Why my day job and a love of photography come from the same place.

I used to work in photography professionally, but today I work in software development. At first glance these two worlds seem very disparate. But in fact there is a lot of synergy, or at least there is for me.

I started life with photography in my DNA as both my parents were in the industry. My dad worked with a famous photographer and was always taking photos, my mum was a model and the house was full of photography books and camera equipment for a growing child to play with. They both worked very hard and I just assumed I would have a job like my parents.

I enjoyed a career in photography in my early years and had an amazing time meeting awesome people and learning so much about the industry. You have to quickly master a lot of different techniques from the science and maths of a correct exposure to complex lighting techniques. I started before auto focus and before computers calculated the exposure for you so that science was calculated in the head meaning it was second nature whilst you spoke to the client or arranged the composition. The same science existed in the darkroom as you mixed chemicals and calculated exposures all done in the dark. I loved the entire process, the combination of being creative whilst working with people and technology was a natural fit. 

Emma Falcon. Full session here.

The need to earn a regular income lured me away from the freelance side of photography and into a design agency that I set up. Photoshop had come out and I was enjoying the ability to retouch my photos but also post them on the web (hands up if you remember Dreamweaver - showing my age here!). The business side of me saw that there was more money to be had making websites than taking photos so I trended into that space learning HTML, CSS, Pearl and PHP. The tools were different, but in my head the creative process of technology, people and problem solving was identical.

The internet had established itself and I was enjoying the ability to build engaging websites for the same sort of clients I had met in my time working in advertising, fashion and editorial. But the real break came when we were asked to capture data online about customer behaviour. That one event triggered a whole new business dedicated to a backend application that built websites and surveyed customers and generated BI reports. A new start up journey began with fundraising, client facing meetings, team building and designing and delivering products. I had gone from loading film to building software and pitching to clients. That inflection point didn’t alter my DNA but it did focus my mind, I loved the innovation that the internet invited.

I knew I was creative, but I also enjoyed the challenge of problem solving with a team of people and doing that on the internet with the latest technology was my new canvas. It was simply a new extension of what I had done before.

A lot has happened since and today I am CTO of Smart, one of the UK’s most exciting FinTechs. I am fortunate to work with some incredible people, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. We are a business on the cutting edge of contemporary software having made a name for ourselves with industry disrupting technology and customer facing applications. I could go on for hours about our business, the culture, the technology, the user experience and so much more. I see echoes of my past in everything we do and that is what gets me up in the morning.

So how is this about taking photos?

I’ve never stopped taking photos that is still very much in my DNA. I’m that father who insists his kids jump in front of the camera to capture important moments but also when the light is just… perfect. Whilst traveling for work I always take photos and my colleagues have become very accepting of my need to include them in the image.

That is in fact an important part of what I think constitutes a decent photo. I can’t take a photo of just a building, I find a photo of a landmark that includes people in the image far more exciting. My foundation of fashion and editorial saw us doing exactly this, photographing people in compelling places. A simple example is this photo of the Sydney Opera House. It’s a stunning building on its own; there can be no debate about that. But for it to be perfect for me I had to wait for this tourist to intersect my shot before I could take the photo.​​​​​​​

Sydney Opera House, one of many Smart Snaps

And just as I enjoy working with teams and building a strong culture at work, that is founded in bringing out the best in someone when taking their portrait. In my head you can’t capture who they are without getting to know them first and earning their trust. Building that trust between photographer and model is no different to the trust you see in a good manager.

Some of this is habitual too. My past photographing people and needing to make them look great is still very much with me. I see the best in people rather than look for the negative. I’m a firm believer in fostering a positive culture at work and that was founded in my early years behind the camera.
This approach has helped me in my day job, but also inspired me to revisit that past and take portraits once again. I get a thrill out of meeting new people, working out who they are, designing a compelling lighting setup and capturing and editing an engaging image that genuinely excites them and their friends. The cherry on the cake is seeing that same image on the internet or hung as a canvas on the wall.

That same statement is why I love my role as CTO of a technology business with one of the best engineering teams out there. We are a tight team (of over 300 engineers) that designs and builds complex and yet engaging online solutions that our customers love and we are proud of.

Photography will never be my day job, but it helps me in everything I do and will always be part of who I am. I continue to take photos as a hobby to exercise that creative muscle and ensure I stay match fit for everything else.
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