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Artificial Intelligence: What Photographers Should Know

AI has been on many photographers' minds for a while. Writing a prompt in an AI program can produce astoundingly realistic images that look like photographs. Many photographers are concerned about this, and for good reason. 


Will AI kill photography? Is it a real threat, or a photo myth? 


This is what Joseph Roybal and I discuss in the video below, the first in my new series called Photo Myths. In each episode of Photo Myths, I take a deep dive analyzing one of the so-called "rules of photography" to determine if it is real, or just a photo myth. In this first episode, Joseph and I tackle the question of AI and its potential impact on photography.



Twenty years ago, three technologies collided and changed everything for photography: the rise of the Internet, digital photography, and the personal computer revolution. All three completely upended the way that people shared, sold, and created their photos. 


Now that AI is here, are we going through a similar change, or is this something insignificant that will be forgotten years down the line? 


Pros and Cons of AI Photography 

On one hand, AI technology is helping us make better photos. AI machine learning is being used to improve autofocus, fix blemishes, sharpen photos, remove digital noise—and the list goes on. I think we'd all agree that this side of AI is immensely beneficial. These tools can make your editing workflow less time-consuming and more fun, and can even rescue photos that you thought were unusable in the past. 


On the other hand, AI has also brought us computer-generated images that are being passed off as real photographs. All you need to do is type in a few words (i.e. a prompt) and the program will provide you with a selection of results that match the prompt. Depending on the program and your prompt, the results might look ridiculous or very photorealistic. 


In 2023, there were several photo contest winners that were later revealed to be AI-generated images. If this is already happening, it's clear that AI will have a huge impact on photography. 


Real Photos vs. Artificial Photos

Because there are so many realistic AI-generated photographs out there, our photos are now going to be compared to hundreds of thousands of deep fakes. It isn't surprising that so many photographers are disheartened by this change. Being exposed to truly magnificent scenes (albeit artificial ones) can make it more difficult for real photographs to actually resonate with the public. 


What's the Big Deal? 

Some people aren't bothered by this change because they say that AI-generated art is still...art. However, if it is art, it's a very different kind of art. It certainly isn't photography. Photographers may not want to be lumped in with AI-generated images, so it's important to acknowledge the major differences between both worlds. 


Side-stepping the issue of whether AI images can be considered art, I think it is fair to question whether there is such a thing as an "AI artist." The AI algorithm is doing almost all of the work, all the "artist" is doing is typing in some prompts and sorting through the results to pick the one they like the most. Sure, they might do some processing of the generated image to finalize it, but if the computer is doing almost all of the work, is it really fair for the "artist" to claim creative credit?


To further illustrate my thinking on this, let's explore the following scenario: imagine that I hire another person to take photos for me. I tell them to go out and take a photo of a "beautiful mountain in stunning sunset light reflected in a lake." That person goes out and takes a bunch of photos that match my request. Then, I go through that person's photos, pick the ones that I like most, edit them a little, and tell the world, "Look at these amazing photographs that I took!" I played a negligible role in the artistic process, and I think we'd all agree that it would be 100% wrong for me to call myself an artist in this scenario (although another A word comes to mind that would certainly be more appropriate).


How is this any different from what an "AI artist" is doing? In fact, that's what I did here: I used Microsoft Designer's free AI image generator to make this "photo" using prompts similar to what I described above. I did some basic edits to the image, and then I was done. Does anyone here think I'm an artist for doing this? I really hope that the answer is a resounding "NO!"  


An AI-generated quasi-photorealistic fantasy.

We're Already Living in a Computer Manipulated World

The funny thing about the AI-generated image above is that it looks very similar to thousands of stunning photos you can find online. Part of the reason is that AI generation algorithms are sampling publicly available photos.


Another big part of the reason is that we've already been living in a world of computer manipulation for the past twenty years. It's just that the manipulation has been guided by human intelligence rather than a computer algorithm.


Ever since the advent of digital photography coupled with the personal computer revolution, many photographers have embraced extensive Photoshop manipulation and alteration of their photos. Many of the stunning photos you might stumble across online are in fact heavily manipulated composites, featuring a foreground taken in one place, a background taken in another, with a sky that has been swapped with one taken a few years back.


Often, these "photos" also undergo extreme color manipulation. For example, some people can take a scene photographed on a grey, cloudy day and make it look like it was bathed in stunning sunset light. Throw in a fake double rainbow and now you're cooking!


Taking the best of a bunch of different photos and smashing them together isn't all that much different from what AI generation does, so it isn't surprising that the results often look so similar. I'd be ecstatic if I ever took a photo that looked like the AI-generated image below, but let's face it, this sort of scene would be extremely unlikely in real life (and I'm being generous, this is impossible). We're already awash in Photoshop fantasies, AI is just going to add rocket fuel to the already burning bonfire.


Ai-generated image

Will Artificial Intelligence Kill Photography? 

I'm genuinely pessimistic about the impact artificial intelligence will likely have on photography. I think we're at a moment when two technologies are colliding in a transformative way, and the result is that photography as we know it likely won't survive. Younger generations are already abandoning cameras and instead using their smartphones for content creation, and the increasing availability of AI-generation and manipulation will likely push things even further.


I imagine a future when people will take photos with their phones and immediately run the results through an AI app that allows them to easily and completely alter the image to make it whatever they want. In fact, this is already happening! Photography will continue to exist, but in a substantially altered form that might very well be unrecognizable to photographers today.


For those who doubt that AI will have much of an impact, I just want to point out that it's already happening. As noted above, several photo contests have been won by AI-generated images that were later unmasked. There are already a bunch of popular Instagram accounts featuring AI images, and most followers probably don't know that the images aren't real photos. I feel that as photographers, we're collectively the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot of AI water (as illustrated below by another AI-generated image; it's amazing what an AI image generator and 30 seconds of spare time can accomplish).  


Ai-generated image

What do you think? Will AI kill photography? Will the machines rise up and enslave humanity? Are we already living in the Matrix? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below!

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8 comentários


I made a deep dive into image creation with Midjourney.

I prompted över 10 000 images in 3 months. It made both inspired of what a dedicated promter can create. But on the other hand it killed my lust to keep striving for the perfect stillife- and landscape photo. Because if I would succeed, it would most likely be taken for an AI generated image :-(

So, yes photography will change and has already done so. It will be important as a documenting tool for news and peoples family history. But as a creative tool for production of feature pictures - there will be others than photographers that provides what the market asks for.

So I have gone from taking…


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Ron Shimanek
Ron Shimanek
23 de mar.

When autoexposure was added to basic cameras, there were many who wrote lengthy articles about this artificial process killing photography. How many photographers spent a lot of time taking extensive exposure readings so they could end up with the perfect exposure for the narrow latitude film they were using. With the newfangled autoexposure, any yahoo can take a perfectly exposed photo. When autofocus was added, there were many lengthy articles written about the process killing photography. How many photographers spent hours nailing focus... Now, any yahoo can take a perfectly focused photo. When digital photography was introduced, there were and still are many lengthy articles written about this process being the final nail in the photographer's coffin. Now, you don't ha…

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Ron Shimanek
Ron Shimanek
28 de mar.
Respondendo a

In some respects, photography has been ruined long before AI came on the scene. With modern, do everything cameras, access to very cheap transportation, and access to every photo ever taken by millions of people, is there any unique location that hasn't been photographed zillions of times before. For some time, I have said that if I came up with a unique photo idea e.g. a photo in the water below rainbow falls of a dolphin with a pigeon perched on his left fin with a red ribbon in his beak and a halo around his head - there would already be at least 500 identical photos on the internet. And many of those photos would be 10 times bet…

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Richard Wichels
Richard Wichels
22 de mar.

This is a tough subject--after watching the video and reading the 2 comments from Fran and Ron. I will give this 3 big foots. One thing I heard in the video from Joseph was that he spent the night taking photos of an Aurora event and when he showed his work to some people he ran into on the way out--they seemed some what unimpressed with the photo's. For this reason -- I totally agree that AI has already tainted the public viewers and made great photographs seem common place. I look at a lot of photo's (probably 100's per week) and some of those photo's are definitely AI generated and very good. Other photo's I look at are …

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ron8ball
ron8ball
22 de mar.

IF someone is trying to pass off an image as a "photograph" when it was not created with a camera, that's deception. Photographers set up remote cameras to capture images all the time. Does that mean a photographer didn't take the image?


In my mind a painter paints a scene/portrait and there's only one. If he duplicates that with number and signed copies, it is a copy of his work but not the original painting. If I take a photograph and manipulate the sky, it is my photograph but I would confess to making an enhancement to make the image look better. Why did I do it, because I wished I had a dramatic sky when I took the pho…


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Frances Gallogly
Frances Gallogly
22 de mar.

I have been concerned about AI and its impact on photography for some time. I see many images on social media that I suspect are AI generated. I think some of the AI features of Photoshop are helpful to photographers but images that are completely or mostly AI generated should not be displayed with photographs. They should be displayed in a separate category, perhaps called digital imagery. To me photography is as much about the actual experience of witnessing a beautiful landscape or capturing wildlife in its environment as it is about the final image. It is not about sitting at a computer. But will AI affect photography in a negative way aside from its useful features in Photoshop? I…

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