Q&A: Photographer Emma McIntyre

With a repertoire of work that spans many genres, photographer Emma McIntyre’s creative eye has captured endless subjects in a way that speaks to audiences around the world. Whether she is shooting celebrity portraits or capturing the energy of an environment, Emma McIntyre’s natural photographic style reveals her subjects with a surreal-like beauty, and something she likes to call the ‘pause’ in between our ever-changing reality.

Over the years, McIntyre, who has has amassed an impressive client list that includes Horses Atelier, Sennheiser, Hudson’s Bay Company, Tiffany & Co, and many others, has had countless images appear in magazines and newspapers like Rolling Stone, Nylon, Spin, The New York Times, and Toronto Life.

Read our interview below to find out more about this incredible photographer.

By Emma McIntyre
by Emma McIntyre

TTNN: For those who don’t know you, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

EM: I’m a photographer from Toronto, Canada. I shoot a mixture of editorial, fashion and commercial work.

TTNN: How did you learn photography?

EM: I started taking pictures in high school where I had a great instructor and learned in a dark room. We also always had cameras lying around the house because my dad was a hobbyist photographer, as was his father. I inherited a Pentax Spotmatic when I was 16 and fell in love with the whole process.

In University I worked as the photo editor for our campus paper and ended up shooting a lot during that time as well. Eventually I studied photography at NMIT (North Melbourne Institute of TAFE) in Melbourne, Australia for two years.

TTNN: What equipment would I find in your camera bag or studio for a typical shoot?

EM: My Nikon D3S with 85mm and 35mm prime lenses.

I also love to use my film cameras – a Hasselblad and a Mamiya 645 film camera. On commercial jobs it’s harder to shoot film, but I still love the feel of it and think it’s unparalleled.

TTNN: What lighting equipment do you favor and why?

EM: My preferred light is natural light but I’m fortunate to have worked with some great lighting techs in studio who have taught me how to recreate beautiful lighting scenarios that emulate natural light.

TTNN: How many shots on average do you shoot during a session?

EM: It really depends. With digital as you know it’s so easy to go overboard. I think that’s another reason I like to shoot with film if I can. You are so much more deliberate and don’t have the option to constantly check what you’re doing and tweak it. Film still forces you to be a bit more instinctive and trust that you’ve captured what you needed to. That being said I do commercial and fashion shoots with digital and in those cases can shoot hundreds of images. Especially with assignments like lookbooks when you’re firing off a lot of frames to make sure you capture a variety of angles and looks.

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TTNN: Can you tell our readers about some of the projects you’ve worked on?

EM: Recently I’ve been working with the Toronto fashion designers Horses Atelier on their lookbooks and e-commerce. It’s been a really rewarding evolution collaborating with them and their art director to strike a balance in the look with something that properly shows the clothing while still remaining artful. I’ve loved finding that balance and their clothing is so well designed and executed it’s great to work with.

Lately I’ve also been shooting a lot of music – live concert photography as well as some backstage portraits. It’s really challenging to work with the changing lighting conditions and in a really limited time (usually the first three songs only.) I’ve loved trying to capture something unique and being a part of that performing energy is really invigorating. I’ve shot several music festivals this summer like Osheaga, North by Northeast and TURF Festival.

I have an ongoing collaboration with interior designer Timothy Johnson in Toronto. I love his design work and some of his projects have been featured in House and Home, Objekt, and Toronto Homes. I’ve documented all of his projects over several years and love the meditative aspect of just shooting spaces and objects. Editorially speaking I’ve been published in a lot of local magazines like Toronto Life, Fashion, The Grid and re:porter and internationally in places like Monocle and NYLON.

TTNN: What has been your most memorable photo shoot, and why?

EM: Probably my favorite shooting experience was in Cuba – which wasn’t an assignment – I brought my Hasselblad there and it sounds like a cliche but the textures of the buildings and the color and life of the place was so inspiring to photograph. I took some of my favorite photographs in that country. By the end of the trip I actually felt visual fatigue from seeing so many beautiful things.

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TTNN: I noticed on your website you have a section entitle ‘productions stills’, what productions have you worked on? 

EM: I’ve worked as a production stills photographer (or unit stills photographer) on a number of films and television shows. My first job of this nature was for the documentary Don’t You Forget About Me about filmmaker John Hughes. Here I had an opportunity to travel with the crew and shoot B roll as well as still images on a road trip to Chicago to John Hughes’ hometown. From there I worked on a number of television shows including Curious and Unusual Deaths, Inventions That Shook The World, Rescue Mediums, Totally Amp’d and Million Dollar Critic as well as films such as Everyday is Like Sunday and Diamond Tongues (currently in post-production.)

In this role you are tasked to capture images that will function as publicity images as well as capturing general atmosphere for posterity and details for continuity. It’s always an interesting experience as a photographer because you are working with film/ tv set lighting. It’s a great learning opportunity because lighting techs in film and TV are so knowledgeable and shooting with their set-up is a bit of a luxury. It can be a fun collaboration with the producers/ directors when conceptualizing what will work for publicity images. For the show Rescue Mediums (a show about two mediums from England making house calls in North America) we decided to shoot in a foggy cemetery at night. My lighting equipment kept malfunctioning and the team was convinced it was supernatural forces at work. I like the TV and film world because it always takes you to places you wouldn’t expect and especially in the more documentary type of television you have an opportunity to encounter interesting experts and perspectives.

TTNN: You’ve had an opportunity to shoot a long list of celebrity photos, can you tell us a little bit about that experience, and some of the people you’ve shot?

EM: I collaborate with a team of great people here in Toronto who produce a long format interview magazine about cinema called The Seventh Art. They’ve attracted a number of well-respected directors to be part of the magazine and I’ve captured stills during the taping of these interviews and then often had an opportunity to capture a portrait after the interview. They always chose interesting locations around the city to conduct the interviews so this gives me an opportunity to shoot environmental portraits in new spaces. It was through this magazine that I had an opportunity to photograph Peter Bogdanovich, Xavier Dolan, Andrew Bujalski, Christopher Doyle, Whit Stillman, and Paul Schrader. I was especially excited to photograph Peter Bogdanovich as I was a huge Sopranos fan and I think he has such an iconic look. I had about two seconds to capture a portrait of him between takes and he just stared deep into the barrel of the lens and gave me an image that I just love.

Peter Bogdanovich by Emma McIntyre
Peter Bogdanovich by Emma McIntyre

TTNN: What inspires you? Who are some of your favorite photographers?

EM: Lately I’ve been loving the work of Pari Dukovic. He’s been appearing a lot in publications like the New Yorker and his portraits are so imaginative and his use of color is so beautiful. Some photographers I have admired for a long time include Nadav Kander, Autumn de Wilde, and Lauren Dukoff. Vivian Maier has been an amazing discovery in the photography world – her street photography is so inspiring. Instagram is also great in that way as means for discovering new photographers. I think it’s so important to try and soak up every type of culture for inspiration though. I find inspiration in music and film as much as other photographers. I recently saw the Nick Cave documentary and it’s always so interesting to witness someone else speaking about their creative process. His discipline and the longevity he’s had with his career is so inspiring.

TTNN: Do you have a specific genre that you focus on with your photography? What is it and why are you passionate about it?

EM: Like many photographers, I’m most passionate about photographing people. That being said I love assignments where I’m asked to go document an event, space, neighbourhood, etc. Anything that takes me into a new environment is always so stimulating and I love making use of whatever lighting situations I encounter to create something interesting and tells the story of the place/ person. Portraits are more challenging because if it’s successful it’s telling a powerful story with one image. Something that communicates more than just the surface and actually relays something about the person. My love of documentary style storytelling means I pretty much love every assignment– everything presents new challenges and often you have a really limited time to capture the essence of the person, place, or environment.

TTNN: How would you describe your photography style?

EM: In terms of style I would say I like to capture quiet candid moments and expressions both in people and in urban landscapes, details and still life. I suppose it could be described as documentary/ lifestyle with a bit of a stylized/fashion sensibility. Ideally I am striving to capture a subtle emotion, something that appears in the in between moments which can be awkward and beautiful. For all my subjects – interiors, people, still life/ food – I prefer to use natural light and try to communicate the brief moment of pause – before words are spoken, spaces are entered, still life is changed.

TTNN: How do you keep productive and retain your creative edge?

EM: Being freelance forces you to be inventive and disciplined in terms of finding new work. As far as creative edge I think it’s important to expose yourself to lots of new art, film, music for inspiration and travel always makes me feel newly inspired – even if it’s just a road trip outside of the city to get a different perspective.

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