Romain Guy, Software Engineer and Photographer

My landscape photography is usually devoid of people or traces of civilization. I suppose it’s because it’s not something we get to see that often, and to me, there’s a lot of beauty in solitude. It’s a way for me to share that peaceful happiness I feel when I stand there waiting to take the photograph. I noticed that I effectively express similar feelings with street photography, shooting either “urban landscapes” — with few or no people, which can be challenging — or pictures of isolated folks. And sometimes I share a picture just because I think it’s a pretty picture!

My name is Romain Guy and I am a software engineer at Google on the Android team. I started on the Android team in 2007, as part of the UI toolkit team (UI, animations, graphics, etc.). I’ve mostly worked on UI and graphics and I now manage a group that includes the UI toolkit as well as other various projects that aim to make the life of our application developers easier. I’ve always been drawn to user interface & graphics design and development ever since I started programming as a hobby in the 90s. I can’t say I really chose my job – I just ended up doing for a living what I had been doing for fun all along.

I am originally from France. I first came to California for an internship with Sun Microsystems in 2005. I once had a fairly popular Open Source Java application and I wrote numerous articles and demos about building interesting user interfaces with Java. I enjoyed working there so much that 3 months later, at the end of my internship, I called my school and told them I’d be back a year later. That’s where I met my good friend and still co-worker Chet Haase. I spent an extra year at Sun doing what I love and learning a few new tricks, such as public speaking (including recently a bit of comedy with Chet). Chet and I even wrote a book together on user interfaces, animations and graphics effects. After I came back to France to finish my degree, Google contacted me to offer me another internship. I, of course, accepted and joined a then-secret project called Android. So I went back to California, and when Google offered me a job, I stayed. None of this was planned, and I’ll always be eternally grateful for the numerous people who gave me so many amazing opportunities and supported me along the way.

Outside of my job, I love taking photos. Nothing makes me happier than being in the middle of nowhere with a backpack full of photo equipment. My interest in photography started during my internship at Sun, when I first came to California. I had strong memories of my father talking fondly about the beauty of the American southwest – since I didn’t know anyone in California, I figured a good way to occupy myself on the weekend was to go visit iconic locations: Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Death Valley, etc. I don’t remember which place I visited first, but I immediately fell in love with the amazing sights California and its neighbouring states have to offer, even though I had never been interested in photography before I went and bought my first DSLR. And now, every year, I count the days to my next road trip or my next trip abroad.

I have mostly done, and I mostly do, landscape photography. I believe that part of why I enjoy it so much is because it’s a time when I can be by myself (or with one or two good friends), far from work and digital distractions. Landscape photography requires patience, but waiting for hours for the right light (whether it’s burning hot or freezing cold out) brings me a peaceful joy that I cannot get anywhere else.

Over the past few years, I’ve also been forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone by trying street photography (the street photography of Ming Thein is always an inspiration to me). It does not come naturally to me and I found it to be an excellent exercise. I’ve only recently found what I guess you could call my style when it comes to street photography – it’s what I would call a cinematic approach that, to me, almost feels like urban landscape photography.

I use two sets of equipment: my serious landscape stuff and my street/travel stuff. For landscape photography, I’ve used full-frame Canon DSLRs exclusively for many years. I recently switched to a Fuji GFX 50S medium-format system, although I’ve barely had the time to use it so far. For street photography, or landscape photography when I travel abroad, I use a Leica M10 (and M240 and M9 before that). I like to call the Leica M the worst and the best camera I’ve ever used. It has flaws and many cameras are objectively better in many ways (photo quality, resolution, speed, etc.). It’s simple and very tactile and it offers almost no features, which means just a few buttons and very few menus. It’s also a lot less intrusive than my other cameras when doing street photography. It’s a camera that makes me want to use it, to go out and take photos. That’s important as photography is a hobby for me, not a job, and I want this activity to remain enjoyable.

I only shoot RAW files, so all my photos have to be edited. My typical workflow is to start in Lightroom and to finish up in Photoshop (Lightroom didn’t exist when I started taking photos; I guess I’m used to Photoshop). Every photographer has a different take on it, but because I do not do photojournalism, I see my photos not only as a way to present a moment in time, but also as a way to convey how I was perceiving that moment when I took the picture. This means my editing is limited to colors (saturation, contrast, etc.). I sometimes remove small elements from landscape photos to clean them up, but that’s where I draw the line. I do not swap skies, remove, add or reshape entire mountains, etc. I am in no way judging photographers that use these kinds of alterations, but I’ve decided they’re not for me.

My future goal is that I would like to keep challenging myself with street photography. I have so much to learn there, it’s intimidating. It’s also quite a leap going from taking photos of large mountains with no-one else around for miles to trying to get into people’s personal space. I might never get good at it, but it’s worth a shot!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that photography seems like a fairly popular hobby amongst engineers. It’s an art form that comes with a lot of technical considerations and it’s easy for someone in the tech industry to get lost in the minutiae of camera equipment and accessories. I once cared, but I don’t really anymore. I just want to use a camera that makes me happy to take photos. Aside from this, there are definitely similarities between photography and what I do or what I have done at Google. It’s a visual art and a lot of the thoughts that can go into the composition of a photograph are reminiscent of graphics or UI design: contrast, colors (and their meanings), framing, using shapes and leading lines to draw the viewer’s attention where you want it, etc. And the engineering work I do between meetings is all about trying to render 3D photo-realistic scenes in real-time. If I cannot take pictures of the world, I can at least try to recreate it!

My advice to anyone looking to take up photography is to not worry about what equipment was used to shoot photos you like. I have fancier cameras than so many other photographers who take much better photos than me! Go get a camera (one that feels right and that makes you want to go take pictures), go out, look around you, and take photos.

I do believe it’s important to share our creative passions. Many areas of tech require creativity, not artistic creativity necessarily, but creativity nonetheless. To be and remain creative, you need a curious and healthy mind. By looking outside of tech, you can learn new things about yourselves and the world we help build, but you can also find inspiration.

To see some more of Romain’s photography, be sure to check out his Flickr account:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/romainguy

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