Why photography is like IT

Up until recently, if someone asked me “What do you do for a living?” the answer would be “I work in IT.”

If that wasn’t a conversation stopper in itself (greeted with “Uhuh…” followed by a blank stare and a swift change of subject), then often the responses to this general job description would be along the lines of “Ah, computers… I don’t get computers, blasted things, I don’t know how to use them” or “I have a problem with my PC/internet at home, can you fix it?” or “My husband/brother/son works in IT too, he does something with websites/he’s a software engineer/I think he builds networks… is that anything like what you do?” Umm… no, not exactly.

Those of you who also work ‘in IT’ know that this generic term covers a multitude of sins… from programming the chips in mobile phones, to configuring WiFi services in marinas, pubs & hotels, to writing iPhone apps, to managing all the PCs, printers, webcams, iPads, electronic whiteboards and other technology in a secondary school while making sure the kids can’t look at websites they shouldn’t… Yes, I know people who have done all of these jobs and they would broadly describe themselves as working ‘in IT’. What do they all have in common? That their job revolves around operating or managing computers.

It then occurred to me, as I am delving deeper and deeper into the world of photography (and even considering switching careers to it) that photography and IT have quite a lot in common. How so?

Well, aside from the fact that digital photography is in fact it’s own IT discipline (someone has to write the software in cameras that controls the sensor and helps choose the ‘optimum’ combination of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance and point of focus, not to mention the programming that goes into writing software like Photoshop), it is also a generic term which encompasses a broad range of skill sets. And what do those skill sets have in common – they are all based around operating a camera.

As Grumpy George explained to me (Grumpy George is a landscape photographer based on the Isle of Skye in Scotland who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year):

“Think of photography as like having a trade. You may call yourself a tradesman, but that could mean you’re a plumber, electrician, plasterer etc., each of which is it’s own discipline with it’s own unique skill set. Photography is the same: for landscape photography you need different skills to those you need for other types of photography, such as portraits, weddings, sports, events, fashion, wildlife… And therefore your  training depends on the type of photography you want to do.”

Well, that’s the same as IT – skills for designing, building & configuring hardware such as telephones, printers or shop tills are different to designing, coding & testing the software that operates on those devices.

Which is perhaps why I feel rather lost right now. I want to develop my photography skills to the extent that I can make a living out of my photographs, but I am quickly becoming overwhelmed by the different advice and rules regarding ‘correct’ exposure, ‘good’ composition, what should be captured ‘in camera’ and how digital images should be processed.  Do I perhaps need to first decide which discipline I want to specialise in, and then focus on learning the skills needed for that particular style of photography?

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