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?

The magnifying effect: full-frame vs two-thirds sensors

I knew that the “two-thirds” sensor, common in compact SLRs, has a magnifying impact on an image compared to the “full frame” sensor found in the mid-size and pro SLRs, but I’d never seen the effect of this 1.6x magnification with my own eyes until today.

This post compares photos taken on Dave’s Canon 5D with a EF 17-40mmm lens vs my Canon 650D with EF-S 18-200mm lens.

Test 1 – Wide angle

The “two-thirds” (22.3mm) APS-C sensor in my 650D has the effect of magnifying an image by 1.6x compared to the “full frame” (36mm) sensor of the 5D, meaning that at the same focal length my camera can’t fit as much into the image as it’s big brother. Both these shots were taken at each lens’s widest angle (17mm vs 18mm respectively).

Notice, for example, how the bench and flower pots in the foreground are complete in the first image, but cropped in the second one:

Anyas Garden (5D)
Canon 5D with 17-40mm lens at 17mm focal length

Anya's Garden (650D)
Canon 650D with 18-200mm lens at 18mm focal length

Test 2 – 40mm focal length

The next test shows a flower taken at 40mm focal length on both cameras.  You can see the magnification effect again on the 650D as less of the house in the background is visible compared to the 5D.

Bee on echinacea (5D)
Canon 5D at 40mm focal length (f11, 1/1000th, ISO-1000)

Bee on echinacea (650D)
Canon 650D at 40mm focal length (f14, 1/40th, ISO-400, -0.3 step)
I guess I’ll no longer brag about how my 18-200mm lens is a ‘wide angle’ lens any more then!

Time to upgrade?

I’ve been using my current camera and lens combination, a Canon 650D and a single all-in-one Canon EF-S 18-200mm zoom lens, for the past 3 years*. But is it time for a change?

I’ve been relatively happy with my single body & lens combination which, for an SLR, is compact, versatile and easy to transport around:

My Canon 650D plus  EF-S 18-200mm lens plus filters, sunshade, lens-pen and IR remote
My Canon 650D plus EF-S 18-200mm lens plus filters, sunshade, lens-pen and IR remote
Kit bag
All my kit handily fits into an old camcorder bag 🙂

However, I have been getting increasingly frustrated as I see other people’s shots (particularly macro, wildlife and sports photographs) which are pin-sharp and I can’t seem to get the same quality.  Working on the assumption it’s my kit that’s not up to par, rather than my photography skills (a big assumption, I know!), I have borrowed my friend Dave’s kit to experiment with a full-frame sensor and L lenses to see what difference it makes to my photographs.

Here’s the bag of tricks Dave has very kindly lent me:

Dave's Camera Kit
Dave’s Canon 5D (Mark I) plus EF 17-40mm, EF 70-200mm, 50mm f1.8, 1.4x extender and variable ND filter
Dave's Kit Bag
A sturdy shoulder bag to carry this bundle of goodies around

Look out for my next posts which will compare photos taken with both cameras… and let me know what you think!

* Prior to this I had a Canon 300D (early predecessor to the 650D) together with a 28-80mm lens plus an 80-200mm lens.  Depending on the shot I was taking I had to keep switching between the wide angle and the zoom lens (invariably the wrong one was on the body at wrong time!).

Colour or Black & white?

Since I’ve had some time on my hands recently, I’ve started learning a little of what can be done by way of image manipulation and how you can turn your photos into art.

Today’s exercise was on layer masks and creating splash colour images (thanks Adam for your sofa tutorial on the subject last week!).

Here’s my original full colour photo of James Martin’s #72 Mini Cooper in a tight battle with a Wolsley Hornet at the 72nd Goodwood Members Meeting last year:

Mini Hornet IMG_6812

And here’s my black & white version, created using a white (transparent) layer mask and painting back the colour of the vehicles in The Gimp:

Mini Hornet Splash BW IMG_6812

Whaddya think? Do you have a preference between the two?

Personally, as an overall image I like the contrast of the red cars against the green grass, but I think the black & white one draws the eye to the cars and how close they are to each other.  So I guess I like both 🙂

The morning after the night before

So I created this site last night on a bit of an impulse.  It was about 11pm – I had got back from an evening out with friends, just come off a Skype call with my parents who were visiting my brother in San Francisco, and was idly browsing Facebook before turning in for the night.  My cousin had tagged me in a post by some guy who turned out to be a motorsports enthusiast and photographer, and so I clicked the link to have a nose at his website*.  I was meandering around his site, full of photos of cars, and saw a lot of similarities between the photos he had published and a number of my own photos and started thinking “you know, this guy’s just like me… and if he can do this [publish and sell his photos online], why can’t I?”

So in my slightly alcohol-fuelled wisdom I thought “there’s no time like the present” and got the laptop out.  After a bit of research, I settled on using WordPress to create a free site and see where it led.  Having been introduced to WordPress in my last job and used it recently to create a small web presence for my Dad’s IT Consultancy company, I figured that would be a good place to start.  Better the devil you know, eh?

Ok, so it seems building a free site on WordPress assumes you want to create a blog, but that’s ok I though to myself, I’m sure I can hide/get rid of the blog pages and just create static photo gallery pages somehow.  I’m a techie, I can figure this out! I didn’t intend to start blogging… good god no, I don’t want to be one of those people who have nothing better to do than sit in front of their computers every day and publish a load of waffling drivel that no-one else will ever be interested in. What on earth would I have to write about anyway? No, my intention was to create a portfolio of my photos to showcase my photography, like Chris G’s, in the hope of one day finding a way to make some money out of them.

But today I looked again at the beginnings of the site I had created at about 2am this morning and thought, I don’t want this to be just another ‘bright idea’ that died the next day.  I don’t want to just dump a selection of my favourite back-catalogue photos out on the web and do nothing with it. I want to this site to be alive and to grow. I want it to be purposeful, and the photos to be meaningful. And then I thought, well, I’m going through a bit of a personal journey at the moment… maybe I can use this site as a way to share that journey and my photographic adventures…  and who knows where it may lead.  And if no-one reads it, that doesn’t really matter because I’m not doing it for anyone else, I’m doing it for me.

So I have chosen an image of a sunrise to accompany this post.  I took the photo on a trip to the Isle of Skye in June, and I think that the image of the dawning of a new day is a perfect accompaniment for my first ‘proper’ blog post on my new MiniF1 Photoblog.

So there we go.  At least, thus far, the idea has survived beyond the morning after the night before. Long may it continue!

* The site I was pointed to was www.chrisg-photography.com.  Thanks Chris for your inspiration and Rosie for putting me on to his site.

Walk with me on my journey of photographic exploration