pullback shot shows half of the four lights that were used to make John's photo. I used a combination of big lights and small lights. There were two ABs and two SBs, total.

The key was an AlienBee fitted with a gridded beauty dish. I like this light source, as it gives me soft-ish light with absolute control over the spill. It's not soft-box-soft, but in close creates an in-between quality of light that I like.

The fill was on-axis, courtesy an AB-800 and small moon unit. I can vary the fill intensity to create a wide variety of looks by controlling the contrast range of the photo.

With the background so near, even a Moon Unit is going to throw a tell-tale ring light shadow. I minimized that to some degree with an SB-800 background light on the gray backdrop. Not too much -- just enough to lessen the ring shadow and create a slight gradient.

Last is another SB-800 top light hanging from a small scissor-clamp on the ceiling. This nifty little light support turns any suspended ceiling into a boom light at the ready -- as long as the light source is not too heavy.

As for ratios, start with the ring fill. Get a good exposure, then drop it down to where everything is dark but still legible. (You can drop it with the aperture or by using the ring's power level.)

On top of that, add your key light (here, the dish) at full exposure. Then add background and top light to taste. It's quick, full manual, and no meters needed.

The result is, I think, a character-driven style of light. Which is appropriate to John, who is quite the character. Honestly, I think that comes with being copy desk chief. But that may just be anecdotal experience on my part.

For now, I am starting with tight portraits and trying for interesting, controlled lighting. But that is probably going to change. I hope to move into photos which are more conceptual as I go. A few ideas are percolating.

I am pleased to see that one of my photos is already appearing on John's blog, You Don't Say. For now the project is completely collaborative, with the idea being to leverage photos into introductions to other bloggers. As the series starts to get more momentum, my hope is that the work itself will open new doors.

And speaking of opening new doors, be sure to check out You Don't Say if you are even remotely interested in language and/or newspapers. John hits all things linguistic, including the proper use of alcohol while writing, punctuation without fear and even how to pronounce Louisville.

You Don't Say is spartan enough not to even have an RSS button, but I pulled the RSS link from my browser and read it religiously. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Next: Climber Hands


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