To be a specialist, you have to be a good generalist

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Here’s today’s provocation of the day: there is really no such thing as a specialist. I’m going to explain why, using photography as the background context. The general expectation is a specialist in one particular topic or subject or tightly defined discipline should be familiar with and understand how to handle the vast majority of variations encountered around that topic or subject. They would probably have to keep up to date with new developments or changes and do enough experimentation to answer any self-doubt or uncertainty: an expert sports photographer, for instance, would know how to deal with indoor arena lighting, outdoor high noon and night games – and still produce an image that would pass muster for their clients. An aerial photographer would know how to deal with haze – either to minimise in post, or to use as a feature of the image. Yet I keep encountering this odd resistance…even amongst supposedly educated and image-savvy people. Why?

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To specialise or generalise?

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The work of a generalist, or a specialist in seeking abstraction?

There’s always been a slightly inaccurate preconception in any field that a specialist must be better than a generalist – surely, if you’ve done something a thousand times, you’d be better at it than somebody who’s done it ten times? Today, from a photographic standpoint, I’m actually going to argue against this – albeit with a very specific set of caveats.

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