My Imagery Story with Science and Art
Some introspection over the last couple of months led me to realise how over the past one decade I have been transitioning back and forth between photography & computer science. But what is interesting is that I seemed to have stuck by one common interest: visuals and imagery in photography and computer vision.
Inclination towards computer science was right from the time I was introduced the idea of programming at 14. The imagination of flowing logic was intriguing to me as a teenager. I had some amazing teachers back in school who were also responsible for my growing interest. I knew that if I was going to college, this would be my subject.
But when I was 16, there was another world that captivated me: Photography. On a family holiday in the snow-capped hills of India, I fell in love with the art of capturing frames. I had heard a lot about my father’s interest in photography, but had never really seen him to have the time to culture it with his busy career catering to the family’s need. Fortunately he still had one of the first affordable digital cameras in the market back in 2003. It was in in 2007 that I actually started using the next one that he had. That trip for me was followed by a prestigious national recognition for one one of my photographs. It catalysed the passion during my late-teens. But it looked very bleak considering the career risks involved. I decided to play safe and wanted some stability after I graduate. I was anyway a programming enthusiast.
I moved to a town 200 km away from my city to pursue my bachelors in computer science engineering. Every student in my course wanted a laptop from his father. Officially to write programs, and unofficially to play video-games and watch movies. But I wanted a Digital-SLR camera. This was 2010. Film cameras had already begun to be digitalised but DSLR was still expensive and mostly on a professional level. I promised my father that I would not compromise on my engineering courses and pleaded him to get me a camera instead of a laptop. I would share my roommate’s laptop when needed. My father managed to get me a DSLR and a small notebook instead of a mega laptop.
In my 3rd year of engineering, I did have a proper laptop which I used for programming and photo-editing. By now I was already immersed in this world. I was spending less than half my week attending college and the other half with the photographers in my city. I had made friends with some really talented people who even mentored me. I had also begun to earn a bit of pocket money from this. But most of all, I loved the creativity. I started attending photowalks and exploring street photography. In this journey, I met innumerable creative people some of whom went on to become friends for the lifetime. Be it covering the city, capturing essence of festivals and seasons, special events, or interesting get-aways, I tried to get my hands on everything that came along. I had also begun my photography blog full-fledged by now.
I was lucky to have met two very passionate and ambitious folks at this point in my life: one loved to compose music, and the other wanted to master film direction and script writing. I use the word ambitious because today they are living their dreams and making us all proud with their creativity in the world of film and music. We created some music videos and short-films together that went viral, being one of their kind back in 2012 in our community. The likes of You took my heart away, Otimanob and Room for Rent had made a mark that motivated us even further. Those were the most memorable days of my life when I was 20 and was managing summer internships and cinematography at the same time. The people I worked with during the shoots had become a family to me by now.
Recognitions always boost you. I had some still-photography and cinematography portfolios that people across the community appreciated. I was starting to get recognised in my city. There were potential high-risk job offers that could lead me to success if taken the right path at the right time and worked hard enough. The problem began when it was almost time for me to graduate. Time flies. Very soon I realised I had hardly been attending my engineering classes. Although I did some interesting software development internships in startups every semester break unlike most of my peers, I was not motivated enough for a decent paying and stable IT job. It seemed boring to me and not as exciting as the life I had been living these days.
I wanted to photograph. I wanted to learn. I loved images and colours. I wanted to travel. A Bollywood movie released that year which portrayed a character Farhan who quit his engineering job interview to pursue wildlife photography. People began to make jokes that I should stop being Farhan. I did not know what exactly I wanted now. I knew my parents wanted me settle down for a stable IT job. Meanwhile, one of my closest friend from our film-gang made it to the Bollywood industry with his immense determination and creativity. And the other one of the trio was flying to Canada to live his dream of mixing and making fresh music for the community. Some photographer friends of mine decided to settle for a job or initiate their startups ideas keeping photography along.
It took me a while to realise that I love both Computer Science and Photography equally. One has more art in it and one has more science. But the thought of earning my bread with that very creative side of photography did not really seem to motivate me. I was more inclined to be a hobbyist photographer and a traveller. I realised I had not studied enough to do justice to a software development job at that moment. I wanted to learn more of the science and explore photography by traveling. I began applying for master studies in Europe with courses in computer science focusing on image processing.
With the motivation of traveling and learning computer vision, I moved to Germany in the fall of 2014 for a research course in intelligent-systems. It was a big move for me at 22 to land in an unknown country where I don’t even speak the language. It took me a while to settle down in this new part of the planet. Things were exciting and challenging. I feel lucky to have met some people here who went on to be my best of friends. I had to study. I had to improve real-time. My mathematics was very weak. I remember to have taken up the course 3D-Computer Vision to cater my interest in imagery. I never actually managed to appear the exam before dropping out of it for the fear of matrix multiplication. But what I had started falling in love was the magic of machine learning, more specifically deep learning with image data. I had started living by my own setting up a stage and direction for the future. I was learning every single day. I had lost the definition of weekends during this phase of my life. Because I was loving to do every bit.
True that I made sure to travel a lot with some amazing friends. But I was losing my creativity with the camera. I was simply clicking pictures of beautiful places and not making compositions anymore. This got frustrating. I was racing against time. At some point I completely stopped photography. People around me no more knew this passion of mine existed. They would be surprised when I would show them some music-videos or photographs of mine from the past.
On the brighter side, it was time to be captivated by the world of computer vision. I spent one year working with spatial and geographic data. I was woking on various software development projects that dealt with shapes and vector data which fitted like jigsaw puzzles on the earth’s surface. The ability to visualise them on the planet made me love to curate and work with them in scientific manner. I started learning different tools to work with such data and it was great.
Soon I transitioned from GIS to satellite imagery of the planet. This was even more mesmerising to me. I began with exploring solutions to store heavy images of the earth from external satellites. I was staying up in labs till midnight and happily conducting research with processing satellite-images generated by European Space Agency. Soon I began to apply more and more deep learning technology on such earth observation data to gain insights and do predictions which were useful to the society. To have the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire of Canada as my case-study added cherry on the top. While working on my thesis topic with Earth Observation Analysis, I loved to dive in and appreciate the beauty of the earth mother nature has created. I absolutely loved images by now. Later when completed with satellite imagery projects, I also began to try my hands in projects involving fake news detection with real-world images.
From time to time there were film and music releases of my friends back home who were doing great. I felt super happy for them. I look back at times to think if I had made the right choices at 22. But never got an answer in negation. I don’t regret. I almost began with my PhD in 2017 with deep learning and satellite image processing. But I decided to move to industry within 3 months. I wanted to have a full-time job in the field of deep learning and image processing. Personally I needed a changes as well. I had already lived in 5 different apartments during this time in Kaiserslautern and Heidelberg before moving to Düsseldorf. I wanted a more sorted and stable life now.
I joined my current organisation in the team called visual-content and image-concepts. Super-interesting how I managed to land up with a job in the domain of imagery again. Since the time I have started my current job, my life in this organisation has been way more balanced and stable than it was during my machine-learning internships and image-processing thesis. I have had proper weekends and holidays to travel. I have visited roughly a dozen countries in total now apart from Germany.
But now I want to do more than just traveling. I have again started taking photography seriously. Recently I bought myself new camera-gears after 8 yrs of using the one I had from my Dad. It was even more of a special moment when I managed to buy my dad a DSLR before getting myself one. Also recently the Indian Embassy of Berlin decided to invite me for an award ceremony and exhibit my photography work from back in the days of my early 20s. And it was exactly during this time that I had planned to bring over my family for the first time to visit Germany. You know things are falling in place when sweet coincidences like this occur.
Currently I am happy during weekdays to indulge in deep learning, software engineering and image processing. During the weekends and vacations I am trying to cultivate my creativity and starting to reignite my lost passion of photography. Things have changed a lot now than how it was 6-8 yrs ago with digitalisation and phone cameras making a boom in the ever-increasing social media. I am happy to not be a part of any competition or race to be the best among the contemporary.
I am happy to have found the blend of profession and passion. I like working on engineering topics related to images, pursue personal computer-vision projects, apply deep learning technology on image data, appreciate nice photographs, capture unique frames and travel around exploring & capturing local food, people, history and culture. Hopefully this particular blog will be a stepping stone for me to not only publish photography blogs but also kick-start some technical blogs which I have never had the time to write before.
That’s about my story for the love of images with the science of computer vision and the art of photography. A huge thank you to every single soul who has been a part of this journey with me blending different passions and enthusiasm.